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Struts & 250k Maintenance, 02 Rav4

Hi there,
A buddy and I are prepping to do a bunch of work on my 2002 Toyota Rav4. She is 249,911 miles young, and at LEAST 1/3 of that has been offroad driving on beaches, mountains, and plains (I’m a field biologist). As you can imagine, she is rusty. All rusty. ALL. Just everything, rusty. Except for the new crossmember. I had a Florida mechanic tell me 10 years and 150k miles ago it was too rusty to be safe. I guess we showed him.

So my struts are pretty tired, and the truck is so old and semi-retired, and CO doesn’t have inspections, so we’re happy to “DIY” and learn. I’ve never done struts before. So my questions are:

  1. Kind of a dumb question, but if I order a strut kit, that does have everything I need for the job, right? Any seals… etc. that might be old and break after I start?

  2. Is there anything else I may as well replace while I’m at that? We’re doing the brakes at the same time. I have some $ for this project now, wondering what cars this age commonly need replaced. What did you need to replace on your 'Yota?

Thanks for all pointers! Happy Trails!

  1. not likely, but it’s impossible to tell without seeing the “kit” you hope to order. I’ve never seen one come with upper mounts, bushings, dust bellows, bumper stops, and certainly never with the necessary tools including spring clamps. And none of them come with an alignment machine.

Oh, and wait’ll you try to get those lower bolts off with your 5" ratchet. Not possible. They’re installation torque will have been about 178 ft/lbs new, and breakaway torque is typically somewhere about two to 2-1/2 times installation torque… not counting the rust.

I’ve attached a link that shows the “exploded view” drawing of the parts.

My recommendation would be to go shopping for a replacement vehicle. If you do decide to repair this rusted hulk, I’d suggest leaving the job to a shop.

First thing is to have the truck inspected around all the suspension points. If you have a lot of rust around the control arm attachments or other suspension hanging points, then do not continue to drive this thing. Its an accident waiting to happen.

If all the rust is confined to the body panels and the frame/suspension is solid and secure and you want to do this, then go ahead.

Struts come either as struts only or as quick struts. A quick strut has everything assembled and ready to go in. Most are made by Monroe. If you want another brand, such as KYB, then you will need a spring compressor. Compressing the spring with the type of spring compressors sold for amateur mechanics are not very safe and people have gotten hurt by them, and I mean serious injuries, potentially fatal injuries.

Some shops will assemble the spring/strut together for you for a cost. They have the professional spring compressors which are a lot safer to use if used by a properly trained person who follows all the safety precautions. Assembling the strut/spring can be a little tricky if you have never done this. There is a little trick to holding the strut rod steady while installing and tightening the top nut. Even some mechanics don’t know how to do this correctly. I really don’t think you should try this at home. Better to get the quick struts or farm this out.

Some Toyotas have a camber adjustment in the strut mount. If yours has this, then you will need a front end alignment when you are done

I haven’t done this job yet on my Corolla, but it needs to be done. Other’s here have mentioned a couple of good ideas to me. I’m assuming yours is configured like mine, coil springs with the shock absorber-strut in the middle.

  • Before removing or taking anything apart, inspect the springs carefully and replace if there are any defects/cracks in them.
  • Again before removing anything, be sure to place witness marks on the replaceable parts, showing their relationship to each other, so you can get the alignment as close as possible to what it was before when you reinstall everything.
  • Find an auto parts store that will install the new struts onto the old springs for you. Then all you have to do is replace it as a unit.
  • The strut is what attaches the body of the car to the wheel. It’s an important structural part of the car in other words. When you remove the strut you have to make sure both the body and the wheel are each properly, and individually supported.

Quick struts by Monroe is the way to go for DIY. My concern is the rust. Not sure if the car is worth this kind of investment, as mentioned I will have a thorough look underneath.

Before doing anything, definitely do a thorough investigation for rust throughout the undercarriage.

Considering the car has no exterior frame and depends upon welded in supports in the body itself for it’s integrity, the safest thing to do is move on. The mounts for the front struts for example is not attached to any frame. There is just a reinforced area in a fender well. How can this bucket be safe to drive. I am not talking only about driving safty but any monetary investment. The next car you get to do these things in and around salt air and water, use motor oil to coat the interior surfaces exposed to rust. For this, I would not put one cent not it. I would be just as fearful breathing exhaust fumes. Considering you can generally only see ten percent of the rust there is, if has to be really bad in reality given your discription.

“not killed me yet” does not equal “safe”

it may be possible that you are embelishing the condition of your vehicle. if so, cool. if not, don’t risk yourself or others.