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Struts Or No Struts, That Is The Question

Recently took my wife’s 2004 (purchased new) Honda Civic to an independent shop for an oil change. Car put on lift. We were told that a front strut/mount is blown, the car needs new front struts, mounts, and a sway bar, at a total cost of $1225.

Took the car to shop #2, a muffler/shock franchise. Car put on lift. I was told that all four struts need to be replaced because they are stiff as boards due to wear, and that the normal lifetime of a strut is 50K miles. I can get a buy 3 get 1 free deal on struts, for a total cost of $1175.

Took the car to shop #3. Mechanic drove the car with me in the passenger seat and then looked into the wheel wells with a flashlight. Did not put the car on lift. He said during the drive there was no rattling noise indicating a blown strut. He said that the ride was a bit stiff, but he typically sees much worse and the stiffness could be due to the two almost-snow tires on the front of the car. Today was rainy, so he said to come back when things were dry so he could look for leaks. In general though he didn’t seem very concerned.

I have been driving this car for the last two years, since getting married, and have not noticed any change in ride or handling. The struts are OEM.

Any idea what’s going on?

Struts wear out gradually so you don’t really notice the change from new. How many miles on the car?

50k is pretty low, but possible. How many miles?

And struts don’t get ‘stiff’ (unless something’s really wrong/frozen up) they get ‘loose’, with the car acting ‘floaty’, continuing to bounce after you hit a bump, that kind of thing. Shop #3 did the right test - drive it and see if there’s a problem. My BS meter is flashing bright red on #1 and #2 shops. If you notice nothing unusual in the ride, and no odd noises, I’d start using #3 and just keep an eye on it.

114,000 miles.

The first two estimates are very high, if you actually needed struts. Struts last a lot longer than 50,000 miles. We have a Nissan with 126,000 miles and still on its original struts; our mechanic says that the MIGHT need changing at 150,000 or so.

If they are not leaking, the car handles well, it does not wander, you are problably good for another 50,000 miles. Mechanic # 3 is trying to be honest, and wants to determine how far they are actually worn.

The first two shops must be having “strut promotion” month, I’m not kidding. The next customer after you probably also “needed” struts!

2004 Honda with only 114k miles needing struts and sway bar? Are you “off roading” this thing in the back woods and rock quarries? Seriously, it would be very unusual for a Honda this new to need struts and certainly not a sway bar.

The Civic has a sporty suspension, especially if its an EX or Si model. If you want a smoother ride, get an Accord LX.

Find a new place to get your oil changed, shop #3 sounds like a good candidate. A cheap oil change is not always a bargain.

You did a smart thing by getting second and third opinions. Good for you.

In addition to keith’s good advice, I want to add another bit of advice for you:

Whoever told you that it is okay to drive with snow tires only on the front 2 wheels was…not competent. You need tires with the same amount of traction on all 4 wheels.

Do yourself a favor and either get 4 winter tires for next winter or just run the car with 4 all-season tires. Having snow/winter tires on the front and regular or all-season tires on the rear is a formula for very hazardous handling on slick surfaces.

For Keith: no off-roading. Just the usual potholes.

For VDC: the front tires are not really snow tires; they are a different brand of all-season tires from what’s on the back and (according to mechanic at shop #3) a rougher ride. The tires were sold to my wife by a franchise repair shop before we got married. I buy my tires four at a time, all-season, for a Scion xA.

Maybe I am nihilistic, but I would stick with mechanic 3.

You may or may not really need struts, but shop #1 wants you to pay their next mortgage payment. Nobody needs a new sway bar.

Shop #2 makes their living changing mufflers and shocks. I’ll bet they tell everyone who drives in that they need either a new muffler or four new shocks.

Shop #3 is being honest. Go there.

A friend went to M***s for an oil change (don’t ask) and they insisted she get new shocks on her one-year-old car, or face certain death. She didn’t know better, and paid WAY too much for something she didn’t need in the first place. Crooks!

I agree. They’ve even been known to stamp “UNSAFE TO DRIVE” in huge red letters on peoples’ shop orders if they refuse the recommended work. IMHO this is unconscionable.

I agree with those who tend to think that you do not need struts. If, as you say, the car drives and rides like always, then your struts are ok. Statements to the effect of deterioration slowly happening so that you don’t notice can be true but can also be a form of fearmongering.

Back in the late 1960s when I had my first good car, various car repair/wheel alignment places were selling mostly unneeded ball joints to anyone that drove in. A lot of shock absorbers were sold too. These places attempt to put false fear or doubt in people’s minds to convince them to spend money.

You did the right thing to shop around. Not all mechanics are crooks. Be a little wary of the third one, however, that one might be a little more subtle with his approach but at first glance, seems honest.

I will admit that for me I am never really sure until I get all spring pressure off the strut and can actually work the piston up and down before I can call it bad. Some are so bad there is absolutely no dampening effect but still it was not clear from driving the car. Other mechanics claim they can detect a bad strut by simply unlocking the car door.The job description is full of “Super Techs”.

Avoid the franchise/chain shops.
Generally no need to go to the dealership with an out-of-warranty car.
Stick with independent shops with a good reputation.
Here’s a good place to search: