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Struts, Tires, Alignment

My husband noticed that our 2001 Camry was driving strange. He thought it was a problem with the brakes locking up. When I drove it, I felt like the front of the car was a little wiggly and thought we might need an alignment.

When we took it in, they said that the brakes are okay, but that the front struts are “soft.” They said that the front struts need to be replaced, which includes an alignment, and we should replace the rear struts at the same time. They said we should get new tires at the same time. Total cost will be about $1500.

I’ve been trying to research it some, and we don’t have a lot of the problems associated with bad struts. We haven’t noticed any bouncing or anything like that. I think they are honest mechanics, but my husband doesn’t trust them. We don’t have enough money to get all that work done right now, so my question is, can we wait until we notice bouncing or the tires get worse to have the work done? (We would be trying to save up the money in the meantime.) Or, can we just take care of the front struts and wait on the tires and rear struts? Should we just get a second opinion?

(The car does have 145,000 miles on it, and I’ve never had the struts replaced. I bought it with about 65,000 miles on it.)

What condition are the tires in? Just plain worn out? Uneven wear or cupping of the tread, (which will cause irregular tire contact with the road)? This can cause a funny feeling in the steering.

If the struts are original at 10 years and 145K miles, surely they are worn and due for replacement. I’d bet if you had the struts replaced you’d notice an immediate difference in the handling of the car.

If you trust these folks, I’d recommend replacing the front struts, then next month do the tires, and a month or 2 after that do the rears.

With that many miles new struts are due.

Who did you take the car to? Dealer, Quick oil change place, local independent mechanic which was recommended to you by a friend neighbor or co- worker?

Hint   The recommended independent is likely to be your best bet.  The worse choice would be the quick oil change place.  The dealer is likely to go a good job, but also likely to charge you more than the independent who also will likely do the job in a way that saves you money.  Dealers tend to replace anything that is not perfect.  The independent is more likely to repair or replace those things that have safety or reliability issues.

Struts are a perfectly normal and reasonable cause for the symptoms you describe. And at your mileage, I would not be surprised if they were due.

Doing rear struts at the same time is certainly prudent, and your car would handle like new again, but that’s a tough call. The rear struts on this car (they’re actually “coil-over shocks”) are a different design than the fronts and don;t necessarily wear out at the same rate…but I can guarantee they’re softer than they were when new.

If you wait until the tires wear badly you’ll just be adding the cost of new tires to the equation. You’ll gain nothing.

Do all four struts and get a 4-wheel alignment. You’ll love the new-car feel.

Postscript: in the interest of full disclosure, I have to state for the record that I just replaced my rear shocks on my Scion tC with 151,000 miles and have elected to not do the fronts at this time, as I can find no symptoms that they’re tired. And my labor is free. I admit that I find it a lot easier to tell other people to spend their money than I find it to spend my own money.

The tires aren’t absolutely terrible, but they are getting close to the point where I would need to replace them. I couldn’t see any cupping or uneven wear, though. Thank you for the advice!

I also think the combination of symptoms and miles would have me getting 4 new struts + alignment + new tires. This is different from the mechanic saying ‘you need struts because of the 145k mile’. You have clear handling symptoms consistent with worn struts, or some other suspension problem. If your mechanic shop is competant, they should be able to identify the problem, and they say it’s struts.

I take the car to an Independent place that is AAA certified. They also had very good reviews online. I’ve been very happy with them so far. I don’t think that my husband trusts any mechanics and isn’t too happy with the idea that you have to put real money into car maintenance.

I think that we are going to go ahead and get all the work done at the same time, since the interest on the credit card will be less than the money for two extra alignments.

Thanks, everyone for your responses. We’ve decided to go ahead and get all the work done, since the interest on the credit card will be less than the cost of two extra alignments.