Suspicious repair?


#1

Hello all,
This is a request for advice about whether or not the conditions surrounding a repair are suspicious.

My mother-in-law owns a 2002 Ford Focus, and yesterday she took it to the local Firestone for an oil change.  My wife and I received a call from her later that afternoon, and she told us that the oil change turned into a $600 repair. 

The mechanic claims that after the oil change, as he was backing the car out of the bay he heard a "pop".  He parked the car, and when my mother-in-law tried to drive it out of the lot, she noticed a problem.  Upon examining the car, the technicians found that both rear struts were broken. They claim that this is a common problem with older Ford Focus cars, and the fact that both struts broke as they were pulling the car out of the garage was pure coincidence.  "Luckily" for my mother-in-law, they were able to offer a $600 solution to the problem.

So, here are my questions:  
  1. Is the mechanics’ claim valid? Are the rear struts on the Focus known to fail simultaneously (even when slowly backing up the car)?
  2. Is there a way to check the car to see if the failure was due to wear, corrosion or a mistake on the part of the technician?
  3. As long as the rear struts have to be replaced, should we have the front ones repaired as well?
  4. Am I being too suspicious? Things break on older cars all the time, but to have two struts fail when the car is moving slowly (and the owner is NOT present) seems fishy to me.
  5. If this was your mother-in-law’s car and you decided to fix the struts (paying for it since mom is retired and on a fixed income), would you seek out a different mechanic?

Thanks!


#2

I think the coil springs were broken before the car ever got to the shop in the first place. Then lifting the car by the body and letting the suspension stretch or “relax” took the load off the springs allowing them to shift ever so slightly, then driving the car to the parking lot made them separate completely.

There isn’t really any way to lift a car improperly that could result in a broken spring/strut.

Do a Google search for broken coil springs on a Ford Focus and you’ll see your mother-in-law isn’t alone. It’s not an unusual problem on early Focuses.


#3

I’d take it to another shop with a good reputation and ask them to put it on the lift and look for any evidence of damage. What they described is IMHO highly unlikely. If the new shop finds nothing, the money will be an investment in your MIL’s peace of mind, well worth the cost. If there is evidence, have the new shop document it with photos and in writing. Then post back and we’ll go from there.

You can have him take a look-see at the front struts while he has it on the rack. If the rubber bump-stops are breaking down or there’s evidence of a leak, they should be replaced. If not, it may not be necessary. Knowing the car’s mileage would help me make a guess. The “bump-stops” are rubber devices that begin to absorb energy when the strut reaches the limits of its normal travel range, and if they’re breaking down it’s a sign that the struts might be traveling there more often than they should be… which would mean they’re worn out.

What IS highly possible is that the struts were, in fact, shot and it took this sequence of events to discover it. Struts fail slowly and softly, and the owner’s often don’t even know it’s happening. “Broken” may just be an improper use of the term, or a simple misunderstanding by your MIL. People often use “broken” and “worn out” interchangeably. The car is, after all, 12 years old. It would not surprise me at all if it needed struts.

Post back with your results. We do care.


#4

The front struts and springs are stronger than the rear. They do more work so it’s always a maybe. If the front struts were never changed and the car lives in a bad rust zone it may be time to get a new set. If the car is in the rust zone it may be time for a new car.


#5

Has nobody ever lifted a vehicle, and when it’s lowered it looks like a dog trying to whiz on a hydrant?

That’s when the valving in a strut/shock fails when the suspension is allowed to hang.

Tester


#6
  1. Is the mechanics’ claim valid? Are the rear struts on the Focus known to fail simultaneously (even when slowly backing up the car)? It’s more likely to be broken springs than struts. The Focus is the replacement for the Escort. I’ve seen LOTS of Escorts with both rear springs broken.
  2. Is there a way to check the car to see if the failure was due to wear, corrosion or a mistake on the part of the technician? Probably not.
  3. As long as the rear struts have to be replaced, should we have the front ones repaired as well? No, not necessarily.
  4. Am I being too suspicious? Things break on older cars all the time, but to have two struts fail when the car is moving slowly (and the owner is NOT present) seems fishy to me. Me too. I’d never take the diagnosis of the shop that may or may not have “broken” the struts at face value.
  5. If this was your mother-in-law’s car and you decided to fix the struts (paying for it since mom is retired and on a fixed income), would you seek out a different mechanic? See four above.

#7

You just have to take a looksee yourself but I agree with Tester. I had my Riviera in the shop and when they took it down off the lift, the rear struts were pretty much frozen. It was truly a jarring experience. I suspect they had somewhere around 400,000 miles at the time so not unexpected but older struts can freeze up when they are extended on a lift.


#8

cars have been known to fall off lift and lifts do break and lose hydraulic pressure…I d check back with owner present and see what he thinks at least


#9

I think @asemaster nailed it 100%

On my former Corolla, a coil broke while driving at 35mph. I felt a strong shudder and pulled over to the side of the road for a look

I looked in all the fender wells and saw a broken coil

In fact, only the lowest coil had broken, so I decided to slowly drive it back home. Then I parked it and used my other car to locate a set of coil springs.

A lay person walking past the car would probably not have noticed anything, unless they stuck their head inside the fender well.

I might add something . . . on the way home, with the broken spring, the ride quality didn’t seem different to me. I heard no unusual noises

By the way, the broken spring was not rusty

In my experience, the only vehicles that sagged after being on the lift had lousy struts to begin with


#10

why do those springs break so easily? I ve had some old vehicles and ridden them fairly roughly. I ve never had a spring break


#11

Fords of that vintage had problems with coil spring breakage, and it wasn’t just limited to the Focus line.

Through breaking two at once does sound suspicious. Maybe when one let go, the added stress on the (ready-to-break) other spring was enough to have it pop as well.