By on November 9, 2011


TTAC commenter jems86 writes:

Dear Sajeev,

I need your help again. I live in Colombia and, as you already know, I am the owner of a 2000 Subaru Forester (the 2.0 EDM model). This particular model has rear self leveling struts and recently they went bust. My dealership is asking 4 million pesos (about 2235 USD) for the replacements. I really think it’s a little bit steep so I’ve been searching online but haven’t been able to find the OEM parts. I read on a forum ( that you can put the non-self leveling struts. Is this a good idea? How much would the driving characteristics of my car change? If I go this way, what other components of the suspension should I replace? Thanks in advance for your help.

Sajeev Answers:

Oh yes! This is the age-old query of removing a factory self-leveling system for something more mundane, quite affordable and probably adequate for anyone’s needs. In theory, these systems are entirely interchangeable with a conventional damper, as the self-leveling feature only comes into play when the rear of the vehicle is loaded down. In practice, there might be a different spring to go with the unique strut.

That said, don’t always trust what you read on the Internet. Look up the part numbers to make sure there aren’t two different springs for the Forester. Once that’s cleared up, go ahead and eliminate the self-leveling feature: while a great idea when new, it loses a lot of luster once the miles rack up, the complicated bits wear out and the vehicle depreciates to the point where spending thousands on a repair simply makes no sense.
And this isn’t a unique situation: people have eliminated air suspension systems for decades on depreciated iron. Switch using OEM Subaru parts and you will be just fine. Or maybe the correct Subaru spring with a new set of four aftermarket dampers from a sportier vendor like Bilstein, Koni, etc. Unless your roads are pretty rough, then stick with the stock shocks for minimum abuse over potholes.

And your wallet will appreciate it, with little to no detriment to the Forester’s performance. Perhaps the ride will gain a little harshness, but I have my doubts: fully-air suspended cars are more susceptible to this.  I would have no concerns whatsoever with this swap.

Unless you are a chronic “overloader” of rear storage compartments…then you might want to buy the self-leveling bits online and find a local mechanic to install them for you.

So now you know, good luck with your decision.

Send your queries to [email protected] . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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11 Comments on “Piston Slap: Being On The Level With One’s Self...”

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Is this an option on North American Subaru’s or is there a different expectation for cars in South America? I haven’t heard of a vehicle that small with self-levelers since the Pontiac 6000 STE.

    • 0 avatar

      My German made 2003 Focus Ghia wagon has self-leveling “Nivomat” rear suspension. I asked the dealer for the replacement cost just out of curiosity, 375€ each just for the shocks. Not including installation.

  • avatar

    $2235 is getting by on the cheap if that is parts and labor. Just to replace the air sprung components on a late model Suburban (usually the compressor and the bags) is well into 4 grand territory.

    If you know what you’re doing, you can retrofit the non air spring system on an air ride suspension system Suburban/Tahoe/Escalade etc, but again, you have to know which shocks and springs will work to give you a decent and safe ride. Keep that in mind if you’re looking at used GMT900 SUVs, because these air ride systems ALWAYS go bad. Always.

    Enough people have done the retrofit on self leveling Subaru suspension systems now that it is considered to be a pretty safe and reasonable thing to do. I just don’t know what parts availability is like in Colombia to do it properly. KYB struts are the way to go if you can get them.

  • avatar

    Both the Outback and Forester were available with load-leveling rear suspensions in Europe and Asia. I believe you can swap out for a regular coil suspension. Subarus are built like a Lego kit, alot of interchangeable parts between most of the models.

    I would suggest contacting RalliTEK, they are Subaru specialists (and Volvo, known as IPD). I ordered heavy-duty rear springs for my 07 Outback, known as King Springs. Helped firm up the rear end (less understeer) as well as eliminating any sag with a heavy load or when towing.

    My point is, even though you may not purchase from them, they’ll give you great advice.

    • 0 avatar

      I just checked that link because my Forester needs a stiffer rear end to handle 200 lbs of tow weight, and it lacks the self-leveling feature. They don’t offer any replacement springs for the Forester. Too bad. My car is about due for a strut change, and I’d like to improve its capacity to hold the weight in the rear. And because it’s a MacPherson rear suspension, helper air bags aren’t feasible. Any solutions for someone who has the opposite problem to the original post? And who still doesn’t want to spend two grand, of course, or even one grand for coilovers…

  • avatar

    I participate on Unlike most sites (NASIOC comes to mind), the Forester site usually has good advice. They’ve got members from all over the globe, so someone should be able to guide you through what you need. I can’t imagine it’s very difficult. Having replaced all the suspension on mine with WRX parts it’s pretty straightforward. You can check the part number info at They have the parts catalog online and it does include the self leveling suspension components.

  • avatar

    Great post that might help you out. Good luck!

  • avatar

    I know on the Nivomat systems used on Volvo’s Mercedes, and mercified Chryslers there is a specific spring used with them and they will not hold the car up by themselves. Subaru seems to use a licensed (or unlicensed) version of them. The above mentioned IPD/Rallitek has kits that include springs they have custom made and conventional shock for the Volvo, that I have used with success before. So maybe they have something for Subie’s too.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    Buen día Ex-Vecino

    I hope this might be helpful to you.

    From my experience (Venezuela), having part numbers rarely works in Latin America. Most spare parts vendors work with the sample or “muestra”.

    In your case, I’d go to the US KYB or Monroe site and download their catalog. I remember the KYB book to have the shock models required to perform the conversion on many cars. You will possibly need to change the mount or “tapa”. Then a bit of cross referencing and a helpful mechanic will get it done.

    Also, the online US sites are usually very good when looking for parts. Using the US Google site (it won’t work from your .co site), search for Subaru spare parts. It will throw heaps of them, click on some of them until you find something that says OEM catalog/spare parts or something similar. Then have a look at what you need. It wouldn’t surprise me if you find a 40% overprice in the prices you got quoted. You can find very good prices in this site (for non OEM parts)

    To be able to fully exploit the US option, you need a mail forward, usually in Miami. I’m pretty much sure you won’t have to deal with currency control bullshit, so you may be able to buy the parts in the US if wanted.

    Being me, I wouldn’t even bothered to take the car for the dealer and would have looked at the US for the parts needed.

    Buena suerte y saludos.

  • avatar

    Fun fact: Subaru DID sell a Legacy with air-suspension (not the same as this rear self-level system, I know) in the US. It was only on the 1st-gen cars. I think it had a special edition name, Mi6 or Alpine or some such.

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