Piston Slap: Strutin' Around a Loaded Question?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap strutin around a loaded question

Harry writes:

My daily driver is a ’99 Honda CR-V two-wheel drive I took over from my kid when she went to work overseas. It has been in the family since 2007 and has always been economical on gas, reliable and needed only regular service. It is fine for the 20 mile drive to work in suburbia — but we take our Pilot on trips because my wife refuses to ride in the CR-V.

At the last regular service my mechanic told me the ride is terrible because at 237k the struts/shocks are completely toast and it would be north of a grand to replace them. I checked online and the shocks are about 75 each but a complete strut assembly is about 225. All the sites I checked say degree of difficulty in replacing is high so I won’t be doing this myself.

My questions are:

  • Does the labor to pull apart the struts to replace the shocks wipe out the savings in parts cost?
  • Are there other parts that should be changed like bushings, spring rubbers and the like since we are already in there?
  • Will not doing the struts cause the springs to fail?

I plan on keeping the vehicle until I retire in four years, approximately 40k miles from now. What does the B&B say?

Sajeev answers:

Damn near any vehicle with that kinda mileage is likely to have terrible struts/shocks and (coil in this case) springs. Why? Because, as we’ve mentioned before, these are wear items that are neglected even more than worn out headlight bulb filaments. I wouldn’t be too surprised if you’re running on the original bits. Odds are your mechanic is right and they are making a pigs ear of your CR-V’s ride.

Question 1: With the advent of aftermarket damper+spring combo replacements (Monroe and Gabriel, for example) for MacPherson Strut configured vehicles, you always replace both the spring and the damper together. Even if they aren’t clearly bad, odds are the springs have fatigued to the point that replacement is a good idea. Factor in the labor involved to replace a strut damper (in a MacPherson strut) by removing and re-using the spring, and just throwing away the whole assembly for a new one is often cheaper. Considering the benefit of new springs and shocks, this is a no brainer. Always get the combo. Get new springs when renewing MacPherson struts.

Question 2: Maybe. Only your mechanic’s eyeballs will know for sure. I wouldn’t go digging around to replace control arm bushings as that’s more labor to remove, but if they are bad, I assume you trust this person enough to be fair with you. I wouldn’t be surprised if the end links for the anti-sway bars could be bad, but again, that’s for the mechanic to judge.

Question 3: In theory, a bad strut causes the spring to cycle up/down more frequently. In theory, every moving part has a finite number of cycles it can handle before it breaks or distorts to the point you (or your wife?) finds the ride to be unbearable. In practice? A bad strut doesn’t directly cause a spring to fail. Usually abuse (big potholes) or rust will do that instead.

Since you are keeping it for a while and I see replacement Gabriel “Readymount” spring and damper assemblies for your vehicle are $190 for the rear and $153 for the front, replacing the dampers and springs are a total no brainer. Hell, this place I’ve never heard of before has the whole set for much, much less!

Do it.

[Image: Shuttertstock user patruflo]

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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5 of 54 comments
  • Case Case on Aug 12, 2015

    Thanks to all the B&B I guess it was foolish of me to expect consensus but I am better informed. The body is in very good condition, but I am looking at a timing belt change in the near future. I think I will wait until then to decide on the suspension upgrade. The comment about paying a few thousand a year to keep a usable vehicle serviceable as an alternative to buying newer or newer used struck a chord with me thanks again Harry in NE Georgia where cars don't rust out

    • See 2 previous
    • DevilsRotary86 DevilsRotary86 on Aug 12, 2015

      I am honored that you have considered my suggestion. However, I will point out that my suggestion is not necessarily right; I just wanted to point it out as a viable possibility. Really, only you know what state your car is in. Further, an average car payment for a "humble" vehicle is about $300 to $400 per month, or $3600 to $4800 per year. Let's just call it $3500 to $5000 per year to play with nice round numbers. If the state of the car is such that you are paying "a few thousand per year" beyond oil changes and tires to keep it on the road then I would seek to replace it. I lean towards repairing over replacing, but I do not pick that answer all the time. However, if for example it were a matter of spending $5000 to refurbish the suspension and there were no further repairs expected and I could expect another 5 or so years of trouble free service then I would choose to keep it on the road. If I may suggest something. Perhaps it would be a good idea to take your car to a reputable independent or dealer mechanic and request a pre purchase inspection (PPI). You are not necessarily looking to sell it, but you would like a full audit of the car and what repairs may be expected in the near future. If the PPI audit reveals that it will indeed be an ongoing "few thousand dollars a year" vehicle then you I personally would lean to replacing it. But if the PPI audit reveals that for $5000 or so the car could run another 5-10 years, then I think it is worth it. But at the end of the day, of course you are an adult free to make your own choice. Please feel free to ignore me and do what you think is best. All I wish to do is point out possibilities that you may not have previously considered.

  • AMC_MatadorX AMC_MatadorX on Aug 14, 2015

    I've always swapped just the strut itself, never the spring. This whole talk about the spring "wearing out"...ok maybe if you tow or offroad, or possibly from rust, but other than that I'd doubt it. My original Made in Japan springs that still perform 100% but have 200k on them are way better than some iffy Chinese units that were built on guesswork and inferior metal. There is lots of discussion online about the quick strut assys having the wrong spring rate for a specific model (usually too softly sprung), and causing safety issues. Not always, but out there. I would prefer to swap parts of known origin, (Japan for my KYBs, and OEM for the new strut mount/bearing where needed) Oh and if concerned about safety, here's a trick. Go and rent from the part store TWO (2) compressor kits, use one pair to actually do the work across from one another, and the other pair as your safety pair, tightening by hand as you go to offer back up in case of failure. I have had no issues doing it this way. In some cases, such as my 1998 Toyota, I actually need 4 compressors (90 deg apart) to properly, evenly, and safely compress the spring.

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