There's too many variables to know for sure about the struts. First of all, to play devil's advocate, you must have noticed the poor handling immediately after the crash, and the car would have pulled to one side when you let go of the steering wheel. That pull will tell you right away one of the front wheels is out of alignment by a lot. It's never until much later that the tire wear shows up. The exception is when both front wheels are tipped in or out on top exactly an equal amount. Tires want to pull in the direction they're leaning, and if both are leaning the same amount in opposite directions, their pulls will counteract each other. The car may go fairly straight but the handling will be overly-exaggerated in wind and when one tire slips on snow or ice. The case could be made that you should have noticed the alignment problem right away. Most insurance adjusters would assume a problem reported a month or two later after you've been driving the car without complaint is caused by something other than the crash.
Okay, as for that strut, the mechanic needs to say exactly what is wrong with it. Every car must get a four-wheel alignment after crash damage is repaired, especially the kind of damage you described. If you received a printout of the alignment, post the "before" and "after" readings for front and rear camber and toe. I can interpret those with respect to tire wear, pulling, and centered steering wheel.
Your front struts look just like what is used on Chrysler products. Their struts have two lower mounting holes and one is slotted to make it adjustable. That is "camber". That is the inward or outward tilt of the wheel as you look at the car from in front or in back. You would think your wheels are supposed to be straight up and down, but in fact, on most cars, they're tipped out on top just a little. Straight up and down is 0.00 degrees. If you can imagine a wheel laying on its side, that would be 90.00 degrees. A typical camber specification might be 0.30 degrees. That's not enough of a tilt to see by eye, but we can get it that close with the alignment computer. On some cars, 0.10 degrees difference from side-to-side is enough to cause a slight pull when you let go of the steering wheel on straight and flat roads.
A lot of GM front-wheel-drive cars use the same style struts as are on Chryslers, but they don't come with one slotted hole. One of them has to be ground out to make it adjustable when adjustment is needed. Your car uses this same design but I don't know if they come with a slotted hole. If they do, there's three things that could have happened. The first is that adjustment slipped from the shock of the crash, but most of the time that requires sliding into something like a curb. The fix for that is during the alignment to simply readjust it back to where it was and is supposed to be. The second is nothing happened during the crash, but as part of the alignment, the mechanic saw it needed some adjustment to be perfect, (which can be expected on any car, especially at the age and mileage you listed), and he didn't tighten the bolts enough, and the adjustment slipped after you got the car back. Very often it doesn't slip until you hit a normal bump in the road. Even hard braking can do it. The fix for that is to have the alignment rechecked by the same shop. They deserve the chance to correct their mistake, and typically you won't be charged again, normally up to about three months. The third thing is one of the alignment projectors could have slipped on the wheel. The computer is showing numbers related to the projector which is supposed to be perfectly parallel to the wheel. If the projector slips, THAT is what is going to be correct when the alignment is finished, not the wheel. The mechanic should have noticed the resulting pull and / or off-center steering wheel on the test drive. If he didn't notice anything unusual, it's unlikely you would either.
There is a fourth thing that can happen. Struts are like giant shock absorbers, but they are also a structural part of the suspension system. They hold the wheel straight, but the tube they're made from is somewhat weak on purpose. That tube will bend from a severe impact to help absorb some of the force rather than transfer it into the rest of the car. It is very common to find that tube bent at the bottom right above those two mounting bolts. The only fix for that is to replace the strut, (both should be replaced as a pair), then realign the car. A strut on the front is not going to be bent from an impact in the rear unless the tire gets pushed into something like that curb. Simply getting hit and shoved forward when the brakes are applied won't do it either. If it could, we'd see bent struts all the time after someone skidded the tires. Locking the brakes, sliding sideways, and hard acceleration won't bend a strut. In some cases it might be possible to bend one from sliding sideways on ice, then the tire suddenly hits dry pavement. Even that would be very uncommon, but if it did occur, almost surely you wouldn't be able to see the damage by eye. You'd need the alignment computer to pick that up.
When talking about front and rear, it's just like front and rear tires. There's struts on the front and on the rear of most front-wheel-drive cars. A part on the left always refers to the driver's side, (as left is seen from the driver's seat).
What you need to do is go back to the mechanic who did the previous alignment and find out exactly what is wrong with the strut. I'm very skeptical it was damaged in the crash, and unless someone can tell me why, it's highly unlikely the insurance company should have to pay for it. The second thing is to request a copy of the printout from the alignment computer so I can see what they are. I always put a copy on the passenger front seat, and I used a highlighter to show which adjustments is changed.
Thursday, January 29th, 2015 AT 4:52 PM