Bad struts

  • 1998 DODGE NEON
  • 2.0L
  • 4 CYL
  • FWD
  • 121,472 MILES
I was changing my oil today when I noticed that my passenger side rear tire had some negative camber, it is the only one with it, but it made me worry because I am about to make a 2800 plus mile road trip, and did not know if it would affect the car, I have noticed that it sounds like my rear end is rattling and figured it was my suspension, but never had it checked out seeing as I paid $150.00 for the car and I did not want to drop $700.00 plus into it. I took it to a mechanic, and unfortunately he was about to close shop, I told him about the issue and he went to my car shook my back tires and there was the rattling, he said the struts are shot and it would not make it on the trip. My question is this, if I do go ahead and, against his advice, drive the car, what is the absolute, worst case scenario, of something happening due to driving with bad rear struts, lower stability and control, or dropping my axle? Anything helps.
Do you
have the same problem?
Thursday, May 26th, 2016 AT 7:27 PM

1 Reply

Worst case is the inside edge of the tire wears down to the point of having a blowout. That is not likely to happen because there just is not that much play in a strut body to let the wheel tip in that much.

Next worse case is you go insane from the rattling noise. You'll have to turn the radio volume up higher and you may not hear the train whistle. That could turn out pretty bad too.

Due to the geometry of the suspension system, a rear wheel that tips in or out on top will not change the direction it is steering. That is "toe", and any toe change or misadjustment always affects both tires.

There are some other things to be aware of. First of all, struts and shock absorbers are designed to push together real easily so a tire can bounce over bumps, but they pull apart real hard to reduce the tendency for a tire to drop into a pot hole. The affected tire is going to drop easily which will increase the hammering effect on the suspension parts. Typically that will not cause a part failure, but it will reduce the life expectancy of some parts, mainly control arm bushings.

I am never comfortable relying on someone else's diagnosis. I would want to see the movement for myself. If you can get a helper to tug out on the tire, crawl underneath and watch where the shaft comes out of the center of the top of the strut body. There should be no sideways movement there. If there is, besides the rattle, the oil is leaked out and the damping action is gone. That's what will let the tire drop into holes. I find these on the front struts by reaching over the top of the tire, pushing the dust boot up, sticking my finger on top of the strut body so my fingertip just touches the shaft, then I tug on the tire. The movement is easy to feel, but you have to be careful that your tugging doesn't cause the body of the car to move up and down. That will make the shaft move up and down and that can feel like it's moving sideways.

For my last thought, since you can see the negative camber, I am suspicious there is some other cause other than the strut. The shaft just cannot move that much sideways. A typical camber adjustment for any car is from a little negative to up to roughly.75 degrees. (90 degrees means the wheel would be laying on its side). You can't really see three quarters of a degree. If you remember the 1980's Ford-built Escort and Tempo "killer cars", those had almost 2.50 degrees in the front and real high negative in the rear. You could easily see those tires squirting out in all directions, and tires lasted about 15,000 miles. (The fronts were not adjustable so we couldn't fix them). You are not going to get minus 2.50 degrees from a worn strut unless it has been hammering away for a long time. You won't get an occasional rattle from that. You'll get a headache after driving the car a short distance. For this reason I would sooner expect to find something else wrong that IS able to cause so much negative camber. In particular, Chrysler made camber real easy to adjust on your car by way of the two lower mounting holes. One of them is slotted. You loosen the two bolts, tug the wheel to specs, then tighten the bolts. If I had to throw a dart at the diagnostic board, my first suspicion would be those bolts are loose. To verify that, watch where the bottom of the strut attaches to the spindle while your helper tugs on the wheel. You'll see the spindle move within the mounting flanges if those bolts are loose.

If you do your own work, you may be able to replace the strut yourself. I never advise a car owner to replace their own front struts because those coil springs are under a real lot of pressure, but when I worked at a very nice family-owned Chrysler dealership as their suspension and alignment mechanic, if the strut compressor was in use by someone else, I could hold the rear struts collapsed enough by hand to get the springs off. You might want two people to reassemble it; one to push the spring and one to start the nut. This one won't take your head off, (or other more valuable parts), if it gets away from you. I could put up with just one new strut on the rear, or a complete used assembly from a salvage yard, but for anything up front, always replace struts and or springs in matched pairs for balanced handling and steering response. You'll need an alignment to get camber set correctly, but if you wait with that, there should be very little affect on rear toe. You can verify toe isn't changing now and it will not have changed after replacing the strut by observing the steering wheel is still straight when driving straight.

Obviously we always want to replace suspension parts in matched pairs. The reason I could overlook that here is a used or a new strut is going to be matched to the other one better than what you have now.
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Thursday, May 26th, 2016 AT 9:33 PM

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