Strut replacement

Tiny
NATHANMICHALESKI
  • MEMBER
  • 1996 HONDA PRELUDE
  • 176,000 MILES
I am replacing the struts on my car and I would like to also replace the parts around it as well such as bushings or mounts. I am wondering, which parts do I need exactly as I am show a variety of options online but I do not know which best suits me.
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Saturday, March 25th, 2017 AT 1:36 PM

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Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
Happy you asked. If you have access to a professional strut compressor, you have a couple of options. If you're doing this at home, most people use those hooks to compress the coil spring, and those are dangerous. As a suspension and alignment specialist at a new-car dealership, I preferred using an old clam-shell-type compressor, and even those can be dangerous. I saw a spring fly out and take out an eight-foot light fixture. I had one fly out and bounce all the way across the shop and out to the parking lot. It made so much noise, the office manager heard it from behind two closed doors, and came running out to see what was going on. Did I mention these are dangerous?

The better alternative, especially when you're doing this at home, is to buy a pair of "Quick Struts" that are ready to install. The car is going to need to be aligned when you're done, and a conscientious alignment specialist is going to measure ride height first. That is critical for proper tire wear and handling. If the coil springs are sagged from age, that changes the geometry of the suspension components, and that changes the range of movements the wheels go through as they move up and down on the road. We can still align the car, "for the rack", meaning the numbers on the computer will look perfect, but there will still be miserable tire wear on the road. The pre-assembled Quick Struts come with new coil springs which will restore correct ride height.

The upper strut mounts can also cause problems with noisy or hard turning, and in severe cases, the center hole can rust away and let the shaft of the strut wobble and change alignment. That wear can't be seen until the assembly is removed and taken apart. At that point you have to order new mounts, and the car is not driveable in the meantime. Those upper mounts are often a dealer-only item, and must be special-ordered. Since they come as part of the Quick Strut, you don't have to worry about them.

There are also hard rubber "strut cushions" on the shafts of the struts, and there may be dust boots attached to them. Either of those can break apart and rattle. Those are also special-order items. You definitely don't want to eliminate a cushion. Doing so will cause a real hard bump when going over big bumps in the road. This is most noticeable when crossing over a sidewalk at an angle, to enter a parking lot. The jolt is so bad, you WILL want to take everything apart again to install that missing cushion.

One last thing to be aware of is a few models, Chrysler products in particular, use a rubber insulator between the bottom of the coil spring and the plate on the strut body it sits on. Those are about 1/4" thick and have a metal stiffening member inside the rubber coating. Where rust and salt are common, that metal frame can rust away, then the rubber can squirt out. The problem is you won't notice that until you have the assembly apart, then you have to run to the dealer's parts department for new ones. In my case, the parts department had a sales history of "0", so they never stocked the part. I wasn't about to put everything back together, then tell the customer to come back days later for the same service, so I just put the new struts on and left those isolators off. (Other models used the same struts but without those isolators). It took a couple of years worth of repair orders before I convinced the parts department to stock those parts. Once they were in stock and available when I needed them in the middle of the job, the sales history shot up. If those were used as original equipment, they will be included with the Quick Struts too. If your car model didn't use them originally, but they are included with the new assemblies, they will only raise ride height about 1/4", which will still be in specs, and they will quiet the ride a little.

If you have never replaced struts before, it is a good idea to work alongside a mentor who can point out little details and hints.
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Saturday, March 25th, 2017 AT 2:45 PM
Tiny
NATHANMICHALESKI
  • MEMBER
I am trying to upgrade my suspension and braking systems as the area I am in is very hilly. I bought a brake and rotor kit along with caliper repair kits. I am thinking for the suspension I will go with struts and a master bushing kit. Hopefully I will be able to rent a spring compresser.
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Saturday, March 25th, 2017 AT 2:51 PM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
Be aware the braking system is just that, ... A carefully-designed system that matches and balances the front and rear braking power for even stopping and control. Aftermarket replacement parts must maintain that front-to-rear balance in case you only replace parts on one axle. The only way to "upgrade" a brake is to install parts meant for a different vehicle that is heavier or has a different percentage of weight on the front. All brakes already have the ability to lock up the wheels and make the tires skid. There is no advantage to making that easier to do. In fact, a skidding tire has no traction or steering control, so skidding must be avoided. If you install calipers in front with larger diameter pistons, those wheels will lock up easier. To prevent that loss of control, you can't push as hard on the brake pedal. That means the rear brakes will not be stopping to their full potential. The fronts will overheat easier, leading to one form of brake fade.

If you were to install larger diameter rear wheel cylinders or calipers to match the new front brakes, you might return to a balanced system, front-to-rear, but you're still limited by the traction of the tires. The brake pedal will travel further to the floor, and it will be easier to push, but the car's stopping ability will still be limited by the traction of the tires.

The bottom line is for stopping ability, nothing is an improvement over what the engineers came up with after a real lot of research and development. The best you can hope to do for an improvement is to install all of the factory parts for your year and model if a larger brake system was available as an option. For example, I use an '88 Dodge Grand Caravan to drag around a huge tandem axle enclosed trailer that's bigger than the van. Most of these vans came with 14" wheels. Mine came with optional 15" wheels, and that package included larger brakes. I have never needed the trailer's brakes to stop comfortably. THAT is an example of what you might look for, for a legitimate upgrade. Be aware you would likely need to replace the master cylinder along with the front calipers and rear calipers or wheel cylinders. The pads and shoes will be different, so you'll need the matching rotors and drums, and all the mounting hardware, backing plates, hubs and spindles. The combination valve will be different. If your car has anti-lock brakes, you already have a huge upgrade that can't be improved upon. Those systems allow every tire to be right at the limit of its stopping power.

Simply slapping on a few aftermarket parts is not going to get you better stopping power although there is a chance they could reduce heat-related brake fade. I strongly discourage making any modifications to the brake system or to ride height. I know altered ride height isn't part of your question, but that also adversely affects braking, handling, and steering control. At issue is the chance to be involved in a lawsuit. If the other guy runs a red light and causes a crash, you can be sure his lawyer or insurance investigator is going to find alterations to the brake system, and altered ride height. They will convince a jury that you were partly at fault for the crash because you were less able to avoid it, and they will be right. I know that may sound extreme, but it is part of what we have to keep in the back of our mind with every car we work on.
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Monday, March 27th, 2017 AT 5:36 PM

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