In this guide I will cover everything you ever wanted to know about your vehicle’s struts. What they are, what they do and the symptoms of their failure. Finally I will give you a strut replacement cost guide so you don’t get ripped off by your mechanic!
Table of Contents
What Are Struts on a Car?
Fundamentally, struts serve two basic functions. The first function of a strut is quite literally to support the weight and structure of the vehicle up above the wheels and tires. You can relate this purpose of struts to the same purpose the bones of your legs serve to support your upper body from your feet and ankles.
The second purpose of a strut is to act as a shock absorbing mechanism for the rigid chassis and cabin of the vehicle from the impact forces imparted on the tires from the road. Keeping with the human anatomy metaphor, imagine a strut functioning much in the same way as cartilage, muscle, and tendon functions in your joints to absorb impact forces from running.
What is the Difference Between Struts and Shocks?
While it would be very easy to imagine that struts and shocks are essentially the same, you might actually be surprised to learn about just how different they actually are. Prior to the invention and implementation of shocks and struts, many older vehicles operated with leaf spring suspensions or no shock absorbing suspension whatsoever.
As time went on, people began to place greater and greater demands on their vehicles, putting them in environments with uneven road surfaces, or even areas without any roads. As one can imagine, these environments were brutal on the rigid frames of vehicles, causing all sorts of structural breakdown and wear.
To address this issue, automobile engineers and manufacturers implemented shock absorbers into the design of the vehicle. Shocks were highly effective in this period of time, as they were stand-alone components that could be used in conjunction with numerous types of chassis and vehicle types. Over time, shocks were able to be incorporated with leaf springs, coils, and torsion bars, making shocks an extremely versatile solution for many decades in the automobile industry.
However, as time went on, automobile engineering and manufacturing technology advanced greatly, with a special focus being placed on vehicle performance. While shocks were, and still are, very effective in specific applications, the industry discovered a need for something much more dynamic, comprehensive, and capable.
The Introduction of Struts to the Market
The end result of the industry’s design and research was the strut. Fundamentally, the strut functions in some similar ways to the shock absorber, but also differs in a few important ways. Like the shock, struts act in a dampening capacity to help muffle the vertical movements of the coil suspension components.
However, unlike shocks, struts are able to be incorporated within the suspension coil spring assembly, making them more streamlined and less cumbersome than shocks within the wheel well. Also, unlike shocks, struts are able to actively contribute in a meaningful way to the suspension of the vehicle. Finally, struts also typically contain a bearing that is able to facilitate the pivoting of the steering knuckle.
In summary, the primary takeaway regarding the difference between shocks and struts should be that shocks are more simple and effective in specific applications; struts are much more complex and dynamic, but significantly more expensive and difficult to maintain.
How Long Do Struts Last?
Generally speaking, struts last roughly between 50,000 and 100,000 miles. Granted, there are plenty of cases in which individuals have found some struts to last much longer or much shorter mileages totals, however, industry statistics have shown that the average life spans of struts fall within this general range.
With all that being said, many industry experts recommend not necessarily focusing too much on mileage as being the primary factor in deciding when to replace your struts. Instead, expert mechanics recommend using mileage more as a guideline and indicator as to when to start paying closer attention to the condition of struts. Having your struts inspected and serviced with some degree of regularity during these mileage windows can, and most often will, ensure that you do not run into unwanted mechanical issues down the line.
While struts are very important to the overall functionality of the vehicle, they don’t quite have the same propensity for catastrophic effects in the same way as something like having no oil in your engine does. This doesn’t mean that you should not have your struts regularly inspected, but you do have some leeway in the timeframe within which you will need to have them replaced.
How to Tell if Struts Are Bad?
Understanding the warning signs and symptoms of strut wear can go a long way in ensuring the long-term overall health of your vehicle. Many of us drive our vehicles almost daily, so any progressive and gradual changes in how our vehicle drives becomes almost unnoticeable.
With how much time we spend driving, our vehicles often feel like extensions of ourselves, but paying attention to the following hallmark indications of strut wear can help you understand the effects that your driving behaviours and road conditions have on your vehicle.
There are 4 main symptoms or warning signs that will tell if your struts are bad and need replacement.
Symptom 1: Vehicle Instability
One of the most commonly experienced sensations while driving a vehicle with worn struts is instability of the vehicle at high speeds, most often while driving on the freeway. If your vehicle feels like it is driving over pebbles or gravel while driving at high speeds on smooth surfaces, this could be a very strong indicator of having worn out struts.
Symptom 2: Car Veers in to the Side
Another sign of worn out struts is during instances where your vehicle overly favors one side while going through a turn. If your car dips to one side, you most likely have a worn strut on that side. If the front end of your vehicle dives excessively forward during hard braking, or the rear end sits more than usual during abrupt acceleration, this too is an indication of needing to replace your struts.
Symptom 3: Leaking Strut Seals
Leaking fluid near the outside of the struts indicates that the seals on the struts have broken down, and are allowing vital fluids to escape from the strut, hindering it from functioning properly, thus requiring a replacement. Lastly, the final common indicator of worn struts is the uneven wear of tire tread on the vehicle. This uneven wear is the result of the worn strut’s inability to securely hold the tire in place, thus causing an unusual and wavy form of tread wear.
Symptom 4: Banging Noises
If your struts are broken and not able to absorb the shocks in the road, they will make a loud banging sound as as the metal components impact each other. If the sounds are loud and obvious, you really shouldn’t keep driving your vehicle as it’s handling could be majorly impacted.
How Are Struts Replaced?
While having your struts replaced by a professional mechanic is highly recommended for many reasons, the general process is fairly straightforward.
The first step is to have the vehicle elevated using a jack lift. This ensures ease of access to the wheel well and coil assembly.
The next step is to remove the wheel in order to access the tie rod and cotter pin.
Once those are removed, the next step is to remove the upper ball joint and lower bolt which hold the strut in place.
Once this step is complete, the coil must be removed from the strut. This part of the process can prove quite challenging to those without experience, as the coil is compressed on the strut, requiring spring compressors in order to release it from the strut.
Once these steps have been completed, the strut should release with ease, allowing the replacement strut to be installed. Once the new strut is in place, the steps listed above can be followed in reverse order, resulting in a successful strut replacement.
Getting the work done by a professional mechanic will obviously increase the strut replacement cost but I definitely recommended you do so.
What Is a Strut Assembly?
A strut assembly is predominantly composed of five main parts, although certain speciality struts may be composed of different components, or may be organized in a slightly different configuration. The first of five components within a strut is the strut body, which is the primary structure around which the rest of the strut components revolve.
The next component is the bumpstop which rests between the upper mount of the strut and the strut body. The third common component of a strut assembly is the strut upper mount, which acts as the fixture for the strut to mount onto the chassis.
The fourth component is the coil spring which encircles the strut, and supports the greatest amount of weight from the vehicle resting on the tires. The fifth and final component is the spring seat, which rests at the base of the strut, and functions as the connection point of the strut to the wheel assembly.
Strut Replacement Cost
While specialty struts for things like performance vehicles or offroad trucks can run a steep premium, the average replacement cost for a pair of struts will run roughly between $450 and $900, including parts and labor.
For the average vehicle, you can expect to spend anywhere between $150 and $300 for a pair of struts, and $300 to $600 in labor costs. Again, these prices are averages, and individual prices will vary based on who is doing the installation and which struts you choose to purchase, but these numbers are a very good range within which you can expect to pay.
As you can see, most of the strut replacement cost is due to the amount of labour required to install them and not the parts themselves.
Quality Difference vs Cost Difference?
Most people who consider costs associated with their vehicles will generally pick the cheapest components available that will be sufficient for the immediate need. We all understand that spending money on repairs for your vehicle is never the most fun thing to do. However, considering the upfront strut replacement cost and comparing it to likely long term costs is a valuable exercise.
Sure, buying cheap struts upfront seems like it makes sense. The struts get replaced, and the problem is resolved. However, cheap struts are cheap for a reason. Their build quality is often inferior, and their longevity is significantly curtailed when compared to higher quality struts.
The reality is that electing to save a few dollars in the short term may seem like a good idea, but cheap struts need to be replaced much more often, and can lead to much more hazardous effects in other areas relating to your vehicle.
We recommend discussing all of your purchasing options with a service professional in order to arrive at the best compromise between strut replacement cost and overall quality. It may be a tough decision to make initially, but you’ll be glad you made it in the long term.
Frequently Asked Questions
Struts absorb and dampen the large vibrations your vehicle experiences on the road. They also act as structural supports for the entire suspension system.
On average, struts should last for at least 50,000 miles before needing to be replaced. After 100,000 miles, you should be actively checking them out to ensure they are still OK.
This depends if the strut is simply weak or totally broken. If it is just a little worn but still providing damping, then it is alright to drive on. If the seal has broken or the strut is bent, then it is completely unsafe to drive the vehicle.
When your vehicle goes over bumps in the road, you will hear clunking or banging noises if the strut is broken.
Generally it will take about 100 miles until your new set of struts are fully broken in. During this time, your vehicle ride will probably feel stiff or a little bouncy.
Thank You For Reading!
Hopefully you have found this guide on strut replacement cost informative and helpful. If you have any questions or something wasn’t covered, please leave a comment below.