I was driving down the alley last week to pick up Frugal Boy from the babysitter when out of no where a loud boom emitted from the front end of the car. Shocked, I hit the brake and put it into park, then quickly turned the ignition off. A couple of framing carpenters working nearby had also been startled and one of my neighbors who happened to be out came running over. Together we looked underneath the car to see what had fallen off or what was dragging.
Our cursory glance did not reveal any smoking gun, only a piece of curved metal that had sheared/snapped off, and since I still needed to pick up Frugal Boy, I decided to try and get the car back into its parking space. The car shaked and shuttered while in slow reverse but it covered the short distance.
Later that evening after letting the question simmer in the back of my mind I had an idea of what it might be. A quick check later and I had found the culprit.
The front driver’s side spring coil had blown out. The giant metal spring works along with the strut to form a critical component of a cars suspension system. That suspension system turns pot holes and speed bumps from jarring impacts to soft bumps. A common misconception is that shocks and struts are the same thing. While they perform the same function, smoothing out your ride, they work slightly differently.
Some cars have struts on the front and shocks on the back while others have struts or shocks on the front and back. Either way, you have to replace A with A and B with B.
Shocks and struts should always be replaced in pairs. Since the front drivers side broke, I also needed to replace the intact (I wouldn’t go so far as to say “functioning”) passenger strut.
One of my neighbors was impressed that I knew how to do the replacement. I let him in on my little secret. I watched the first 4 minutes of this youtube video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LEaevAxA8Gc
While the video goes on and on about coil compression and the possibility of maiming yourself, I opted for the safer and easier route and just purchased a preassembled strut+coil.
To my astonishment, the cheapest retailer that I found for the two preassembled struts wasn’t my local NAPA store, or Autozone, or Advanced Auto Parts. It was Amazon! By waiting 5-8 days for free shipping, I was able to save $120 over NAPA, the only brick and mortar in town that had the part in stock.
The grand total was $200 in parts ($100 per side) and after using an Amazon gift card and some credit card points I had knocked the out of pocket cost down to $166. Labor took me a total of 4 hours, two to disassemble and two to reassemble.
For a little comparison, back in January of 2013 I took our other car into a nationally operated chain garage to replace the struts (on the front) and shocks (on the rear). The front ended up costing us $467. $112 of that was labor and the other $355 was parts. Amazon has those same parts for $258. If I had done that job myself, I would have saved the labor and price part difference for a total of $209. For those of you saying your time is worth a lot, in my case it worked out to $28/hour and that’s because I am an amateur and have to waste time finding the tool I just put down.
By diagnosing and fixing the problem myself, I saved about 45% vs giving up and calling a mechanic. The difficulty level is low and the amount of tools needed is also fairly simple. I used a
- two jack stands
- two ratchet wrenches
- 3 sockets sized 15mm, 17mm, and 19mm?
- a cheater bar (basically a really long wrench to give you leverage)
- a pair of needle nose pliers (to help with a brake line clip)
The biggest and most important tool in your toolbox is confidence. A great way to gain confidence is to start with smaller, simpler jobs such as filling the windshield wiper fluid, replacing wiper blades, and changing the oil.