Worn out shocks or struts?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Feb 01, 1996

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a 1986 Celica which has begun to exhibit signs of what I think are worn shocks (or struts). It frequently "bottoms out" through dips, and the tires have begun to rub against something when making sharper turns at moderate speeds. The car does not appear to be sitting lower than usual. Moreover, I have "bounced" it with my hands, and it doesn't exhibit the classic prolonged bouncing which I understand is associated with worn out shocks. Though each of the three mechanics I went to were eager to give me a quote for the work, none was able to tell me definitively whether or not my shocks need replacing. Do my symptoms sound like symptoms of worn shocks? Or could they be something worse, like worn springs? Also, what's the difference between a strut and a shock absorber?

TOM: What's the difference between a strut and a shock absorber? About a hundred bucks, Gregory.

RAY: "Shock absorbers" are physically separated from the car's springs. A "strut," on the other hand, is a shock absorber with a spring that fits around it. Struts are common these days because they save space. But they cost more because the springs have to be removed before the "shock absorber" part of the strut can be replaced. And removing springs is a job that requires special tools--most importantly, a Bronko Nagurski football helmet!

TOM: And you don't have any choice in the matter. Your car either has shocks or struts, and that's what you have to use. And the Celica has struts.

RAY: But your symptoms sound more like worn springs, Greg. Cars "bottom out" when their springs get too soft. And if they're really weak, your tires could be scrubbing the top of the wheel housing once in a while. That may be the rubbing sound you hear.

TOM: You've got to get your mechanic to check them. Have him look up the specification for the springs. And if any of your springs (it's possible that you just need the front two) aren't up to snuff, they'll need to be replaced.

RAY: It's not unusual for springs to lose their spring on a car of this age, especially if you frequently carry heavier than normal loads...like your mother-in-law.

TOM: And it's not unusual for a car that's nine or ten years old to need struts, too. And if you've got the springs out, you might as well replace the shock absorber portion of the struts while you're at it. Altogether, it's an expensive job, but these components perform important functions; like keeping the wheels on the ground. So get them taken care of if you need them.

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