I have a 2004 LLBean with 88,000 miles on it. It rides worse than my old 2001 limited. The ride is hard. I was told that as long as the struts are not leaking oil, they are fine. Is this true? I thought it was the cheap Capitol tires on it. I put a set of Michelin mxv4s on, and it made hardly any difference. Can it be the struts, or does the Bean have a hard ride?
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One way to check the struts is to jounce the vehicle. Push down hard and release quickly on the bumpers and see how many times the vehicle bounces. It should be no more than 1.5 times, more than that and the struts are bad.
No, this is not true. Dampers can go bad without noticeable leaking. However, dampers that wear out would not make the ride hard. You may want to check the strut shafts to see if they are somehow restricted - maybe they are bent or maybe they are seized up by rust. Any obstruction to the movement of the shaft would act as though you had a stiffer spring, i.e. making the ride harder (though if the obstruction was significant it would likely make the "hard" ride very severe).
It is quite possible that you are interpreting the the ride of your 2001 Limited as better because those struts are worn out.
If the struts in the 2001 are not damping at the same rate, the overall spring rate will be changed and the car will react less to bumps in the road - mimicking a softer suspension that a more luxurious car would have. The change in damping may be enough to make the ride seem smoother but not so much as to make the ride obviously under dampened (bouncy).
In general, Subaru's are setup with a little stiffer suspension than many cars.
The ride on my Soob is getting harsher, and is likely due to the struts wearing out. The mechanism for controlling the response of the strut is not simple, so IMHO there is not a simple, single failure mode of the ride getting bouncy. That may have been the case for shock absorbers of yore, though, just not with the sophisticated modern suspensions.
There are a number of places online that sell OEM Subaru parts at a discount, I have no experience with any of them; they do offer around $110 a strut or so last I checked.
Allow me to expand. Modern shock absorbers use a number of valves and orifices to achieve the ride characteristics desired by the OEM. The shocks are also pressurized to prevent cavitation and increase performance. They are more sophisticated hydraulic systems certainly than fifty years ago. As the complexity goes up, the more there is to fail.