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My girlfriend is having a heck of a vexing time with navigating her options for getting the rear struts on her 99 camry replaced.

One major chain auto repair store quoted $580-$600 for the job. Another chain (attached to a larger chain department store, ahem) quoted her $455. Another, local, putatively trustworthy shop looked at it and at first thought it was only the bolt that needed replacing, which was a relief for her at the time -- she paid about $100 and drove off the same day, only to find that the symptoms came back. Returned to the local shop and they found, indeed, that the rear struts needed replacing - which raises the secondary question of whether they should take some responsibility for not having properly diagnosed the problem in the first place, or at least credit her some portion of the $100 she already paid. The local guys are also quoting her about $600.

I'm specifically wondering if these amounts sound reasonable (about $455 to $600); if anyone has ideas on how to get a better price on the job; and whether with a standard set of tools (the kind that a very casual handyman would have) and whatever else could be rented or borrowed, we could do this ourselves and for cheaper.

Thanks in advance for any advice you might have.

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3 Answers 3

The tools to do it yourself can all be rented. The job can be difficult and even hazardous depending on the route you take to do it. You can do full strut/spring changes by buying the "quick change" strut assemblies. Or, you can disassemble the strut assembly to only replace the bad parts (commonly the strut and the bearing/top plates). That requires more time, tools, and involves compressing a spring (which is dangerous, do something wrong in the process and you can launch a spring into a body part and cause severe injury/death. Also consider how rusty the car is/is not and how accessible the top bolts and swaybar (if there is one) endlinks are. Toyotas usually are OK, but some other makes (like GM) have small bolts that you can expect to snap off if they're rusted.

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Thanks Bryan for your reply. If I go the quick strut route, should I expect a less hazardous procedure? And is it safe to assume that I should do it in pairs even if only the rear passenger's side needs replacement? –  dubhousing Apr 25 '12 at 18:41
    
I'll throw in there that while compressing the spring can be dangerous, it's not terribly complicated or easy to screw up. You rent or buy a specially shaped clamp that attaches to the spring and apply force to compress the spring so that it is not pushing against the top hat on the strut. Brian is correct that if it slips off it can launch with a great deal of force, however. Also, Brian's comments about accessing bolts and rust is spot on - that will determine the ease or difficulty of the job for a home mechanic. –  qes Apr 26 '12 at 3:21
    
Also, probably wise to have the alignment checked afterwards. –  qes Apr 26 '12 at 3:22
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Quick strut is by far less hazardous. Doing pairs is generally recommended for strut replacements. If I was doing a quick strut I would definitely do the pair. If I was doing just the strut/insert replacement on one that had an unusual early failure I might consider just doing the one. –  Brian Knoblauch Apr 26 '12 at 14:05
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tl;dr: If you haven't done this sort of work before, I would NOT recommend that you try this on your own.

I'm specifically wondering if these amounts sound reasonable (about $455 to $600); if anyone has ideas on how to get a better price on the job; and whether with a standard set of tools (the kind that a very casual handyman would have) and whatever else could be rented or borrowed, we could do this ourselves and for cheaper.

I did a quick search and it appears that your strut replacement would be very similar to the two replacements I did on our Subarus at home. Here's a very rough estimate of how I would expect the parts to break down:

  1. Struts (rears only): about $180 to $200.
  2. Tops and bumpstops: between $0 and $100 (if you bought an all-in-one strut, you don't need these).
  3. Spring compressor: about $20 (which you either don't need for an all-in-one strut or you will literally die without if you didn't).
  4. Jack, jack stands or ramps, sockets and drivers, power tools, etc. Basically everything listed in Car enthusiast beginner kit. This could be anywhere from $0 (if you already have everything) to $infinity (I haven't stopped spending money on tools).

Having done these jobs fairly recently, I am able to say without fear of contradiction that doing this job in your own garage is a serious commitment of time, sweat, grime, skin and some blood.

So, looking over your estimates, none of them are super crazy in terms of parts vs. labor costs.

I did our cars because (a) I'm a control freak about this sort of thing and (b) I am a crazy person.

If both of these do not apply in your situation, I recommend that you select a shop that you can trust and pay them to take care of it.

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What's your take on buying the whole assembly to do it yourself? I ended up taking off the whole assembly when I did the LCA replacement on my Civic, and aside from the broken bolt in the LCA, there was nothing difficult. –  R.. Aug 19 '13 at 21:25
    
@R.., if you don't have to deal with spring compressor safety, it's much less of a deal. There are three bolts at the top and two at the bottom of each strut on my car. It would still be a lot of work but managing the spring would no longer be a huge time suck. –  Bob Cross Aug 19 '13 at 22:09
    
That sounds the same as on my Civic. On the side where I had a broken bolt, it was a big pain, but on the other side I could have removed and replaced the whole strut assembly in 15 minutes (that's about how long the LCA took on the easy side, too). –  R.. Aug 20 '13 at 0:24
    
@R.., my tl;dr still applies to novices, though. If you replaced a full strut assembly in 15 minutes, you've got the procedure down and the tools ready to hand. A novice is going to be learning on the job including figuring out what to do when they break one of the bolts that they thought they were going to reuse.... –  Bob Cross Aug 20 '13 at 15:26
    
I consider myself a novice who just happens to have a nice socket set, a couple breaker bars, a Dremel, and a can of Liquid Wrench. ;-) –  R.. Aug 20 '13 at 18:11
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Just did the front struts on wife's '95 Camry (V-6). Bought the quick-strut combo (Springs, struts, mounting plates, bushings, etc., no spring-compressing required) for $80 ea. on ebay. After you get the wheel off there's two bolts at the bottom (22 mm), and three nuts on top (easy to see with the hood up), and a bolt for the brake line. Piece of cake. 20 minute job. One of the easiest things you can do. You may need an extra pair of hands to put a nut on at the top of the shock tower when reinstalling your replacement strut(s).

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