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I have a 2003 Mazda Protege with about 100,000 miles on it. Even very uncertain guestimates at the appropriate price for this would be appreciated.

Will worn struts damage my tires? How quickly? Is driving on worn struts dangerous?

Many Thanks!

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The way to tell if your struts are worn out is this:

Push down hard (lean into) the fender right above a wheel and then let go. The spring should compress when you push into it, and the car should come back up ONCE (slightly above the rest point) and settle back into where it was.

If your shocks are not doing their job, your car will bounce 2 or more times before settling, and should be replaced; mostly for handling/safety reasons. It's unsafe to bounce after a bump multiple times, especially when cornering. In an extreme case, you could lose traction and hit a wall because of poor shocks (but you'd have to be pushing the limits of the car's traction and then hit a bump while in a corner).

However, they shouldn't 'damage' your tires or cause them to wear any faster than normal. Wear is caused from friction with the road (length traveled), which will be amplified by a poor alignment.

I would 'guestimate' a shock-job at $150-$400 per pair (Front or Rear only), which will depend greatly on your car. Most trucks and some car rears are on the cheaper end (shocks) where most car fronts are struts which are a more costly part and more costly to replace (the spring has to be compressed and set into the new one).

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I wouldn't recommend pushing down hard on the fender. It would take 100-200 lbs (I'm not sure what the spring rates are on the Protege) to even move the car down an inch. That much weight can put a small dent in a fender. –  MD6380 Jun 21 '12 at 6:34
    
Also, if a strut is really worn it can cause uneven tire wear or cupping. Blown struts will lose the ability to keep the tire in contact with the ground at all times. This can eventually be a bit unsafe since the tire is no longer perfectly round and traction is decreased. The tires will also create more noise. –  MD6380 Jun 21 '12 at 6:41
    
I have to sharply disagree with your first comment. I weigh 185lbs, and have pushed down, hard, on many a quarterpanel (not the plastic fender) with not a single problem; and have watched career mechanics do the same. Fender was misspoken on my part if you thought I meant plastic fenders. Further, I tend to move the car (even new ones) 2-4 inches - so either your spring rate calculation is off, or you're not taking progressive springs into account, or every car I've pushed on (even newer ones) have had worn springs, which is doubtful. –  Ehryk Jun 21 '12 at 7:56
    
You're right, I didn't take progressive springs into account, so my calculations are off. But I often see pressure dents on fenders from people sitting on a car. For this same reason, you shouldn't force a hood shut with your hands, but instead drop it at a high enough height so gravity closes it. –  MD6380 Jul 18 '12 at 6:14
    
I only see them from people who sit in the center, unsupported section of hoods. I jump on cars all the time. The centers of the hood, roof, and sometimes trunk will dent, but I have stood on and jumped on at the corners of at LEAST 100 cars with no dents, and if you push directly above the hood latch section you won't dent the hood by pushing it shut, either. Your advice might be sound for a Ferrari, but if you have a car like that you're not coming to Mechanics.SE for advice. –  Ehryk Jul 18 '12 at 6:52
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