Piston Slap: Strutin’ Around a Loaded Question?

A loaded question? (photo courtesy: shockwarehouse.com)
Harry writes:
My daily driver is a ’99 Honda CR-V two-wheel drive I took over from my kid when she went to work overseas. It has been in the family since 2007 and has always been economical on gas, reliable and needed only regular service. It is fine for the 20 mile drive to work in suburbia — but we take our Pilot on trips because my wife refuses to ride in the CR-V.
At the last regular service my mechanic told me the ride is terrible because at 237k the struts/shocks are completely toast and it would be north of a grand to replace them. I checked online and the shocks are about 75 each but a complete strut assembly is about 225. All the sites I checked say degree of difficulty in replacing is high so I won’t be doing this myself.
My questions are:

Does the labor to pull apart the struts to replace the shocks wipe out the savings in parts cost?
Are there other parts that should be changed like bushings, spring rubbers and the like since we are already in there?
Will not doing the struts cause the springs to fail?

I plan on keeping the vehicle until I retire in four years, approximately 40k miles from now. What does the B&B say?
Sajeev answers:
Damn near any vehicle with that kinda mileage is likely to have terrible struts/shocks and (coil in this case) springs. Why? Because, as we’ve mentioned before, these are wear items that are neglected even more than worn out headlight bulb filaments. I wouldn’t be too surprised if you’re running on the original bits. Odds are your mechanic is right and they are making a pigs ear of your CR-V’s ride.
Question 1: With the advent of aftermarket damper+spring combo replacements (Monroe and Gabriel, for example) for MacPherson Strut configured vehicles, you always replace both the spring and the damper together. Even if they aren’t clearly bad, odds are the springs have fatigued to the point that replacement is a good idea. Factor in the labor involved to replace a strut damper (in a MacPherson strut) by removing and re-using the spring, and just throwing away the whole assembly for a new one is often cheaper. Considering the benefit of new springs and shocks, this is a no brainer. Always get the combo. Get new springs when renewing MacPherson struts.
Question 2: Maybe. Only your mechanic’s eyeballs will know for sure. I wouldn’t go digging around to replace control arm bushings as that’s more labor to remove, but if they are bad, I assume you trust this person enough to be fair with you. I wouldn’t be surprised if the end links for the anti-sway bars could be bad, but again, that’s for the mechanic to judge.
Question 3: In theory, a bad strut causes the spring to cycle up/down more frequently. In theory, every moving part has a finite number of cycles it can handle before it breaks or distorts to the point you (or your wife?) finds the ride to be unbearable. In practice? A bad strut doesn’t directly cause a spring to fail. Usually abuse (big potholes) or rust will do that instead.
Since you are keeping it for a while and I see replacement Gabriel “Readymount” spring and damper assemblies for your vehicle are $190 for the rear and $153 for the front, replacing the dampers and springs are a total no brainer. Hell, this place I’ve never heard of before has the whole set for much, much less!
Do it.
Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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