Replacing worn struts: simple job for a newbie car fixer, or leave it to the pros?

I’m back again, seeking advice for keeping my creaky, but still breathing, 1991 Ford Tempo on the road. In the past you guys and gals have been very helpful with various repair advice, so I figured I’d go to the well one more time.

I just had my annual legally-required inspection and got handed a unexpectedly long list of repairs that needed to be done to pass. I swallowed hard and gave the shop my okay to proceed (and my credit card).

When it was over, the shop owner – who knew I was looking to to have done only the most basic repairs needed for the inspection and the car’s safe functioning – told me, “One of these days you really should have the struts and strut holders [or mounts?] replaced. They’re shot.” I totally believe the guy, but my budget wouldn’t allow me to spend the amount he quoted to fix it.

Now, I’m a handy guy. I’ve done some basic repairs on the car and on my motorcycle. But I’ve never dealt with car struts. Is this a relatively simple job I could do myself in an afternoon without specialized equipment (like a lift or a wheel allignment device)? Or should I just leave it to the pros when I can afford it?

Thanks in advance.

Unless you are a great auto mechanic, I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to do it. You have to do a wheel alignment after struts are replaced, and I’ll bet they don’t come off without some trouble for you.

Arm yourself with a Chilton or Haynes manual first. Generally, struts are in the “possible, but you’re going to need a 17-point boxcar pawl adjuster, two anorak toggles and a spool of shore line” category. In reality, spring compressors and probably a pickle fork will be needed. Plus a lot of care - if there aren’t springs in or around the struts, there will be springs near the struts, and springs have a nasty way of going BOING when you don’t want them to.

Also, you will need an alignment after bashing away, removing and replacing suspension parts.

It is not a beginner job. You must have a spring compreesor (rentable) Spring compressors run from very dangerous to use to almost safe to use. If a spring gets away you can be seriously injured. Very seriously injured.
Depending on the car, you may have to align the car afterward. Again depending on the car, the alignment may be so far out as to be undriveable after a strut replacement.
Did I mention that spring compressors are dangerous?

Also, spring compressors are dangerous.

I always get very nervous using the kind you can rent for free from parts stores. They are none too stable, and I always think I’ll be launching the spring into my head at any moment. I messed with one on purpose once, and was able to launch the spring (not a light piece of metal) probably thirty feet across the driveway.

That said, I do think replacing a strut is something that someone with a good head on their shoulders can do, as long as they are careful. I am not familiar with your car, but on the cars I have worked on (mostly Toyotas), replacing a strut is pretty easy:

-Remove the brake line from the strut
-Undo the strut from the control arm
-Undo the strut from the strut tower

I know that I have removed all four struts on a car before in under 15 minutes.

You definitely will need an alignment when you are done. And, spring compressors are dangerous, but not as dangerous as trying to do the job without one. :wink:

I would advise paying someone to do it. My brother had a Tempo of about the same year (he’s a good mechanic, BTW) and after dealing with his, he swore that if the car ever needed them done again he’d pay someone to do it. Ford has a nasty habit of doing things bassackwards, and if you’re not paying attention, you can really screw something up (or get yourself hurt badly). So given that someone who’s worked as a professional mechanic and has all the tools needed handy, refuses to do it on his own car, I think that you’re better off letting a pro do it.

Another possibility is you can check with the vocational/tech schools in your area and see what they will charge you to fix your car. Quite often they’ll do it for little more than the cost of the parts. Of course, they probably won’t get it done as quickly as your regular mechanic would, but if it really needs to be fixed and you don’t have the money to do it, it’s something to consider.