How I knew I needed to do this work in the first place:
The front driver-side coil spring broke at about 120,000 kms, and I paid about $600 to replace (with alignment) at a Toyota dealer. This was an obvious problem: when backing out of my garage, a sound similar to a gunshot was heard, and the very bottom part of the coil spring promptly fell out onto the floor. Immediately after this was replaced, there was an intermittent, clunking snap once in a while turning. Weeks dragged on to months and we couldn’t get it settled: Toyota had a lot of trouble diagnosing this. I was thinking it was a binding strut mount bearing on the same side, but no one could really confirm it. I eventually decided to just replace everything (both springs/struts/mount bearings, etc) just to get rid of the sound, but I balked at the price tag (more on actual prices below). The local shop said it wasn’t a safety issue, so there was no big hurry. The very next week, the passenger-side front coil spring broke (at about 150,000 kms). Again, this was a gunshot sound, and after lifting the wheel up off the ground with a jack I was able to pull out the broken piece.
My highly unscientific diagnosis of why the coil springs both broke on my van was rust: see pic below, but both springs broke exactly where rust had eaten away at the coating and the spring itself. We do use salt on the roads where I live, so rust doesn’t surprise me. The first one might have broken 30,000 kms earlier due to the extra problem of a stuck or binding strut bearing (making it harder for the spring to twist with the wheel – but again I couldn’t confirm this at the time).
Whatever the cause, it is time to replace the spring on one side, and just to keep everything the same (and also hopefully get rid of the weird noise on the other side) I decided to replace EVERYTHING on both sides. It is common to replace the suspension links at the same time since you need to unbolt them anyways. The biggest hassle really is just taking everything off the van, so you might as well replace all parts even if they look okay. Here’s the big pile I ordered from RockAuto.com.
And here’s why I did this work myself even though I’m not a mechanic. The cost for labour is one thing, but the egregious markup on parts is ridiculous!! Below are the costs, but bear in mind two things: all the parts except the Toyota parts are the exact same OE parts. Also, the exchange to Canadian dollars killed me a bit when I ordered from RockAuto, so the whole thing wound up costing more like $700.
Now, everyone wants to save money of course, but not all jobs should be taken on as a DIY project. Here’s my advice to help you decide. This is not what I’d call an easy job, but it is perfectly doable if you have all the tools (plus rent/borrow a spring compressor), have a good solid day to devote to this job, have average strength, and have some reasonable amateur experience doing mechanical work. Let’s put it this way – if you don’t already have a torque wrench, or even know what a torque wrench is or does, then I wouldn’t take this on just yet (start with something simpler or easier).
For those of you who want to take this on, I will refer you to this post on another website (it is terrific) here. It is so good I won’t bother reproducing the steps here. However, I will give you some additional lessons for this fix that I think are crucial.
1. It is WELL WORTH the time to get a rotary wire brush set (that spins using your drill) to clean off any exposed rusty threads on bolts BEFORE you try to take off nuts.
8 years of rust on bolts will bind those suspension link nuts and make them nearly impossible to get them off even after you break them loose (even with PB Blaster lube). This was a delicate situation because of the allen head (#6?) on the bolt that you need to use to torque the nut off. Could have saved myself about 2 hours, 1 trip to Canadian Tire, and $50 if I had done this first. Had to cut the bolt in half due to stripping the allen head on the first one – the second one was a piece of cake after proper cleaning. Below is the bolt cut in half on one suspension link:
2. Cheaper wrenches, sockets, etc. are good for relatively small work. But these will not work for (or can break) once you get above 100 to 150 ft-lbs of force – I’m talking any situation where you have a lever 1.5 feet or longer and are reefing with all your might. Snapped a Princess Auto socket piece right in half. I’ll be buying only impact grade stuff from now on. And on that note: quality impact wrenches are worth their weight in gold. Even my electric one did an admirable job once I realized I had accidentally restricted it to only 80 pounds of force (cranked it to 300, and it worked like a charm – and of course you ONLY ever use impact grade sockets/extensions for impact wrenches). Below is the extension in two pieces:
3. After removal, I noticed that the strut mount bearing on one of the old struts was impossible to turn by hand – and that was the side where we had previously put in a new spring. This could have cracked the new spring and at any rate would require taking apart the whole thing again to replace. Replace all these parts whenever you have a strut already out! Here’s a pic:
The overall process took a good day to do, although I’d be much faster at it the next time. Further, if you are simply replacing ALL the parts (like I did) you can actually assemble the new struts ahead of time using a spring compressor. I waited until that same day just in case there was something I needed to see on the old strut assemblies before building the new ones, but there weren’t any surprises.
After the job was done, I took the van into the Toyota dealership for an alignment, and that was it. To my chagrin, the weird intermittent knocking sound was STILL there, but I at least learned that it had nothing to do with the strut mount bearing. See my other post on this weird sound, because I did eventually figure it out!!! I’m glad that I replaced both sides at any rate, and even better that I did the whole job very cheaply – I’m thinking I’d be very disappointed if I paid over $2,000 and still had one irritating sound coming from the front driver side wheel area.
Moog / Monroe: I put in all Moog parts except for the strut itself and the strut mount kit, which were from Monroe. I find the ride very smooth and quiet over the usual road conditions, but a bit more noise coming from the assemblies over very big bumps (such as speed bumps) compared to what I remember on the original (Toyota) struts. Overall though I’m happy with the ride quality from all the new parts.
Thanks for reading!