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Replace front spring/struts

Discussion in 'Suspension / Brakes' started by Chuckanut, May 14, 2007.

  1. Chuckanut

    Chuckanut Guest

    A couple of notes:
    -If possible, clean the front wheel wells thoroughly. Use a pressure washer or car wash, or at least hose it out, top to bottom and especially the hub behind the brake disc. There’s nothing less fun than having a big clod of dirt fall in your face, except having the car fall off the jack stands. I know, ‘cause both have happened to me.
    -If you’re new at this, do one wheel at a time so you can use the other as a guide for where things go and how it should look when assembled. It’s amazing how short your memory can get.
    -Replace the upper strut mounts along with the strut cartridges. The bearing and rubber wear out over time and make the whole front suspension sloppy. Remember, this is the upper mount for the whole front end and it’s as important as control arm and sway bar mounts. They don’t cost much but will give a big improvement.
    -Once a strut is removed from the car, make sure the new upper strut mounts fit the bolt holes. There’s a good chance you’ll have to file the holes a little to make them fit. Better to do it now then when you’re trying to put the whole assembly back in.
    -While you’re at it, also plan on replacing the bump stops. Our cars are 20 years old and most are either completely missing or dried out and brittle. They seem like a small part but can save you a lot of grief and money, especially if you have lots of potholes where you live.
    -If you’re only replacing the springs, the process is the same except you don’t have to disassemble the strut cartridge. Lucky you!

    1. Break the lug nuts free (but don’t loosen)
    2. Open the hood and take the plastic caps off the top of the strut mounts. Use a 19mm socket to loosen the nut on the top of the strut - it’s much easier to do this when the car is still on the ground. DO NOT REMOVE THE NUT, JUST LOOSEN IT! If you remove it, something very bad and painful will happen to you.
    3. Jack the car up and put it on jack stands. Use the jacking points specified in the owner’s manual – directly behind the front wheels where there are two notches in the bottom of the rocker panel.
    4. Remove the wheels. If you haven’t cleaned the wheel wells before, nows a good time to at least brush everything off.
    5. Remove the brake line from the strut housing. If you’re very lucky, someone has cut a slot in the mounting bracket to allow the line to be removed without having to separate it. (Our cars are old enough this is possible, but if not be sure to do it yourself when you get the chance.)
    a. Remove the flat, metal compression clip using a small screwdriver and small hammer. Tap the clip on the upturned flange until it pops free.
    b. If there’s a slot cut into the brake line mount, simply slide the brake hose off and you’re done.
    c. If there’s no slot, you have to separate the flex hose from the brake line. Clean them both very thoroughly first – you don’t want any dirt getting into the fitting. Have a rag or container handy to catch the brake fluid. Remember, brake fluid melts paint, so be very careful not to get any on the car!
    d. Separate the line (I believe it’s a 10mm and 12mm wrench), and then re-assemble them immediately outside the mount. Since you’ll be making a slot later, you won’t have to separate them again. Make sure they are tight.
    6. Remove the two large bolts clamping the bottom of the strut housing to the hub, directly behind the brake disc (19mm socket and wrench). If you have compressed air tools, this is easy, if not you’ll probably need a breaker bar or long tube to put over your socket wrench. These bolts are usually very tight and there’s not a lot of room to work in. (You may have to move the brake caliper to get the lower bolt out – if so loosen only upper caliper mount and rotate it until the bolt can be removed. Rotate the caliper back and tighten it, you won’t have to do this again.)
    7. While one person holds the strut housing in the wheel well, remove the three 14mm nuts holding the upper strut mount to the car.
    8. Lower the strut about a foot, letting it drop towards the front of the car. Be careful not to snag the brake hose. When it’s down, swing the top of the strut out of the wheel well, and then carefully pull the strut out of the hub/brake area.
    9. Unless you’re experienced at taking McPherson struts apart and have the right tools (like a quality spring compressor) I recommend you spend a few bucks and take the entire strut and new parts to a shop and have them do it for you. Yeah, it costs more but doing this job with half-assed tools and little idea of what you’re doing is guaranteed to be a bad way to spend a day and is potentially very dangerous. That said, here’s how to take a strut apart.
    10. Attach your spring compressor to the spring and tighten it down until all the pressure is off the strut. The spring will basically rattle around.
    11. Remove the nut from the top of the strut, and then remove the upper strut mount, the spring cap, the upper spring rubber, and the bump stop. It’s best to lay the parts out in the exact order you remove them so you can remember how to put it back together.
    12. Pull the strut out of the spring and set the spring and compressor aside.
    13. Put the strut in a large vise attached to a solid bench, standing straight up, and use very large ChannelLock pliers, pipe wrench, or similar to remove the large gland nut holding the cartridge into the housing. After the spring compressor, this is usually the most difficult part of the job since most people don’t have anything large enough to remove the nut. Use the right tool and it’s relatively easy, use the wrong one and it’s almost impossible.
    14. Once the nut is removed pull the cartridge out of the housing, give the housing a quick clean (especially the internal threads at the top) and put the new cartridge in. Screw in the new nut and tighten it down.
    15. This would be a good time to cut the slot in the brake hose mount. Measure the width of the brake house and use a hack saw to cut a slot just a little wider. It should point away from the cartridge, about parallel with the ground. Be sure to file the edges smooth – you don’t want to nick the brake hose, that can lead to bad things.
    16. Put the parts back in order – lower spring rubber, coil spring, bump stop, upper spring rubber, upper spring cap, and upper strut mount. It’s easiest to do this with the strut upright so the parts stack right on. Two people are useful here to get everything lined up.
    17. If you are replacing the stock springs with shorter ones, you probably won’t have to use a spring compressor – the new springs will be shorter than the old, compressed one. Try reassembling the strut with the new springs and if it all fits together, you’re in luck. Because the spring is ‘loose’, you’ll have to be very careful when lowering the car to the ground to make sure the spring is lined up – it can easily shift outside the spring perches. Zip ties are useful to hold them in place and can be removed when it’s on the ground.
    18. Thread the new upper mount nut onto the strut and tighten it down as far as you can. You want to be very careful to make it’s threaded correctly, or else the assembly can explode when you release the spring.
    19. Before releasing the spring, make the coil spring is lined up correctly on the lower spring perch. Since the bottom of the spring isn’t flat the end of the spring needs to fit into the relief in the spring perch. The upper spring is flat and isn’t as important.
    20. Once everything’s lined up and the upper mount nut is snug, release the spring compressor. Visually check it all looks good and you’re done.
    21. Putting the strut back on the car is basically steps 5 through 8 in reverse. Tilt the assembly into the wheel well, thread the bottom through the suspension in the front of the axle, tilt the strut up and raise it to the upper mount holes. Watch the brake hose; it always wants to get caught on its mount.
    22. As one person pushes the strut up have another person spin the upper mount until the bolts line up with the holes and guide it into place. As soon as possible get the nuts on the mount and tighten them – don’t worry about the strut brace yet, that comes later.
    23. Align the wheel hub and bottom of the strut housing and push the two large bolts through and tighten the nuts. Put them in from the back to the front, so the nuts go on next to the brake caliper.
    24. Slide the brake hose through the slot in the mount (aren’t you glad you did that?), align it in the mount, and push the flat compression clip into place. The bent flange on the clip should be covering the slot.
    25. Visually check that everything is in place and double-check the tightness of very bolt and fitting you worked on.
    26. Repeat on the other wheel.
    27. If you had to separate your brake lines in step 5 you now have to bleed the front brakes to remove the air.
    28. Once both cartridges have been replaced and everything’s looking good, put the tires back on and snug down the lug nuts.
    29. Remove the jack stands and let the car back on the ground. Tighten the lug nuts properly.
    30. Tighten the upper strut nut (the 19mm one).
    31. Remove the upper strut mount nuts on both sides and push on the bumper to move the car up and down. This might sound odd but helps all the parts get settled into place.
    32. If you have one, put the strut brace in place and tighten the strut mount bolts.
    33. Look around for any extra parts – if there aren’t any you did good. Now it’s time to check out your new struts. Take it for a gentle drive to make sure everything’s OK, then let it rip and enjoy the tighter steering and firm ride.
    34. Be sure to get your car re-aligned very soon. There’s a lot of slop in all the parts you put back together so the alignment is 100%, for sure, positively wrong.

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