Curbside Maintenance: The Mystery Car Gets New Struts – It Was Time And Then Some

(Note: the author did not disclose what car this is, so maybe we can also turn it into a CC Clue)

I knew the car had the soft suspension which would have been what my father would have bought. Only after taking it over I thought is was too soft as in really too soft.

This particular car of mine is going to undergo some maintenance work over the next two months. Work ranges from a simple preventative upgrade, to moderate routine service, to involved preventive work to avoid a future break down. I am going to keep the car secret so all pictures will be tight. One can guess the car but I won’t show it until all the work is done.

I’ll start with the moderate routine repair since it was the most urgent. The car was bottoming out badly just going over a speed bump at 5 mph which didn’t happen with my Polara or Park Lane. So time for new struts and about 5 hours to do the work. I take my time and tend to be meticulous so my cars never see a mechanic for work like this even if they were faster. Besides I enjoy doing it. So let’s go through the process which yielded the picture above of the finished job.

The removal sequence

Remove two 12mm bolts to disconnect brake line and brake sensor brackets. Then unplug electrical connection for brake sensor behind rotor

Now remove the two 24mm nuts. To back out bolts place a nut on the top and whack away with a 3 lb. mallet. It will take some time as I found out.

As you can see the bolts are splined. Every other car I have done the bolts were smooth bored and easy to knock out with a punch. Not these.

Last are the three 15mm nuts on top. One is under the rubber seal which you just pull back with your fingers to see it. The strut does not drop once removed due to the rubber gasket on top of the mount which adheres to the underside of the frame. So you get down, pull it off, then angle the bottom to the rear and slip the assembly out.

Here we have a 19 year old strut. The strut will be replaced with a KYB Excel-G and the entire top mount with a KYB assembly. I also had a new bellows but turns out they were very generic compared to the original so I kept the original after an inspection. The top of the original was metal unlike these replacements and that metal top allowed the bellows to sit on top of the strut and not slide down.

This particular spring compressor has been very reliable. I have two different ones depending on how tall the spring is. Short spring here so this one. Screws down easily and most important doesn’t strip the rods like cheaper ones do. To now remove the top nut just put locking pliers on the stem and an impact gun on the top. The 22mm nut off in less than 5 seconds.

As you can see that strut was dead, dead, dead. That explains the front end wallow after going over a dip in the road surface.

Now I’ll point out a difference here. Actually two when comparing the OEM original to aftermarket KYB. Note the old uses a T-50 torx  on the top of the stem while the KYB uses a 6 pt.hex. I can tell you the torx  holds up far better when you get ready to torque down that 22mm nut on top to 55 ft.lbs. Also note the base of the original has hole at the bottom that the KYB doesn’t. You can also see the lip that the metal portion of the original bellows sat on.

That hole is used to put a fastener in to hold the rubber gasket in place. So I had to punch the spot, drill a pilot hole, and then drill the final 5/16″ hole.

This is where the hex vs torx comes into play. The two ways to do this is manual or impact wrench on the top. with the 22mm wrench below holding. I tired both ways with the impact first. The hex lasted until it eventually rounded out at 49 ft. lbs. of torque. Not quite 55 ft. lbs. I tried manual but the nut was tough to screw down and it was on correct. The second strut was done manual as seen. This one went easily either via the wrench or the racket. Achieved 55 ft. lbs. easily.

Here we have a finished assembly ready to go in after releasing the spring compressors bit by bit side to side. Note one must pay close attention to the direction the mount must face and which bolt faces out. On my 91 Mazda there are four bolts and their position determines camber on the car so you better pay attention.

My procedure to install the struts, by myself, is to place the top nylon pins in place and then install the outer bolt loosely. This held it up but also allowed me to pivot the bottom around for placement. I also don’t want to pull the knuckle too far out that it comes out of the transmission. So getting the two parts to meet was easy while getting the bolt holes to line up takes some work. If you have done this then you know what I mean.

Once a bolt is tapped in I went to the next after which I placed the nut on and torqued down to 135 ft. lbs. I have the lower bolt left to finish here and we then get the first picture above. Now those top three bolts were hand tightened down before I lowered the car. Once the car was down and the full weight on the suspension I torqued those three bolts to 35 ft. lbs. Now time for a beer or some french roast as I could go either way to relax.

This made a clear and pronounced difference in the handling. No more wallow and more steady in a sharp curve where I always see how fast a car can take them. Of course, the trade off is that I can hear more road ribs than I did before. That is OK as this car is mainly a cruiser for long hauls as it is so comfortable and spacious. In a few weeks I’ll get to the simple upgrade to extend the life of an important part. Restoration of the splinter shields, on Vulture’s Row of the USS Hornet, is on the final stretch of haze gray paint application which will take two weekends.