Imagine you’re driving down the highway when suddenly you hit a bump and your car starts bouncing like it’s on a trampoline. You pull over and inspect the rear wheels to find one of your struts is busted. What do you do now? Can you even drive the vehicle to a repair shop?
Getting stranded with a broken strut can be a scary situation. But with some basic tools and supplies, you may be able to temporarily fix the problem and safely drive to a repair facility.
So can you temporarily fix a bad strut while on the road?
Yes, with the right materials and some mechanical know-how, you can often implement a temporary fix for a bad strut that will allow you to slowly and safely drive your vehicle to a repair shop.
In this article, we’ll cover some of the easiest DIY solutions for temporarily fixing a failed rear shock while out on the road. We’ll look at:
- What exactly is a strut and what does it do?
- How to identify signs you may have a bad strut.
- The dangers of continuing to drive on a bad strut.
- Temporary fixes you can try to stabilize the suspension and continue driving.
- Finding the nearest auto repair shop when a strut fails on the road.
- When it’s best to call for a tow instead of trying to drive with a bad strut.
- What to expect for the full strut replacement process.
- Tips for proactive maintenance to prevent strut failure when miles from a shop.
Let’s start by understanding what a strut is and why it’s so important for the safe operation of your vehicle.
Table of Contents
What is a Strut and What Does it Do?
A strut is a vital part of your vehicle’s suspension system. It’s essentially a shock absorber that is mounted vertically rather than horizontally. The strut assembly consists of a coil spring and a shock absorber that dampens vibrations from the road.
The main jobs of your struts are to:
- Support the weight of the vehicle. The strut bears some of the vehicle’s weight, preventing excessive pressure on other suspension components.
- Absorb shocks from the road surface. The strut smooths out the ride, damping harsh impacts to provide a more comfortable driving experience.
- Stabilize the vehicle and allow proper steering and handling. Good struts prevent bouncing, swaying, and instability when cornering or braking.
Your struts play a key role in the safety and control of your car. So when one goes bad, it can quickly lead to hazardous driving conditions if not addressed. Next, let’s look at how to identify the signs of a worn strut.
Signs You May Have a Bad or Failing Strut
It’s important to monitor your struts and be aware of any symptoms that may indicate one is wearing out or has failed. Here are some of the most common signs of bad struts:
- Uneven tire wear. If your strut is broken, it allows more unwanted movement of the wheel. This leads to uneven tire wear, such as more wear on the inner or outer tread.
- Vehicle bouncing. Hitting a bump and the car continues bouncing more than it should means the shock absorption is compromised.
- Bottoming out. Scraping noises when going over bumps or dips likely means the strut isn’t properly cushioning the impact.
- Difficulty steering. If the front strut is bad, steering may feel loose or disconnected.
- Leaking fluid. A sign of internal seal failure. Look for wetness around the strut mounts.
- Sagging. A broken coil spring may allow that corner of the vehicle to sag lower.
- Knocking noises. This can indicate loose strut mounts allowing movement.
Don’t ignore these warning signs of worn struts. Next we’ll look at why it’s important to get them fixed right away.
The Dangers of Driving on a Bad Strut
Continuing to drive with a compromised or broken strut is not safe. Here are some of the risks:
- Loss of control. Bad struts reduce traction and the ability to steer and stop safely. This makes accidents more likely.
- Further vehicle damage. Hitting potholes or rough roads without the cushioning effect of good struts can damage wheels, tires, and other suspension components.
- Accelerated wear. Bad struts allow for unchecked movement that worsens uneven tire wear and may accelerate wear of other components.
- Liability in an accident. Insurance may not fully cover an accident if you were driving with known suspension issues.
While you should get a bad strut fully replaced as soon as possible, sometimes failure happens at an inconvenient time and location. So what temporary fixes can get you safely to a repair shop? Let’s look at some options.
Temporary Fixes to Stabilize a Bad Strut
If your strut goes out far from home, you may not want to wait for a tow or remain stuck on the roadside for hours. In some cases, you can implement a temporary fix that stabilizes the strut well enough to slowly and safely drive to a repair facility.
Note these are short term, do-at-your-own risk measures. The proper long term fix is to replace the strut. But when stranded, something like this may help:
Tighten Strut Mounting Bolts
If the upper strut mount is loose, you may be able to temporarily stabilize it by tightening the mounting bolts that clamp it to the vehicle’s body. Use a wrench to tighten them just enough to eliminate play in the mount. Don’t overtighten or you could damage the threads.
Use a Spacer Block
You can make a spacer block out of a piece of wood, hard plastic, or metal. Cut it to size and place it between the spring and mount cup. This can raise a sagging corner of the vehicle caused by a broken coil spring. Be extremely careful compressing the spring if you try this.
Wrap Strut in Inner Tube
Securely wrapping rubber around a leaking strut can temporarily stop fluid loss in some cases. An old bike inner tube, piece of conveyor belt, or wide rubber band may work. This doesn’t fix the issue but can get you down the road.
Keep in mind these are emergency fixes only to get your immobilized vehicle to a repair shop. Have it towed if possible, and otherwise drive slowly and carefully.
Now let’s look at how to find the nearest auto shop when stranded with a bad strut.
Finding the Nearest Repair Shop
If you’ve used one of the temporary strut fixes and feel it’s safe to slowly drive your vehicle, the next step is finding the closest facility to get it properly repaired. Here are some tips:
- Use GPS on your phone to search for highly rated auto repair shops within a reasonable distance. Look for those that specialize in suspension repairs.
- Call ahead to the shop, explain you’re on the road with a bad strut, and ask if they can take a look and replace it if needed. This saves you from towing to a facility just to find out they don’t have availability.
- Ask for their first available opening and see if it meshes with your travel itinerary. You may need to get a hotel and arrange alternate transportation in the meantime.
- If they can take you right away, drive slowly and call again as you near the facility in case anything changes with their schedule.
Finding a good auto shop on the road takes some research and planning. But it beats sitting on the roadside waiting for a tow truck.
Next we’ll look at when it’s best to call for a tow.
When to Call for a Tow vs. Attempting to Drive?
If at all possible, avoid driving with a severely compromised strut and opt to be towed. This is the safest option. Call for a tow in scenarios like:
- You have no way to implement a temporary fix to stabilize the strut.
- The temporary fix seems too risky. For example, a totally detached strut mount or badly leaking strut.
- No repair facilities are within a reasonable driving distance.
- The vehicle feels unsafe to operate even at very low speeds. Severe bouncing or pulling makes driving difficult.
- You can easily wait a few hours for a tow truck versus trying a temporary repair.
Trust your instincts. If the vehicle doesn’t feel safe, get it towed. Many insurance policies cover towing for a certain number of miles, so utilize this if needed.
Alright, the tow truck is on its way. What happens next to get your strut properly repaired?
What to Expect for the Strut Replacement Process?
Once towed to a repair facility, here’s what you can expect for replacing a bad strut:
- The mechanic will inspect the strut and surrounding components for damage. They will recommend replacement of both left and right struts for balanced suspension.
- To replace the strut, they will lift the vehicle and remove the wheel. The three mounting bolts are unbolted and the assembly is removed.
- The new strut will be installed in the reverse order. The mounting bolts are torqued to spec and the wheel reinstalled.
- A wheel alignment is usually recommended after strut work to reset proper alignment. This additional cost is around $100 to $168.
- Total strut repair costs for parts and labor average from $450 to $1,100 per pair of struts, varying by vehicle. Check the shop’s pricing.
- The entire process usually takes 2-3 hours, more if extensive parts searches or repairs are needed. Ask for a completion estimate from the shop.
- MINOR: The shop should also inspect related components like mounts, coil springs, and bushings for wear and damage. This protects your investment in new struts.
Replacing bad struts properly is important for safety and preventing further vehicle damage. Seek out a qualified shop to ensure it’s done right.
While we hope this article helps you get to the shop when a strut fails on the road, there are steps you can take to avoid being stranded in the first place.
Proactive Maintenance to Prevent Being Stranded with a Bad Strut
Preemptive maintenance goes a long way toward avoiding being left on the roadside with a broken strut:
- Inspect struts regularly. Look for leaking, torn boots, sagging, and other signs of wear every 6 months/6,000 miles.
- Replace struts proactively. Don’t wait for failure. Have them replaced around 50,000 to 100,000 miles.
- Replace in pairs. Always do both left and right strut together for balanced geometry.
- Align after replacement. This extends tire life and ensures proper handling.
- Inspect related suspension components. Worn mounts, springs, ball joints stress and accelerate strut wear.
Minor investment in preventative maintenance reduces major repair costs down the road. Discuss a suspension inspection schedule with your trusted mechanic.
Conclusion: Drive Safely on Your Way to the Repair Shop
Being stranded with a broken strut can really ruin your day. But in some cases, you may be able to implement a temporary fix to slowly and safely drive your car to a repair facility. Solutions like tightening mounts, adding spacers, or wrapping leaks may provide a band-aid until replacement is possible.
Finding a quality shop quickly and calling ahead for availability is key. And know when it’s safest to simply have the vehicle towed versus trying to limp it down the highway on a busted strut.
While not fun, educated drivers can take bad situations like this in stride by utilizing some of the tips in this article. Just focus on getting the repair completed properly as soon as feasible. And perform preventative maintenance so it doesn’t happen again down the road.
Safe travels, and don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any other questions!