'97 - '01 Toyota Camry Front End Noise: Strut Mount and Strut Replacement (With Video)
Replacing the Suspension Strut and Mount on the '97-'01 Toyota Camry
A common wear item on the 97 - 01 Toyota Camry is the front suspension strut mount (referred to as a "suspension support" in the diagram below).
A rubber vibration dampener within the strut mount has a tendency to separate from the interior metal casing of the strut mount assembly. This separation causes the strut mount bearing to shake when the Camry is driven over rough road surfaces, resulting in a constant rattling noise in the front end. The noise may be less noticeable in summer than in winter due to the rubber expanding and contracting with temperature. There are usually no visible indications of strut mount wear, only noise. However, on some very worn-out mounts, you can wiggle the rubber dampener within the mount's metal frame when you take it off the strut assembly.
When you have a rattling noise in the front end, many automotive repair facilities will recommend replacing the strut/shock assembly without replacing the strut mount (perhaps because a new mount costs almost as much as a new strut). But replacing the strut assembly alone can result in an expensive repair job that doesn't get rid of the noise.
Approximately half the mounts I've replaced were on struts that were still performing well; on the other half, the struts also needed replacement.
Front End Noise May Also Come From Lower Control Arm Bushings
Another source of front end noise is worn or broken lower control arm bushings. Most Camrys with over 150k miles begin showing signs of wear or cracks in these bushings. A lot of the wear may be attributed to the harshness of the road surface that the car had been driven. A link to a DIY video to replace the lower control arm is provided at the end of this article.
For Rear End Suspension Issues
See my other article on replacing the rear struts and springs on the '97-01 Camry and similar vehicles.
Replacing the Strut, the Mount, or Both
To replace the strut mount, you have to remove the strut assembly from the car and compress the strut springs, to relieve tension on the strut mount which is held together by the strut stem nut. If you own a high-mileage Camry, consider replacing your old struts with the defective strut mount. However, as previously mentioned, I have replaced many strut mounts on strut assemblies that continued to provide good dampening and rebound action.
The cost of a mount with a new bearing can vary from $25 to $100. I haven't had any customer complaints with the $25 units bought from eBay vendors.
If you decide to replace the old strut when replacing the mount, consider replacing the lower spring insulator, strut bellows, and spring bumper as well. You can keep the existing upper insulator and reuse it. Use a razor to cut away the bellows component from the insulator and replace it with a new bellows that "floats" on the strut stem. Also inspect the sway bar link. A worn-out or loose link can also be a major source of front end noise when driving over rough road surfaces.
A new suspension strut costs from $40 to $75. Cross-reference prices and shipping costs for the best deal. If you want Japanese replacement struts, shop for either or Tokico. Acceptable domestic manufacturers include Monroe and Gabriel (though I had an issue recently with Monroe struts). You can find no-name brands on eBay. KYB
Different Names for the Same Part
Upper spring insulator plus strut bellows
Stabilizer bar link
Sway bar Link
Video of 2002 Toyota Avalon Front Suspension Rebuild
This 24-minute video will provide you with visual step-by-step help for completing the replacement of front suspension components used on a 2002 Toyota Avalon. These components are virtually identical to parts used on the Camry and Solara. The struts replaced here are "complete struts," where no parts were transferred and used from the old struts. The repair steps are also described lower down in the article.
Step by Step Instructions: Toyota Camry Front Strut Mount and Strut Replacement
1. Wire-brush the nut and bolt on the sway bar link, then apply penetrating oil.
2. Secure the nut with a 14mm box wrench and relieve initial tension.
3. Meanwhile, while loosening the nut, prevent the sway bar link bolt from moving with a 5 mm hex socket. The hex socket is shown in the second photo below.
4. If the nut freezes up or becomes too difficult to turn, apply penetrating oil, re-tighten the nut and then loosen. Continue doing this until the nut spins off. Apply constant pressure on the sway bar bolt. If the hex socket spins inside the bolt, the sway bar link will have to be cut off and replaced with a new one.
5. Position the sway bar link away from the strut assembly; push it to the rear of the splash guard.
6. After the strut-to-steering knuckle bolts have been removed, rock the knuckle assembly back and forth until it separates from the strut assembly. Applying some penetrating oil can ease the process.
7. Remove the strut mount nuts. If you don't have a helper, hold the strut assembly with one hand while removing the last nut with your other hand.
Compressing the Strut So That it Can Be Removed
Warning: For the next step, do not use cheap spring compressors, like those that go for $15 or less. Typical three-finger compressors tend to slip off when tension is applied and the bolt threads wear very quick. Good quality compressors can be rented from O'Reilly's for free; from AutoZone, for around $10 a day.
8. Mount the spring compressors. Ensure that the spring compressors are mounted opposite of each other and there is enough room to attach a socket on the compressor's bolt head. Position the spring compressor about one and one-fourth coil turns up from the base.
9. Apply equal turns on the spring compressor bolt heads. If one side has more compression than the other, the compression bolt will tilt into the bottom strut spring mount. An electric or air-powered impact driver connected to a socket extension will make the compression process go faster. Continue compressing the springs until you can turn the strut mount by hand. When all tension is relieved on the strut mount, there may be only an inch of thread left on the spring compressor bolt.
10. Use an impact driver to spin off the nut that secures the strut mount to the strut stem. Otherwise, the upper mount must be held firmly in place while attempting to remove the nut with a socket wrench. In anticipation of this problem, remove the initial tension on this nut with a 1/4 turn BEFORE removing the strut assembly from the car.
Removing the Strut
11. If you are replacing the strut as well as the mount, remove the spring with the attached spring compressors. Remove the upper spring mount and rubber mount and bellows first, then remove the spring and lower spring insulator. You can apply paint marks to all removed components to help with re-alignment and re-assembly.
Preparing to Attach the New Strut Mount
12. When attaching the new strut mount, ensure that the alignment groove in the mount matches the grove on the strut stem. When they are in alignment, the mount will spin the stem.
13. If this alignment cannot be achieved, you may have to compress the strut spring some more to allow the strut stem to rise and stay above the upper spring mount. Finger-tighten the strut stem nut and then tighten it a little more with a quick blip from your impact driver.
14. To remove the spring tensioners, apply equal relief tension on the tensioner bolts until the upper spring seat pushes up against the strut mount. Do not allow the spring to be displaced during this process.
Installing the Strut
15. Carefully position the strut assembly into the strut assembly body mount. Ensure that the ABS and brake lines are in their proper position.
16. Hand-tighten the three strut mount bolts. When the strut assembly is properly positioned, tighten the strut mount bolts.
17. When attaching the strut assembly to the steering knuckle, use a hydraulic jack to lift the steering knuckle into the strut assembly. With some nudging, the knuckle will slip into the assembly.
18. Now, use the hydraulic jack to lift and lower the knuckle until the strut to steering knuckle bolt hole alignment is achieved, and push, twist, and nudge the bolts through the holes.
19. Apply anti-seize lubricant to all bolt threads, if you plan to ever disassemble the struts again.
20. Tighten the strut nuts, connect and tighten the brake line and ABS brake bracket bolt, attach the ABS plastic bracket to the strut connecting holes, and connect the sway bar link bolt to the strut and secure the locking nut.
21. Double-check all your work. Ensure all nuts are securely fastened. No front-end alignment is necessary after this work.
If Front End Noise Still Exists
If front end noise still exists after the mounts and struts have been replaced, check the condition of the sway bar links, sway bar bushings, control arm bushings, and lower ball joints. Torn rubber dust covers on the sway bar links or ball joints indicate that these parts need to be replaced (because the grease that lubricates them has likely been lost). It is recommended that they be replaced in pairs. Sway bar bushings may be considered worn out when the bar can be moved in and out within the bushing(s) when pushed and pulled by hand. Replacement of these items will result in a noticeable improvement in handling and ride quality.
Questions & Answers
Are Monroe struts ok to use instead of Toyota brand?
In the past, I've had nothing but good results with the performance of Monroe struts. Lately, though, I think their quality may be questionable. Had to return two new struts that were either leaking oil or the gas had leaked out. I was surprised. If you want guaranteed quality, but they're a little pricey, you can go with KYB struts. KYB is a Toyota shock and strut supplier.
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