1998 Toyota RAV4 Front End Shakes On Turns

Reader Question: I attached the quote I got because I have not received an e-mail yet. I am not sure how long it takes to get one.

I have a 1998 Toyota RAV4 that has 120k miles on it. I have not had any problems with it until recently. When I take a curve regardless of speed and hit a small crack/bump it feels like the back end wants to come out from under me.

I took the truck to a mechanic today and after they spent the whole day with it, they said I should take it to Toyota since they could not be sure what the problem was.

They thought maybe struts and worn tires on the handling thing but were not sure enough to recommend fixing it unless I wanted to try it. Here is my question – they said usually you should replace the struts at 60-80k miles.

I have never replaced them and nowhere in my manual does it list replacing them in any of the miles/service recommendations and the Toyota place has never mentioned it (I had the 60,000 and 90,000 mile service done at the dealership but I do my own oil changes & plugs, etc). I looked at an online site who said 80,000 miles for the shocks/struts.

How do I know whether to replace them? The tires are wearing poorly and unevenly, and while I just had the tires rotated & balanced less than 2k miles ago, it’s out of alignment again, so it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s what it was. The tires have about 30k miles on them but I have kept them rotated and balanced every 5k miles.

However, I am looking at US$1,100 for struts and new tires, so do not know if I want to experiment, would rather know I need to do the work before spending the money. I considered taking it to the dealership again, but the last 2 times there they did not do all the service it needed and I had to go back.

What is your recommendation?



Hey Witt,

First off, thanks for checking your auto insurance. I would however, HIGHLY recommend you get a quote with a higher deductible like $1,000. Unless you are accident prone, the savings you will get from carrying such a high deductible amount will huge. You can then take that saved amount and place it in a high yield mutual fund for emergencies. I carry $1,000 on all my personal vehicles.

Another thing, you only pay the deductible when your insurance company pays the claim. So two things have to happen, not only do you have to be involved in an accident but also your insurance company has to claim responsibility and pay the claim. You do not want to claim anything under $1,000 for fear of a rate increase or being dropped from the policy altogether.

Ok, now on to your question. When should you replace struts? It is a great question. My personal opinion is that you should replace struts when they are damaged, bent, leaking oil, making noise or when they are flat worn out. How can you tell when the struts are worn out?

If you feel the vehicle bouncing around more so than normal after hitting a bump or going over train tracks etc. then I would suspect your struts to be worn out. The strut and or shock absorber’s main function is to produce a smoother ride for the passenger and improve handling and steering response.

A vehicle with worn out struts and or shocks tends to bounce around more, and has a body roll when cornering. Body roll is when you make round a curve on the freeway and the body of the vehicle rolls or leans heavily to one side and not keeping a firm steady center of gravity. Does it make sense?

I would replace the worn out tires, get a frontend alignment first, and see if that helps or corrects the problem. High spots and uneven tread wear can cause all kinds of vibration types of complaints.

Uneven tire wear is probably due to lack of tire rotation and balancing on a regular basis, front end out of alignment, under inflated tire pressure and cheap or poor quality tires more than worn out struts. You said you got your tires rotated and balanced every 5K miles, but I wonder if that service really took place, most people would not know if it did or not.

Selling struts based on mileage only is a great sales pitch and good for the bottom line of the repair shop but not always in the best interest of the customer.

I have seen many vehicles with 100,000 miles with original struts there were still doing their job, and on the flip side I have seen struts leak oil and need replacement at 25,000 miles.

Austin Davis

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