Dear Tom and Ray:
I have just been told by our Toyota dealer that our 1998 Avalon with 55,000 miles needs new "strut plates" AND struts, for a mere $1,600; the car is incredibly noisy (thunk, thunk, thunk) when going over any size bump and even on a smooth road, and there is a very, very bad vibration on the passenger side at high speeds (50 mph). The dealer initially blamed it on "poor" tires that we bought elsewhere (brand-new BF Goodrich tires, which we have since replaced with another set of brand-new ones, with no change in the noise). Having purchased Toyota's "flagship" car, I certainly do not think it's reasonable that we need to incur this great expense at fairly low mileage ... do you? The dealer has said that while it might seem unreasonable for the struts and strut plates to be shot at this mileage (although Toyota has admitted that this is probably a design flaw with the Avalon), there is nothing he can do to help us with the expense. Any thoughts on what we should do next? -- Sara
RAY: Well, if I were you, I'd sit in the middle of the showroom floor and throw a tantrum. Stomp your hands and feet and refuse to stop until they give you new strut plates.
TOM: It sounds like the diagnosis is correct, Sara. The Avalon has mounting plates that sit on top of the struts and attach to the body of the car. And they do cause a "thunk, thunk, thunk" sound when they wear out. On many cars, they last for the life of the vehicle. But on Toyotas, we often replace them at around 75,000 to 80,000 miles. But even by that measure, yours appear to have gone to the great junkyard in the sky too early.
RAY: So, there are two possibilities. One is that your original mounting plates and struts were defective or under-designed, and failed prematurely through no fault of yours. Perhaps Toyota's designers didn't beef them up when they altered the Camry chassis to carry the heavier Avalon?
TOM: The other possibility is that it's your fault. If you consistently drive on bad roads, you could easily wear out the struts and mounts well before their time.
RAY: So if you've been driving on dirt roads or pothole-infested boulevards, then you're responsible for the premature wear, Sara. And the only thing you can do now is shop around for a better price. An independent repair shop might be willing to do the job for less than the dealer, so it's worth calling around. And in this case, don't worry about getting genuine Toyota parts, because they obviously weren't that great to begin with.
TOM: But if you never drive on lousy roads, then ask the dealer to put you in touch with the zone representative for your region. The "zone rep" is empowered to offer you things that the dealer is not -- like free parts and labor. He might also tell you to go to hell. But it's worth a try. Who knows? Toyota might take responsibility for the early failure and pay at least part of the cost. It's worth asking, Sara.