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By RussLA, January 27, 2016

I have a 2003 LE with 180,000 miles. I've had all maintenance done at a dealer and have been very satisfied with their work. I like the car and intend on keeping it for several more years.

For the last year or so, they've told me my rear struts are leaking and recommended replacing. Back when they began telling me this, my service advisor, who I've been with for several years and is excellent, told me he didn't think it was a priority to replace them yet. So I didn't. When I took my car in for service a couple of weeks ago, I had to see a different advisor because the appointment schedulers screwed up and gave me an appointment with my regular guy on a day when he was scheduled to be off.

The advisor I ended up seeing took a look at my record and noticed the leaking struts. He told me the leak was a "Level 1" leak, which he said is the most severe (he said there are 5 levels, with "1" being the worst). I don't know if all dealers use this same scale and I have no idea whether he was telling me the truth about the severity since I had never met him before. It's an expensive repair--he said each strut was about $100 and the labor was $500, so it was a $700 repair. I had not noticed any lack of control in the rear of the car, but since this could be a safety issue, I decided to have it done since he characterized the leak as the most severe there is and said that all the fluid in the shocks was pretty much gone.

One of my biggest regrets is that my regular guy didn't get the commission on this big sale. Would it have been safe to have gone another four months before replacing the struts so he could get the commission?

In driving the car with the new struts, I don't notice any difference in the ride or handling of the car. Does replacing struts usually make a noticeable difference?

Are rear struts on 2003 Corollas any kind of a known weakness?

Thanks for any thoughts you have.


i've had to replace the front ones as they were leaking

Depends on how badly they were leaking and the condition of the rest of the car. Given you have 180K on a 13 year old car - I'm suprised that the struts lasted as long as they did. Never hear of five different "levels" of leaking - though each shop might have a different procedure for them.

Toyota tends to run a softer suspension setup than other imports - gives it that characteristically soft ride. Depending on the driving situation - can cause the struts to leak before the car hits 100K miles. Varies greatly from situation to situation - I've seen struts start leaking as early as 30K miles and some are still running the original suspension with almost 500K miles on the car.

As a note - some struts will leak some oil, considered normal behavior. Where this becomes problematic - is if there is a significant amount of oil loss - where the oil basically coats and is dripping off the entire strut assembly. Leaking by itself is not a sign of impending disaster - just that the strut is wearing out.

Since your trusted mechanic didn't seem too pressed to replace the struts - likely they weren't leaking that badly. Each shop will have a different threshold on what they consider "excessive" strut leaking. Some shops will immediately jump on replacing all the struts if one of them is leaking - saying it is a safety / handling issue. While possible that could be the case, a leaking strut just means that "eventually" you will have to replace it - doesn;t automatically mean you have to replace it immediately.

Being on the "rear" of the car - handling wouldn't be an issue unless you drive spiritedly - that case, the car could rotate unexpectedly on you. On the front - be more noticeable, as the front is doing alot more work. Even on the rear - new struts will make a noticeable difference, if the original ones were completely trashed.

As you've probably figured out, and the information you posted - it probably was not as bad as the dealership made it sound. Since it is already a done deal - not a lot you can do about it now - lesson learned.

Thank you, fish. That's about what I figured but I appreciate your two cents. The car is in excellent shape and now that the struts are new, everything on the long checklist of items the dealership checks each time I take the car in is rated "good" (the highest rating).

It's been a great car and relatively problem-free. I bought it from Hertz Rent-a-Car with 26,000 miles in 2004. It's my first Toyota and I'm impressed.

Yeah, as long as you are happy with the car, that's all that counts. These 9th gen Corollas will last a surprisingly long time, as long as you are on top of regular maintenance and do't beat on the car from day to day. With the 1st year 9th gen - if you hadn't had any major issues with the car before 100K miles, chances are good that 200K-300K+ is no problem. There are a few posters on this board that have more than 300K miles on their 9th gens.

You might actually see the odometer issue pop up - where the odomoter will only run to 299,999 miles and stop. Its an eprom issue on the guage itself - the trip odometers will keep working, just the main one will stop rolling.

  • 23 posts

That's interesting. I'm around 292K on my 2007, so I may see that odometer issue before long. Can they be reset or reprogrammed?

I started a thread a while back, asking about options to stiffen rear suspension a bit. As far as I know (which is since I bought the car used from a dealer in 2008 with 46K on it), the suspension is all original. Let's see, kids are both over 220, so we have three people over 220 lbs. one over 330 lbs, equipment in the trunk, and we often pull a small Harbor Freight 4x8 trailer with the Corolla. There don't seem to be a lot of options for these strut suspended cars. All I've learned is that the Monroe struts are sprung a bit stiffer. Would Monroe rear struts/springs be about the best choice for me? If so, I'll put a set of struts on my list. I suppose that at around 300K it's reasonable to replace them. But I have to say I'm impressed by how many highway miles we've gotten on the original Toyota parts.

^^^ Once the main odometer hits 299,999 on the digital display - it just stops. ROM chip issue - chip itself cannot be reset (tamper resistant). Chip could be replaced - but likely be harder to come by than just swapping in a new cluster. Most that have these megamileage cars - get a new cluster and have a stick put on the doorjam indicating that the odometer is not original.

True, Monroe quick struts tend to be stiffer than OEM initially - but many have found that they don't hold up as long, ie, get softer as they wear out. For some owners, may even start to suffer spring sag as in as little as a couple of months!

Better option is to upgrade to an aftermarket strut or even have some custome made with a higher spring rate. The key issue is that you are running more than what the manufacturer designed for the car - I think on the 9th gen, it is 800lbs max cabin weight capacity. Doesn't mean that it won't carry more - just that the suspension will likely bottom out and brakes will heavily fade under use.

I've done similar things with a smaller vehicle - my 8th gen. Because of my line of work, I routinely have to transport some surprisingly heavy amount of test equipment and/or ferry personnel to site. So I'm running progressively wound aftermarket sport springs on my 8th gen (TRD springs + KYB G2 struts). Their spring rate is about 50% higher than OEM on the front, almost 100% higher in the rear - from a quick guesstimate when I first installed them. They also lowered the effective ride height about an inch - which can be a deal breaker for some, but for me - it worked out just perfectly, as it also greatly helped reduce buffeting at highway speeds (less air pushing under the car, making it "look" like a airfoil).

Coupled with slightly stiffer struts to keep up with the spring rates - I'm now able to carry significantly more in the cabin and trunk without the suspension bottoming out. Even with a trunk filled with 500lbs of equipment + 4 heavier set passengers - suspension doesn't settle more than 2" from empty. Before it would sink to the bumpstops almost immediately (~4" or so). Progressively wound is nice, as without the extra weight - the car rides almost like stock. Only when there is a heavy load on the car, will it really start to show up.

Yup - as long as you stay ontop of the maintenance - these cars will hold up more than you'd want to hold onto them. As for suspension - Toyota tends to favor softer springs than other manufacturers - so anything more than 100K miles out of the car and you've got your money's worth. With almost 300K miles on your car with OEM suspension - you've definitely ended up with your money's worth. Definitely check the upper strut mounts (spherical bearings) to make sure they are still OK - should have a decent amount of grease still packed in there and have no play in/out. Spring isolators (basically rubber gaskets) that separate the coil springs from the strut seat will likely be worn out by now. Strut bellows - make sure the new ones are coated with some silicone or similar to prevent them from rotting out. Mine were completely rotted after 4 years - still running around without them, OK for now, but will sorten the life of the strut.

Replaced all 4 on my 98 a few years ago...way easy and only cost me about $180 for KYBs and the spring compressor kit from harbor freight. Next time I will just take the struts to my local mech who said he would do the spring swap for $20 per..just less hassle. Of course, alignment must be done too.

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