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Ask Joanne

His springs have sprung a money leak Add to ...

I've been driving my 2002 Volvo V40 1.9T Sport Wagon since purchasing it new. Just now turning 132,000 km, the car has been carefully driven (only by me) with all recommended servicing done at a Volvo dealer. Overall, it has been a solid car. But here’s the problem: the 120,000 (Dec. 2010) servicing revealed a broken left rear spring. This was replaced at a cost of $404.00 ($240.00 labour; $164.00 parts). Just last week at the 132,000 servicing – you guessed it – a broken right rear spring. This time the cost will be significantly higher, since the mechanic indicated that in addition to the spring, the upper adjustment arms on both sides must be replaced, and an alignment done. Altogether, the tab for these repairs will exceed $1,000. I would be less exercised if I’d been lugging around concrete blocks, driving the Dempster Highway, or carrying Sumo wrestlers in the back seat, but as it is, the car has experienced nothing more than the occasional speed bump, and the heaviest things I’ve toted around are my golf clubs. Can you shed any light on this matter? Are other V40s as weak in the knees, or is my case merely an exception? – Lorne in Keswick, Ont.

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With the general level of automotive improvement, suspension is often taken for granted these days, that is until something goes wrong.

Volvo Canada says that the case of your springs breaking is indeed rare. No defect has been identified, nor has a recall been issued for your vehicle model and year.

As you say, you haven’t been driving the road to Tuktoyaktuk (aka the Dempster Highway), or overloading your vehicle (Fred Flintstone with an order of Brontosaurus ribs at the drive-in comes to mind). So what could have gone wrong?

Springs support the weight of a vehicle, but it’s the shock absorbers that take the bounce. If you’ve had regular maintenance, presumably your shocks have been inspected regularly, and replaced when necessary. Driving on worn shocks can increase the stress on your vehicle springs, however most mechanics and automotive engineers agree that springs don’t break easily or often. Only an extreme jolt, or weakening due to corrosion, could lead to the potential for a spring break.

One veteran automotive technician adds that your situation can only be attributed to bad luck. “You can take 10 identical cars, and nothing will break on nine of them, and one is simply unlucky. I have an old car in which I put new springs. One of them broke after less than two years, for absolutely no reason. I was just unlucky. At least with the replacement springs, there’s a lifetime warranty.”

It seems, unfortunately, as though your case is the exception that proves the rule: springs don’t usually break. As for the adjustment arms (also known as “control” arms), I would certainly ask why they need to be replaced: they may be bent, the bushings may be worn, or perhaps they were broken while other work was performed on your vehicle.

If you’re not satisfied with the quote, get a second opinion. Volvo Canada has expressed interest in acquiring additional information from you in the hope that they can “rectify this situation in a manner that is to everyone's satisfaction.” I would recommend that as a starting point.

If ultimately it does cost $1,000 to repair a vehicle you’ve owned from new and from which you’ve had reliable service, I’d say it’s worth the price. The good news is, the replacement parts will likely come with a warranty.

E-Mail Ask Joanne at globedrive@globeandmail.com

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