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Rick writes: “After replacing the springs on my wife’s trailblazer and nearly killing myself when the spring compressor I was using swung around to the other side, I decided I was going to buy a proper spring compressor. The one I had been using was a two-piece style, but when one of them swung around to the other side, I ended up with a “C” shaped spring.  If that thing had let loose, it could have gone through my skull or something.  I was only able to take them apart when a buddy of mine had [one like the one in the middle above].  Right after that I bought my own.  Not the fastest, but I think it’s relatively safe. And at $30 – it’s a no brainer.”

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Rick, I can’t agree more.  I had my own experience with one of the two-piece types when I was swapping springs in one of my Miatas.  In my case it just barely started to slip, then I caught it and loosened it before it came loose.  I managed to recompress it, but ever since then I’ve been very leery of cheap-ass spring compressors.

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If you think about it, you’ve got 500 to 1,000 pounds of force stored up in that compressed spring.  If you figure that the compressor itself weighs about three pounds, that’s a hell of a power-to-weight ratio.  It’s gonna be a rocket.

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Seriously, I think the model Rick’s recommending should be your bare minimum quality tool for the job.  I prefer wall-mount types whenever possible for strut-type removal.  If they’re on the car, you’re best off with a high-quality version of the center type.  You might also consider renting a nice one.

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Single-Piece Strut Spring Compressor [Harbor Freight]
Wall-Mount “StrutTamer” Spring Compressor [SJ Discount Tools]

 

12 Responses to Don’t Cheap Out on Spring Compressors

  1. mike says:

    wow, i didn’t even know you could get one-piece spring compressors for cheap (when i went to harbor freight i only saw the 2-piece style, maybe you can only get the 1-piece ones from the website?)

    thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you!

    i’ve always been mega-paranoid about using the 2-piece ones, but i thought my only alternatives were to spend a fortune one-time (for something hydraulic or uber expensive), or spend 1/2 a fortune every time (to take them to a shop)

  2. nrChris says:

    I helped a buddy lower his F150–he was making it into a hot rod–and the cheapo spring compressors that we used made a quick project into a full day project. While I am not really a car guy, I can attest to the value of good spring compressors. Another one of those lessons learned the hard way.

    (Also don’t let you college buddies try to jury rig something from cinder blocks and a cinch syle load belt. Thankfully it wasn’t disasterous.)

  3. TimG says:

    I’ve used the two-piece with success before. I think they work out for lighter weight springs but anything heavy duty (like a truck, etc) would defenitely be safer with the one-piece.

    Wall mount.. $400 US?? Are you nuts.. I’ll just pay a shop to do it for $20 a pair (estimate). If I did this every week maybe, but the once every 3 years a run of the mill car guy uses a spring compressor is not worth the $400.. yowsers!

    Tim

  4. Paul says:

    I have gotten by with a jack on double wishbone suspensions. Yeah, when the spring pops it can seem hairy there for a moment, but I’ve never seen the things shoot any real distance. Maybe there is a Mythbusters episode here in the offing? Can a car coil spring really leap out and take your head off?

    Me, I think not. I’ve done enough front ends to be considered an “expert” at it and I work with the parts. That spring is just nice force to get the lower ball joint split as far as I am concerned.

    And yes, nrChris there is a place for a cinder block too when doing front suspensions. That is my rest of choice when I burn out the bushings in the control arms. I have a press, I use that to install the new bushings. But burning them is the way to go to get the old ones out. Yet another one of them classic beer drinking moments in the world of auto mechanics. Who brought the marshmellows?

    Heh, if you don’t know the tricks removing control arm bushings can turn into one of them real driven to tears affairs. Been there, learned from it.

  5. Rick says:

    Yowsa..
    I’m with TimG here.. $400 is too much for what I would use it for.

    That said, if I were going to get an OTC wall-mount – I would get it there – ’cause that’s a great price. What I think is that same model is being sold at Northerntool.com for $730!!!

    And other wall-mounted versions like the Branick BRA7400 is going for $673 on Amazon. With the same one going for $843 elsewhere. Absolutely Insane..

    Another option could be this hydraulic compressor at maxTools.com for about $120 At least with this one you don’t need an impact wrench.

    That’s one thing I wanted to mention.. the on in the middle picture above, which is the one I have – you “could” use handtools to thread it closed and opened – but if you have an impact wrench to wind it up and down it’s infinitely easier, and much quicker, though still a bit time consuming. I can’t wait to do the suspension in my car..

  6. Toolaremia says:

    Paul, they can come shooting out and hurt you. I’ve seen the aftermath of one that got away, and it was a big chunk out of a cement garage floor. Replace cement with soft flesh and bone, and it could have been ugly.

    You can do it your way, and I have many times on my big cars. The secret is to run a chain through the spring and around the frame so if it does cut loose, it won’t get far. Frankly, it’s a good idea to run a chain through the spring even with a one- or two-piece compressor, and secure it so something that won’t move, like a bench leg. That way it can’t come after you even if the compressor has a catastrophic failure.

    As for one- vs. two-piece. The two-piece versions that have *wide* “two-finger” spring perches and thumbscrew safety devices that can be cranked tight are far less likely to slip around the spring. The narrow-perch two-piece compressors with pathetic pin safeties like shown in the picture are totally unsafe.

    Lisle (greatest specialty-tool co. ever, IMHO) has a unique take on the two-piece with u-bolts that are tightened onto the spring. No way they are going to slip or escape:
    http://www.lislecorp.com/tool_detail.cfm?detail=1089

  7. Harry says:

    There are different types of spring compressors. The ones shown above are external ones designed primarily for compressing springs found on Macpherson struts. There are other types of internal spring compressors consisting of a long threaded rod with hooks or plates that you insert through the access hole in the center of the spring. These are for cars and trucks that have short long arm suspension without Macpherson struts. They are very safe when used correctly. For the bulk of people having vehicles with macpherson struts, there is a growing market of loaded struts available. You can pick up a pre assembled unit (strut,spring, bearing mount, spring insulators, etc) and swap out the whole assembly and not worry about compressing springs to safely replace your worn out Macpherson struts.

  8. Mike says:

    I’ve found the best way to compress springs is with ratcheting tie-down straps. They are cheap, easy to use, and you can use several per spring as a safety measure in case one fails. I’ve done this several times with great results.

    Obviously only use quality straps in excellent condition FWIW, YMMV, compressed springs can kill you, etc.

  9. Trevor says:

    While that red 4-arm compressor you link to at Harbor Freight is definitely safer than the threaded-rod types, it’s not much better in terms of utility. I actually managed to bend the arms on one of these doing the struts on my Audi A6 — I can send in a couple of photos to Toolmonger if anyone’s interested. I still have that POS sitting in the workshop as a reminder not to cheap out on safety-critical tools like spring compressors.

    Here are the problems with the red lever-arm compressor sold by Harbor Freight (via their website only) and others:

    (1) made of low-grade Chinese steel with surprisingly low bending strength

    (2) threaded rod assembly easy to put together wrong: I have high mechanical aptitude, read the instructions closely and I still did it wrong the first time; this could lead to a dangerous situation for an occasional mechanic of middling ability who might not notice the problem right away

    (3) overly thick spring hooks are difficult or even impossible to engage onto struts from some vehicles — there’s that low-grade steel again, if you can’t use strong steel then use more of it to compensate. In my case, I was able to do the front struts on the A6 but not the rear ones, and ended up taking the old assemblies and new struts to a nearby Big O tire center and paying them $60 to do it. Sigh.

    (4) Did I mention that the threaded-rod assembly is a POS? Because it is — despite plenty of lubrication, that sucker would get HOT when I was cranking it into compression. Then again, I guess I should be happy it didn’t shear before I reached the bending point on those lever arms, which by the way was well before the spring was fully compressed.

    I’ve had it with threaded-rod or lever-arm compressors. My next workshop will definitely have space set aside for a wall-mount unit, which all of my friends will be invited to use. In the meantime, I strongly recommend the hydraulic-ram type, which at $100 is cheaper than a lever-arm compressor plus a trip to Big O:

    http://www.harborfreight.com/cpi/ctaf/displayitem.taf?Itemnumber=47890

  10. RJ says:

    I have purchased several types spring compressors from Mac, Snap-On and the likes for working on car and truck springs. Don’t by cheep and don’t take short cuts using them. I walked around with a huge lump on my head for a week when some one working in the bay next to me used one improperly. I now design tools to install custom springs on machines, and large tools. These are much bigger than car, or pick-up springs.

  11. austin says:

    They’re no joke when they get away from you. About a decade ago when I was in college I pulled apart a macpherson strut once without any sort of compressor, it then pulled apart my face. I was holding it between my knees with the bottom of the strut on the concrete and the top between my knees. I was leaning over it turning the nut on the top. When it finally popped, it hit me so hard that it broke my nose, cracked the bone at the base of my nose/upper gums, smashed my lip through my teeth and took me from a bent over caveman stance to standing straight up with my head whipped back and gave me a good dose of whiplash. The real stupid part was I had compressors, and had used them on the first strut, but after installing the tighter shorter spring, I thought i could do the 2nd one without spending an hour turning down the compressor. I got really really lucky that day.

  12. Greg says:

    I need to remove my springs on a 66 t-bird what do you sugest

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