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Recently my wife took our 2003 Element into the mechanic to have them diagnose the loud knocking coming from the front and rear of the car. The mechanic, in his doom and gloom tone told us, "You really shouldn't be driving this vehicle!" It has a bad lower ball joint on the passenger side. It has broken link pins. The tie rod ends need replacing. And lastly the struts are shot. Now I'm not sure if he was just over compensating to get the job and of course the $1500 he quoted me or things are really that bad.

So far I have replaced the passenger side ball joint. Fairly easy job, only having to take the knuckle in to have the old ball joint removed and the new one pressed in. One knocking noise gone. I've also replaced both driver and passenger side front link pins. They were both busted.

Since I did those jobs, I decided to replace the struts, strut mounts, tie rod ends, and driver side ball joint before the winter comes. Other then compressing the springs, I should be able to do all of this myself.

My first question is brand related. I've looked at all kinds of strut brands on the net; Gabrial, Monroe, KYB, Sensen, etc... Although reviews on OEM struts seem good, Sensen seems almost too cheap to be true ($150 for all four front and back struts). Monroe has pretty good reviews as well, but I tend to find the cheapest part in the list at AutoZone (local auto parts store) to be the cheapest in quality as well. KYB seems to be the only brand for OEM that stands out. Does anyone have any comments on strut brand, other then you get what you pay for? :)

Secondly, I wasn't going to replace the mounts, but after reading (a lot) I've noticed that the mounts could be causing some of my clunking noise. Should I replace the mounts with the same brand as the struts I choose? Is there anything special I should know about KYB mounts, or any other mounts for that matter?

The rotors look good. The calipers are a little rusty but they're also working well (I'd like to paint them but I have yet to adventure into bleeding break lines so I'd like to avoid that if at all possible). The bushings on the lower control arm look good as well. No tears or cracks. The axles and CV joint look good, no slop in the axle and the CV boot looks perfect. Is there anything else I should consider replacing? Is there anything I should make sure of before I jump into this job?

Thanks in advance for the help.
 

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I'm currently in the midst of doing the exact same work (very slowly...) and can share a little bit. I bought some eBay STAGG struts, $180 shipped for all four; after hearing good reviews about them I decided the price is good enough to try out. So far so good, no problems and work great. Definitely replace the mounts while you do it, if the rest of the suspension is bad and old then the rubber in the mounts is probably dry rotted and will crack easily when removing the retainer nut (causes a lot of twisting force on the mount when loosening/tightening). I used some after market ones and they seem fine, just make sure they aren't from a no-name brand is my rule. Google is your friend - if you found a great deal then look up some forum reviews from other cars about that brand. They don't have to be the same as the strut brand. Oh, and the arrow points inwards toward the center of the car that is on the mounts.

Just check all your diff, tranny, engine mounts, sway bar links, bushings, control arm pivot mounts, etc. Anything that's rubber will have degraded pretty well after all these years, regardless if it's been driven a lot. Much like an old tire, the rubber dries out, always evaporating the moisture in it, leading to cracking and wear.
 
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