Mystery Car Part!
June 4, 2009 5:20 PM   Subscribe

What is this mystery car part???

Pulling into my apartment complex this afternoon, I ran over a minor pothole that I've been over many times before which bumped a little more than usual. Then a few seconds later, I heard clinka-clinka like something metal had dropped and was bouncing around on concrete (not dragging). I pulled into my parking lot since I was so close and then walked back to look and see what I had heard, and I found the round item in the linked picture (on 8.5x11 piece of paper for scale). WHAT IS IT??? One end is blunted like it came that way; the other is clearly broken off. It is solid metal and heavy, not a tube. Was it attached to my car and it broke off, or did I run over it, get it caught up in the undercarriage and further driving caused it to drop out again? Is my car safe to drive tomorrow? The undercarriage of the car looks fine from what I can tell; nothing hanging down, and I don't hear any hissing coming from the tires. Thanks for your help, MetaFilter!
posted by alygator to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's part of a coil spring, and I wouldn't drive the vehicle any further than the service station to have it repaired.

A broken coil spring could have a dramatically negative effect on your vehicle's handling, causing unpredictable movements during cornering, for example.

A cautious person wouldn't even drive this vehicle to a garage, they would have it towed.
posted by davey_darling at 5:23 PM on June 4, 2009

It is part of the spring - a coil of the suspension spring holding either your car up, or someone else's. It could have come off your car, or you may have run over it, but it's certainly a bit of A car.

Had you noticed any clunking noises going over potholes recently? The spring has cracked, and the last coil (at the top or the bottom) has fallen off. It will make your car sit funny (one corner lower than the other) if it is off your car (rather than you just ran over it) but the only real way of telling if it is from your car is to take it in to a garage, show them the part and ask them to check your struts. They may be able to do this just by taking the wheels off and looking, but you do really need to get this looked at before driving too much further.
posted by Brockles at 5:25 PM on June 4, 2009

I've been looking at that thing for several minutes now, and I honestly don't think it's a car part at all. Maybe something from a hitch, in which case losing it is fairly harmless, unless you're towing something. But I'd place a dollar down on the "not car part" square.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:25 PM on June 4, 2009

That looks like part of coil spring. Check the springs in your suspension. Look closely, because the broken piece could be hidden in the rubber spring mount.
Don't drive. Get a tow.
posted by Jon-o at 5:27 PM on June 4, 2009

No way! Wouldn't a coil spring be both bigger and thicker? Wouldn't losing a coil spring like that make a LOT of noise?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:27 PM on June 4, 2009

Brockles is smarter than me about cars. Don't listen to me.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:28 PM on June 4, 2009

And then there's the preview feature...
posted by Jon-o at 5:29 PM on June 4, 2009

Cool Papa Bell - It is quite thick, look at the staples in the corner compared to the diameter of the piece - looks like at least 1/2", and judging by the size of the paper I'd estimate the diameter of the coil itself to be around 5". This would be normal for a smaller car.

It likely would make quite a sound, but if you hit a pothole fairly hard, the noise could be masked a bit by the general calamity of the impact.

The broken end looks fairly fresh - raw steel like that would rust fairly quickly in the wild, which is what leads me to think that there's a good chance that this came off of alygator's car.

The part broke off close enough to the end of the coil that I'm not sure an untrained observer would notice that much of a height difference in the corner that it broke off of - the broken end on the car was likely very close to touching the mounting point for the spring in normal condition.
posted by davey_darling at 5:42 PM on June 4, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you for such fast responses! A coil spring makes sense; now that I look more closely at the ring, the broken-off end angles up off the plane of the table as if it could go up into a vertical spiral. I'll let you know what the mechanics say when I take it in (other than, "Please give us lots of money.")
posted by alygator at 5:53 PM on June 4, 2009

Def. part of a coil spring. Look in the wheelwells, see which one.

I"m not your mechanic, but I"ve been driving a ghetto-lowered CRX for nearly five years with no problems. (Ghetto lowering involves driving fire roads in Glacier National Park at speeds inappropriate for small cars. Basically, every time you hit a chuckhole - a hole in the road big enough to fit my childhood friend Chuck - you break one coil of one spring.)
posted by notsnot at 5:58 PM on June 4, 2009

Oh, and I meant to mention: if you were ever going to do suspension upgrades to your car, now's the time. Replacing that spring involves removal of the spring and strut; you don't want to replace only one side. Look online to figure what kind of prices you're talking about, and it really shouldn't take a decent mechanic any more than an hour or two to do the swap.
posted by notsnot at 6:01 PM on June 4, 2009

If you decide to drive to the shop, please be very careful. If you beat your suspension up hard enough to break a spring, there might be additional damage.
Be prepared for this to not be particularly cheap, unfortunately. A good shop will only replace springs in pairs, so the car isn't uneven or weaker on one side than the other. And, like I said, there could be additional damage like a bent control arm, damaged ball joint, or blown-out shock from bottoming out. Replacing just the springs will probably be about two or three hours of labor, with springs likely costing more than $70 each.
posted by Jon-o at 6:14 PM on June 4, 2009

Response by poster: Jon-o, my auto shop is literally right across the street from me, so I think I might risk it, rather than having to pay for a tow in addition to the hypothetically costly repair. Sadly, in addition to being a car-clueless girl, I'm also rather strapped for cash. But I found a recall, so maybe that will help with the costs.
posted by alygator at 6:23 PM on June 4, 2009

That recall is good news, as long as you have less than 150,000 miles. If you can afford a tow to the Mercury dealer, you'll get your springs for free and that's freakin awesome. If there's additional damage caused by the spring fracture, you might be able to get them to cover that, too.
However, an indy shop can't honor that warranty. If you print out the recall and bring it with you, they'll say, "Isn't that interesting? Here's your bill."
posted by Jon-o at 6:32 PM on June 4, 2009

That warranty sounds bang on, actually. I'm pretty sure you could risk driving across the street with it. Good luck, and there's a fair chance you'll get at least part of this covered.

Wouldn't a coil spring be both bigger and thicker? Wouldn't losing a coil spring like that make a LOT of noise?

Springs are nowhere near as thick as you probably imagine them to be. I know the whole "but car's are HEAVY" bit makes you assume they are (quite logically), but there are 4 of them after all, and that is (in engineering terms) a REALLY thick bit of spring steel.

I've broken springs like this, and while it does make a significant Twang noise, it's not much louder than hitting a sudden pothole, or (crucially) a loose drain or man hole cover. You may think "What the hell was that?" But you'd most likely have dismissed it as being something to do with the hole you hit. I imagine that if the piece hadn't fallen out, Allygator would have been none the wiser for a while that the car had been damaged. Very lucky.
posted by Brockles at 6:36 PM on June 4, 2009

Response by poster: Both front springs replaced for free! Thanks to everyone for your help!
posted by alygator at 10:00 AM on June 6, 2009

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