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I plan to replace the rear shock absorbers on my 2006 Outback. From what I have read online, it seems quite easy...just unbolt and replace. The Haynes manual talks about compressing the spring though if you plan to replace the shock. So my question is...

Do you have to compress the spring if you are going to replace the shock absorber?
 

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2018 Subaru Crosstrek Limited w/Eyesight
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It's a strut, not a shock. It goes on, comes off as one complete unit (spring, strut, & mount). Nobody makes a complete, ready to install OEM assembly like Monroe or even Honda. To replace the strut, you need to pull the assembly off the car, compress the spring, remove the nut, and swap the new strut in and reverse the procedure. It is a good idea to replace the strut mount while you have the strut disassembled. It's cheap insurance so you don't have to tear it out again.
 

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03 H6 OBW & 06 WRX Sportwagon
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one option for a DIY'er is, remove the entire assemblies, take them, with the new KYB shocks to a shop, pay them to the compress and swap in the new shock, then just reinstall the unit. Saves messing with renting the compressors, probably as fast overall, maybe just a few bucks extra.

check rockauto and amazon for prices. plenty of other online parts houses too.
 

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Car: 2008 Tribeca, 2010 LGT, Sold: 2005 XT Limited
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I would add that the rears are very easy to compress with the spring compressors. The fronts are slightly tougher, but the rears are easy.

To get them out, you might need to pull apart the wheel well inside. I was able to get tools in there to get the two nuts off each side, but it was tight. But I was too lazy to try to figure out how to pull all that finish apart :p
 
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