New vs. Used Tailgate Struts for a Volvo 240 Series (245, Volvo wagon)

I drive a 1991 Volvo 245 (240 wagon). The tailgate struts on my own car needed replacement, and this seemed to be the type of part that one would want to buy new, not used — especially since I could get new replacement units for less than $11 each. I was so convinced that this is a part to always buy new that I wrote a mini-article explaining why I don’t offer good, tested, guaranteed used tailgate struts for sale.

Well, after last night, I changed my mind. I DO offer used tailgate struts for sale.

In no way am I disrespecting the vendor from whom I bought these parts. They’re nice people, and they specialize in Volvo parts. Their website was easy to use, and the parts arrived quickly and in good condition.

The sticker on the new parts announced that they were made in Taiwan. For me, that’s a positive. Yay for Taiwan! I prefer to buy items that were not made in Communist China. So far, so good.

The parts did not automatically come with the little hip joint on the car side, or the slide clip for attachment on the tailgate side. No problem. My car has its own clips and hip joints anyway.

The specs on the new parts showed a length of 470 mm, and a force of 700N (Newton). I Googled that and learned that this means: 157 pounds. With the two combined, that’s 314 pounds of lifting force. That seems like a lot to me. I can’t imagine a tailgate weighing that much.

The specs on the Meyle brand, made-in-Germany used tailgate struts that I removed from my car showed “as per Volvo 1 254 916″ and a force of 400N (90 pounds). So, the used struts, when they were new, provided 400N x 2 = 800N (180 pounds) of lifting force, combined. That seems a lot more realistic.

The used tailgate struts showed a production date stamp of 1998. So, this being a 1991 car, I can conclude that the original Volvo parts lasted for seven years, and the Meyle ones lasted for 17 years, since 1998 … this being 2015. Arguably, one of the Meyle used tailgate struts is still lasting … it seems to be in good working order. The other one was completely devoid of pressure.

Even with one new part installed, the tailgate stayed open by itself for the first time since I’ve owned the car. That’s good. And, although it was a little noisy when the tailgate opened and closed, the new part was able to hold the entire tailgate up solo. Problem is, even if the used one were still generating 400N of lifting force, then one strut would be at 700N and the other at 400N, so the former would be doing more work and presumably would wear out faster. For that reason, I initially decided not to mix the old and new parts, with one on each side.

I installed the second new tailgate strut too. Would the tailgate be too hard to close?

Yes! Wow. For me, it was very hard to pull the tailgate down. Granted, I’m female, so I’m not as muscular as a guy, but I’m also tall and athletic. My mom, who’s 5’2” and neither young nor athletic, would probably find this tailgate impossibly difficult to close.

The bigger-is-better premise such as applied to tailgate struts lifting force is hardly a good idea. Hair driers used to have a similarly irrational one-upmanship. Over the years, I have watched their advertised wattage numbers keep increasing. Presumably the clueless buying public concluded that hey, a 1200-watt hair drier must be better than a 1100-watt unit, so buy the former without even understanding what the concept even means.

Why, perhaps I could help natural selection along and offer to folks with that mindset a 100,000-watt hair drier and wow wouldn’t that dry their hair even faster? No doubt. It probably would also instantly incinerate the hair and probably much of the person holding the hair drier and part of the bathroom besides.  Applying this flawed premise to tailgate struts isn’t a good idea either, it turns out.

After trying to close the tailgate a few times, I decided I dislike the effects of the extra force enough to mix the old and new parts, with one on each side.

I put back the better one of the two used tailgate struts, and I’m keeping the other new part on the shelf for future use. So now my tailgate closes as easily as I’d like it to do, with one new tailgate strut and one 17-year old one.

This exercise really was a stark personal validation of the value I try to add with my little Volvo used-parts business. Even to me, it seemed counter-intuitive to put a used tailgate strut on my beloved Volvo, as a replacement — when I could by a brand-new one for less than $11. And yet, now that I have more-detailed information, I can see how buying a good, tested, guaranteed used tailgate strut can make perfect sense.

Tailgate Strut Lifting Force Tested on a Volvo 240 Series (245, Volvo wagon)

For the 245 tailgate struts, the official Volvo spec, as far as we know, calls for a lifting force of 400 Newton (about 90 pounds of lifting force) per strut, total for both: 800 Newton (about 180 pounds).

We did a little test and found that 700 Newton (about 157 pounds) is enough to keep a 245 tailgate up very sturdily, so even with 350 Newton (about 78 pounds of lifting force) a used one would still be fine. We plan to do some more testing to find the exact tipping point at which the tailgate barely doesn’t stay up any more. That way we can make sure we use a logical cut-off point as to the quality of the tested, guaranteed used tailgate struts we offer.

This test was performed on a 1991 car, which also has the third brake-light, automatic lock … pretty much everything we can imagine a stock 245 having.

Tailgate Strut Replacement on my 1991 Volvo 245

From the first day that I owned my 1991 Volvo 245 (240 wagon), the struts have been sagging, unable to keep the tailgate up. Until last night, I used a garden hoe handle to prop the tailgate open — not very elegant.

I figured that it makes sense to buy tailgate struts new, priced at less than $11 each. I ended up regretting that purchase, for reasons that I explain here. For those same reasons, I do offer good, tested, guaranteed used Volvo 245 tailgate struts for sale.

The replacement struts did not automatically come with the little hip joint on the car side, or the slide clip for attachment on the tailgate side. I do sell those too.

I opened and propped up the tailgate, using the stick I’ve been using all along to hold it open.

On the tailgate side of the strut, I used a flat screwdriver to remove the clips. It occurred to me that putting on safety glasses might be prudent.

Then, I pried the bottom part of the strut off the rod that’s part of the tailgate. It was tempting to pry or hit the body of strut; but that might have damaged it, so I applied the sideways force to just the bottom part of the strut, the part that slides onto the rod.

After that, I twisted the strut so that it threaded off the hip joint on the car side of the strut.

Even if the replacement part had come with its own hip joint, I might still have left my old one on the car, because removing the strut from the hip joint is much easier than removing the hip joint from the car.

It was as simple as that.

To reinstall, I threaded the replacement strut back into the hip joint, pushed the strut onto the rod on the tailgate, and pushed the clip back on.

Tailgate Replacement on my 1991 Volvo 245

I’d bought my 1991 Volvo 245 (240 wagon) after someone had rear-ended it, and the car was a good deal at the price of $800, which amazingly included $500’s worth of just-installed new tires.

The tailgate was a mess, and I finally found a replacement at a junkyard.

Tailgate removal and installation can be done the easy way or the hard way. I tried the hard way:first, on the donor car at the junkyard. This consisted of:

  • Failing to figure out how to cleanly separate the tailgate wiring from the car wiring and finally cutting the wiring.
  • Removing the tailgate from the hinges, and leaving the hinges on the car

I removed the damaged tailgate on my own car using the same not-so-smart approach. On my car it was too late to save the wiring; it had failed on its own accord. I read that Volvo tailgate wiring doesn’t age well, for understandable reasons, and it often needs replacement anyway, after 25+ years of exposure, stress and strain. I ordered two new replacement units, $10 or so per side, nicely affordable.  I needed two, one for the driver side and one for the passenger side. I later ended up regretting that purchase, for reasons I plan to explain elsewhere.

The washer fluid hose is integral to the tailgate, and I needed to disconnect it from the car. The hose exits the metal via a grommet in the center …

2015-11-07 21.54.21… then runs along the top lip of the tailgate opening towards the passenger side.Two metal clips hold it in position.

2015-11-014Then, it vanishes through a grommet into the passenger side rear vertical pillar of the car.

2015-11-012This same length of hose then runs down the inside of the pillar and connects with another hose that runs along the passenger side of the car. At this junction, I disconnected and reconnected the hose to the tailgate.

For access to this connection, I removed the passenger side inside rear trim panel.

The wiring connections are underneath the headliner. On the passenger side there is one large bullet connector, and on the driver side there are three wires: two spade connectors and one bullet connector. I could simply pull these apart.

For access to these connections, I pulled the tailgate opening trim away from the top lip of the car, and then I stuck a large flat screwdriver into the slight opening atop the headliner, then gently leveraged it out.

2015-11-015The headliner fits around a steel frame almost like a shower cap fits around a person’s head: a tight band keeps things in position.2015-11-017

2015-11-07 22.18.04I pulled the rearmost lip of the headliner free, plus another six inches or so on each side.

From there, and after removing a piece of foam rubber, I could access the wiring so as to unplug the connections.

2015-11-021 2015-11-020The struts on either side needed to be removed too. I removed the slide clip on each side of the tailgate …

2015-11-07 21.53.22… and then removed the strut on each side by shoving it off its horizontal rod.

It might be tempting to whack the side of the strut body to get the strut removed. I would strongly advise against that. I doubt that this part was designed to deal with lateral forces. Hitting it from the side would, I’m guessing, probably run a reasonable risk of shortening its life significantly. I used a large, flat screwdriver to gently pry the strut in the direction I needed.

I didn’t need to remove the struts from the car side, but I did anyway to see how they work. The mechanical connection is similar to a person’s hip joint (I mean physically, not as in a jovial geographical location). To keep things in place on the Volvo, a strangely shaped spring clip fits around the strut, and this needed to be worked loose first, and then the bottom of the strut could be gently pried away from the joint — ideally without marring the paint or making a dent.

With the struts, washer hose and the wiring disconnected, I was ready to remove the tailgate. To remove it from the hinges while the hinges are on the car is not the best approach. With the tailgate closed and the car level, and an assistant holding the tailgate in position just in case, I now prefer to lie on my back in the cargo area and look up. From there, I stick a 12mm socket with extension into the sheet-metal holes inside the car, in the area exposed by the loose-hanging headliner. Then I remove the two long bolts on each side, taking care not to lose the two washers per bolt, that come along. With the tailgate still being latched I’m not even sure that I need an assistant there, now that I think about it.

After I removed these four bolts (two on each side) …

2015-11-039… the hinge is no longer attached to the car, and it can be pivoted up. This is a good time to feed the wiring on each side up and out of the sheet-metal hole, made specifically for this purpose. On each side, between the hinge and the car, is a rubber gasket.

2015-11-07 23.35.19aIt has a 3-D shape so that it can pinch a rib or spine along the length of the hinge, and stay in position as the hinge is lowered.

2015-11-034The gaskets are not interchangeable, side to side.

2015-11-07 23.01.25Some sealant had been lavished on the general area, and this having been an Oregon car, and the tailgate having showed NO signs of water leakage, I can vouch for Volvo having done a great job of that. After 25+ years the sealant was hard and brittle, and I pried gobs of it away.

2015-11-035Peeking down at the bolt holes from above I saw two washers loosely sitting on the area through which the 12mm vertical bolts fitted, and it seemed fairly easy to nudge one out of position. Perhaps next time I should temporarily drop a bolt down each of these holes from the top, to keep it in position.

Next time I also plan to have a clean, soft area ready for me to deposit the tailgate onto. Anyway, with all this removed, indeed the tailgate can be unlatched one more time, and then pulled upward and away from the car.

To remove each hinge from the tailgate, two bolts are involved. Both have T40 Torx heads but they’re not identical.

2015-11-0422015-11-07 22.28.55The bolt inboard of the rubber seal is shorter and has an integral washer, and its protected space (away from the elements) means it’s relatively shiny and new.  A hole in the tailgate sheet metal provides access to this bolt …

2015-11-010…  but I first needed to stick a flat screwdriver into that hole, to pry the wiring out of the way. It was a lot easier when I pushed the wiring towards the glass, i.e., towards the inside of the tailgate, as opposed to towards the edge, i.e., away from the center.

2015-11-011… since it runs right over the top of that bolt. After that, it was easy to remove the bolt. As a guideline, the extension on my ratchet was approximately perpendicular to the window glass when removing the bolt.  It seemed possible to drop the bolt into the tailgate so I diligently avoided doing so.

The bolt outboard of the rubber seal is longer and I didn’t see an integral washer on it, and its unprotected space (exposed to the elements) means it’s relatively weather-worn on my car. I needed to shove the tailgate rubber out of the way, for access to the bolt.

I yielded to the temptation to pull the rubber away from the tailgate and found it difficult to replace the rubber later. As a guideline, the extension on my ratchet was approximately parallel to the window glass when removing this bolt.

2015-11-0462015-11-030As part of swapping tailgate I needed to transfer the rear license plate, which on my car involved two acorn nuts. I’m not sure what size they are; they looked like 10mm.

As a test, I put the tailgate back onto the car even with the hinges completely out of the picture, on my workbench somewhere. It was interesting to see the tailgate stays nicely in position on the car, even so. Even the latch worked perfectly. It’s cool how Volvo designed the car to not just be nice to drive but also nice to assemble.

As to assembly, I am guessing that the entire tailgate got assembled away from the main assembly line, and then with the two wiring looms and washer/wiper hose dangling, the tailgate with hinges and gaskets was brought to the back of the car. The tailgate was perhaps then put into position, the hose and wires fed through, and the hinge bolts inserted and tightened. Brilliant.

The more I work on these cars, the more I admire the engineering behind them. I basically plan to stock up on a stash of tailgates and tailgate parts, as well as rear bumpers and rear indicator lights. That way if a 245 ever gets rear-ended, then the owner can replace the tailgate without having to even have the part repainted.