Were the struts bad enough to fail inspection?

Two questions:

  1. Is this a new method for testing shock absorbers/struts - push down once and see what happens. Rocking and release is no longer used?
  2. How much latitude does mechanic have when completing the state required vehicle inspections?

Penna inspection requires a car be rejected from passing during the inspection of the suspension system “when checking the shock absorbers the vehicle continues free rocking motion greater than three cycles after release” or “if upon internal inspection, the shock absorbers have severe leakage - not slight dampness.”

Car did not pass because it needed new front struts. Mechanic said he pushed down on front of car and the car did not come back up; thus, he concluded struts were bad and needed to be replaced to pass inspection. He brought out old strut and demonstrated that the compressed gas inside strut was not responding properly because when he pushed down on the tip, it was very slow to restore to original position. There were no leakage signs on strut and coil springs were not bent or broken.

I have been on YouTube and have read descriptions on this site and others and have not read the technique and result that mechanic is describing. I cannot even visualize pushing down on the front of the car and its staying in a depressed position?!?

Mechanic said bounce test is subjective, and it is ultimately up to the mechanic to determine that all vehicular parts are operating as they should. I think the PA code allows gradations of performance; hence, its providing descriptors of what qualifies as inspection failure (severe leakage and more than three bounces). The mechanic was in his 20s may be early 30s - is his technique a new shock absorber test? Comments appreciated.

Evelina…this tech/mechanic/inspector is either a liar or blind or stupid.

He pushed down on the vehicle and it did not come back up. Hogwash!!! The strut/shock controls the bounce, it does not hold the vehicle up or support the vehicle. When he pushed down and let go the vehicle came back up because the spring rebounded or pushed the vehicle back up. AND, with a strut the old push and watch it bounce test simply does not work, the car will not bounce as if it had shocks.

“when checking the shock absorbers the vehicle continues free rocking motion greater than three cycles after release”…notice it says shocks, struts are a different design therefore act different. I had a car with 281,000 miles on it and when I pushed on car it went doen and came back up and did not bounce. It’s an old way of thinking.

Gomer got into your wallet and he probably only helped himself. You did not state how many miles your car had so you might notice a better ride quality but was it worth the price? Only you can answer that.

Yep, he lied. That’s not how struts fail. Struts fail when the let the car bounce back up too quickly, not too slowly. I hope you didn’t buy new struts because of this.

When doing a bounce test for worn struts/shocks, you look for how the suspension responds. Normally if the struts/shocks are good, the vehicle bounces down, comes up and stops. If the bounce test shows that the vehicle goes down fine but is slow to rebound back up there’s a problem with the valving within the strut/shock.

The proof is the old strut rod is easy to push down and is slow extend back out. A new strut comes with a strap holding the strut rod down. And when that strap is cut, the strut rod extends very quickly. And once it extends out, it’s very difficult to push back down.

You needed the struts.


But Tester, that’s a pretty unusual failure - it’s much more common for struts to lose damping, allowing uncontrolled rebounding, right? If that happened the car would ‘pump down’ the struts and ride like an oxcart.

We’d know a lot more if @Evelina will post the year/make/model/miles of her car, and if it’s ride is much worse that before.

Anything that has any kind of valve can fail in all kinds of ways.

I’ve raised vehicles on a lift where there was no problem with the struts/shocks prior. But because the suspension was allowed to hang and the struts/shocks were allowed to hyper-extend past their normal operating range, it messed the valving up inside the struts/shocks. Then when the vehicle is lowered back down, the valving stuck where it wouldn’t allow the the struts/shocks to compress and the vehicle rides like there’s no suspension at all.

Try explaining that to the owner when they brought it in for an unrelated repair.


Thanks all REALLY. Tester - I appreciate your lone wolf perspective because I want to be objective in my assessment. Perhaps what you describe is what prompted their replacing the struts, but the distinction I tried to make to mechanic was did it fail the PA inspection.

I purposely did not give make/model/mileage, because did not want that information to distract from my two questions, re: 1) new way to test shocks and 2) latitude of a mechanic when performing inspection per codified inspection regulations.

Subaru, Legacy wagon, 2002, 167,000 miles, roads are mostly highway, small town, suburban. It rides like a legacy wagon - there are no thunks or noises when going over RR tracks. I am original owner and steering/suspension checked every 15,000 miles (follow the Subaru maintenance manual) and keep all records and a repair matrix. And 9,000 miles ago my regular (Delaware) mechanic checked suspension. Sure, car could use struts and lots of things, but were the struts behaving in such a manner that they failed the Penna inspection.

I also withheld from OP the following:

Rear wiper blade because it was torn. Blade was less than 6 months old, and I had used it that AM to remove snow from rear window and watched the blade remove the snow - guess I missed the tear. He provided me with torn wiper.

Battery was weak and “I wouldn’t want to walk out to my car and have it not start.” He had one at the shop that he could install. I responded battery was less than three years old. When I arrived at shop, he hooked it up to machine and fully charged it and it came back at “489” on a “550” battery and 12.34 volts. He said in earlier test it came back at 420. (Feel free to comment on these readings - I don’t have time to research it.) Oh, and he had no way to know how old battery was. Even, lugnut that I am about this stuff, I know how to read a battery’s age! I declined new battery.

And belts were cracked and they should be replaced: He showed me minute horizontal lines on belt, but no physical cracks. I declined belts.

I paid for struts and walked away with the bad struts. I made it clear to him that I was going to perform my due diligence because I did not believe that it failed per the inspection requirements and that I would be back if my research supported my position.

Tester Im not too sure what kind of crazy struts you are buying…but I have replaced many struts in my day and yes they are in a compressed position out of the box with a little strap attached…but I have never had a new strut spring up when the strap is cut…A strut alone is not made to push your car up, its not made to have a spring like action…thats what your spring is for…all the strut is for is to stop the spring from continuing to bounce after you have gone over a bump.

There is a reason why Tester is the lone wolf on this one

but I have replaced many struts in my day and yes they are in a compressed position out of the box with a little strap attached…but I have never had a new strut spring up when the strap is cut.

Every single gas strut/shock I’ve replaced they ALL sprung up when the strap was cut. It was really more of a slow release…but they did push out. I do agree that it’s NOT enough pressure to hold the car up since you can push it back without any tools.

Actually, I agree with Tester. In addition to losing their damping capabilities, I’ve seen struts leak, seen struts not rebound properly (which sounds like what the OP is experiencing), and even seen struts frozen solid…in summer.

The OP’s car has 167,000 miles on it. Our problems in responding to this are

  1. we can’t see the vehicle
  2. it wouldn’t matter…unless one of us was an inspector in PA.

Frankly, considering the mileage and the decription, I see nothing that causes me to question the judgement of the inspector.

@Evalina - you could answer all our confusion by describing how much of a difference in ride the new struts made. If it was a major difference the inspector was right, if it was a minor difference he was wrong.

And yes, gas charged shocks/struts do extend themselves when the strap is cut (I had to wrestle a set of Bilsteins under my Suburban years ago), but that effect is very minor as far as what’s going on here.

Oh, yeah, and I agree with Tester about the strap thing too.

My problem with the mechanic/inspector is that it is very easy to oversell struts, and when the guy doing the inspection also does the installation that’s a clear conflict of interest. Combine that with a diagnosis that, while possible, is much rarer than the normal problem with worn struts, and I’m VERY suspicious.

Couple things…the same mountain bike…I dont understand when you say you have seen struts not rebound properly…are you talking about while they are in the car? I would love to see a strut out there where you can physically push the car down with your own human strength…but the the properly working compressed spring is not able to push the strut up.

And texases…I doubt you are talking about “struts” if you had to wrestle it up there. Struts are combined with the spring and bolted down as an assembly. there shoud be no manual compressing while installing because you would also have to compress the spring since when put together it is all one assembly. You are talking about a shock absorber. Two different things.

Having the same shop do the inspection and also offer repair is an invitation to corruption.
Maryland has a similar flawed system.

One of the very few good things about Washington DC DMV is that there are inspection stations that only do inspection.
There is no incentive to be overly strict. However, ~20 years ago there was a scandal with inspectors taking bribes to pass faulty vehicles.

p.s. I agree with Tester. Gas shocks and struts push out (~20-50lb), non gas don’t.

You’re correct, blejosw, as I mentioned in my post (‘shocks/struts’) I was referring to gas-charged shocks in that case. Suburbans don’t use struts. That said, new gas-charged struts will also natually extend, but it’s not an issue with their installation.

Well, I’ll tell you what, th enext time I run across some I’ll giive you a ring.

I think Texases is referring to the damping component of the strut assembly, the shock. Actually, there are more types of configurations than just struts and shocks. My rear end is supported by shock absorbers that are installed in a coil-over arrangement as an assembly, just as struts are.

The real thing that differentiates shocks from struts is not their mounting relationship with the springs. Rather, it’s whether the shock & spring assembly controls the dynamic geometry of the suspension. In my case, the gemetry is controlled by upper and lower “control arms” and the coil/shock assembly functions solely to absorb shock and dampen recoil. My front end, on the other hand, contains struts. They look very muc like the ones on the rear, and install as a spring/shock assembly just as the rear does, but there are no upper control arms. The dynamics of the geometry are controlled by the spring/shock assembly itself.

Here are “exploded view” drawings of my rears and my fronts


You are correct mountainbike. Forgot about the coilovers.

I think you needed new struts and the mechanic is correct about this can be a subjective thing. Actually, in some cases there is no way of really knowing short of dissasembly of the strut and of course if you’re at that point you replace them.

This is also true of some suspension components such as ball joints, tie rod ends etc. The fact that they feel tight does not mean they’re good.

I called the Quality Assurance Office who is a third party hired by the Commonwealth to audit and maintain compliance among the mechanic shops that are certified to perform the Penna Vehicle Safety Inspection.

The QA Officer quoted for me the test for suspension inspection “when checking the shock absorbers the vehicle continues free rocking motion greater than three cycles after release”. He commented that the inspection test is designed to fail cars where the coils are broken or the shock absorber system is non-existent.

He added if driving I-95 and hitting dips and bumps, it is difficult to keep the car on the road - those are the vehicles that should fail. My car did not handle in that manner.

Like many of you here, the QA Officer agreed based on miles, the car probably benefited from the struts; however, that is not the threshold for failing the Vehicle Safety Inspection. The PA Code is written to remove as much subjectivity as possible. It clearly defines what should be sought when performing internal and external inspections.

Yes ride is smoother. Did I have a difficult time handling the car before new struts? No.

Hey Penna readers - the rear wiper is not part of the inspection, per the QA Officer. My rear wiper failed inspection per this garage, so I had to have them install a new one for it to pass. The QA Officer is calling the garage based on my experience.

Thanks all for your comments and responses.