strut shock installation and replacement-mk5+ VW TDI and Audi A3
mk5 VW Jetta strut and shock installation and replacement
This article shows how to install and remove strut or shocks on an A5 Jetta (for 2005.5-2010 mk5 body). The procedure is the same on Sportwagen and Rabbit, GTI, or GLI.
Shocks/struts, springs, and other suspension bushings and mounts were not meant to last forever. As a rough test of strut condition, push down on a corner of the car. If it bounces and returns in one or two bounces, it's probably in good shape. The second bounce should be a lot smaller than the first. Also look at the shock/strut damper piston. If you can see the metal piston, consider changing the boot because the boot serves to protect the seals from dirt. Your VW came stock with gas dampers. If you switched to liquid shocks, check for pooled or a noticeable amount of liquid around the shock piston which indicates bad shock seals. The OEM Boge/Sachs shocks are vilified because they're soft but their construction quality is good. But because they're soft, combined with soft springs and worn bushings, it can result in a poor ride.
Shock/strut/damper are often used interchangeably. A damper is any "shock absorber". A strut is a damper that replaces the upper suspension arm and normally carries the spring on a perch. This is what VW uses. It's called a McPherson strut. The struts do not control the ride height unless the spring perch is different from stock. The springs carry the weight of the car and control ride height, the struts just dampen the motion. A shock is normally just the damper - they don't have spring perches.
Here are some brand/models that people have been happy with in the past. Just remember that ride quality and harshness are highly subjective! Someone's soft ride may feel hard to you. Sporty to one person may be "kidney bruising" to you. The Monroe sensatracks are said to be comfortable. The Koni reds are hydraulic and are adjustable. Koni reds on full soft are about the same as new stock shocks. As a rough estimate, I would set them at 1/2 turn from soft to 1 full turn from soft, depending on what you want and tire size. The koni yellows are a sport ride and comparable to the bilstein HD. The Bilstein TC (touring class) shocks are gas economy twin tube design and is close the Koni reds but different. The Bilstein HD are a stiffer gas monotube shock and a good choice for a sportier (stiffer and rougher). Both are for stock height suspensions. There are also TC sport suspension which are designed to be used as replacement with the lowered sport suspension. These are only for the lowered or sport suspensions because of the strut length! I avoid the OEM VW sachs or boge replacements because they are expensive and are soft.
Lastly, remember that the tire sidewalls are an important part of the suspension - taller tire sidewalls (higher aspect ratio) will dampen more than thin short sidewalls. If your car has an uncomfortable ride, once of the first places to look other than the shock is the tire. Tire brand/model and age have a big part on ride quality.
This is also a good time to inspect the brakes, anti-roll/sway bar bushings, and lower control arm (LCA) bushings, in that order of priority. The sway bar bushings tend to last pretty well but should be replaced as needed. A symptom of bad sway bar bushings is a clunking noise from the front when you go over small bumps and potholes. Sway bars connect the left and right side of the transmission and reduce "sway" or side-side leaning.
Your car will need an alignment after strut replacement. Drive around for a day to let the suspension settle in before alignment.
Some pictures below are archived with permission from furmanka.blogspot.com/2006/11/spryny-instalacja-springs-install.html
Note: The metalnerd or VW strut spreader spreads the cup that the struts sit in. They work best on OEM struts. I found that my Koni struts were a tiny bit larger than stock and would not fully seat. The metalnerd strut spreader will not work with them because it needs 1-2mm more spread width.
7mm allen wrench
14mm triple square socket
27mm 6 point socket for the axle (may need 24mm 12 point, check first)
metric sockets and wrenches
spring compressor (can be loaned free at many auto parts stores)
impact wrench (preferred)
4 jack stands, wheel chocks, and hydraulic jacks
Metalnerd strut spreader or VW tool #3424 or your own DIY strut spreader
Metalnerd MN2122 strut counterholder or VW tool #t10001/5 and t10001/11
One use only bolts (assuming both front and rear, left and right sides)
(quantity 6) VW# n 101 277 06 upper mount bolts (pictured below as #7)
(quantity 2) VW# n 909 548 01 lower strut bolt (pictured below as #10)
(quantity 2) VW# n 101 064 02 lower strut nut (pictured below as #11)
(quantity 6) VW# n 103 320 01 ball joint nuts
(quantity 2) VW# n 015 081 4 stabilizer link nuts
(quantity 2) VW# n 910 406 01 axle bolts
(quantity 4) VW# n 910 661 01 upper mount bolts (pictured bottom as #12)
(quantity 2) VW# n 910 274 01 lower mount bolt (pictured bottom as #8)
(quantity 2) VW# 6n0 412 249c axial grooved ball bearing (pictured left #2)
(quantity 2) VW# 1k0 412 303b (70mm) bump stops (pictured left #3)
(quantity 2) VW# 1k0 412 311b strut mount (pictured left #4)
(quantity 2) VW# 1j0 412 359 cap (pictured left #6)
(quantity 2) VW# 6n0 413 175a dust boot (pictured left #9)
If you are lowering the car, installing the Euro suspension or have 16" wheels now and are putting on 18" wheels, you may need the limiter kit. Many report no problems with 18" wheels only. (quantity 1) VW# 000 071 501 or 000071501a suspension travel limiter kit
(quantity 2) VW# 1k0 511 353p sport 133mm rear bump stops (pictured left #2)
(quantity 2) VW# 1k0 511 353f lowered 118mm rear bump stops (pictured left #2)
(quantity 2) VW# 1k0 512 149b upper spring perch (pictured left #4)
(quantity 2) VW# 1k0 512 297c lower spring perch (buffer block) (pictured left #5)
(quantity 2) VW# 1k0 513 353h rear strut mount (pictured left #11)
(quantity 2) VW# 1k0 513 167 support ring (pictured left #10)
(quantity 2) VW# 1k0 513 425 protective pipe (pictured left #14)
Work on one end of the car at a time if you don't have a lift.
CAUTION - do not rest the jack stands on the suspension or non factory jack points! These can act like a fulcrum or move and cause the car to fall down. You need the suspension to be able to move while you work on it. Always use the factory jack points as specified in the service manual. Then chock the wheels, apply the parking brake, and make sure the car is safe and secure before working on it! Never get under the car while it's supported by hydraulic jacks since these can fail - these are for raising the car only. This article is not a substitute for the factory service manual or the services of a professional mechanic. See the TOS Agreement for the full legal disclaimer.
The only difficult part about removal or installation of the front struts is that they sit in a cup/pocket on the hub. You have to lift the strut out of the cup to remove it and clearance is an issue. There are 2 ways to do this, the preferred OEM method and the "can't help it" because I need to drive my car and the axle won't come out method. The OEM method requires you to slide the axle out in order to get more clearance to pull the strut out of the cup. The problem was that my axles were firmly stuck in the bearing housing. There are no clips holding them in place, they were just firmly seized. Because I didn't want to cause any damage to the axle or wheel bearing splines, I did the "can't help it" method. It's not as good because you stress the axle under large angles and let it hang down, but I had to get the car done so I just moved ahead.
If you need to remove the axle for some other reason like to replace the wheel bearing or axle, spray it with PB Blaster, let it soak, and remove the transaxle end of the axle. Then use a long socket with a big puller to push on the socket or a loosely threaded axle bolt (back it off a few turns so there's a tiny gap for it to move) with a big hammer to pound the axle out. Use some wood or something to help pad the end of your hammer or socket. There's a slight chance of deforming the wheel bearing splines or the threads in the axle but if you have to get it out, you have to get it out.
OEM method: remove the center cap and loosen the axle bolt a quarter turn with a 27mm 6 point socket or a 24mm 12 point socket (15/16") depending on which type of bolt you have, and a breaker bar. Do both sides before raising the car to avoid damage to the wheel bearings. Spray the spline/axle area with PB Blaster to loosen any rust and lubricate the axle. You have to slide it out and the PB Blaster needs time to soak.
Both methods: Loosen the lug bolts on the ground 1/2 turn. Don't remove them until the car is safely lifted and secured on jack stands. Here is where the jack stand points were on my car: 1000q: 2006 mk5 Jetta jack stand points. Firmly shake the car by hand and double check the jack stands once raised to make sure it's secure. Then you can remove the lug bolts and remove the wheel.
Disconnect the lower control arm from the ball joint (3x 16mm nuts). Press the control arm down to separate them.
Remove the ABS or brake pad wear sensors.
Counterhold the pinch bolt while you remove the nut (18mm) . If they're rusted like mine, spray some PB Blaster on the threads to help lubricate them and loosen them up. If you have an impact gun, zip off the pinch bolt nut and the sway bar link bolt. If you don't have an impact gun, you'll have to counterhold the link bolt with a 6mm 12 point (triple square) bit.
The pinch bolt has a 14mm 12 point head so make sure you have a bit ahead of time. If you didn't read the directions ahead of time and find you don't have a triple square, use a torx T60 with a vise grip plier clamped onto the head of the bolt. It might strip but it's worth a try.
If your car has OEM HIDs, remove the leveler arm on the front left (10mm). This sensor is how the headlights self level - if you lower the car you'll have to reset it with vag com later.
OEM way: pull the axle out of the hub. On the driver's side, the axle needs to come out to get enough clearance. On the passenger side, you may only need to remove it half way. Using a plastic or wood dowel, tap the axle on the outer face to push it through the hub. Try not to hit it hard with metal since this can deform the axle or damage the hub splines. I suggest spraying it with some PB Blaster and letting soak to loosen the bond and lubricate the splines. Again, on the driver's side you probably have to pull the axle all the way out, on the pass side you may only have to push it halfway out.
Once the axle is out, support it with string or wire. Don't let it hang from the transmission or joints. Here you can see the bottom of the strut once it's been pulled out of the hub.
Spray some PB Blaster or WD-40 around the base of the strut where it sits in the strut cup and let it soak down into the gap. This will make removal significantly easier.
Insert the strut spreader at the yellow arrow and turn it with a wrench to pry apart the strut cup. You should now have enough clearance to pull the strut out of the hub.
Here is what the strut spreader looks like once the strut is out of the pocket/cup. You may have to move it up and down along the gap as you work to get a tiny bit more clearance. The OEM tool has a tiny flat edge to hold it in place once it's been twisted 90 degrees.
Now remove the upper connection that's holding the strut assembly from falling out. Open the hood and pull the plastic cowling up without removing it from the car. Remove the 3x 13mm bolts and the strut assembly will drop out.
If your car is old and the plastic is dried out, you may want to remove the cowl to avoid cracking it. It probably won't. If you decide to remove the wipers to get the cowling off, they're held with 13mm bolts. Use a puller to get the wipers off their splines - it's very difficult to pull them off by hand.
"Can't help it method" - this method is not as good because it stresses the axles - there is a possibility of damage to the cv joints. With this method, first disconnect the sway bar links from the struts on both sides. This will give you a tiny bit more drop. Remove the 3x 13 upper strut bolts and let the whole thing hang down. Insert the strut spreader and use a rubber hammer to hit the spring perch up. This will slowly pull the strut out of the cup. Once it's almost out, press the hub down with your foot (make sure you're not stressing any brake or sensor lines!) and you should have enough just clearance to get the strut out. Make sure the strut is being pulled straight out of the pocket - if it's being pulled to the side it won't come out since it's a finely machined fit.
Here I was using a piece of wood to keep the heavy strut from falling back down into the cup.
The last way to remove the strut is to compress the spring while it's still on the car. This is more risky because you could get pinched and most spring compressors won't fit due to lack of clearance. Some need to be installed upside down due to clearance and this could cause an issue when tightening the compressors. Make sure the spring compressors are secure because if they fail it will lead to serious injury. I do not suggest doing this method.
Take note of where the spring coil ends are seated. They must be in the same position on the new spring. Use a spring compressor and compress the spring. If you don't have a spring compressor, they can be loaned at many auto parts stores for free. The spring must NOT be under tension against the spring perch or the upper mount when you loosen the upper mount or else the spring will go flying!
CAUTION: Be careful when using spring compressors since any failure or slipping could result in the sudden release of the spring, strut, or other stuff on the assembly! Don't stick your hands near the springs while the springs are being compressed! You could get pinched or the spring compressors could fail! Always point the spring and strut away from yourself so that if it does fail, it doesn't hit you!
You want to remove the nut that's holding the strut assembly together but the issue is that the bolt needs to be counterheld against the strut shaft or else it will just spin. There are a few ways to counterhold it. You could just blip it off with an impact wrench but you can't use this method to tighten the nut or else it will crack the strut bearing. The preferred way is to use the Metalnerd MN2122 strut counterholder (pictured below and in use at right) since it has an attachment for a torque wrench (always mate at 90 degree angle!), is cheaper than buying a new wrench set, and works. It also has both 21mm and 22mm ends for OEM and aftermarket struts. VW tool #t10001/5 and t10001/11 will work but it doesn't have sizes for aftermarket nuts - the metalnerd MN2122 does.
Here's a picture of the tool in use during assembly.
A 13/16" spark plug socket works too but remember that some aftermarket nuts are 22mm. And you have to cut flat spots for a wrench into the side to hold it. I have a gearwrench pass through wrench which lets you loosen the bolt while using an allen wrench to counterhold the shaft. See the rear shock section for pics of it in use. Here's another idea - two nuts tightened against each other can counterhold the shaft but my strut did not have enough threads to do this and I had the tools.
In any case, remove the 21mm nut and the assembly will come apart. Note the order of the bushings, mounts, etc. If you are lowering the car cut the bump stops shorter and reinstall. Knock the lower strut boot holder thingy off the old strut and tap it onto your new strut. I trimmed the black plastic portion so the boot wouldn't be as stretched.
Assembly is the reverse of removal. Check the beginning of the spring coil's position against the spring perch - it should fit snugly. In other words, the coil end should fit against a stop. You may find it easier to do the other side before reattaching the sway bar link to the strut.
NOTE - The top mount has some stamped arrows that should be aligned with the direction of travel. I initially installed one the wrong way and it didn't feel any different during the test drive and after I fixed it. If you mess this up, just feel for the little rubber nub visible on the right of the picture and use that to figure out which the direction the arrows are pointing.
All suspension components with rubber bushings should be tightened in the loaded position - not fully extended and not fully compressed, in the curb weight position. Hand tighten the fasteners and then use a jack to help you lift the entire assembly/arm while you tighten the suspension bolts.
If you have the 6 point axle bolt, tighten it to 148 ft lbs and lower the car. Once on the ground, tighten it another 180 degrees. If you have the 12 point axle bolt, tighten it to 52 ft-lb and lower the car. Once on the ground, turn it another 90 degrees.
Front torque specs
3x top strut assembly bolts - 11 ft lbs + 1/4 turn (always replace)
1x top strut assembly nut - 44 ft lbs (always replace)
1x bottom strut pinch bolt - 52 ft lbs + 1/4 turn
3x ball joint nuts - (60Nm) 44 ft lbs *CAUTION - the bentley service manual has a typo - it says 52 ft-lb but double checking it against Nm in 2 places confirms it's 44 ft-lb)
1x stabilizer link to strut - 48 ft lbs
27mm 6 point axle bolt - 148 ft lbs, once car is on ground, +180 degree turn.
24mm (15/16" also works) 12 point axle bolt - 52 ft lbs, once car is on ground, +90 degree turn.
If you can get access to the 2 upper strut bolts, remove them now.
Raise the rear of the car and rest on jack stands, chock the front wheels, etc., see the disclaimer above. Remove the wheel
Remove the springs. If you have a spring compressor that will fit, great, otherwise loosen the 18mm bolt/nut holding the lower control arm to the rear hub. Slightly compress the suspension arm near the hub end with a jack (there are some grooves where it should be secure) to hold the arm and prevent it from snapping down or use spring compressors to clamp the springs. Make sure the car doesn't shift off the jack stands. Remove the bolt/nut and slowly release the jack. The spring can now be removed. Make sure to note the installation position - bottom coil's start rests in a pocket in the lower control arm. There's a rubber nub on the underside of the LCA to indicate the position.
Remove 2 bolts at the top of the strut and one at the bottom and it will come out. If your car is equipped with HID levelers, remove it.
Remove the lower strut bolt from the hub.
With the shock off the car, the top mount has to come off.
You can use an offset wrench to grab the nut while you counterhold the shaft. If you have an impact wrench, it makes life much easier because you can just zip off the nut.
Transfer the stuff over. The rear shock upper mounts really don't go bad but the fronts do - the fronts have a lot more load and forces acting on them. If your rear bump stops aren't in good pliable condition, definitely replace them. They're holding the dust boot up.
Counterhold the shaft with a 7mm allen while you tighten the nut. I have a set of pass through gearwrench sockets that allows this. The offset wrench shown earlier will also work.
NOTE - The rear suspension components must be tightened in the fully loaded curb weight resting position. There are some rubber bushings that will be preloaded and fail if they're tightened in the extended position. Use a hydraulic jack to move the lower control arm and hand thread and then tighten the bolts in the curb weight position.
CAUTION- the Bentley manual has a typo, the correct torque for the lower strut bolt is 133 ft lbs, not 33. If the strut falls off you will not be a happy camper.
Torque specs for rear
2x upper mount bolts - 37 ft lbs + 45 degree turn (always replace)
1x lower strut bolt - 133 ft lbs (tighten at curb weight position)
18mm outer lower control arm nut and bolt - 66 ft-lb+ 90 degree turn. (always replace) (tighten at curb weight position)
Drive around for a day to let the suspension settle and then get an alignment. If your car is equipped with self leveling HIDs, and you lowered the car or replaced the bushings, use a vag-com to reset it.
Here is an example of furmanka's lowered car with about 0.5" drop