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Replacing Audi Front Springs and Shocks
 
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Pelican Technical Article:

Replacing Audi Front Springs and Shocks

Peter Bodensteiner

Time:

4 hr

Tab:

$100 to $500 per corner, plus alignment

Talent:

*****

Tools:

13mm, 16mm, and 18mm sockets and wrenches, wrenches sized for spring compressor, 6mm Allen socket or wrench, hammer handle or rubber mallet, locking pliers, impact wrench, spring compressor, needle nose pliers

Applicable Models:

 
Audi A4 (1997-01)
Audi TT (2000-04)
VW Beetle (1999-02)
VW Golf (2000-02)
VW Jetta (2000-02)
VW Passat (1996-00)

Parts Required:

New locking nuts and bolts, new shocks and/or springs

Hot Tip:

Have a shop compress the springs and install the shocks for you to lessen the difficulty of this project

Performance Gain:

New shocks and/or springs can transform the handling of your car and improve its appearance

Complementary Modification:

Front sway bar, control arms, tie rod ends, brakes and rotors, wheel bearings, axle replacement

Missing that new-car feel in your high-mileage A4? A new set of shocks can go a long way toward improving your driving experience. Shocks are wear items, and should be replaced periodically.

Because you have to remove the springs in order to change the shocks, we'll cover how to do that too. Springs generally are not wear items--they can break or sag, but for the most part they don't need to be replaced. However, there are other reasons why you might want to change your springs, such as improving the appearance of your car with lowering springs, or improving handling.

If you're installing a coilover package (i.e., a coil and spring combination with adjustable spring perches), you can follow most of the steps shown here, but you may not need a spring compressor to do your installation.

The front suspension has a few more components to deal with versus the rear. The upper mounts are hidden in the engine bay; the "pinch bolt" holding the upper control arms to the upright can be difficult if not impossible to remove; and the strut assembly itself presents an additional challenge or two.

If you'd like to skip some of the hassle of this job and bring the difficulty level down to about a 3, simply remove the whole strut unit, take it to a performance shop along with your new shocks and/or springs, and have them compress and remove the spring and then reassemble the unit with your new components. Most performance shops will have a much more sophisticated spring compressor than the kind you can rent from your local auto parts store. Plus you can let them deal with the top nut of the assembly, which can be a pain to remove. The downsides of doing this are the associated cost and potentially greater downtime for your vehicle.

If you change out the springs, you should definitely have an alignment performed on your car after you're done. Changing the springs--or anything that raises or lowers your car--changes the geometry of the suspension components at ride height (where your alignment is measured), and thus can cause alignment issues that can lead to unusual handling characteristics and uneven tire wear. You shouldn't need to align your car when you change your shocks only, unless the shocks cause a change in ride height, such as if the spring perch on the shock is different than the stock unit.

To start this project, get your car in the air and remove the front wheels. If you want to compress the springs yourself, you'll need to rent a spring compressor tool (ask for the one for MacPherson strut-style suspensions) at your local auto parts or tool rental store. I rented the compressor for this project at AutoZone for a fully refundable, $50 deposit.

This series of photos demonstrates the spring and shock change on the driver's side.
Figure 1

This series of photos demonstrates the spring and shock change on the driver's side. Start under the hood at the shock tower, where you will find two plugs like this. They are made of rubber and should be coated in factory-applied paint, unless they've been replaced. Pry the plug up at the edge.

You can grip the edge of the plug with locking pliers to remove it.
Figure 2

You can grip the edge of the plug with locking pliers to remove it. The plug likely will be damaged. If this bothers you, have replacement plugs on hand. Alternatively, you can remove the three bolts that secure the upper strut mount and then move the assembly enough to reach the two upper shock mounting bolts from inside the wheel well. You might also try this technique if you wish to avoid the so-called "pinch bolt," which I'll discuss below.

Here you can see the two formerly plugged holes and the two nuts that must be removed.
Figure 3

Here you can see the two formerly plugged holes and the two nuts that must be removed.

Use a 13mm socket to remove the two nuts.
Figure 4

Use a 13mm socket to remove the two nuts.

The top nut is obscured by these brake lines.
Figure 5

The top nut is obscured by these brake lines. An extension and a shallow socket will help you reach it.

This is the dreaded pinch bolt mentioned earlier.
Figure 7

This is the dreaded pinch bolt mentioned earlier. I'm pointing to the nut on the forward side of the bolt. This long nut and bolt help hold the ball joints at the ends of the two upper control arms in place by pinching that portion of the suspension upright. Many people have reported that this bolt is difficult or impossible to remove, particularly when corrosion is present. A soaking in penetrating lubricant should help. If not, see the suggestion under picture 1 for removing the upper strut mount. That technique may help you work around a stubborn pinch bolt.

A pair of 16mm sockets made quick work of this pinch bolt.
Figure 8

A pair of 16mm sockets made quick work of this pinch bolt.

A stout screwdriver can be used to coax the bolt out of the upright, toward the rear of the car.
Figure 9

A stout screwdriver can be used to coax the bolt out of the upright, toward the rear of the car.

A sharp whack to the underside of the control arm popped the ball joint out of the suspension upright.
Figure 10

A sharp whack to the underside of the control arm popped the ball joint out of the suspension upright. The same technique dislodged the rear arm as well.

Here the ball joints have been removed from the upright.
Figure 11

Here the ball joints have been removed from the upright. Both joints were shot and needed to be replaced.

The shock mounts to the forward lower control arm with a nut and bolt that must be removed to extract the strut assembly.
Figure 12

The shock mounts to the forward lower control arm with a nut and bolt that must be removed to extract the strut assembly. Use a 18mm wrench and/or socket.

When the nut is off you can slide the bolt out to the rear, but the rear lower control arm is in the way and prevents its removal.
Figure 13

When the nut is off you can slide the bolt out to the rear, but the rear lower control arm is in the way and prevents its removal.

I tried rotating the front lower control arm a bit counterclockwise along its axis, using the still-mounted strut assembly as a lever.
Figure 14

I tried rotating the front lower control arm a bit counterclockwise along its axis, using the still-mounted strut assembly as a lever. This gave enough clearance to remove the bolt. During reassembly, you might try reversing the position of the bolt and nut to avoid this problem next time.

Slip the bottom of the shock off of the control arm and remove the assembly from the wheel well.
Figure 15

Slip the bottom of the shock off of the control arm and remove the assembly from the wheel well. At this point, you could take the assembly to a shop to have them do the shock and/or spring replacement. You would return to your car with a fully assembled strut that only needs to be bolted in place.

With the strut on the bench, you can now apply your spring compressors.
Figure 17

With the strut on the bench, you can now apply your spring compressors. These were rented tools and are similar to others I've used in the past. They consist of two hooks with a threaded rod running through them. The hooks get closer as you turn the threaded rod, thus compressing the spring. Try to get the hooks of your compressors as close to the ends of the spring as possible, and on opposite sides of the spring as well. Go slowly and tighten each side one turn at a time, working to compress the spring evenly. Stop if you see or hear anything that gives you concern--compressed springs hold a lot of energy that can injure you if released in an uncontrolled manner.

Contrast this photo to the previous one to see how much the spring was compressed in order to disassemble the strut assembly.
Figure 18

Contrast this photo to the previous one to see how much the spring was compressed in order to disassemble the strut assembly.

When the ends of the spring start to lift off of the perches, like this, you can stop compressing the spring and shift your focus to disassembly.
Figure 19

When the ends of the spring start to lift off of the perches, like this, you can stop compressing the spring and shift your focus to disassembly.

The biggest bugaboo with this job is the top nut.
Figure 20

The biggest bugaboo with this job is the top nut. You must hold the shock shaft still while you remove the top nut, which is threaded onto the end of the shaft. Two problems with this: the shock shaft must be held steady with a 6mm Allen wrench, and the end of the shaft is prone to stripping out; second, you have to get some sort of tool on the 18mm top nut that doesn't restrict access for your Allen wrench.

I tried to squeeze a socket in a pair of locking pliers while using a 6mm Allen socket attached to a ratchet.
Figure 21

I tried to squeeze a socket in a pair of locking pliers while using a 6mm Allen socket attached to a ratchet. For some this works, but for me it did not.

Time for Plan B.
Figure 22

Time for Plan B. After purchasing a deep-offset wrench (which didn't reach the top nut well enough to get a firm grip on it), I decided that because I was not planning to reuse the shock, I could afford to grip the shock shaft with the locking pliers (at the risk of damaging it) in order to hold it steady. I slid the orange bump stop down toward the bottom of the shock shaft to expose enough of the shaft to apply the locking pliers. I then used an electric impact wrench, equipped with an 18mm socket, to zip the top nut off.

Here are the parts as they come off the top.
Figure 23

Here are the parts as they come off the top. First is the rubber bumper that is just below the top nut.

Next is the metal plate that contains the top assembly mounting studs.
Figure 24

Next is the metal plate that contains the top assembly mounting studs. There is a rubber pad on the underside of this plate that makes contact with the top of the spring.

Make sure to remove and retain this washer to install on the new shock.
Figure 25

Make sure to remove and retain this washer to install on the new shock.

Keep the spring compressed and slide out the old shock.
Figure 26

Keep the spring compressed and slide out the old shock. Set the spring aside, carefully.

Remove the bump stop and dust cover, which protects the shock shaft from debris.
Figure 27

Remove the bump stop and dust cover, which protects the shock shaft from debris.

The lower spring perch must be removed and transferred to the new shock.
Figure 28

The lower spring perch must be removed and transferred to the new shock. It's possible it will be rusted in place--use a rubber mallet or a hammer handle to knock it off of the shock body.

Remove this dust cap first.
Figure 29

Remove this dust cap first.

And then use your hammer or mallet to knock the perch off, removing it to the shaft end of the shock.
Figure 30

And then use your hammer or mallet to knock the perch off, removing it to the shaft end of the shock.

The perch has a rubber insert that simply rests on top of the perch.
Figure 31

The perch has a rubber insert that simply rests on top of the perch. Note the orientation of the insert so that you can replace in the correct orientation.

Slide this ring, provided with the new shock, down from the top of the shock to this retaining ring.
Figure 32

Slide this ring, provided with the new shock, down from the top of the shock to this retaining ring. The old perch will rest on top of this ring.

This end cap should now be placed on the top of the shock body.
Figure 34

This end cap should now be placed on the top of the shock body. Tap it down onto the shock body to make sure it can't work itself loose.

Place the old bump stop and shaft dust cover on the new shock.
Figure 35

Place the old bump stop and shaft dust cover on the new shock.

Now you can place the spring over the new shock and onto the lower spring perch.
Figure 36

Now you can place the spring over the new shock and onto the lower spring perch. At this point you can freely rotate the spring and shock relative to each other, so don't worry about orientation at this time.

Reinstall the washer, metal plate with mounting studs (make sure the rubber pad underneath the plate is still attached), and upper rubber bumper.
Figure 37

Reinstall the washer, metal plate with mounting studs (make sure the rubber pad underneath the plate is still attached), and upper rubber bumper. Thread the new 18mm top nut (provided with the new shock) onto the end of the shock shaft.

Tighten the nut to 44 ft-lb using a deep-offset 18mm wrench.
Figure 38

Tighten the nut to 44 ft-lb using a deep-offset 18mm wrench. You'll have to insert your Allen wrench or socket into the end of the shock shaft to hold it still during this process. Of course, you can't get a torque wrench on this nut while still holding it still with an Allen wrench, so you'll have to just estimate how tight to make it.

As you decompress the spring, you need to keep an eye on the alignment and placement of a few items.
Figure 39

As you decompress the spring, you need to keep an eye on the alignment and placement of a few items. On the lower spring perch, be sure that the end of the spring rests against that triangular portion of the rubber insert.

Take note of the position of these two holes
Figure 40

Take note of the position of these two holes - they should end up on the inboard side of the assembly when it is installed.

Loosen the spring compressors slowly.
Figure 41

Loosen the spring compressors slowly. They will eventually make contact with both the upper and lower spring seats. Note the position of the spring end in the upper rubber spring perch insert. Stop decompressing the spring when there is enough friction between the components that you still rotate the spring perches relative to the shock, but they stay in place when you let go of them. When you finally have everything the way you want it, you can continue decompressing the spring. The spring tension will serve to hold everything in place at that point.

The Bilstein-equipped, assembled strut assembly for the front suspension is at top; the rear strut assembly is below.
Figure 43

The Bilstein-equipped, assembled strut assembly for the front suspension is at top; the rear strut assembly is below. Note the differences in the spring diameters and spring position along the shock body. To reinstall the strut assembly, start with the lower bolt. You should use a new nut and bolt--the Bilstein I used included these parts along with the shock. This should be tightened to 66 ft-lb, but only when the suspension is at the static ride height. For now, just tighten it down to keep the bottom of the shock in place. You can then final-tighten the bolt when the car is on the ground, or use a jack to raise the suspension up to ride height. Align the strut so that the two top studs will pass through into the engine compartment. Or, if you removed the upper strut mount, install that first and then put the strut in place. Insert the two ball joints at the ends of the upper control arms into the upright. Put a new nut on the end of the pinch bolt (some anti-seize compound slathered on the pinch bolt might be a good idea, to try to make its removal easy next time) and tighten it to 30 ft-lb. Use new nuts for the strut mounting studs, and tighten those to 15 ft-lb.

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Comments and Suggestions:
marc Comments: Isn't there a a hole or something under the lower strut perch that must face to the inside of the car otherwise the strut will start making
clunking noises after everything is bolted up & the car is on the ground. I've heard many people have made this error when reinstalling the struts back into car and have had to remove the strut and turn it around. Somebody on an Audi fan site says it is mentioned in the Bentley Manual about this procedure.
July 28, 2016
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: See figure 28, the hole can be seen just at the rear of the strut. I'll see if I can have this info added to the article. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
ANTON Comments: Good day I wonder if you can help me I'm trying to find out what's the lenght of the shock just the shock on audi 500 2.2 89 model fuel injection please
August 12, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Give our parts specialists a call at 1-888-280-7799. They can help you find the right part and figure out what will fit. - Nick at Pelican Parts  

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