2003 Volkswagen Jetta Axles and alignment

Tiny
ARMY17
  • MEMBER
  • 2003 VOLKSWAGEN JETTA
  • 2.8L
  • VR6
  • FWD
  • MANUAL
  • 164,345 MILES
I'm about to buy a car that had both axles replaced is a Volkswagen Jetta and the guy said that he didn't do the alignment when the axles were replaced and when I give it gas he says something with the torque doesn't match up and it wobbles a little bit does that mean he just needs an alignment or does it need more than a alignment? Could that be an expensive fix if it's not an alignment and should I be worried? The mileage is pretty high but the price is low and it's a GLI for $3000. It is a VR6 engine I heard those are pretty good it's a manual 6speed also. The K BB value on it is like $3300 it also has a lowering kit and exhaust and a lot more extras. So do you think it's worth it? I also test drove it shifts nicely the clutch seems like it's normal but when I give gas it kind of wobbles that is what I'm worried about.
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Thursday, January 2nd, 2014 AT 4:40 PM

5 Replies

Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
I'd run from that car as fast as possible. First of all, $3000.00 for a ten-year-old car is not a bargain, and VWs have a lot of tricks designed in to force you to go back to the dealer. They're as bad as GM products, and almost as bad as BMWs. The biggest red flag is the lowering of the ride height. That proves the previous owner doesn't understand the importance of correct ride height, so you have to wonder what other cobble-jobs he did to the car. Lawyers and insurance investigators love to find these kinds of modifications. They will use that in a lawsuit to shift part of the blame from their client who ran the red light and caused a crash, to you. They will convince a jury that you were partly at fault because you were less able to avoid the crash, and they will be right. I can go into all the specifics if you want me to, but the short version is you will have a car with compromised handling, steering response, and braking, and lawyers know it.

The automotive sales and marketing is very competitive, and if a manufacturer could address the demand for lowered cars and raised trucks, you can be sure they would offer those packages. You will not find that from any manufacturer because they know it can not be done without compromising the things that can land them in a lawsuit. The aftermarket parts suppliers get away with it because in every case you will see those parts listed as "for off-road use only". They know perfectly well people are going to put that junk on their street cars, but they don't care, as long as they make a buck.

The suspension geometry has been altered too, and that's where the drive line vibration can come in. The half shafts change length as the suspension goes up and down. There is an area inside the inner cv joint housings where three rollers run back and forth. Wear often takes place in that area. When anything happens to change ride height, including weak springs, the rollers run in a new area, and they have to run back and forth in and out of that worn area. They will bind when under load, as in accelerating. Instead of being able to roll freely, the shafts push and pull on the wheel bearing / spindle assembly. Those are mounted on rubber bushings, and the steering linkage is connected to them. All of that stuff moves back and forth and tugs on the steering wheel.

The first problem is those "new" half shafts. If they were used ones, they already had that wear in them. If they were rebuilt assemblies, that wear often goes overlooked because it is always real subtle and hard to see. It's doubtful these were new because new shafts are very expensive. Rebuilt units should be exchanged under warranty right away. That wobble will usually show up even when ride height is correct, just because no two cars are exactly the same. That alone will make those rollers run in and out of the worn areas.

Unless there's something I'm not aware of, the car does not need an alignment just from replacing the half shafts. Nothing is disassembled that will affect the alignment unless a do-it-yourselfer took the wrong things apart. An alignment won't solve a vibration anyway.

Many experienced alignment specialists, me included, will not work on a car or truck with altered ride height. To do so leaves us open to being a party to any eventual lawsuit, regardless of who caused the crash or part failure. I had my manager's and dealership owners' blessings to refuse to work on any vehicle I found had modifications that compromised safety or emissions, and they appreciated that I was that conscientious. If you still think this car with all the problems it's going to have is a good deal, the first thing I would do is get it back to the proper ride height. Every shop that does alignments will have a book that shows every car model, where to take the front and rear measurements, and what those measurements should be. That data is published and can be found in service manuals too.

Also be aware that a car can not be aligned for good tire wear when the ride height is not correct. The numbers on the alignment computer can look good and be in specs, but that computer doesn't take into account the incorrect suspension geometry. The numbers you get on the hoist are what will produce the best tire wear and handling when driving down the road, ... When the lower control arms go through the correct arcs. That's not going to happen now. Anytime we hear a complaint of poor tire wear after repeated alignments, we always know it's due to incorrect ride height.
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Thursday, January 2nd, 2014 AT 5:51 PM
Tiny
EXOVCDS
  • MEMBER
Take the car to a shop that specializes in VWs and have them do a "pre-purchase
inspection". They will go over the car and give you a list of items that they
say will need attention. Or they will tell you not to buy it if the car is a lemon.

There's nothing wrong with the alterations to a car, as long as it has been
done correctly. I lowered my car, put bigger wheels and tires on it and it
handles better than with the stock setup.

People are afraid of things that they are not familiar with. Take it to a shop
that knows VWs, and the car will serve you well for a long time to come.

Thomas
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Thursday, January 2nd, 2014 AT 8:00 PM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
I agree with everything except the comment about the modifications. That is absolutely not correct. I can guarantee the person who lowered the car did not change the brake hydraulic proportioning valve. Without doing that, it is physically impossible to have a shorter or equal stopping distance. Handling will falsely feel better because you're sitting lower and the car won't be able to lean as much when cornering. The lower control arms are no longer parallel to the ground. They will be going through different arcs and the wheels will tip in and out more on top with changes in suspension height when going over bumps in the road. That is why we say there is a huge difference between "aligning for the road" vs. "Aligning for the rack", (hoist). Aligning for the rack gets you good numbers on the printout and shows that everything is in specs. Aligning for the road gets you those same things, PLUS it gets you good tire wear.

When the wheels and tires tip in and out more as the suspension goes up and down, there is a smaller window where the entire tread surface meets the road surface. Couple that with wide tires and there's a more likely chance part of the tread is bouncing off the road. That might be a small amount, but it's that solid contact patch that's needed for stopping.

You also have consider "scrub radius". Half the alignment mechanics don't even know what it is or how it affects handling. If you stand in front of the car and look back at the suspension, draw an imaginary line between the upper and lower steering pivots; the lower ball joint and the upper strut mount in this case. That line must intersect the road surface right in the middle of the tire tread. As such, the half of the tread to the left of that point tries to "scrub" on the road surface and pull that wheel to the left. The right half wants to pull to the right, and the two forces offset each other. Tires with a larger outer circumference, wheels with a deeper offset, wider wheels in some cases, and changing the distance between the upper mount and ball joint all change scrub radius. Car designers know this when they carefully design it into their products.

Scrub radius is what makes both halves of the tire tread react equally when that tire hits any bump in the road. When it is altered significantly, the tire responds to every bump with a tug. That is why everyone with a raised truck knows they get very tiring to drive on long trips. You can prove this to yourself by driving at highway speed without touching the steering wheel. With proper ride height and correct alignment, the vehicle will go reasonably straight for a good half mile. With altered ride height you will be constantly reaching up to make steering corrections, first one way, then the other. That's one of many clues on a preliminary test drive that the car may have weak springs. All relatively new cars don't do that, but if the ride height is altered, they do. You may have the illusion the handling is improved but that is due to increased road feel through increased feedback in the steering system. That contributes to the tiring aspect of driving the car.

The next characteristic of scrub radius has to do with braking. If you ever drove a rear-wheel-drive car years ago with one front brake disabled, you know that applying the brakes would literally tear the steering wheel out of your hand. Almost all front-wheel-drive cars use a "split-diagonal" brake hydraulic system so if one half develops a leak, you always have one front brake working. You've had people come in with a popped brake hose, but when was the last time you heard of someone ending up on the sidewalk due to a failed brake system? The reason is scrub radius has been modified to account for that. Chrysler has this so well perfected that the only clue there's a problem is the red warning light and a lower-than-normal brake pedal. On most other cars all you'll notice is a tiny twitch of the steering wheel, but the car will still stop in a straight line. Scrub radius has been changed to move the point of contact outward beyond the center of the tire tread. When just the left front / right rear brakes are working, that left tire wants to tug to the left, but a greater percentage of it is trying to drag to the right. The two forces counteract each other perfectly, ... Until you alter the ride height and change scrub radius. Simply installing deeper offset wheels with no other alterations does the same thing. Most of the time you won't notice anything because you have two unequal forces on one wheel being offset by two unequal and opposite forces on the other wheel. That's not the case when you have a failure in one of the brake hydraulic circuits. It's not the case when you're trying to stop with one tire hydroplaning or slipping on snow, and it's not the case when a tire hits normal small bumps in the road. All manufacturers spend thousands of man-hours and dollars trying to perfect the handling and braking characteristics to make their products better than their competitors', and I'm pretty sure you and I aren't going to improve on that. If it could be done without compromising safety, all cars would handle and brake like a Viper or Corvette. The designs are already there. All they have to do is copy them.

Every car has a proportioning valve in the brake hydraulic system to limit fluid pressure to the rear brakes. That valve is carefully tailored to the weight distribution and weight transfer during braking, based on many factors including engine size and optional equipment. Trucks and minivans in particular typically use a height-sensing proportioning valve because they can have such a wide range of loading, but even those are designed specifically for the application. Cars don't use those because the engineers know how much weight is going to shift to the front tires during braking, and they calibrate the proportioning valve to that. You know there's going to be less weight transferred to the front when the car is lowered. More weight will stay on the rear wheels than expected, but there won't be more braking power going to the rear brakes. That means the front brakes will do a disproportionate amount of the stopping. With less weight transferred onto the front during a panic stop, like when that other guy runs the red light, it will be easier for those brakes to lock up. Skidding tires have no traction, so to stop faster, you have to let off the brake pedal to get the wheels spinning again. How exactly does letting off the brake pedal shorten the stopping distance?

I have to take issue with your comment too about the car possibly being a lemon. Exactly what are they going to find to indicate that? No one is going to know if that car has needed thousands of dollars in repairs, or if it has been uncommonly reliable like my 25-year-old daily driver, just by inspecting it. The only history we know is it has been altered, and it can not possibly be as safe as when it left the factory. Even if you look at a NASCAR race car, you'll see that when you remove the skirting, the suspension is stiffer than a street car but it has the same travel and the same geometry as an unaltered street car. All the inspectors care about is the profile of that skirting to the ground. If the teams could lower the chassis to improve something, don't you suppose they would do it?

Exovcds, if you referring to me that I'm afraid of what I'm not familiar with, you're dead wrong. We all know you have to weigh in on every VW question posted here, and most of the time I respect your replies and I absorb some of your knowledge, but this isn't a VW issue. It's a suspension and alignment issue related to safety. Of all the muscle cars I've ever owned and still have, I keep every one at exactly the specified height. I've done a lot of modifications including using street cars on the local race track, but as I became an experienced alignment specialist, I would never, ever suggest anyone alter the ride height or change the handling characteristics over what came from the factory. I had one student try to pull that stunt in my auto shop after he was repeatedly told not to by me, the other instructor, and my tool room attendant who used to be a tire and alignment shop manager. He did it anyway and by the time he was caught, word had already spread through another student to the very outspoken owner of the local Goodyear store. That guy tried to get me fired until he found out the entire story which his part-time employee seriously altered. It's really that big of a deal, and you should not be telling people altered ride height is okay. I can't stop you from doing that to your car, but between the two of us, if we each get hit by a guy who runs the red light, only one of us is going to have a lawyer asking us to prove our car handles and brakes better than the way it was designed. If you think I'm wrong, call your insurance agent and ask for a reduced premium because you lowered the car. While you're at it, tell them you got a speeding ticket too and see if they lower your rate. You pay an increased premium when you insure a hard-of-hearing stereo system in your car because the company is assuming greater risk. They are going to increase your premium if they know you have other alterations for the same reason. If you don't tell them, they may ask in a questionnaire every so often, and if you lie, they will typically reduce the amount they cover if there's a loss, or you'll get a letter in the mail informing you they're adding a rider to the policy, with a corresponding increased cost. They know the same things lawyers know about modifications.

You know too that every manufacturer has warranty restrictions related to modifications that affect safety, emissions, and reliability. Dodge won't warranty transmissions in trucks when a chip is installed because they know the Cummins diesels can tear them apart. GM looks for any excuse to get out of paying warranty claims, and their dealership people are good at finding things like this. Almost every manufacturer I'm aware of will not allow assemblies to be repaired under warranty. They insist those assemblies must be replaced to insure the quality of the repair. With that concern with customer satisfaction, what do they know that you and I don't that makes them nullify the warranty when their products are altered. Ask your factory trainer, if VW still has them, or your district representative what the ramifications are with these modifications. That subject came up once when a corporate trainer was making one of her frequent visits to my school. She was a REAL good instructor and very entertaining and humorous, but that comment earned a five-minute no-nonsense lecture on the ramifications of these alterations. That's where I learned, "if it could be done without compromising safety, it would have been done by the engineers", to make the marketing people happy.
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Friday, January 3rd, 2014 AT 12:35 AM
Tiny
EXOVCDS
  • MEMBER
I'm not trying to stir up the pot as we have been through this before last year.

I'm providing information based on my VW / Audi background.

There is no brake proportioning valve on this vehicle. Once again showing
or proving that (although your advice is good when it comes to domestic
vehicles), you can not simply apply generic knowledge to all posts.

Once again, I don't have time to read all of your post. As I am at work getting
my hands dirty. Not sure how many of the 2carpros experts are actually still
working in the field or are retired.

I just thought that the OP would like to hear facts from someone who is
familiar with the type of vehicle in question, rather than get a generic
answer that scares them away from a perfectly good vehicle.

I can't diagnose over the internet, that is why I recommended going to a
VW Specialty shop for a pre-purchase inspection.

I don't comment on anything aside from VW or Audi, as I feel it is unfair
for someone to pay for advice if the person answering has never worked
on said vehicle before.

Again, I'm not saying you don't know your stuff. You are a smart individual
who has been in the trade longer than I, and I would gladly ask you for
advice when I need it. Sadly, I only work on VW & Audi's, so I will not
have to come knocking.

Keep up the great work that you have been providing, just don't scare people
away from vehicles with every post.

I would cancel my 2carpros account, but I can't find a "delete my account
button". So I find myself answering questions every now and then when I
get bored at home.

Maybe this year I will stop posting, so that I don't offend anyone any more. Again, not my intent!

Will read the rest of your post when I get home.

Thomas
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Friday, January 3rd, 2014 AT 3:10 PM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
You aren't offending me but you do need to read the entire post so you see where I'm coming from. As I said earlier, this is not a VW issue. It's a generic suspension and alignment, and a legal issue.

With every car brand and model there is always something that has us shaking our heads and asking why they did that the way they did. That happens to me with VWs more so than many other brands in the areas I specialize in. I don't specialize in one brand of car, only in the areas. Even at the dealership I worked at, no one could be an expert on the entire car and all the models. My specialty areas are suspension and alignment, brakes, and electrical, not to include engine performance. Those are three of the four areas I taught too and had continual update training in. I'm an ASE Master Technician, which means I passed a written test in all eight automotive areas. It definitely does not mean I'm an expert in those other five areas. Too many people think I'm an expert on every aspect of their car because I worked at the dealership. That's not to say you don't know every VW inside out.

You appear to be right about the lack of a proportioning valve. The Beetle uses a height-sensing proportioning valve when the car doesn't have anti-lock brakes. Cars rarely use a height-sensing valve but apparently they found a need for it here. I have to assume on the Jetta they're relying on the ABS system to prevent rear-wheel lockup. It would seem to me that would be leaving themselves open to more lawsuits than are already listed for Jetta brakes because a failure of the ABS system would revert the car back to the base brakes that would now have easy rear-wheel lock-up. I've never run into a car before with no proportioning valve when I needed to look for it, so again, VW is doing something differently than everyone else. Gotta wonder how they can get away without one and why no other manufacturer has done away with theirs.

The proportioning valve or lack of it is irrelevant anyway. It is just one thing in a list of many that are adversely affected by altering ride height. I can't stop people from lowering their cars. I can't stop people from making sparks around batteries. I can't even seem to stop two people from driving their cars with no oil pressure until the engines overheated and seized, but I can at least make them informed consumers. That's what I did for Army17. If my information implies there is something to be concerned with on this car, that was the intent.
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Friday, January 3rd, 2014 AT 4:14 PM

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