On alignment, baby

Before I do the new carburetor on the bus, which could easily turn into a more-than-one-weekend project, I wanted to finish up putting all of the new front suspension parts on the beetle, so I had a comfortable daily driver as a backup. The only two things I really had left to do were the front tie rods, ball joints, and strut cartridge inserts.

First step, the day before, spray all bolts and joints with a mix of ATF and acetone. I can’t remember who mentioned it here (kastein?) but other than Seafoam Deep Creep, it’s the best penetrant I have ever used.


I jacked up the car, and put it on some jackstands.


I have never done these jobs before all at once, so I took a chance and started with removing the balljoint bolts. 15mm.


Grabbed my cheap ebay separator


And popped applied vigorously to the balljoint.


On the first side I did, I mistakenly compressed the spring first, then tried to remove the strut top nut. Cue up 20 minutes of messing with my impact gun and vice grips before I got the top nut off.



(on the other side, I removed the nut under spring compression, which made things much easier)

With the ball joint replaced (pictures missing of install, I just kind of took pictures whenever), I disconnected the brake lines from their tabs, and started removing the strut pieces.


The passenger side strut boot was in excellent shape, all one piece.

(The driver’s side one was long since obliterated)

Going to remove the strut insert.


Uhh, I don’t think it’s supposed to be sitting in a bath of it’s own oil.


“Made in U.S.A.” So, not OEM, then?



Ugh, I didn’t really want to clean this out. I did the best I could with paper towels, and left the residue oil as a “rust protectant.”

I don’t have any pictures of the tie rod replacement, but that was the easy part, and nothing was too dramatic. Both balljoints and all four tie rod ends were worn, but not terribly so, and I maybe could have gotten away by skipping the balljoint replacement altogether. I like the security of having all new parts, and they’re really a “while you’re taking everything apart anyway” item. At only $15 each, I’d be an idiot not to replace them. Genuine Meyle parts, too.

For the driver’s side, I knew the right order to do things, so everything went much faster and more smoothly. For instance, I had to dig out a big pipe wrench to help get the strut retaining cap off (cap that holds the insert in) and by the second side I already had it next to me and adjusted, etc etc.

Strut top nut, cartridge cap, and springs removed:


New shock cartridge going in.



And spacer cap in, which centers the cartridge.


Reassembly was reverse of removal. Time for the passenger side: 3 hours. Time for the driver’s side: 45 minutes.

Afterwards, I took the beetle off to Pep Boys to get an alignment. It was later in the day, and a lot of places that I preferred were closing soon, but Pep Boys was open until 1900. I showed up at 1630, and by 1700 the car was up on the lift. Unfortunately, I left my phone in the frunk for the procedure, but here’s how I spent $90:

1710: Mechanic is seen sitting in front of my car, playing with an RC car
1730: Second mechanic has joined first mechanic. For some reason is wearing a cape made out of a trash bag. Both play with RC car.
1745: First mechanic comes in, asks me how to remove the dish plates from the wheels so he can attach laser alignment tool. I tell him the car has lug bolts, not studs, and he “suddenly remembers” he can use the holes in the wheel instead.
1800: Second mechanic is called over (he was sitting, eating a microwave meal) for questioning. Both ponder the underside of the car for 15 minutes. Might I add this is a 10-bay place and all the bays are full, and these are the only two on shift.
1815: Beetle almost rolls backwards off of ramp, everyone panics, but the ramp has those safety lips.
1825: After pondering the back axle of the car, first mechanic comes in and asks where the rear adjusters are. I tell him a front alignment is just fine, not wanting to risk anything on the rear. Mechanic clearly hasn’t seen torsion bar suspension before, either, when I mention it.
1845: First mechanic comes in, says he can’t figure out the camber or caster (lol) adjustment, asks if a toe-only adjust is okay. I tell him that’s what I wanted anyway, and chuckle to myself as he leaves. But not really, actually I’m very disappointed, but whatever.
1850: Beetle is off of lift, out for test drive.
1855: They give me car back, steering wheel is sideways.
1900 (shop is closed now): Beetle is back up, being readjusted.
1930: Beetle is back from second test drive, I go home.

I will admit, it drives straight, and the wheel is now straight. It’s always been crooked a bit, because I’m lazy, but that’s nice. However, they didn’t have a single-axle alignment price, and were horeseplaying at least 50% of the time I was waiting. And, while all of the bays were full, I was the only waiting person, and no other car was touched during the entire 2.5 hours I was there. I mean, they lifted the hood of a Chrysler 300, but didn’t do anything except for look at it and use it as a place to lean on while pondering the wonders of 45-year-old (really, 70-year-old) German technology before them. Stay the fuck away from that place.


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