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Old September 15th, 2009, 10:59   #1
Join Date: Sep 2007
Location: Manitoba
TDI(s): 2004 Jetta
Default Front end vibration

I have a 2004 Jetta TDI with 5 speed manual and 90,000km (56,000mi). I have owned the car for three years and it had 55,000km (34,000mi) when I bought it. I bought it from a Volkswagen dealer as a lease return. Its still covered under the additional warranty VW tacks on when you buy used from them. The vehicle has had its oil changes at the dealer since I bought it and I haven't had any work done on it other than a recall, I think it was a brake light switch.

I have started noticing a front end vibration along with a bit of a roaring noise, or maybe a drone. It starts at around 40 km/h (25mph) and is most noticable at 80 km/h (50mph) and seems to disappear at 110 km/h (68mph) and doesn't reappear all the way up to 160 km/h (100mph). The noise and vibration is independent of engine speed, the pitch and volume depends on the speed of the car regardless of gear or coasting in neutral. Accelerating, braking or coasting doesn't seem to change anything.

The car drives fine. It tracks straight as an arrow and there is no vibration or wobble in the steering wheel, other than the same general vibration that is also felt through the floorboard.

The car has alloy wheels which get swapped for steel wheel mounted snow tires in the winter. Both sets are rotated front to back (both sets are directional tires) when they get changed. I might put on 12,000 km (7,000mi) a year on the car, so the tires are rotated in half that distance each time.

I've inspected the tires and there doesn't appear to be anything wrong with them. Nonetheless I switched the front tires to the snow tires and the vibration is exactly the same.

I've had the front end in the air and put the car in gear and when the dial shows 80 km/h the vibration is very prominently present, though maybe not as bad as when you're actually driving down the road. With it idling in 5th with the wheels in the air I wasn't able to pinpoint the location of any noise or be able to tell that anything sounded particularly wrong, but there does seem to be a sound associated to the rotating wheels. Should the CV joints be completely silent or do they make some noise? What about the wheel bearings?

I've checked for play in the wheels and attached components and everything seems solid, but I'm no mechanic. When I rotate the wheels by hand there seems to be a slight brake drag on them, but no real noise. However, if I change the direction of the rotation I get one distinct click each time it changes. I'm not sure but I think this may be coming from the are of the driver's side inner CV joint. I've also checked the rotors for unusual heat after a highway drive and there is none. I haven't noticed any change in noise or feel when turning, and haven't noticed any clicking in sharp turns at low speed. I didn't find any cuts in the CV boots and no sign of slingage, everything is pretty clean.

The vibration feels like something that is rotating is out of balance. The sound is pretty smooth and consistent though, not like the whump whump of an out of balance wheel or something.

I believe I've eliminated the tires and wheels, as well as the rear end, as the possible cause since its still there with the car in the air. So, could it be a wheel bearing? CV joints? Something wrong with the axles?

The car is due to go back to the dealership for a glow plug recall and failing coolant temperature sensor which I hope is covered under warranty.

Any suggestions, insight or help is appreciated. Thanks guys.
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Old September 15th, 2009, 11:53   #2
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Join Date: Sep 2004
Location: Chicago

Wheel bearings can be tested in a (preferably empty )parking lot. Make a tight left turning circle and listen for the noise, then make a right turning circle and listen for the noise.

Simple explanation: load on defective bearing will make noise stop.

If you hear the grinding noise while turning left, the front L bearing is bad.
If you hear the grinding noise while turning right, the front R bearing is bad.

If the noise is a clicking noise while turning, it's probably one of the CVs.

Good luck.
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Old September 15th, 2009, 20:37   #3
Join Date: Sep 2007
Location: Manitoba
TDI(s): 2004 Jetta

Well, I paid a little more attention to the sound tonight on the highway, and I did notice that if I coasted to the left, the sound got louder, and if I went right, the sound got quieter. I hadn't noticed that before but I guess I hadn't tested it at speed before.

Now, if its a bad bearing, shouldn't it be the bearing on the opposite side from which you're turning? So if it gets louder turning left, am I not loading the front passenger (right) side bearing? I'm starting to think that it is indeed the front passenger bearing.

What can I expect from the dealership in terms of getting them to replace it under warranty. Will they take my word for it that its the bearing?
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Old September 16th, 2009, 06:39   #4
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Location: Logan, Ohio
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If its under warranty, why agonize? Let VW sort out the reason. If they want to replace the entire axle assembly, I wouldn't try to argue them out of it.
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Old September 16th, 2009, 21:29   #5
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You're no mechanic? You sound like a mechanic to me. I think you've pretty reasonably gone through all the basic troubleshooting - and I agree, sounds like a wheel bearing - though it could be the CV joint.
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Old September 16th, 2009, 21:40   #6
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Location: Martha Lake, WA
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I wouldn't spend too much effort determining which side the bearing is failing on. It's a good idea to replace them in pairs (per axle).
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Old October 3rd, 2009, 15:27   #7
Join Date: Sep 2007
Location: Manitoba
TDI(s): 2004 Jetta

Thanks for the advice guys. I took it to the dealer and the passenger front wheel bearing was replaced under warranty, which corrected the problem. By the end it was getting very noisy and became pretty easy to diagnose.

Now however, the alignment is out. It may only be slight, but without a doubt the steering wheel isn't straight.

Now first of all I'm assuming that the steering wheel not being straight is purely cosmetic. But I do wonder, is it a sign that the wheels themselves could be out of alignment? I think that there is a slight shimmy in the steering wheel that wasn't there before as well, and the car may be pulling slightly to the left. Is it logical that the alignment would go out in the process of replacing the wheel bearing?
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Old October 3rd, 2009, 22:06   #8
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Certainly is. They probably undid most of the hub in order to play with the wheel bearing with their expensive VW super duper specialized tool. If anything got bent (yeah, get them to admit to that) then you have difficulties. The most likely cause of the steering wheel being off center is an end link got replaced or mistakenly turned, and then the other side was adjusted on the alignment rack. That ends up in the steering wheel being off.

Another explanation is that something got bent or misadjusted on reassembly and the required alignment was either half-a$$ed or ignored. An alignment should be done regardless because of what gets taken apart.
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