Suspension Refresh Tips on a Mk4


Veteran Member
Jun 3, 2009
Triangle, NC
03 Jetta Wagon 5spd 390k mi
I read a bunch of individual how-tos for various parts of this job, but doing it all at the same time lets certain things go a bit faster. This isn't a how-to per se, but a tips post for someone who can read all the DIYs already out there and wants to do it all at the same time.

Suspension Refresh on a Mk4 Jetta, Golf, New Beetle (or Audi TT)
I have an 03 Wagon with 390,000 miles on it with, AFAIK, the original suspension. It started making a clunk on right hand turns so I decided it was time to deal with it.

Parts you'll want to pick up
Lower control arm rear bushing (get the TT version, or polyurethane if you're into that)
Lower control arm front bushing (slow to wear, but easy to change when you're doing the rear, stock is ok)
Ball joint (two separate ones for right and left)
Sway Bar Bushing (early models had 21 mm sway bars. Later models were updated to 23mm sway bars and a larger bracket. The 21mm sway bar bushing was updated to use the larger bracket so you will need two bushings and brackets for a 21mm sway bar. Figure out which sway bar you have.)
Outer Tie Rods (your inners are probably fine if the dust cover is intact, your outers have boots that will crack. Separate parts for left and right)
Zip ties (for inner tie rod dust boot)
strut bump stops
strut dust covers
strut bearing
and strut rubber mount.
Shocks (Wagon has longer shocks than sedan, coupe, or hatch since it has stronger rear springs)
Shock bump stop

Unlikely to need replacing, you should inspect beforehand and make a judgement call.
Rear axle bushing
Shock mount
End links
Inner tie rods (unlikely to go bad, especially if the dust cover is intact which it probably is. As you may not know whether you can separate the outer tie rods from the inners you might have to replace the entire tie rod assembly. Its not a bad idea to pick up the entire tie rod assembly and replace the inner tie rod only if necessary)
Inner tie rod dust cover
Springs (Wagon springs are different from sedan, coupe, or hatch)

Inspect CV boots because these are easy to do at the same time.
Outer CV boot is the same for manuals and automatics. Inner CV boot is different for manuals and automatics. Automatics are all rubber, manuals are rubber with a metal flange.
Engine mount
Trans mount
Dogbone mount

Rent a tie rod tool (May in fact, not be useful, as the one I rented didn't fit the inner tie rods)
Rent a ball joint tool (should come with 3 ring spacers that are great for pressing the LCA bushings in and out)
Rent a spring compressor
Get a cheater bar. 1" or 3/4" black iron pipe, 3-5' long. Should fit over the handle of your 1/2" socket wrench or breaker bar.
Make shims for the spring compressor (3" long pieces of 3/4" copper pipe in my case)
Have a tool for removing the nuts from the top of the struts (in my case I used a 13/16" spark plug socket chopped down with a cut off disc. Hacksaw also works)
Hacksaw (cutting the LCA bushing out. make two side by side notches then pry out the small piece with a screwdriver. The rest will just fall out)
Rubber safe water based lubricant for the bushings (off brand KY jelly, dish soap, etc)
9" or larger needle nose locking jaw plier (eg, vise-grip)
An 18mm socket (preferrably two)
18mm open wrench (I didn't have one, found a 19mm worked okay)
17mm socket
17mm offset wrench (may be needed for the shocks)
16mm socket
16mm offset wrench (probably needed for the OEM shocks)
14mm socket
13mm socket
30mm triple square socket (available from lowes. for the axle nut. I hear some cars need a 32mm socket)
Two large adjustable wrenches for when you're lazy
A large pipe wrench (for that rusted together tie rod)
Bucket of anti seize
PB blaster
Some good rubber safe grease
Something with a cut off wheel isn't a bad idea, as well as something to grind down your own tools.
More stuff I can't remember :)

For the front end I think of it as 3 major units you'll be looking at.

1. The lower control arm which has 4 points of contact. The front and rear LCA bushings, the ball joint, and the sway bar end link. The sway bar end link on my car was in good condition and the bushings weren't in need of replacing, in fact, if you look at suspension refresh kits you won't see bushings or end links in them. Its easy to get to, so replace as needed. Additionally on the sway bar is the sway bar bushing, this will be replaced too. You will want to pick up the TT/R32 LCA rear bushing, a LCA front bushing, ball joints (come in left and rear, pick up a pair), and sway bar bushing.

2. The strut has 2 points of contact, the strut mount/cup and the tower. There will be a lot to replace on this. From top to bottom: A large rubber bumper, then the bearing that goes under the bumper, the dust cover, the bump stop, and the strut itself. The springs usually don't wear out. If its not broken don't bother replacing it.

3. The tie rod connects the steering rack to the wheel hub and controls its movement. You can buy tie rods as whole assemblies or inner and outer parts. If you can replace just the outer tie rod and the inner is ok you'll probably want to do this. Replacing the inner can be a ***** (the tool I rented from o'reilly didn't fit the OEM tie rods). My inner tie rods were fine. My outer ones weren't worn out but the boots covering the ball joint were cracked and leaking. They were also rusted together so I couldn't just replace the outer... A note on the tie rods; the length of the tie rods is the most important part of the alignment and controls the centering of the steering wheel and the toe. Try to adjust the new tie rods or replacements to the same length as the old ones and then go get an alignment.

The How-To DIY

Front First

Pop the hub caps off if you have them (the VW logo on the alloy rims are hub caps) and loosen the axle nut. It helps if someone is stepping on the brakes when you do this. On my car I used a 30mm triple square socket and 4ft breaker bar (available from big box home improvement stores). Some people say that they have a 32mm socket on their cars. Then loosen the wheel bolts. Jack up one or both sides, Remove wheel, and get to work.

You can start by removing the nut to the outer tie rod. The post the nut is screwed onto is a conical stud with threads that presses into the hub. It may have a hex or torx socket in the end so that you can counter hold it when installing the nut. It was not necessary to counter hold to remove the nut because the stud is frozen to the hub. Whack the stud with a hammer or insert the correct socket into the stud and try turning it to break it free. Put the stud back into the hub and thread the nut on a couple turns.

PS, the hub is held in place by the strut, end link, LCA, and axle. Without these it'll hang by the brake lines or sensor wires. Don't let it do this. If you can, have at least two things on it at all times or hang it with a wire.

We are going to remove the LCA now.

Now go ahead and unbolt the LCA. 3 bolts on the ball joint, a bolt and nut on the rear bushing (you'll have to counter hold the nut!), a bolt on the front bushing, and a bolt on the end link.

Try pulling the hub away and out from the car so that the ball joint slips out of the LCA, then push the LCA down so that it clears the hub. You can then wiggle it side to side and pull it free. If you can't get enough you can remove the axle. In fact, go ahead and do that. Pull the hub all the way out, so you can push the axle to the front of the car and away.

In helps to have some cinder blocks and/or 2x4s laying around to rest the hub on btw.

Replace the LCA bushings. Rent a ball joint removal kit from an auto parts store - not to replace the ball joint, but because it probably comes with 3 sleeves, all of which will be very useful with a vice in replacing the bushings. See a DIY on how to do this. With the sleeves and a very large vise or shop press it only took me 30 minutes to do a LCA.

I then washed my LCA and spray painted it with rustoleum to control any rust that was present. While it was hanging up to dry I went to do the next parts of the job.

Let's get the ball joint out.

I hope you thought to soak everything in PB blaster overnight. Or at least, as soon as you saw the part. With the LCA gone and the axle out of the way getting the ball joint out will be easy. Remove the top nut (18mm). Some people suggest unscrewing the top nut until it hits the CV joint and then unscrewing it more to pop it out. Mine were so stuck in there that this did not work (it just started to round the nut when my wrench slipped). You can give this a try with the axle in, or if not, remove the axle, remove the nut, and give it a couple firm whacks with a hammer to pop the stud out. The OEM ball joint has a T40 torx socket in the stud so you can try turning it to break it free too. Otherwise, good thing you rented the ball joint removal tool for the LCA bushings, right?

Strut removal and replacement time now.

You'll remove the strut now. Without the tie rod, axle, or LCA the hub is hanging by the strut. You'll want to be ready to support the hub when you remove it, either by hanging it from a wire or from the bottom (I suggest wire). Pull out the spring compressors you rented.
Oh, the spring compressors are too long and the screw hits the top of the wheel well? I found 3/4 copper pipe cut into 2-3" long pieces and put on the screw as a spacer fixed this. You could also try some black iron pipe or pipe nipples.
Compress the springs just enough to loosen them, or a little more so that the strut will be smaller and easier to move around.
If you didn't buy the special tool for removing the strut you can make one. I bought a 13/16" spark plug socket for $1 from the auto parts store. Then I went at it with a cut off disk in my angle grinder (you can also use the hack saw from earlier when cutting out the old LCA bushing). The top of the socket has a hex shoulder for turning with a wrench. It only needs enough of a shoulder to get the wrench on it. Shorten it.
The bottom of the socket has a long cup, it doesn't need a long cup. Shorten it. You'll want it to be shorter so that your allen keys (7mm OEM, 6mm for some replacements) will reach the top of the strut and counter hold against the nut (just like the ball joint and tie rod). OEM is a 21mm nut which fits the 13/16" driver. My replacement struts came with 22mm nuts. I reused the 21mm nut, but if you already have a 22mm nut on it, I don't have any suggestions on making your own tool.

Go ahead and remove the nut holding the strut to the strut tower (gotta pop the hood to the engine to access this). Use your special tool and an allen wrench or hex driver to remove it.

Now, the bottom of the strut has to be freed. It is held in a "cup" secured by an 18mm hex head bolt and nut which will likely be rusted to hell and in my case, required the breaker bar and a hammer. Remove the bolt (I cleaned and greased mine for reuse). Now, you'll have to spread the cup. One of the bolts from the ball joint will work perfectly for this. Grind off the threads on two opposite faces to flatten it out a bit and so that it will fit into the slot of the back of the cup. Turn with a 13mm wrench 90* so that it turns from flats out to threads out, essentially camming the cup open. Use some more pb blaster on the cup and then by lowering the hub and turning it you can pull the strut out of the cup (may require more hammering).

Don't forget to support the hub so its not hanging by the brake hose and sensor wire!

Sway bar

Now's not a bad time to get some really good access to the sway bar bushing. 13mm socket removes the bolt, then a screwdriver to pop the bracket out. Clean the sway bar up really well, and grease the heck out of it and the replacement bushing. I suggest a silicone based grease. Put it on, put the bracket in place and oh hey, I can't push the bracket close enough to the hole so that I can screw it down.
a 9" or longer -needle nose- locking jaw plier (aka, vise-grip) is your friend. You can use it to squeeze the bracket down close enough that you can get the bolt started. I still had to use a longer bolt (one from the ball joint will do nicely here) to get it started.

Back to the strut, swapping out the parts from the old to the new and reinstallation.

Use your special tool again to unscrew the second nut on top of the strut. Save the nut. Pull off the old strut mount, bearing, spring cup, spring, and if you're reusing it, dust boot and bump stop.
Pull out your new strut and install in order, bump stop, dust boot, spring, spring cup, bearing, rubber mount, and nut. Clean and grease the strut cup in the hub, then drop it in (the strut should have a stop on it so it will locate itself), remove the cup spreader tool you made, reinstall the bolt with some grease so it doesn't rust even more, and then rotate into position. I'm strong enough that I was able to lift the hub with the strut into position so that the mount was in place, then using a knee push the hub inwards so that it didn't fall (or get a helper), and pop the upper strut "cup" and nut on so it didn't fall again. Tighten the strut in.

Tie rod time.!

To do the tie rod you can remove it whole at pretty much any time. You should have already loosened the nut on the outer tie rod. With enough PB blaster and leverage you can probably loosen the stop nut. If you can, you're in luck. Now you have to remove the outer tie rod. It has some flats and so does the inner tie rod before the boot. Remove the outer tie rod from the hub and then unscrew it from the inner tie rod. I had good luck using a large pipe wrench on the inner link to counter hold it. If you can remove it, do so, leaving the stop nut where it is. Now, if you want to replace the outer tie rod just screw the new one on to the stop nut. If you want to replace them both you'll need to remove the boot by loosening the clamps with a screwdriver and pulling it off. Then, use either a special tool to unscrew the inner tie rod or if you're lucky, an adjustable wrench (driver's side its doable, I don't think its doable on the passenger side). I strongly suggest coating the entire thread of the inner tie rod with some antiseize so that future alignments will be easy.

I wiggled and pulled in and out on my inner tie rod and determined that it was good, so I just put the outer on (much easier!). Its no big deal to go back in and replace the inner later. When you replace the dust boot you can use zip ties to secure it in place.

Make sure you match up the lengths of the replacement tie rods to the old ones to keep the alignment pretty close to before. You'll need to get an alignment done after this anyway. Grease the spindle of the outer tie rod when you insert it into the hub and use an allen key to counter hold it when you're tightening the nut.

Install the new ball joint into the hub (I found it much easier to put it in the hub first instead of the LCA first)
Then install the LCA.

With the strut in you can install the new ball joint (you can do this before too) into the hub. Grease the spindle and counter hold it when tightening the nut. Then, spray some lubricant or grease into the LCA bushing mount positions (helps a lot when trying to shift the LCA around so that the bolt holes line up). Slide the ball joint into the LCA and bolt it in, then pull the hub out and lift and pop the LCA into position. You may need to reinstall the axle to do this. Have fun now trying to shift it around so that you can install the bolts. I found that if I put one bolt in (usually the front LCA bushing), then jacked up or lifted the wheel hub to level out the LCA and used a rubber mallet I could position the second bolt. Don't tighten the bushing bolts yet though; wait till the car is resting on ramps to do that.

Now I find that jacking up the hub or LCA to raise it so that the end link lines up with its bolt hole is required. In case you're tempted to think that this is a loaded position for the suspension and tighten everything - don't. Its actually too high. BTW, you should have already tightened the clamp holding the sway bar bushing. I found that loading the sway bar by hooking it up to the LCA or pushing down on it would make the sway bar bushing deform when you tightened it down. Again, don't tighten the end link bolt all the way down.

Finishing touches

At this point you should be ready to put the wheel back on. Double check everything. Is the tie rod inner end tight with a boot and two zip ties to secure the boot (if you screwed around with it). Is the outer tie rod in the correct position, the lock nut tightened, and is it tightened into the wheel hub? You should now remove the spring compressors from the strut if you haven't (I find keeping them on till the last minute lets me easily lift and position the hub). When you remove the spring compressors make sure the spring is correctly located in the strut - there's a bump in the strut that the bottom end of the springs sit in. Do the struts have their dust boots, bump stops, etc, on? Remember, the top nut on the strut tower should be loose, you'll tighten that later. Is the bottom of the strut all the way down in its cup and bolted in? Is the LCA in position? The front and rear bushing bolt loose, the end link bolt loose, the ball joint tightened in position? Screw the axle nut down finger tight or snug, then put the wheel on (if you haven't already, grease the hub face so that the wheel won't corrode to the hub), bolt the wheel in finger tight in a star pattern. I use anti seize on my lug bolts, some people don't.

You can either jack the car all the way up and slide ramps under the wheels and lower it onto a ramp, or just lower to to the ground, tighten the axle nut and lug bolts, and then drive it onto ramps for finishing touches.

You should now tighten the axle nut first. I find finger tight and then 1/6 - 1/4 turn works for me. Then tighten the lug bolts (I finger tighten in a star pattern twice to seat the wheel, and then in a star pattern tighten by doing 1/6 turns. Never have had an issue). Now you can in whatever order you want, tighten the strut top, the end link, and the two LCA bushings.

The rear.

This is so easy compared to the front.

There are two things to check before ordering parts.

Is the rear axle bushing ok?

Older mk4s came with an oil filled bushing that would crack and leak. Newer ones came with a solid rubber bushing (similar to the rear LCA bushing). The rear axle bushing on my car was doing great, so I just left it. Its a pain to get out and in.
I suggest taking the rear wheels off and inspecting the bushing before ordering parts. You can probably leave this one alone.

While you're inspecting the rear suspension how does the spring look? Its probably fine, but you'll need a new one if its broken. You'll see that it has a rubber bumper at the top. The rubber bumper looked almost new in my car so I doubt that you'll need to replace it either.

If you're in this thread though I'm sure you need to replace the shock.

The shock is very easy. You only need a 16mm offset wrench (and maybe a 17mm offset for the replacement shock), an adjustable wrench or plier, and 16mm socket. You can probably do this without even jacking up the car. Let's say we do jack up the car and remove the wheels.

Unbolt the two 16mm bolts at the top of the shock mount. Unbolt the 16mm bolt and nut on the axle holding the bottom of the shock in. Pull the shock up and out. Spray the place where the bottom of the shock mounts to the axle with some grease so it will be easy to install the new shock. On top of the shock is a cover and then a 16mm nut (OEM) which you will counter hold with the adjustable wrench or pliers. There may be a washer or spacer under the nut. If you have this, keep it. I didn't have it and it made installing the replacement nut a pain because you need an offset wrench to fit into the shock mount to tighten it. Whack the mount with a hammer to loosen it then pull it off. Pull off the bump stop (mine was in pieces) and dust boot.

Optional, rear axle bushing

If you need to replace the rear axle bushing you can go OEM, or if you want, there are some european Mk4s with stiffer bushings (but much more expensive)

Optional, spring replacement.

With the shock out the spring may almost fall out on its own. I have a wagon which has a stiffer spring so you have to push down on the rear of the axle to lower it more to get the spring out. Transfer the spring bumper to the new spring and pop it in.

Back to the shock

Put the new bump stop into the dust boot (push really hard and twist it in). Put that onto the shock, put on the shock mount, spacer if available, and then tighten the nut down. I found that my replacement nut was 17mm and had to be turned upside down so I could finish tightening it. Put the dust cover on. Slide the shock into the axle and put the bolt into it. Don't tighten it yet. You may need to jack or lift the axle up for the shock mount to mate to the top of the wheel well. Install the two 16mm bolts. Put the wheel back on, lower the car, and then you can tighten the wheel lugs and bottom shock bolt. You don't need the car on ramps to tighten the shock bolt. I have heard that you may want to have someone sit in the rear of the car while you tighten the shock bolt to preload it even more.
If you replaced the rear axle bushing you should also tighten the bolt now too.


I suggest you consider replacing the engine, transmission, and dog bone mounts. If your suspension is worn out they probably are too, and when they wear out any change in accelerator (especially off/on) will result in the engine torque twisting it in the engine bay and rocking it back and forth. Changing these out will greatly increase fahrvergnügen.

You might want to put these off if you have a planning timing belt replacement coming up as the engine mount has to be removed during a timing belt job.

It is important that you replace the one time use bolts with the mounts. These have a tendency to snap in half or worse if reused leading to your engine dropping onto the road and costly repairs.

While you are doing the job you'll need to support the engine from the top or bottom (a dolly with a jack on it and 2x4 on the jack is nice since you can lift and shift the engine around). Remove one mount at a time, swap it, and install the replacement bolts. The engine will drop or shift position if it is not supported. It is important to follow the recommend bolt installation procedure (see a timing belt job DIY )

As for the CV boot, you should inspect it before hand when deciding what parts to order. If the boots are starting to split it'll fling grease out in a ring around the engine, very obvious on inspection. If you leave it the joint will become starved for grease and if any dirt or sand gets in the joint will wear out, and start clunking and rattling on turns. Since you've got the nut off the axle all you have to do is remove the inner bolts on the transmission flange and pull the axle out for work on the bench. If you wait to do this job you'll need to unbolt the ball joint from the lower control arm to pull the spindle out and away from the axle. This is a how to for an A3, but is almost exactly the same as the A4 manual trans.

As OEM axles are well regarded and aftermarket ones have a bad habit of being unbalanced and weak I strongly suggest repairing your OEM axle with a boot kit that costs $20.
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Veteran Member
Mar 25, 2004
Southern Caifornia
2001 Golf GLS TDI / White
Great tips. I just had my original control arms + bushings, ball joints, wheel bearings, dogbone mount + bushings, spindles, front brake calipers, rotors, and pads changed at 15 years and 268K miles. My front end is much more tightened up compared to the slop and vibrations I had with a failed driver-side rear control arm bushing and failed dogbone mount bushing. I opted to buy new control arms with the TT bushings already pressed in, as well as an aftermarket OE dogbone mount. I figured it'll save on shop time and I would replace the bushings on my own time and reinstall my original control arms/dogbone mount in the future. My local mechanic charged me $300 for the work and I couldn't be happier with the results.


Veteran Member
Jun 3, 2009
Triangle, NC
03 Jetta Wagon 5spd 390k mi
Great tips. I just had my original control arms + bushings, ball joints, wheel bearings, dogbone mount + bushings, spindles, front brake calipers, rotors, and pads changed at 15 years and 268K miles. My front end is much more tightened up compared to the slop and vibrations I had with a failed driver-side rear control arm bushing and failed dogbone mount bushing. I opted to buy new control arms with the TT bushings already pressed in, as well as an aftermarket OE dogbone mount. I figured it'll save on shop time and I would replace the bushings on my own time and reinstall my original control arms/dogbone mount in the future. My local mechanic charged me $300 for the work and I couldn't be happier with the results.
That's not a bad price for that amount of work. It took me 4 days to do my refresh, mostly because I had to fabricate some tools on the fly and every. single. bolt. was rusted in and required creative use of cheater bars and PB blaster to loosen.
Your sway bar bushing is probably worn out too, but thankfully it only tends to cause a creaking noise over bumps. If you're feeling lazy I suggest getting in there with a can of spray on dry teflon or graphite lubricant (like you'd use on a bicycle chain) and saturate it.


Veteran Member
Jun 3, 2009
Triangle, NC
03 Jetta Wagon 5spd 390k mi
I pulled my axle to replace the CV boot, put the new boot on and... wait, it doesn't fit on the CV joint. Apparently automatics and manuals have different inner CV boots (though the outers are the same). I also see part differences for inner right and inner left for the manual, though the automatic seems to be the same.

Kind of annoying that now my car is out of service because the auto parts store did not indicate that manual and automatic boots were different and just sold me "inner CV boot"


Veteran Member
Feb 15, 2015
Litchfield Park, AZ
2003 Jetta Wagon, GLS 5-speed, Baltic Green Past: 2001 Golf 4-door, GLS 5-speed
Thanks for putting this thread together. I'm about to undertake a full suspension and steering refresh and this read has been helpful.