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VW/Audi FWD Axle Replacement

Stock — not Performance — type, using Raxles kits, both sides

Bob Davis, January 2013

The particular details described here pertain to a 2003 VW Passat 1.8T, Manual Transmission (B5 chassis, longitudinal engine). But the process is applicable to many models of VWs and Audis, including VW Golf/Jetta IV era, (A4 chassis, transverse engine), with appropriate minor variations and interpretation.

1. Pre-requisites

1.1 Service manual(s)

I highly recommend Bentley service manuals for Audi/VW/Porsche cars for doing any serious work on your car. The information here should be viewed as “supplemental” to that in the Bentley or official VW documentation manual(s). The latter can be obtained on DVD-ROMs for amounts that are generally only reasonable for professionals, and even then, not necessarily preferred to the Bentley manuals.

1.2 Tools

Air tools are not compulsory for this job, but do help speed things along if you have the proper impact sockets. You will need a rather robust impact wrench to get the axle fasteners off (e.g. IR231 or better). The Raxles-provided tools are generally not suitable for use with impact tools, except perhaps the twelve point tool when used with a low torque 3/8 inch impact ratchet.

Whether or not you have a heavy duty impact set and and required impact sockets, you will need a 1/2 inch breaker bar and extension (e.g. a section of pipe).

You will also need roughly 24 inches of impact entensions, a 3/8 inch and/or 1/2 inch ratchet — perferably both — along with possible universal section to work around occasional awkward obstructions, while dealing with the flange bolts.

You will definitely also need a 1/2 inch torque wrench that can achieve the higher end of torque specifications (circa 150 ft-lbs) in order to “set” the axle nut. A lighter duty 3/8 inch torque wrench is convenient for the hex-drive nuts on the axle flange, and probably more accurate for that, but you can use a 1/2 inch torque wrench with 1/2 inch to 3/8 inch converter in a pinch.

A tie rod tool or ball joint separator will be necessary if you must detach the upper control arms to get your existing axles out. PB blaster or similar penetrating oil, not including WD40, is either highly desirable or necessary in this case also, depending on conditions of your suspension fasteners.

Naturally you will also need the normal “basics” for any job — that is, jack, jack stands, tire chalks — to properly and safely lift the car on level ground, etc.

1.3 Plan

Plan on checking / adjusting alignment after this job. Only if you completely avoid messing with the suspension and have recently had alignment done would I consider skipping this.

Do leave yourself enough time to handle the unexpected without rushing. If everything goes smoothly it will take more than an hour except for the fastest, most experienced mechanics. Two to four hours is a more reasonable expectation.

Do not attempt this job if you do not take safety and preparation seriously.

1.4 Order, Receive, Review

the Raxles Axles and Parts. Inspect the parts, read the given instructions entirely, and cross-reference details with the service manual re torque instructions in particular. Where these are different, it is generally best to follow the manual. However, for the final torque of the drive axle nuts, the Raxles instructions given were “equivalent” and more reliable if you have torque wrench that goes to 150 ft-lbs.

1.5 Remember

to retain all the packing materials and back-ship sheet, as you'll use these to send back your old axles.

2. The Process Itself

I would suggest doing the entire process except final axle nut/bolt torque on one side, then proceeding to the other side. It does help to turn the steering torward the side you are currently working on, especially for step [4] below.

[1] Loosen Axle Fasteners

The first step is to get the axle nuts or axle bolts (as applicable) loosend with the car on the tires. The service manual and common sense tell you that this and the final torque step must be done with wheels on the ground to minimize chance of car toppling off supports during sometimes large forces being applied.

You can use a proper impact socket and impact wrench for this, but it is also perfectly reasonable to use a breaker bar and extension (PIPE) with the Raxles-provided hand 1/2 inch drive socket.

Obviously you must remove the center cap or hub cap first to acess the axle fastener; usually this can be done easily without removing with the wheels.

With the wheels (still) on the ground, use your breaker bar and extension to loosen the axle nut/bolt. It is also fine, if suitably equipped, to do this with your beefy impact wrench and proper impact socket.

Then turn by hand lightly back to barely snug. You don't want this fastener completely off until the car is lifted per the following step.

[2a] Lift and Support Car

(Safely) Lift/jack/chalk the car so you can remove the front wheels, then do so.

[2b] Completely Remove Axle Fastener

Loosen the axle nut/bolt a bit more and push in so the axle itself is mobile and pushed in somewhat within the wheel bearing. Then completely remove the axle nut/bolt. Set this aside but you must not re-use it.

[2c] Re-install Some Axle Bolts

Put three lug bolts (or so) back in the brake rotor to fasten it to the wheel bearing. Locate a robust slot screwdriver to be used shortly as “counter-holder” when removing hex bolts. It is also OK to have a helper depress the brake pedal instead, if you prefer. Torques will be moderate for these flange bolts.

[3] Remove Fasteners on Axle Flange

[3a] Set Up

Set yourself up to remove the bolts on the axle flange, which are typically twelve point tri-square fasteners but could also be hex fasteners. This means it is time for your many socket extensions plus the given socket, along with either an impact ratchet or your hand ratchet.

[3b] Remove Any Obstructions to Removing Axle

If applicable (passenger's side only) remove the heat shield and anything else that may be obstructing access to the inner axle flange.

[3c] Remove Flange Fasteners

Loosen and remove the six bolts on the inside end of the axle, using your extensions and your choice of ratchet tools. Collect these, but you will not be re-using these fasteners either.

[4] Remove Axles

[4a] Attempt Simple Removal

If possible, remove the axles without disassembly of the upper control arms (Passat B5) or other parts of the front suspension (others). Yes, for the Passat B5 chassis this is contrary to the service manual. The reason for this rebellion is that, if successful, will save you much time and avoid disturbing the suspension alignment. If unsuccessful, you will merely have just wasted a few minutes of effort.

It can help to manipulate the steering a bit while fiddling.

For the installation being described, this worked quite easily on the driver's side, but not at all on the passenger's side. Reportedly — and apparently according to my Jetta IV service manual — this problem does not arise for the transverse engine models.

In case this did not work for you, and the given axle won't come out, the backup plan is to follow the service manual as in …

[4b] Follow the Manual by Freeing up the Wheel Bearing Assembly

Apparently this only applies if you have a front suspension resembling the Passat B5, where there are multiple control arms including two fastened to the top of the wheel bearing assembly. If this does not apply consult your manual for your variation.

Following details described below in “Appendix of Pain”, disconnect the upper control arms from the top part of the wheel bearing assembly, so you can move the assembly forward and get the blessed axles out. This may still be a “joy” on the passenger's side but becomes much more feasible than before doing this.

Having to do this adds considerably to the effort of the job, but is sometimes unavoidable. The reason is simple: on the passenger side of the longitudinal engine with manual transmission there is insufficient “play” between the axle flange and the transimission, which is necessary to get the other end of the axle out of the wheel bearing assembly.

[5] Insert new axle

After cleaning any mess in the flanges or wheel assembly areas, insert the proper side axle as clearly tagged by Raxles, and partially insert in wheel bearing side. Fastening the new axle fastener lightly at this point is indicated, to avoid it coming loose while you fasten the inner side flange.

If you had to manipulate the suspension connections to get the axle out in step [4], restore the suspension to its former arrangement now, using new fasteners as described in “Appendix of Pain” below. Remember that even though this should not have greatly impacted the vehicles alignment, it may have done so. So, you should have alignment checked if this applies, or in any case if it has been a while since this vehicle had alignment checked.

[6] Secure new axle flange

[6a] Lightly install the flange bolts

Lightly fasten the new flange axle bolts to the inner drive flange using the provided Raxles hex tool. BTW If you are using an impact ratchet for this step — not encouraged — do be careful to avoid actually torque-ing the fastener with it; doing so is bad for proper torque, and likely to strip the fastener.

[6b] Torgue the flange bolts in (usual) star pattern

Torque to given spec each fastener in “star pattern”, which for a six-point pattern means three pairs of opposites, stepping by two positions in between pairs.

[7] Restore Miscellaneous Other

If applicable, re-store the heat shield and anything else you removed earlier from the inner part of the axle area.

[8] Initially Tighten the Axle Fastener

If your service location and stands are very stable, fasten the axle nut/bolt to indicated torque specification. If not, tighten just enough so the assembly is stable enough to put back on the wheels.

At this point, if done with one side, do complete the process on the other side before proceeding onward.

[9] Re-Install Wheels, Lower Car

Obvious, but for completeness …

[9a] Re-Install wheels

After both sides complete, put wheels back on with proper/normal fastening procedure.

[9b] Lower Car

Carefully use your jack to remove jack stands and lower car one side at a time.

[10] Final Torque — “Set” Axle Fastener

Torque axle nut/bolt using torque wrench if not already done in [8], then per manual and/or Raxles instructions, turn an additional 1/4 or 1/2 revolution according to axle nut fastening instructions.

[11] Post-Job Inspect and Cleanup

Do a post-job inspection and cleanup (a.k.a. “bonehead check”) for any missed parts or such, while putting away tools and cleaning your work area. Pack the axles you pulled in the same shipping materials that were used to ship the new ones to you.

[12] Test Drive, Ship Return, Alignment

Carefully test drive on your way to the shipping location to return your “core” axles. Then visit an alignment service location near you, assuming you do not have the proper facilities in your garage.

[13] Celebrate

Return to rest and have that beer you earned.

Appendix of Pain

subtitle: Gaining Required Extra Clearance For Axle Removal by Disconnecting Upper Control Arms from Wheel Bearing Assembly

This appendix describes the process of disconnecting the upper control arms from the upper part of wheel bearing holder, applicable only if you have front suspension like the Passat B5.

Note that you absolutely must replace the bolt/nut described here according to the service manual, and in many cases the bolt/nut are damaged during removal. So have their replacements on hand to prevent another interruption.

VW/Audi service manuals indicate use of a specialty tool, but no one I know has one or uses one. That tool facilitates more-or-less what is described here via other means.

[1] Lubricate and Clean

Apply penetrating oil to bolt/nut holding control arms in place, at the bolt/nut and where the control arms enter the wheel bearing holder. Knock off any rust or gunk with a rubber mallet or similar. Some use a air hammer with blunt end to do this a little more specifically and energetically, but do be careful not to damage anything.

Also, do not attempt to “chisel” anything in the slots in the wheel bearing assembly. Doing so has a strong tendency to damage the part and you do not want to have to replace that.

[2] Remove the Nut

Remove the nut from the bolt if possible. If this has seized, you may have to break it off. Don't despair — you needed to replace them anyhow. If the bolt did not break and is loosened, leave it on while tapping with a hammer to loosen the bolt in the slot before taking the nut completely off.

[3] Remove the Bolt

Drive the bolt out of the slot in the wheel bearing assembly using some suitable tool such as a blunt-end nail tap, or at worst another, smaller diameter bolt or such.

[4] Get the Upper Control Arms Out (Up)

After optionally adding a bit more penetrating oil to the upper control arm extensions as they sit in their slots in wheel bearing assembly, use your tie rod puller or ball joint separator to get them all the way out, being careful not to split the rubber bushings.

[5] Move Assembly Out and Forward, Remove Axle

Now that the upper control arms are out as desired, you can and should move the wheel bearing assembly out and forward, away from the axle, so that you can in fact get the old axle out.

[6] Cleanup Area and Insert New Axle

Cleanup any gunk and/or oil with a rag, and insert new axle is in place, then lightly install new axle fastener.

[7] Re-attach Upper Control arms and Secure

Insert forward control arm first, rear control arm second, then insert new bolt, fasten new nut lightly, then tightening to specificied torque.

These steps are easily described but not necessarily easy to do, and it will require some force to get all the pieces lined up, etc. I must confess I used a large channel lock to “persuade” some of these parts to do what they should.

Consider putting a very light amount of moly lube on the non-threaded part of the bolt before insertion, to increase the chances of the bolt surviving longer in good condition.

Appendix Postscript

That was easy — not. This can be more work than all the rest of the process of installing the axles, but is the “official dope” on how this process should be done — in the B5 Passats at least. That is why I have advised avoiding all this whenever possible!

Copyright © 2009 Raxles Inc.