StrictlyAircooled San Diego your local Volkswagen Bug Mechanic Shop- Track Rod Replacement Service Guide
Steering feeling vague, or are you experiencing an odd clunking noise? It could be a track rod end has expired
Track rod ends form a vital part of your VW’s steering mechanism. They ensure a smooth transfer of steering input from the steering box, which is located on the front axle beam, to the stub axles and wheels. Whilst they are robust items, it’s not uncommon for them to fail from time to time, and when they do they will need replacing. Their construction is simple – essentially a threaded ball-socket held within a steel cup – but they are prone to moisture ingress with age, particularly if their protective rubber boot perishes. Even small amounts of water ingress can cause a gradual ‘washing out’ of the lubricating grease, and this ultimately leads to metal-to-metal contact and rapid component wear.
When a track rod end starts to go ‘dry’, wear will show itself in the form of play in the joint, which will be felt in the steering. Any such play will result in a dangerous driving condition and will lead to an eventual MoT failure.
Diagnosing a faulty track rod end is fairly simple. Generally speaking, you should be able to feel any play in the steering as you drive. Going over bumps and potholes will accentuate it, and it is normally accompanied by an audible clunking noise.
Tracing the source of the clunking noise is also relatively straightforward, but it requires jacking the vehicle up and securing it on axle stands. Once the vehicle is secured, grab hold of a road wheel and wiggle it side to side with a short, sharp motion. If there is any play here, it will immediately be felt. Tracing the origin of the play will require a second pair of hands to do the wiggling for you whilst you inspect all four of the steering joints. As track rod ends cannot be rebuilt, the only option is to replace them, but be aware that early ones had integral grease nipples and exact replacements are not available new.
What you need:
- TOOLS NEEDED: Trolley jack, axle stands, 19mm socket and breaker bar, torque wrench, 13 and 14mm socket, ratchet and extension bar, vice grips, 13 and 14mm spanners, balljoint breaker, tyre pressure gauge, tracking gauges
- MATERIALS USED: Track rod end (approx £9) Copper Slip anti-seize compound, penetrating oil (WD40 or similar).
- TIME TAKEN: 1-2 hours
- COST DIY: $15
- COST PRO: Approximately $70 for parts and labor
Track rod end replacement: Step 1
After locating your grumbling track rod end (see introduction for extra info) it’s time to jack the vehicle up and secure it on axle stands. Remember to loosen your wheel nuts a little prior to jacking up, particularly if they are stubborn.
Track rod end replacement: Step 2
With the road wheel off, access to the steering components is vastly improved. Double check the source of play by wiggling the steering. You should be able to easily see movement in a worn joint
Track rod end replacement: Step 3
Fortunately, the source of steering play on this Bug was the nearside outer track rod end. Access to the inner track rod ends is limited, and generally requires the removal of the petrol tank. Factor this in if you are dealing with a worn inner track rod end
Track rod end replacement: Step 4
Before loosening or removing the offending track rod end, take a measurement of its total length protruding from the track rod itself. This will help you keep the vehicle’s tracking settings not far off the mark.
Track rod end replacement: Step 5
It may be worth soaking the retaining nut in penetrating oil before trying to loosen it. Years of grime and road salt tends to seize them up a little, or a lot
Track rod end replacement: Step 6
The track rod end is secured to the track rod via a pinch bolt. Again, soak this in penetrating oil then remove it
Track rod end replacement: Step 7
Removing the track rod end itself from the stub axle can be tricky. To make life easier, apply penetrating oil between the rubber boot and the spindle
Note: Strictly Aircooled San Diego is a professional mechanic shop that specializes in VW Classic cars, bugs and combis.
Track rod end replacement: Step 8
As the track rod end is a taper fit into the stub axle, even with the locking nut removed, a lot of force is required to separate them. The best method is to use the correct tool for the job – a balljoint breaker
Track rod end replacement: Step 9
Removing the track rod end from the track rod might also prove difficult as it’s likely to be partially seized through time. Two sets of vice grips will usually do the job. Take note of whether it is left-hand or right-hand threaded and order the appropriate replacement part.
Track rod end replacement: Step 10
Before fitting your new track rod end, check it against the one you have removed and, once you are happy it is an adequate replacement, lubricated the threads with an anti-seize compound such as Copper Slip
Track rod end replacement: Step 11
Screw the new track rod end in to the same measurement as you took from the old one. This will ensure your vehicle’s tracking is not wildly out
Track rod end replacement: Step 12(Strictly Aircooled San Diego)
Tighten up the new track rod end where it meets the stub axle. Ensure you use a new Nyloc-type locking nut, or an original ‘castle’-shaped nut with a new split pin
Track rod end replacement: Step 13
Lock the track rod end in the track rod with the pinch bolt system, ensuring you use a new self-locking nut
Track rod end replacement: Step 14
Re-fit the road wheel and torque to spec. Lower the car back down to the floor and move it back and forth a few times to settle the suspension
Track rod end replacement: Step 15
Check the tyre pressures are correct and adjust if necessary. This is an important part of checking your vehicle’s geometry
Track rod end replacement: Step 16
If you have access to a set of tracking gauges, you can now check your Bug’s tracking is within specification. For a standard 1970’s Beetle like this, toe in should be half a degree.
If you don’t have a access to gauges, you can either perform the trick that John Muir performs in his legendary book to get you in the ball park, or you can simply take the car down to your local tyre place.
Track rod end replacement: Step 17
Tracking (toe in and toe out) is adjusted by loosening both track rod ends on a track rod and turning the rod itself either clockwise or counter-clockwise. As one track rod end is left-hand threaded and other right-hand threaded, turning the rod between the two will either lengthen or shorten its effective length respectively, and therefore alter the vehicle’s toe in or toe out. However, as I had only disturbed one track rod end, I was able to set the tracking correctly by dismantling and turning just the outer track rod end as depicted here.
Remember to visit: Strictly Aircooled Volkswagen Bugs mechanic shop in San Diego.