Vanagon Sunset

Vanagon Sunset

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Front End Rebuild

After I finished my engine conversion a few months ago, we took the van out for a shake-down overnight road trip.  I was super excited to get it out on the highway and see how it performed.  We got everything packed up, met up with our friends in their Vanagon "Sedona", and then hit the highway.

The initial acceleration up to 60 was amazing and I continued to bring it up to highway speeds (65-70) and started to feel some shake in the front end, coming through the steering wheel.  It continued from 65 on up regardless of the speed, unless I was in a long curve, in which case, it would go away.  So, we proceeded on our trip and I just drove a little slower to minimize the wheel shake.

After the weekend, I crawled all around under the van and made a short list of what I needed to order.  My initial thought was:
-Tie rod ends
-Steering rack bushings and boots
-Upper ball joints
-Wheel bearings

My upper control and lower control arm bushings, as well as radius arm bushings were in pretty good shape, so I ruled those out.

I knew that my tie rod ends and steering rack bushings were shot, so I figured these parts would take care of the problem.  I had also planned on doing new springs and shocks at this time, so I knew that I'd be getting a new alignment and wheel balancing after the work was done.

So, I dove in.
diving in
I did the front end first: Tie rod ends, new tie rod boots, steering rack bushings, upper ball joints, springs and shocks, then the rear as well.  If you haven't worked on springs before, you should know that most of the time you can get a way with no spring compressor for the rears, but you'll definitely need them for the front.  I found that it also helps to loose the radius arm nuts a little, which allows the front A-arm to drop a little lower to get the springs in and out.  On my rear springs, I added a 1/2" spacer to compensate for the sag when the van is fully loaded.  You'll see a pic below of the van unloaded, and then loaded.  It sits slightly higher in the rear when empty.

While I had it all apart, I also pulled the rotors and drums and had them turned/machined and replaced the bearings upon their return as well as new brake pads all the way around.  I had addressed the rear shoes a few months back as well as brake cylinders because they were leaking.
disassembly process
The rear bearings on these vans are pain in the butt.  You have to pull the hub which involves using a large breaker bar and a 46 mm socket or the EMPI tool and a lot of force.  You also have to remove the brake assembly (but you don't have to disconnect the brakes, just move them aside) and then 4 bolts on the backside to release the hub.  It's a pain, and I don't recommend if for those that aren't handy.  I don't have pictures of the rear process because my hands were too dirty and bloody to grab the camera.  :-)
compressing/installing the new springs (front)

new rear springs and shocks

All of this took me about 2 days and it went pretty well.  It also helps to spray PB Blaster on the nuts/bolts that you'll be removing. I typically do it a day or so before so that it has time to settle in.

Once I got everything put back together. I took it in to get the wheels balanced and front end aligned.

I picked up the van, and took it out for a spin...

Got it up to about 65 and guess what?  It still had a shake in the front end?  Damnit.

So, I went back into the alignment shop and talked to them.  My contact there is super cool and he knows his stuff.  He thought maybe I might have a bent wheel, but he had his alignment guy re-check everything and do "perfect balance", which in their secret code, means, take the time and do whatever it takes to make this vehicle roll perfect.

So, they did.  I picked up the van a few hours later and the problem was solved.
So, what was the problem you ask?

My wheels are aftermarket Ronal R9's.  They are cool wheels that I picked up a while back and all balancing weights had been placed on the inside of the rim.  Well, apparently, that's the preferred way to balance a wheel unless it's having some issues, in which case you can then add weights to the outside.  So, that's what they did and solved the problem.

In retrospect, I didn't need to do ANY of the front end work to get rid of the shake, however, I had planned and wanted to anyhow, just so I could rest assured that the van was safe and riding as good as possible.  It was on my list of things to go through during the "rebuild" anyhow.

Also, when I picked up the van, the alignment shop let me know that the tires I had on the van were not up to par with regards to load rating and that I should consider replacing them.  I made the decision to go ahead and replace them with a larger all-terrain tire.  I chose the Yokohama Geolandar A/T in a 215 75/15 and have been extremely happy with them.
New suspension, tires, etc.
New Yokohama Geolandar A/T's
Van fully loaded in Death Valley
So, we did our road trip.  9 days, 1600 miles and a ton of backroad/washboard driving in Death Valley, then into Nevada, Utah (Zion, Bryce, Kodachrome) and back.  The van performed AMAZING.  It rode great, handled great, had tons of power and I couldn't be happier.  We didn't have any problems whatsoever during the entire trip.  I did find a small rattle in the front end, that I think is steering box related, but it didn't affect the steering or handling of the van.  I'll be addressing that soon to figure out what it is.

Parts installed during this upgrade:
-Schwenk Springs
-1/2" Spring pads (rear)
-Koni Adjustable Shocks
-Upper Ball Joints
-Steering rack bushings
-Tie Rod ends
-Tie rod boots
-Wheel Bearings (all 4 wheels)
-Brake pads (front)
-New tires (Yokohama Geolandar A/T's (215 75/15)
-and I had all drums and rotors machined

"Sedona" & "Ferdinand", outside of Bishop, CA

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