Alignment questions


Capt. Mike

Moderator
This topic is for all alignment & setting questions. Although VW's have a rear suspension alignment adjustment, most questions are about the front, so please post all questions here.

Transferred from another forum to keep similar subjects together.

Dave Peirce, Junior Member, 10-09-2000 03:05 PM

I have a '78 Westy which I've almost completely restored with a problem which has me and my mechanic and his favorite tire man stumped. I've put Cooper 195R14C tires on the original stock wheels. Max sidewall psi is 65 for these 6 ply tires, which are load range D. Ball joints are new, alignment is to specs, steering box is new, and all drop arm and relay arm connections are tight. I have a 7/8" stabiliser bar in place, replacing the stock sway bar. Problem is, no matter what pressure I try in the tires - I've tried 30/30, 30/40, 35/45, 45/50, 55/55 - the bus becomes extremely unstable when the steering wheel is turned in either direction at speeds greater than 35 MPH. Below that speed it's just an annoying tendency to wander if the road surface is uneven.

Going in a straight line everything feels rock solid, but if I pull out to pass (or, more likely, pull over to be passed)the bus responds twice - once to the steering wheel and then, almost immediately, it seems to lurch harder into the turn, as if I've pushed through the sidewall's stiffness.
It's making me crazy, not mention reluctant to take my finished project anywhere, and no one here seems to be able to help.

Any ideas??? Thanks very much for your time.

---Dave Peirce - dpeirce@home.com

Capt. Mike, Moderator, 10-09-2000 06:26 PM

I've heard of Cooper tires but never known any VW owners that tried them. 195R14C or D is not so oversize it should cause any handling problems in and of itself. That it says 65 psi on the sidewall indicates it's probably a Load Range D -- most C's only go to 50 psi.

I'd look at a few things. Did you check caster? Loss of stability is often caster related.

Did you replace the front shocks and steering damper, keeping them OE or OEM? VW's come with the equivilent of HD components to match their load capacity. Going heavier or lighter can screw up the delicate balance of damping vs. performance. VW specifically warns against using heavier duty at one end than the other.

Did the overhaul do any changes to the torsion bar and settings? Your suspension is all torsion bar and any irregularities there will cause problems. Shocks & sway bar do NOT 'suspend' the vehicle. Raising & lowering suspension with torsion bar settings can really screw things up.

Why did you change the stabilizer? The OE is pretty HD and an excellent balance between reducing body roll without adding a "dartiness" to steering. Excessive stiffness of the stabilizer bar transfers more to the tires, which in your case are already non-standard size. Try disconnecting and (carefully and at slow speed in a parking lot) see what the results are. No sway bar should lean & 'plow' but not add instability.

Last, I would not automatically eliminate the tires. Just because a tire has a good load rating and is correctly sized does not necessarily mean it has good matching sidewall stiffness or handling characteristics. My old Porsche came with a VERY stiff sidewall Michelin XWX 185/70VR15. It was so stiff in the sidewall machines had trouble mounting the tires. But handled superbly. Looking for a lower cost tire, I tried a set of Dunlops -- exact same size & specs -- but they were a nightmare. You could feel the tire set up, almost like shifting over on the rims an inch or two in every corner. A one-size oversize set (your scenario) of Pirellis wasn't much better. I went back to the OE Michelin XWX's and everything was back to perfect. So try a set of known tires and see what happens. The Michelin LTX 195/R14C is popular & readily available and seems to duplicate the OE 185R14r characteristics. Shoot, just borrow a known set from another Westy owner for a day to test them ought to give you some idea.

You are right in caution. A Westy breadbox on wheels is tough enough to keep on the road when it's right!

Dave Peirce, Junior Member, 10-10-2000 12:46 AM

Thanks for the reply.

I have not had the caster checked lately - will do so. Shocks and steering damper all R & R'd w/ stock parts. I made no adjustments to the torsion bars. The larger sway bar was an initial attempt to remedy both this problem and the tendency of the bus to dive into corners. It has eliminated (or, at least, greatly moderated) the diving, but the wandering is no better than before.
I'll try the Michelins, and check the caster, and report back. Appreciate the help!!!

---Dave Peirce

Capt. Mike, Moderator, 10-10-2000 04:32 AM

Added thought -- don't forget the rears! The rear suspension does have camber & toe adjustment and can cause instability if it's fighting the fronts. And is your tracking correct? The front can be perfectly aligned to each other but not in line with the rear.
 

Capt. Mike

Moderator
Copied from the Wheel & Tire forum as it applies to sway bar changes & settings as well.

Dave Peirce, Junior Member, 01-08-2001 02:58 PM

With regard to my previous post re: handling problems with my '78 Westy: I installed the 7/8" rear sway bar to match the one in front, lowered tire pressures to 30F, 40R, having rechecked everything in the front end. No more problem.

E-mailed Cooper tire on Sunday to inquire about proper inflation for the load Westies put on the tire (per Capt. Mike's suggestion) - got a phone call before noon the next day from Cooper's customer service people (not bad response time) and was told to keep the tires (SRM II 195R14r [load range D]) at 40F, 50R - they say this will give me approx. 1500 pounds of load leeway above a (guessed at) 5300 pound curb weight for my normal driving configuration.

Filled 'em up, tried her out - still no problem with the handling. Quite a relief to have the bus go where it's steered, finally. Thanks to Capt. Mike for all the input.
 

Capt. Mike

Moderator
I think what David has found out is that you cannot just change one item in a system and expect some superior results. VW's (and everybody's) designs are balanced and to a compromise condition. If you don't agree with a condition, changing is fine but it has to be done in a manner that maintains that balance plus be willing to accept the changes in that 'compromise'.

Here, David wanted a heavier front sway bar (reduces body lean in corners). But he didn't change the rear, so the bus was no longer balanced and, in effect, corkscrewing with the stiffer front and softer rear. By going to balanced sway bars, and adjusting pressure to match the new tires and conditions, he has restored the balance and is satisfied with the changes in 'compromise.'

Good luck and thanks for bringing us up-to-date with the final 'cure.' I wonder how many realize you can have the same problem with unbalanced shocks?
 
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Capt. Mike

Moderator
Transferred to consolidate similar topics.

Leaning to the left!

Boatman Junior Member # 2791 posted 11-21-2001 01:04 PM

This is not a political inclination! I have a 2000 Westfalia California Generation and it leans to the left even without the water or me.

I am in the UK and the vehicle is LHD so I'm driving next to the kerb. Because the crown of the road is higher than ditch-side the left leaning is enhanced. Going round right hand bends is most uncomfortable.

Does anyone else notice their van leans like this? Are you bothered by it? Is there an uprated suspension system available? I wouldn't mind one of these anyhow because I think it's a bit soggy and could do with firming up.

Thanks
Boatman
 

Capt. Mike

Moderator
If you are only leaning in one direction, I would suspect you have a suspension problem, either something not attached correctly, a misadjusted or damaged torsion bar, or a disconnected stabilizer bar. If the suspension doesn't show any unusual softness, dip over bumps or nose dive when braking, I'd suspect the stabilizer. Stabilizers work on a torsion principle -- the resistance to bending of the metal bar. But BOTH ends have to be firmly connected.

The Bentley section N40-14 shows retrofitting heavy duty front stabilizer bars, but as mentioned in other posts, it is imperative that you work with a balanced set front & rear.
 

Steve Williams

New member
Greeting: My wacky 84Â’/1.9 Westfalia front suspension saga continues. My current and untrained prognosis is that the driver side coil spring is weak/failing as it is way more compressed than the passenger side. The vehicle seems to roll farther left in right hand turns and I have had two basic inspections by qualified VW techs. My visual sleuthing has made one basic observation. On the driver side the coil spring looks a little distorted and the top of the spring is blocked from view by the upper control arm. Whereas on the passenger side there is nearly 1 " of spring visible under the lip of the upper control arm. Stabilizer bar & links are solid, bushing intact and both coil springs are seated the same way on the lower (stamped) control arm.
I've often wondered about the aftermarket Boge spring set available which at one point I was led to believe that it was to address getting later (88' & on Vanagons in standard garages. Mine isn't even close @ 6' 9" on the passenger side. I will assume that it is best to change springs as a set if it comes to that.
Thanks for any help.
Cheers, Steve
:rolleyes:
 

Capt. Mike

Moderator
The coils on mine rest up into the upper control arm so the top coil is pretty much hidden from sight. The damping ring covers the coil and it in turn is inside the upper control arm. If you have air-space above the coil, it sounds like something else, perhaps the bump-stop, is keeping the suspension from dropping down to a normal nesting. Or perhaps the damping ring is distorted and not allowing the coil to nest inside, thus acting like a spacer between spring and arm instead of a nest. There is a change effective with VIN 25A 007 7959 (~1982 models) concerning the spacer sleeve and thus I suppose possible a mismatched set has been installed in error.

Although VW only discusses maintaining the same color-code of springs on an axle, my intuition says springs should be in pairs unless you have the facilities to do compression/rebound force tests (and can find out the specs).

Sorry, have no knowledge of any aftermarket spring sets but I wouldn't be surprised to find Boge supplying VW since they supply shocks and other suspension parts. Thus those 'aftermarket" springs could be OEM. I have no qualms about the brand; Boge has always been a premium vendor.
 

WC

New member
I have a 1995 Westy from Germany. It too is leaning to the left. Mind you, the gas tank and propane take and cupboards and closets are all on the left too. However, It didn't lean that way when I got it, about a year ago. I've been on the road and loaded ever since. I put it on a hoist and couldn't see anything wrong but I don't really know what to look for either. I called the VW dealer in Toronto and they didn't seem to recognize the problem - but would be happy to work on it.

I'd like to know how common the problem is and if I should simply get used to it or take steps to get it repaired.

WC
 

Capt. Mike

Moderator
A 'lean' is not common at all and indicates something has changed. The extra weight of the left side galley is not significant -- it's countered by other features. The actual, weighed, side-to-side differential on mine is 100 lb. and including another battery on the left so I'm sure the original design weight is closely balanced.

Something has probably given way -- a cracked spring, torsion bar, shocks, bushings. You can't expect a shop to diagnose sight unseen, please have it inspected by a qualified mechanic or dealer. It might be dangerous if left unrepaired.
 

mikey2

New member
I have a similar problem on my 70 Westy as the first post. Last year, replaced tires with Bridgestone 603V, 185R14 (I think that's the one) with D load range. Took it in for an alignment, and was told that there was too much play in the suspension for an alignment, mainly worn ball joints and tie rod ends...

This summer, I rebuilt my front axle - new ball joints, tie rods, drag link, and shocks (with KYBs, also replaced the rears) and finally took it in for an alignment again. During my trip there, the bus would just suddenly start drifting on the road, right around 35 - 45 MPH. I would turn the wheel, the bus would go that way, and the the rear end would feel like it was swinging around - so I would have to steer back the other way to compensate. Pretty scary experience that I had never dealt with before. I figured it would improve once the alignment was done. But it didn't. It handled about the same. Alignment was set to specs, so as far as I know, the camber and toe are right. No changes to stabilizer bars. Rear end was left alone (besides shocks).

One odd point is that the bus seemed to handle fine PRIOR to rebuilding the front end and getting an alignment. The old shocks were completely shot, and not matched.

The one thing I am suspecting is the steering box, which pops as you turn it from side to side and also has a lot of slop, probably from the original owners allowing the oil to leak out and continuing to drive it.

Are there any opinions or first-hand experience with a loose steering box that would indicate that this can cause "drifting". I am in the process of replacing it (needs to be done anyhow) but I don't want to set myself up for disappointment if this isn't a potential cure.

If anyone has any advice or might be able to "steer" me (haha) in the right direction on how to solve this drifting problem, it would be greatly appreciated!! Summer's coming to a close REALLY fast here in SE Ohio, and I haven't even really driven this thing since I bought it and started restoring it in '99...

[This message was edited by mikey2 on September 05, 2002 at 05:18 AM.]
 

Capt. Mike

Moderator
Manual steering has it's own topic that may provide some clues. One thing I would check on the Alignment topic is castor. Castor is extremely sensative to angle of turn and speed. Insufficient castor give instability.

In the manual steering topic (Admin knows of the corrupt posts) look closely at the corrossion comments concerning the Relay Lever box. That 'play' could be hidden.
 

Mike Robinson

New member
The driverside of my westy has sagged over the years to the extent that the vehcle had a notable left lean to it. I talked to my mechanic who checked the suspension and said that everything was 'tight' and nothing broken. He said it was quite common for the camper version of the vanagon to sag to the left and thought it may be due to the extra weight on the left side. I enquired whether it was worth putting new springs on the vehcle and he did not think so, but recommended I purchase spring assisters from Canadian Tire. $8 for 4, 1.5" rubber blocks that fit between the spring coils.

I put 2 into the front left spring and it made some difference. This week I got round to putting two into the back spring, and I now have a level westy! Not bad for $8!

Regards

Mike
'82 westy diesel
 

Capt. Mike

Moderator
I think that weight bias due to camping equipment is overblown, particularly as an excuse for any side lean. Empty, mine has only a 99 lb. weight bias to the drivers side -- 2%. And that includes a left-side aux. battery.

Loaded, it's actually 161 lb. bias to the passenger side, probably due to my aux. fuel tank, port-a-john and 5-gal. water cooler all on the right side. That's over 15 gal which is a around 100 lb.

I'm glad your solution is working and I'm glad you realize it's a case of introducing one error to compensate for another. And that others who consider it understand that solution may not be viable for greater amounts of sagging or sagging from other causes. It does remove suspension travel, which has its own trade-offs.
 

Mike Robinson

New member
Thanks for the reply Capt. It is an interesting problem or trend the westy has. I wonder if the lean could also be due to being driven with just the driver only in the vehicle. The diesel westy does have more engine over to the left as well.

I agree with the statement of introducing another error to compensate for an error does not offer a solution. In my case I decided to try this 'quick fix' as my mechanic said there was nothing wrong with the suspension (apart from the lean) and the thought of investing another $800 cdn (for 4 springs) into a 23 year old vehicle was purhaps just a bit much for the moment.

One obsurvation I have had with the rubber blocks is although they claim an additional 1.5" ride height, in reality with the weight of the westy this translates as about .5" I do not usually fill the water tank - or travel fully loaded, but this fall I am planning to take a 2 month trip to Baja so I thought some rubber and spring boost to compensate for the extra load may help.

One odd thing I have noticed is that it seems to improve the ride height on the other side. This confuses me - but the tape measure does not lie!

Regards

Mike
'82 westy diesel
 

icarus

Moderator
A note and a question:

Almost every Westy I have ever seen, (and I've seen a few) has a dicernable lean to the left. With all due respect to Capt. Mike's weight analysis I have to believe in most cases it is due to the loading on the left side. I know that I cram all kinds of stuff in the cubbies, plus the water tank, fridge, l/p tank cabinetry ect. add up to a bit. Add to that the weight of a solo driver. Perhaps Mike is a bit more dilligent in how he packs. I should weigh mine sometime.

On the subjec of rear wheel alinement. There is very little info here. I have discovered that my left rear tire is wearing too rapidly on the outside of the tread. The Bentley specs are quite clear. My question is, does anyone have an opinion of the ability of the chain alinement shops to do a good job? My local Vanagon guy farms his alinement out to the local Les Scwab tire agent, as he doesn't have the fancy stuff to do it.

Any opinions?

Icarus
 

Capt. Mike

Moderator
Weight bias: My Syncro weighs 2299 left & 2199 right when empty. It's 2550 left & 2711 right when loaded for camping. Both are without passengers.

Vanagons rear alignment: I've found that the rear alignment, which uses a clamping bolt in an elongated hole, has insufficient range. (See Bentley 42.2, Outer bracket for trailing arm.) This can be fairly easily corrected. Remove the adjustment bolt completely, let the suspension arm drop slightly (I'd recommend in a good alignment shop or dealer that has the hydraulic component support on his lift). then using a round file (avoid air-grinders -- they're too hard to keep aligned) increase the elongation of the adjustment hole. Be sure you do so on both sides evenly. On reconnection, you'll have more alignment adjustment.

Most alignment specs have a 'acceptable range'. When I notice a tire wear bias, I always instruct the alignment tech to set to the end of the range that corrects the problem. Also, I've found that using empty settings (Bentley 44.5) causes excess inside wear when fully loaded. Using empty settings with a full load causes excess outside wear. For my Syncro, the happy median seems to be to have about a ½ load when I take it in and using the empty settings. That's a pain to replicate -- sandbags? Or do alignments just as you're loading for a trip?

For all, especially Syncros, note the toe correction in table #40-0997 on Bentley 44.3a. You may find your actual measurement off the chart. I adjust -2' ± 2' (-4' to 0'). My a measurements are 447L & 450R mm.
 
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bobCamp

New member
I have a 1987 VW Westy, 2.1 manual. I recently brought it in for an alignment as it was pulling severely to the left. I was told that the upper right ball joint needed replacing. After replacement, the vehicle still pulls severely left, the steering wheel now shakes, and there is a loud metallic sound from the wheel when hitting bumps or rounding corners. The mechanic claims that the sound is from the tire rubbing and that the alignment could not be performed due to the tire size. I do realize that my tires are the wrong size, but it was perfectly good and straight for a long time. The rims are 14 inch and have 215R tires instead of 205R. Upon discovering that many people sell, and recommend, 15inch rims with 215R sized tires, this did not make sense. I called four tire shops in the area, all of which said the 215R would not prevent the ability to align the vehicle (although they did suggest getting the proper tire for performance reasons). I brought it back to the VW dealer and they are insisting it is the tire that is making the noise (even though it never made noise before) and that they can't align it.

Thanks
 

Capt. Mike

Moderator
I agree that the tires are not the cause. I would suspect you have broken out an upper control arm bushing. I'll concede that the upper bushing may have been held by the pressure of the adjustment shaft and their first attempt to move it let it break out, so it's doesn't necessarily mean they "broke it." You are looking at 20 years on a wear part.

A bad lower bushing could give the same symptoms. The clunk suggests there is now play in the system, which in turn creates pull. See the "Vanagon front suspension" topic. This is moving out of an alignment question into a suspension repair. Check your strut bar and stabilizer bushings while you're at it.

Check the easy things first -- check your front wheel bearing and adjustment per Bentley 40.11
 

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