Super Beetle Wobble
-Written by Steve Phillips for Hot VWs magazine-
In this article, I’ll be addressing those of you with Super Beetles. Most of the ones I’ve driven have that infamous 55 mile per hour wobble. You’re cruising along, sipping that coffee, hop on the highway and BAM! You’re wearing your coffee. Like clockwork, when the Super Beetle hits 55mph, it shakes. Most people go buy a steering dampener, or stabilizer, as it’s also referred to. (Basically, a shock). This can help mend, but I find frequently, it’s not the end-solution to the problem.
So, what is the problem? On a Super Beetle, it can be a variety of things. Most of the time; however, I find it’s the control arm bushings. If you’re not sure what or where your control arm bushings are, look for the arm that comes from the center of the car and the strut that attaches to it, on the outside. When these inner bushings go bad, the car will get that wobble. Remember, this is only the solution in most cases. It is not the guaranteed source to your problem, but it’s where I begin the process of elimination. The arms will need to get pulled off and the bushings, pressed out. Buckle up, it’s not a quick and easy job.
If you have a lift, that’s great. Most of you probably do not, so you’ll need to get the front end off the ground and get some jack stands underneath it. Make sure you don’t put the jack stands under the control arms, as we’ll be taking those off. After you get the front tires off, take the front sway bar off. There are two nuts that hold it into place, at the arm, and two clamps, with nuts, in the very front. After that, it’s time to get the strut off the arm. There are two ways to go about this and which direction you choose to follow depends on whether you’ll be replacing the ball joints, at this time, or not. If you don’t feel like fighting with the ball joints, take off the brakes and remove the strut housing from the spindle. In this case, the spindle will stay with the arm. This makes maneuvering the arm, in the press, a pain in the A**. It can be done though! The other way to get the strut off the arm is to get the ball joint out of the spindle and let the strut, with the brakes attached, hang out of the way. Now, all we need to do is remove the bolts that hold the arm onto the center of the vehicle. Before I remove them, I clean the area well and use a paint pencil to draw a line from the washers underneath the bolt to the body. By doing this, I’ll have a starting point when it gets put back together. This bolt is what adjusts the tilt of the brake drum. Once you have your marks, go ahead, and remove the bolts. At this point, the arm will come out. If you have a press, rig up some tools to press the bushings out of the arm. If you don’t have a press (most people don’t), get on the phone and find someone who can press them out for you. If your super beetle is 1971 to mid 1973, then the ball joint will unbolt (nice). If it’s mid 1973 to 1979, then it must be pressed out. Now, let’s circle back to the question earlier of which direction you follow regarding replacing the ball joints, or not. If you’re taking the arms to a shop and having the bushings pressed out, now, would also be a good time to have the old ball joint pressed out and the new one pressed in. On the bushing, you’ll need to decide if you want to replace it with a stock one or a urethane one. Personally, I prefer the urethane ones. If you use the urethane bushings, you can push them in yourself with a vise or clamp. (Quick note: you can buy the bushings by themselves, or you can purchase a kit that has control arm bushings and sway bar bushings, all in urethane). On the sway bar bushings, press out the metal sleeve, then the rubber bushing. The arm is hour glass shaped where the bushing is. When you put urethane bushings in this area, it’s a piece of cake. One bushing goes on each side of the arm, then slide in the metal sleeve. Once you have the arm ready to go, it can be reinstalled. Put the bolt in with the offset washer and barely snug it. After that, get your strut back on and reinstall your sway bar. At this point, I place a level on the flattest part of the underside of the car and do whatever necessary to get the front-end level from side to side. Like, placing shims under my jack stands. Once you have that, put your level on the face of your drum, rotate your inner arm bolt (the one with the offset washer), until your level reads level. When you tighten the nut, make sure not to rotate the bolt. Do the same on both sides. Now, you can put the tires on and set the car on ramps or on the ground. Have your buddy, Fred, come give you a hand and grab your measuring tape. Pick a place on the tread and stretch the tape from tire to tire. Hold the tape up as high as you can without it hitting anything in the middle and read the tape. Now, do the same thing on the back side. Again, putting the tape as high as you can WITHOUT hitting the pan. The number should read the same or at the least an 1/8” to a 1/16” narrower in the front than in the rear. If not, you need to loosen up the tie rods and adjust them, so it is. If you’ve finished that, you’re ready to roll! If you want to it dead nuts, you should take it to an alignment shop.
If you find that fixed it, great! If you still have a wobble, the next step I take is replacing the strut insert (shock). Again, this is not an easy at-home job. You can take the struts off, but don’t remove the nut on the top that holds the shock. They’re under tension, so if you do, you’re going to get a giant face full of a spring. Take it to someone who has a spring compressor made for struts. Once the spring is off, you’ll see there is a nut on the top of the strut housing tube. It’s not a normal nut, but a big pair of channel locks works for getting it off. Pull out the guts, or insert, and grab your new one. If this is staying stock height, I would suggest using the KYB insert as they're a good shock and lifetime guarantee. Unless, of course, you want to do this job again. If you’re using lowering struts, your only option is China inserts and it is what it is. Have them compressed at the shop (they will put the top back on) and reinstall. You should recheck your aliment, like I said earlier.
That’s about all there is to the 55 mile per hour wobble. This doesn’t have anything to do with sloppy steering. It's is all about the tie rod ends, idler arm bushing and yes, the steering box itself. That’s all folks. Now, you can drink your coffee on your way to work without spilling it.