How to Replace Your Car’s A-Frame and Sway Bar Bushings
Some repairs you do yourself, some you delegate to the local garage. No shame in that – maybe the job is too complex, or you just don’t have the time to do it yourself.
That was the case when I brought my 2003 Jetta TDI wagon (yes, it is a veggie car) to get a wheel bearing changed. Circumstances just made it easier to have someone else do it. But when I picked up the car, I was told that the A-frame and sway bar bushings were cracked and needed replacement.
Back to the garage? Not this time.
A little research revealed the job could be completed in 2 ½ hours, and I found the replacement parts at a fraction of the cost the dealer charged. That’s step one if you take on this task: search the web and find the complete A-frames for your vehicle with the bushings preloaded. You can buy them for less money than what some places charge for the bushings alone.
Here are the rest of the steps:
1. Use LOCTITE Freeze and ReleaseTM Before You Start
Before I reached for any wrenches, I sprayed down all of the bolts to be removed with a generous shot of Freeze and Release penetrating oil. It made the rest of the job much easier.
2. Unbolt the Sway Bar Links from the A-Frame
Next, I needed to remove the sway bar links (or dog bones) from the A-frame. I removed the three bolts from the lower ball joint so it could be manipulated out of the slot in the A-frame, and then removed the front and rear A-frame bolts on the passenger side.
The driver side was a little more challenging. To remove the front A-frame mounting bolt, I had to first remove two 13-millimeter bolts that bolted the engine stabilizer to the body of the car. These are located in the center rear of the engine.
Once these bolts were out, I was able to carefully pry the engine forward (being careful not to damage the flex pipe) just enough to create the clearance for the bolt to be removed.
Here are the old control arms or A frames:
While I had the control arms out, and the little bit of extra room, I completed the next step, changing the sway bar bushings.
3. Change the Sway Bar Bushings
Removing the old parts is easy. There is just enough room to sneak a 13mm box end wrench in to loosen and remove the one bolt on each side of the car that holds the bushing retainers in place.
Reconnecting the retainer over the new bushings can be a bit of a trick. I used one of the ball joint bolts (same diameter and thread as the bolt I removed from the sway bar bushing retainer, only a bit longer so it is easier to get started) to pull the retainer near final position. I then held it in place with a pair of locking pliers while I switched the bolts and put the correct length retainer bolt back in for final tightening.
4. Install the New A-arms
Once I finished the sway bar bushings, I wrapped the project up by installing the new A-arms. I applied LOCTITE® Blue Threadlocker 243TM to all of the bolts to ensure they won’t loosen until I want them to. When installing the new A-frames, the help of an assistant to slip the drivers side front a-frame bolt back into position was handy. This allowed me to be a little more careful when prying the engine over to gain the clearance needed to get it into proper position.
Next, I installed the rear a-frame mounting bolt, then the two 13mm engine stabalizer bolts. Finally, after a bit of aggressive wrestling with the steering knuckle, the lower ball joint was back in its slot. I tightened it to spec and reapeated the process on the passenger’s side.
And that’s it. The repair was finished in a reasonable amount of time, and I saved a good amount of money, too.
This repair combined with a front end alignment has resulted in the car handling better and tighter than it has in years.