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Noah's MkIV Volkswagen H&R Coilover
Installation HOWTO

Written by
Noah Lehmann-Haupt
nlh at noahlh dot com
vwvortex username: noahlh

Last updated: August 9, 2003


I'm writing this because I've just recently completed installing my H&R Coilovers in my '00 Jetta, and was extremely frustrated by the lack of detail in the existing online HOWTO guides. I had my Bentley, I had printouts of several instruction guides, I had my college degree (to assure you all I'm no fool), and I still found several steps mind-numingly frustrating.

So I decided that instead of complaining, I'd do something about it by writing my own tutorial. So here ya go. I hope this helps. Also, if you think about it, the ratio of "taking" on the web to "giving" for the average person (including myself) is pretty high ... I figured it was about time I gave something back to the community.

A few points:

1) I'm no mechanic, so some terminology may be wrong. Sorry.
2) PLEASE, if you spot something I've done wrong or written incorrectly, CORRECT ME -- I have no ego about this stuff and would to make this guide better, more complete, and more accurate.

Update: Many many thanks to the folks who have taken the time to read this and provide me with corrections and suggestions. It is SO appreciated.

3) This guide includes a lot of (maybe too many) pictures. I'm a very visual person, and it really helps to see what needs to be done instead of reading things like "remove top upper flange from rear bushing by ensuring that mounting plate is properly seated in suspension strut mount rear upper bearing plate camber socket wrench."


There are some tools that you need for this job, some that make it easier (but aren't required), and some that are luxury items. I'll try to indicate which is which.

16mm, 17mm, 18mm 1/2-inch drive sockets (required) - Note the 17mm might not be required in some cases

16mm, 17mm, 18mm open-ended wrench (helpful)

VW Special Tool #3424 a.k.a. The Spreader Tool (required) - available for $10 from Autotech or $20 from Zelenda. Or, if that's not available, a 1/4-inch slotted screwdriver bit in a 1/4 ratchet drive can work too.

Rubber mallet or something blunt to gently whack stuck/rusted pieces

One of the following, to get the outer and inner top nuts off the front strut assemblies:
- An impact wrench/gun (air powered, but electric may work too) w/ 21mm impact socket
- Potterman's "Strut Nut Tool" - $28 on (part #T.91600-22)
- Stahlwille 60-degree deep-offset wrenches, part numbers < > (20/21mm) and <> (22/23mm)
(I need to look these up -- will add later).

T-20 Torx screwdriver (not required if you have an impact gun -- used to remove the liner from the rear passenger's side wheelwell)

Vicegrips / pliers / something metal and strong to hold things

Spring compressor (required unless you purchased new front strut bearing, mounts, and inner strut nuts)

Tire iron / breaker bar / something to get the wheel lugs off (required)


Jack Stands (x4) or a Lift (car's gotta get off the ground somehow)

Anti-seize lubricant (not required, but recommended)

Part Numbers

The subject of nut/bolt replacement is a tricky one -- The Bentley says that there are several nuts and bolts that must be replaced once they've been used once. The reason is that the suspension is a very high stress part of the car, and many of these bolts are stretch bolts that lose their maximum effectiveness after they've been installed and torqued to the proper level. There are many people, however (myself included), who have reported no problems with reusing the existing pieces. So my opinion is that if you can get ahold of all the pieces (total cost should be no more than $30 from the dealer), replace 'em. If not, it's probably not going to mean the end of your suspension.

Here are the parts that should be replaced and their associated VW part numbers. (Note: most dealers will not have these in stock, so give yourself a week or two lead time to allow them to be ordered.)

Front Suspension:

Part Size Quant. Part No.
Outer nut, self-locking 21mm x2 N90 353 603
Lower strut mounting bolt 18mm x2 N10 207 803
Lower strut mounting nut 18mm x2 N10 106 402

Note: Several people have reported that in some cases, the outer nut is 22mm instead of 21mm. Be sure to check your car, as this might be a country- or year-specific difference.

Rear Suspension:

Part Size Quant. Part No.
Upper shock mounting bolt 16mm x4 N90 648 401
Lower shock bolt 16mm x2 N90 517 302
Lower shock nut 16mm x2 N10 286 102

Note: Likewise, some have reported that one or more of the rear bolts are 17mm instead of 16mm.

Other parts:

Upper strut bearing (just in case you break it, like I did) 1J0 412 249
New/upgraded Upper Strut Mounts (the big rubber things. Several people suggest upgrading to the slightly stronger VW Motorsport variety, which can be purchased from Autotech, Potterman's, or elsewhere. The Potterman's part #1J0412331CMS - $50 / side for both parts)

Let's Rock -- Part I, Front Suspension

The passenger's side is more difficult, and I started with that, but only took pictures of the driver's side. So we'll start there.

Driver's Side:

  1. Loosen the 5 wheel lugs on each wheel, jack the car up, and take the front wheels off.

  2. Place a jackstand or floor jack (preferable) underneath the control arm. This is because when you remove the strut from the housing, the control arm (including the rotor and brake caliper) will drop and you don't want it to slam into the ground and tear off your brake line. If you use a floor jack, you can then slowly lower the control arm down.

    Yes, love me for my ATE slotted front rotors. w00t.

  3. Remove the 16mm bolt that attaches the front sway bar to the control arm

  4. Remove 18mm lower strut mounting bolt, using an 18mm open-ended wrench to counterhold the nut (not visible in the picture below)

  5. Un-snap the ABS speed-sensor cables from the strut mounting thingys.

  6. Prepare the Spreader Tool. By this, I mean make sure you have one. Some have said this job is possible without one, but I dare you to try. I did, and ended up postponing the entire install for a week while I waited for mine to arrive from Autotech.

    Why do you need this magical tool? Because the strut mount is extremely tight, and the only way to get it to the point where you can remove the strut is by spreading it (i.e. prying) apart using the tool. The tool is basically a 7mm allen wrench bit that's been ground down to be more oval shaped. You pop it in the gap in the strut mount, twist, and BAM ... out comes the strut.

    Update: Several folks have mentioned that as an alternative to this tool, you can use a 1/4-inch slotted screwdriver bit in a 1/4 ratchet drive. Not tried personally, but sounds like it'd be a good solution.

    It's much smaller than it looks in the Bentley, hence its being named "the $10 piece of metal" by my female friend watching me do the install.

  7. Insert the spreader tool and rotate (spread) as shown below:

  8. With the Spreader Tool in place, lower the floor jack that's underneath the control arm a bit and give the arm a whack with a mallet. Not too hard -- if you've used the Spreader Tool properly, the strut should fairly easily come loose.

    Treat your thumb nice and it'll reward you by not getting all purple and bleeding.


  9. Lower the floor jack further, until you can remove strut from the mount.

  10. Ok, time to take the strut out -- pop the hood, and remove the strut cap. You should see the 21mm outer nut, as pictured.

  11. You have several options for getting this 21mm nut off. The difficulty with this step lies with the fact that a simple socket won’t work here because the entire strut (including the stop plate) will rotate if you just try to pop it off with a standard 21mm socket. There are three options here, as indicated in the above tools section:

    1. An impact gun. One or two blips with an air-powered impact gun will do the trick. This is probably the easiest (but most expensive) way to get this done. I couldn’t convince myself to blow $500 on a set of air tools for this one job, however, so I didn’t do this.

    2. There’s a part from Potterman’s ( called the "Strut Nut Tool (Top)". It looks like this:

      It’s basically a 21mm socket with a hole through the middle for you to stick an allen wrench into the strut, and a nice hex-shaped portion for you to grab with your favorite torque-inducing object (i.e. pliers/vice grips/adjustable wrench). This allen wrench sticks into the middle of the strut, and can be used to hold the whole unit while you loosen the nut. Note that the average 13/16 spark plug socket may work for this purpose as well if you can’t get a hold of the special tool.

    3. This is the method I used: There's a German tool manufacturer called Stahlwille that makes a set of 60-degree deep-offset wrenches. These wrenches in particular happen to be the right size/angle to fit into the well around the top nut and can be used quite successfully to get it off in combination with an allen wrench. Someone suggested this method to me, so this is why I did it. Part #s can be found above.

  12. Once the stop plate is off, you can then lower the floor jack below (see? told you it would be a good idea to use one...) and take out the entire strut assembly.

    My, what a big....shock've got there.

  13. Since I only purchased new Upper Strut Mounts and didn't get new Upper Strut Bearings (yet), I needed to take apart the old strut assembly to re-use some parts. The next few steps are only necessary if you need to those two parts. Attach the spring compressor.

  14. With the spring compressor attached, you can safely remove the inner top strut nut. NOTE: Only do this when you're sure you've properly attached the spring compressor. Otherwise, you risk sending a very powerful spring into your face/fingers/etc. This will hurt more than you can imagine. The inner nut is a bit of a pain to get out, because the Stahlwille wrench doesn't quite fit inside the rubber strut mount (it's a hair too wide). So your best bet for this step is either to use your own spring compressor, use the Potterman tool / sparkplug tool, or to do what I did which was to take the whole thing to your friendly neighborhood gas station and ask the guys there for a quick "blip" from their air gun. This worked very well. Once the nut is off, everything comes out pretty easily.

  15. The parts you see above are, from bottom to top, the shock, the spring+compressor, the spring plate, an aluminum spacer, the upper strut bearing, and the upper strut mount. NOTE: This aluminum spacer is a bit of a mystery to me. The Bentley makes no mention of it, nor did any other how-to I found on the net. The only mention I could find of this piece was on some random thread on, where half the people said to re-use it and the other half said not to re-use it. So I don't know what to say. I re-used it, and I haven't had any problems.

    Update: The aluminum spacer seems to be not a great idea, as it prevents full tightening of the inner nut and has lead to cracking of the upper strut bearing. I'd suggest leaving it out, however you may find a gap exists between the top stop plate and the frame of the car once everything has been reassembled. From everything I've read, this is normal and isn't bad.

  16. Now it's time for the fun part -- to assemble your coilovers! Take all the parts out of the box and make sure you have everything shown below (for each side). The pieces are, from left to right and top to bottom: 22mm (NOTE: not a direct replacement, as the OEM part is 21mm) outer nut, spring plate, helper spring, separator thingy, dust cover, main spring, and, of course, the coilover body.

  17. The first step is to make sure you're properly lubed up (isn't it always?). Since you're probably going to be adjusting the height of these things, it's best to coat the threaded body with some anti-seize lubricant to make your life easier. Remember, these things are going to faced with salt, water, dirt, etc., so keeping things greased can always help. I applied it by moving the two height-adjustment pieces to opposite ends of the body, applying a thin layer of grease, and spinning one piece to the other side.

    "Lunchlady Doris, have ye got any grease?"
    "Yes, yes we do."
    "Then grease me up, woman!!"

  18. It's easiest to assemble the pieces if you set the coilover to its lowest possible setting (all the way down). Put on the dust boot, the helper spring, the separator thingy, the upper spring, the new spring plate, the aluminum spacer, and the strut bearing, in that order.

  19. Then, place the upper strut mount on, attach the old 21mm inner nut, tighten to 44-ft-lb (as the Bentley suggests) and LISTEN IN HORROR AS YOU HEAR YOUR $^%@%$! UPPER STRUT BEARING CRACK INTO MANY PIECES.

    Broken upper strut bearing from over-tightening the inner nut. See the little hairline fractures? Those suck.

  20. Ok, so the lesson here is that the Bentley's suggestion of 44ft-lbs is wrong when dealing with a new suspension setup. Use a torque wrench, and tighten to something less than 44ft-lbs (I'd suggest 30 - 35, but I don't have an exact number).

    Update: Someone very wisely pointed out that the reason 44 ft-lbs cracked the bearing is the presence of the aluminum spacer. Supposedly if you don't have the spacer there, you should be fine to tighten to full torque spec and all should be well. Duly noted.

    Properly done with a new upper strut bearing (not shown) and the upper strut mount installed.

  21. Once you've got the whole thing assembled, it's time to install this puppy back in the car. I chose to raise the height from the lowest position to the highest position, so that I could then lower the car as desired (I didn't know how low I wanted to go, so I figured I'd start high and work my way down.)

  22. The first problem I ran into was the discovery that the H&R coilover body is a hair thicker than the stock strut. This means that with the spreader tool still in place, the coilover won't seat properly in the strut mount.

    Note the 2mm of visible gap where it's seated

  23. What I needed was a way of getting the spreader tool to spread just a bit more. The solution I settled on was to a) insert the coilover as far as it can go, b) remove the spreader tool, and c) wedge a nickel in between the spreader tool and the lower strut mount to get that extra few mm of spreadage. This worked, and the coilover popped right in.

    No more gap. Note the unit is set to maximum height.

  24. With the coilover properly seated, install the lower strut mounting bolt and tighten the nut to 44 ft-lbs + 1/4 turn.

  25. Raise the floor jack and guide the coilover into position up top.

  26. Attach the stop plate and new (included with the coilovers) 22mm outer nut. Tighten to 44 ft-lbs using either the Stahlwille wrenches, the Potterman tool, or very carefully using an impact gun.

  27. Re-attach the wheel, and voila...all done with this side. Take note of the drop, and adjust to suit. When it's at a height you like, take care to accurately measure the thread so you can adjust the other side to the same height on the first go.

Passenger's Side:

This side is similar, but one part makes it significantly more complicated. That is, that just jacking up the car and taking off the wheel does not give you enough clearance to pull out the stock assembly like on the driver's side. There are three ways (that I know of) to go about doing this:

    1. "Lower the subframe" -- this is the most commonly talked-about method, but to be honest, I couldn't find one good description of exactly what needs to be done to accomplish this. I've seen mention of removing the four "subframe bolts" but I don't know which bolts people are referring to. So I'm no help on this one. Obviously, this is not the method I used.
    2. Detach the right side drive axle -- this is the method the Bentley uses to remove the stock suspension. It involves getting way under the car and detaching the drive axle from the transmission drive flange, and involves taking out several 12-point bolts (this requires a special tool). Since I had neither the special tool nor the desire to mess with my drive axle, I didn't do this either.
    3. Make your own space -- this is what I did. It involves compressing the spring whilst still installed and using that to get some leverage. I like this method, as it doesn't involve messing with the rest of the car and does the double job of taking apart the old assembly at the same time.

The steps are as follows:

  1. Repeat steps 1 - 5 above.
  2. With your adjustable jack placed under the control arm (as on the other side), jack up the control arm so that the spring becomes compressed.
  3. Now, attach the spring compressor to the already compressed spring and tighten. This will hold the spring in place. This may be a bit tricky, as the spring compressor might be a tight fit (you may have to install it upside down depending on what model you have).

    Update: Nick Lehmann (nice last name, eh?) was kind enough to send me a picture of the above step as he was completing his suspension install:

  4. With the spring nicely compressed, follow steps 6 - 8 above.
  5. The strut should be loose -- but not out of the assembly. Now, jump to step 10 and do that and step 11.
  6. You should now be in a situation where the strut is detached from the top and loose from the lower strut mount. Don't lower your jack quite yet. Next thing you'll do is perform step 14 while the strut is still in the car.
  7. Once the inner nut is removed, you should be able to remove all the "extra stuff" (i.e. bearing, spacer, spring plate). That, or it'll just fall down, which is fine.
  8. Now, lower your jack to let the control arm go as low as possible.
  9. As you'll see, you have some leverage now. If you lower the strut back into the spread-apart lower mount, you should be able to angle it such that you can pull the whole thing out.
  10. Continue with steps 16 - 27 as above.

Once you've completed installation of the fronts, congratulations! The hardest part is done. Now on to the easy stuff.

Part II - The Rear

Both sides are pretty much the same here, with one slightly annoying exception on the passenger's side, which I pointed out.

  1. Ok let's get started. First, jack up both sides, remove the wheels, and put the car on jackstands. Note that I did this a little differently in my pics (i.e. the wheel's still on and no jackstand) but I discovered that wasn't necessary, even though the Bentley says it was. Just follow along. NOTE: It is important to make sure that you have both sides jacked up when you do this, otherwise you'll meet incredible frustration (like I did) when you can't seem to figure out why you can't get the spring out.

  2. On the passenger's side there's this really annoying dust liner that's positioned JUST so as to block your being able to get the upper shock bolt out. Unless you have an impact gun, you'll need to remove this liner (a bunch of Torx screws).

    Update: Several folks have reported that the liner doesn't seem to be a problem on some Golfs/GTIs and on later-model (i.e. 2002) Jettas.
  3. Optional -- because I had to go back in several times, this liner became a real PITA. So I just cut out the part the blocks the bolts so in the future, I can just rip right in.

    See? It fit good now.

  4. Place your floor jack under the rear control arm and jack it up so that the spring's compressed slightly.

  5. Now, remove the two 16mm upper shock bolts.

  6. Once these are removed, slowly lower the jack. The shock should come down nice and easily, and the spring should pop (fall) right out.

  7. Next, remove the lower shock mounting screw and bolt, using your 16mm open-ended wrench to counter-hold, and remove the shock.

  8. You'll need to reuse a few pieces from the OEM shock/spring, namely the upper shock mount and dustboot (from the shock) and the bumpstop (plastic thing on top of the spring, above).

  9. To remove the upper shock mount, use a combination of a 16mm open-ended wrench (no need for deep offset here) and a pair of vicegrips, similar to the technique used on the front.

  10. Once it's removed, re-install the shock mount and dustboot on your new H&R shock, using the included replacement 16mm bolt.

  11. Now, on to the rear height-adjustment perches. These things are a bit odd to figure out if you've never seen them before, but you actually have top disassemble them and "sandwich" the rear spring mounting point on the car. To disassemble the perches, you'll need to first remove a small metal retaining clip (that keeps them from completely unscrewing).

  12. Like the fronts, grease up the rear perches with anti-seize, and install as pictured.

  13. Be sure to tighten the locking rings on the adjustment perch to squeeze the control arm. Note, this is different from the front -- you don't actually touch the rings to adjust the height on the rear. Rather, this can be done by sticking an allen wrench in the bottom of the perch and rotating the center piece directly. On my setup, however, the spring had a grippy piece of rubber around the bottom, making turning the unit very difficult without actually removing the spring. I haven't quite figured out how to get around this, but then again I found the ideal drop and aren't planning on changing it.

  14. Like the front, take note of the amount of thread on the adjustment perch when you've gotten it to a height you like. Make sure to adjust the other side to the same height to keep things even.

  15. While this side is still detached, now would be a good time to perform steps 1 - 13 on the other side. If you reinstall the new shock and attach it to the upper shock mounting bolts, you'll find yourself unable to remove the stock spring from the other side.

  16. Install the shock, attach the lower shock mounting bolt + nut, and tighten it up (44 ft-lbs).

  17. Now perform steps 1 - 15 on the other side.

  18. Once both sets of shocks and springs are installed, jack up each side and line up the upper shock bolts. Install these and tighten to 55 ft-lbs.

  19. Double-check all your work, put your wheels back on, lower the car, and take a look. This is where the anal part comes, and you get to figure out how much drop on each side you want. Note that on my setup, even with the rear perches set to the exact same height, my left side was 1cm higher than the right. Some said this is due to compensation for driver weight, others say this is just the way the car works out. If you're feeling very anal, you can adjust the heights to be dead-on equal.

  20. You are now DONE!!! Congratulations. Go for your maiden voyage, and be sure not to drool on yourself when you start grinning. :)