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Vehicle Ride Height and Drive Axles: The Whole Story

We recommend reading this article before purchasing any GoWesty suspension-altering products!

VW produced the Vanagon and Eurovan in many static ride heights. A good example of this is a Vanagon Carat compared to a regular GL 7-passenger van. These two models are the same vehicle—one just sits quite a bit higher than the other! Clearly, this was by design, and VW knows what they are doing. If you were to park a Carat and a GL next to one another—both with 150,000 miles—and you did nothing more than swap the axles, you would expect no problems, right? After all, the axles are the exact same part number. What you'd get, though, would be noise, vibration, and possibly a CV and/or CV boot failure. 

The drive axles on Vanagons and Eurovans are simply a solid shaft with an inner and outer constant velocity (CV) joint at each end. The inner CV joint is attached to the transaxle, and the outer one is attached to the drive wheel. As the vehicle goes over bumps on the road, the wheel moves up and down relative to the transaxle, and the CV joint allows for changing angles between the axle shaft and the transaxle or wheel (at either end). But most of the time the vehicle is driving down the road, there is little to no movement between the wheels and transaxle, and the CV joints just go along for the ride. In doing so, a distinct wear pattern is created between the internal balls and races of the CV joint. 

Thus, when you take the axles from two vehicles that have been sitting (and driving) at different heights, you necessarily move the CV joints to a different position from where they were operating. This can create havoc with the internal balls and races under the right circumstances. The bottom line is this: If you change the ride height of your vehicle, you need to be prepared to deal with axle issues. 

Solutions:

• Rebuilt axles: The most common solution is to replace the axles with a set of rebuilt axles. The problem with this approach is that "rebuilt" can mean anything from simply re-greased to completely all-new CV joints and boots. If you get the former, you can expect the same axle issues. If you get all-new CV joints, the problem is solved. 

• Swapping axles side to side: Some smart mechanics have noticed that CV joints only wear in one direction. You can simply put the right CV joints on the left side and vice versa—and they will, indeed, wear in the opposite direction. On Vanagons with a manual transaxle, this is as easy as swapping the axle assemblies from left to right. But on Vanagons with automatic transaxle—and all Eurovans, where the axles are not the same left/right—the CV joints have to be removed from the axles and swapped. Given the time involved, it's usually best to simply replace all CV joints and boots with brand-new parts. 

You might be thinking, "But the GoWesty lifting kit has not only lifted my vehicle, but it has also increased the total travel and, therefore, the angles my axles have to cover... which can be beyond what they were designed to do." This is a common misunderstanding that we hear pretty frequently. The fact is that it is the shock absorber that limits the total amount the wheel can move relative to the body, so our lifting products do not subject the axles to any more articulation than they were designed to work with from the factory.

The one exception is a Syncro with 2" lifting springs and Fox shocks—we have designed that shock to allow the wheels to drop 1" more than VW originally intended. Of course, if you are installing this combo in your Syncro, you are probably planning to subject the entire vehicle to well beyond what VW ever envisioned... and it's time to pony up for some heavy-duty 930 axles!



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