1991 VW Jetta – parts 2 and 3

It has been since September since we wrote about this project car.  Such is the reality of having a budget and a car that is over fifteen years of age.

The new wheels and tires went on and they made the car look fantastic.  The wider rubber also improved the handling and braking – up to a point.  With the age and miles that his car carries the improved traction made it clear that suspension maintenance was in order.


We chose  H&R’s Sport suspension that replaced both the springs and struts as a package.  This would lower the car some, but not in a bad way.

The strut bearings for the front of the car were in dire need of replacing as well as the strut bushings at the rear strut towers.  We could have replaced them with some new ones or else installed some performance aftermarket version.  Instead we picked up some Corrado versions that bolted right up but provided heavy duty performance at a fraction of the cost of aftermarket. 

With the new suspension in place it was time to get it aligned.  More bad news to the budget.  The ball joints on the front end were worn and the outer tie rod ends were just about shot.  We were lucky that the inner tie rod ends didn’t need to be replaced.  Since this car has rack and pinion steering that would have meant a special tool to remove them as well as replacing the boots on the rack. 

The ball joints on the front end were fairly simple to replace.  Three bolts held them to the suspension arm and a single clamping bolt fixed it to the lower strut.  Jake picked up some cam-style bolts for the struts so we could adjust the camber with the new struts and springs.

H&R makes a great set up for the street with the springs and struts as a complete solution so it was off to get it aligned.  We chose to keep in mind that this was a street vehicle and kept the front negative camber to one degree and the rear to about one and a half degree of negative camber.  Toe was set as close to zero as possible for both the front and the rear. 

A lot of people get concerned that negative camber will result in unacceptable tire wear.  If you keep zero toe it should not be a problem.  Non-zero toe will wear your tires fast.

Now everything was all set, right?  Well, no, not quite.  Again we had to face the reality of age and high mileage.  The wheel bearings were irritating every dog in the neighborhood with the squealing.  The rears are not hard to do and since the brakes also needed to be replaced it was all part of the deal.


The brakes were not too bad.  At least they didn’t seem to be a big problem until we decided to refresh the brake fluid (which looked as dark as coffee).  We put the Jetta up on the lift and started our bleeding from the passenger side rear caliper only to find that the bleeder screw broke right off.  So we skipped that one and bled all the other calipers.  It was clear, though, that we had to budget in new rear calipers, new rotors all around, and fresh pads.

That was a big impact to the budget especially when you figured in the new wheel bearings front and rear.  While Jake saved up for the brake parts he shopped around for a good deal on replacement bearings.  While the rear bearings would be relatively easy to do as part of the new rear rotors, the front bearings were another animal.  Jake found someone with the tool that would press out the old bearings as well as press in the new. 

The rear brakes required new calipers, so before they were installed the new ones were cleaned of grease and oil and painted a nice red with VHT caliper paint.  Jake also decided to get a set of Speed Bleeders to fit all four calipers.  This was a great idea as it meant that he could bleed the brakes even if no one was around to help him.


The rear brakes also needed the emergency brake cable replaced.  The original one had stretched.  After that was replaced, on went the new rotors with new wheel bearings and nice bright red calipers with new Metal Master brake pads.

The front hubs received the new wheel bearings and those calipers were cleaned and painted with the same red VHT caliper paint.  The new rotors were installed, the calipers loaded with the new pads, and Speed Bleeders.   Now would have been a great time to replace the flexible brake lines with braided stainless steel lines, but the budget had already grown much larger than planned.

Jake found a bargain on a front strut tower brace and Jim’s Garage threw in a replacement steering wheel.  Since the budget was already strained he didn’t opt for slotted or drilled rotors or even rotors that had a cadmium wash applied.  So being the resourceful guy that he is Jake cleaned the brake disk hats and painted them with silver VHT caliper paint.  It looks good, takes the heat, and doesn’t rust.


This has been a fun project car even though it has meant a huge strain on a budget that never assumed so much maintenance would be required.  Something to keep in mind if you start on a car with substancial amount of miles and years under its belt.

Jake is really enjoying this car.  The handling is now way above what the new stock Jetta provided.  He is contemplating just how far he can take this VW classic.

Another great project at Jim’s Garage.

This entry was posted in Automobiles, Car Stuff, Care and Feeding, Cars, Life and Cars, Modifying Cars, Suspensions. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to 1991 VW Jetta – parts 2 and 3

  1. Tim Supples says:

    Looks like a fun package Jim. We’ll be down that road sometime with the 92 Camaro. Needs a brake overhaul, wheel bearings, and some MORE front suspension bits. We already replaced front struts, sway bushings/end links, and a couple steering pieces (I think it was inner/outer tire rod ends & sleeves), but there is still a lot of play in the steering wheel and a nice popping noise under the right driving/turning conditions.

    Don’t even get me started on the slipping transmission and how the engine stalls randomly when you change the gear shifter (D to R or N, etc).

  2. Jake says:

    Great write-up! How can I get some of those pictures? 😉

  3. Noel says:

    I’ll be doing some of this stuff this summer. My ’96 Saab 9000 is due for struts and shocks and one of the best deals in Saab land is the Sachs Sport Chassis kit. It comes complete with new front struts and springs (assembled), new rear springs and shocks, and some assorted bushings. These are the same components that come on Saab’s Aero version of the car, so they are a slightly higher rate spring, but also shorter, so the car is dropped about 10mm. And it’s actually LESS expensive than buying the shocks and strut inserts, and a much faster job than having to replace the inserts up front.

    The front will be easy–just remove the old struts and put on the new ones–five bolts on each side. The rear is hard because the bolts holding the rear anti-roll bar to the bottom of the shock tend to weld themselves to the shock with age. The spring is separate and just needs to be compressed.

    I’m traveling a lot until mid-June, so this won’t happen until summer. Will do ball joints and tie rod ends at the same time. Already did the critical suspension bushings.

  4. It seems lots of fun. Interesting story, very detailed. The Volkswagen Passat is one the most famous model from VW. Aside from its stunning exterior looks, it also has a top-rate VW passat parts. It will give its best performance if the owner will have a regular checkup on its parts and ensure that it is in good condition.

  5. Nice wheels, I have a similar type on mk MK2 Golf 😀

  6. jblaha says:

    This is great. I have a ’91 VW Jetta GL that I bought and use everyday. As things come up, I get to fix them. This website might come in handy for it. Thanks.

  7. kitui says:


    that looks nice! Couldn’t help but notice the strut bar which looks very pretty..your fuel distributor is aluminium is it original or did you change it? on mine its Cast iron and misbehaves a bit on rough roads..but the problem clears with a on-off of the ignition..about camber.. how do you adjust without the optical/laser gauges I feel mine is off and it already showing on the tyre..

  8. Jake says:

    The strut bar is aluminum piece from Autotech. I don’t think it’s available any longer but you can find them if you hunt around.
    The fuel distributer on this 16v is stock part and it is aluminum. I’ve never seen one made in cast iron and I believe all US MK1’s and MK2’s with CIS, CIS-E, and Motronic are the same way.
    The alignment was done at a reputable shop nearby. Nice part is you only have to have the front end aligned. The rear is not adjustable unless you install alignment shims and is almost never needed.

  9. Tim says:

    I own this car (91 Jetta) and have had a love/hate relationship with it! I bought it 2 years ago for $2500 with 68000 miles! I’m no one’s mechanic, and I am at a point where I need to decide to sink some $$ and effort into it or get something new. I love the performance of this car, but it does seem to be in the shop every few months. Fortunately, it’s never had engine issues. Do you think rehabbing this car would be a good learning project for an intelligent novice?

  10. jimsgarage says:

    Cars of this vintage are great learning vehicles for a couple of reasons and tough for some of the same reasons. One is that recycling yards still have lots to pick from. I hope you have found VW Vortex (http://www.vwvortex.com/) as a resource. There you will find such gems as how you can use Corrado brakes to upgrade the car and where some parts resources are. Another “bad” is that while they have fuel injection they are still early OBD (on board diagnostics) which can be a bear to diagnose as there was no standard for ODB until OBDII in 1997 and above (even that is debatable).

    I guess the best thing to do is an inventory of what should be done, what must be done, and what you would like to do (usually modifications) to this car of yours. Then prioritize and budget. When you are done you can figure out what the balance is between what you can afford and what you will gain in terms of a real learning experience.

    Hope that helps.


  11. Bebo says:

    Those alloy wheels look cool.

  12. jimsgarage says:

    I agree Bebo. The nice thing was that they were not that expensive. We searched on Tire Rack (http://www.tirerack.com) and found them for an excellent price as well as a set of tires. So they showed up mounted, ballanced and ready to bolt on.

  13. tom says:

    How could I talk with the fellow thats working and upgrading the 91 Jetta? I have a similar car and I’m hoping to upgrade the suspension and performance aspects of the car. I was hoping for some suggestions on where I should start and what brand of products to go with.

  14. jimsgarage says:

    I’ll forward your request to Jake and hopefully he can get in touch with you soon.

  15. mo says:

    hi my name is mo im in the suspension game ineed to know wat spare u have for a jetta 2

  16. jimsgarage says:

    Mo –

    You might notice that I put a great deal of effort in how I use the English language to express myself. It actually helps the reader to understand you. Please try it yourself and I think you will become far more sucessful in communicating.


  17. tshuey says:

    Hi Jim, My name is Tom. I just got a 1991 Jetta GLI 2.0 16V for $350.00 it has 199500 miles on it. Although the high mileage this car is in really great shape! No rust anywhere and no body damage at all , the interior is also like new. The first thing I did was get a bentley manual. I knew the cars history and the past owner kept very good service on it. Unfortunately it sat for four years before he sold it to me. And in that time the groundhogs had a good time in the engine compartment chewing on what seemed like every wire and vacuum line. Well it is now a month later and she purrs like a kitten,everything works fine. I have installed new cv boots, master cylinder, new set of hankook ventus 2 195/50/15 on the existing Borbet rims, all new belts including timing and new pulley.have yet to put newer injector lines off an audi ,new shifter linkage and get the cruse control working. put a charge on the AC and it will freeze you out. looking to do some suspension work like new bushings all the way around and motor mounts.the next thing on the lift is my 1988 Bronco II . A 5.0 conversion is in the works for that . Well your ear is surly bleeding by now . Thanks Tom Schumacher

    • jimsgarage says:

      Tom –

      Sounds like you are having a wonderful time. The VW is a great car and you have certainly done your share of work to get it to that level. What fun!

      And now a Bronco!

      If you have read some of my later posts you will find that I spent a great deal of time getting a ’96 Miata in condition to take to a road racing track. Cars can be such fun.

      Thank you very much for sharing.



      • tshuey says:

        Jim, Thanks! It seems that everything I own I tinker with,I also have a collection of old XS650 Yamaha’s four of them to be exact. anyway thanks. Tom

  18. tshuey says:

    Hi Jim, This is Tom with the 91 jetta. where might I get air conditioner parts for my 91 Jetta GLI? Had a big cloud of smoke in the engine compartment yesterday, It was the air conditioner, it sprang a leak some where. I’m pretty sure it was a hose. can’t find any hoses on my computer. Might you know where to get new ones??? thanks Tom

    • jimsgarage says:

      Tom –
      I have consulted with some others on this and here is what I think…
      You should be able to find a place in your area that make up hydraulic lines and high presure hoses for heavy equipment that can duplicate the hoses for you. It is likely that you will have to also replace the receiver/dryer and as things come apart you should replace all the o-rings at all the connections. Your best source for these parts is http://www.germanautoparts.com. Expensive but important items to replace and German Auto Parts has the correct stuff.

      If you are planning on doing the work yourself you can rent the vacuum pump and gauges from an Auto Zone hub store. Otherwise find someone competent in A/C work. You will end up converting to R134a.

      Hpoe that helps.


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