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Every owner has a "Passaga", or two, or three. Here is my latest.

My high-mileage '02 1.8T, 5-speed sedan had developed a pronounced clunking/rattling noise and feel over road bumps. It was most apparent when hitting sharp road joints or large pavement cracks. There was no creaking noise, as many others have reported when going over speed bumps. More of a "thudding" noise and feel, accompanied by the rattling sound. The car has 293,000 miles, with mostly OEM suspension parts, so several parts were suspect. I've been driving the car more recently and it was really starting to bug me, so I decided to dig in. Here are all the details:

Step 1: Control Arm Kit (5 hours) - About 7 years ago, I had bought this kit on sale from FCP Euro for $230, figuring I would need it eventually. Came with uppers, lowers, sway bar links and outer tie rod ends (TRE). Found that 3 of the 8 arms had sloppy end joints. All of the rubber dampers seemed to still be in good condition. Afterwards, the only noticeable change was in the steering. It felt a bit tighter is all.

Step 2: Front Wheel Bearings (1.5 hours) - I knew it was a long-shot, but I figured after 293k they were probably due. Usually wheel bearings groan, whir or hum at speed, but I read that they can produce a clunk in some cases. The new National bearings cost $137 for the pair and I had a local shop cut the old outer race from the axle and press in the new bearings for $100. There was evidence of wear but no damage or look of imminent failure. Afterwards I could not detect any difference in feel or noises, but did notice the slightest increase in rolling resistance when coasting in neutral.

Step 3: Steering Rack (5 hours) - At this point I went back and disconnected the outer TREs and detected some give when I pushed and pulled on the ends. I initially thought this was a sign of worn inner TREs, but when I go the boots off them I found this was not the case. They moved around in a full circle very easily but there was no lateral movement at all. Removing them from the steering rack further confirmed this. So the movement I was feeling was actually coming from inside the steering rack itself. Ordered a rebuilt rack from RockAuto for $223. Installed the rack (which came with new inner TREs), with new fluid. Afterwards, the clunking sound and thudding feel was gone and the steering was much tighter feeling. The higher pitched rattling was still there however and the steering wheel is now off a couple of degrees at center, so I still have to pop the wheel off at some point and move it one spline.

Step 4: Shock Absorbers (3.5 hours) - Way back at 130,000 miles I had put on a set of four, H & R OE sport springs and Bilstein sport shocks, so no doubt the shocks were overdue for replacement. Ordered a new set for $253.73. I found that after 163,000 miles one of the fronts was near dead and one of the rears was dead. Afterwards the rattle was gone! Ahhh silence! Had a front alignment done for $83. Rides like a new car again, smooth, tight and quiet. Could not ask for better.

Total cost for everything was just a shade over $1,000, and I put 14 - 16 hours of work into it over the course of about 3 weeks. Some may question my methodology of the parts shotgun and would have spent more time targeting just the offending part(s), but with almost 300,000 miles and the idea that I am going to keep this car for a long time (forever?), I couldn't really go wrong with any parts replacement. Aside from the shocks and springs, the only parts I had previously replaced were the outer TREs. The suspension should be good for another 100,000 miles+ now and I figure that even an indie shop would have charged $3,000 or more for all this work (maybe $2,500 if they have done it all at once).

Maybe this information will help someone in their own diagnosis.
 
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