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Sat Jul 23, 2005
This is another background post, regarding our "new" 1996 Golf. This black beauty came from LaPlata, MD (just a few miles from the Maryland/Virginia border), the previous owner was getting rid of it for a song because it had issues he didn't want to deal with. Those issues were, primarily, brake fluid leak, wheel bearing noise, and of course the "check engine" light was on. My father and I have done crazier things than drive to southern Maryland, buy a car, and tow it back all in the same day... I just can't remember any offhand.

We rolled into LaPlata a little before 6:00am after driving all night, and by 9-ish we were back on the road with the Golf in tow. Before too long, we had an incident with a truck driver honking crazily at us and trying to catch our attention with excited gestures. So we pulled onto the side of the highway and inspected things - turned out the rear drivers' side wheel bearing was loose. We limped to the next exit, found an empty parking lot, removed the wheel, and tightened the bearing a whole bunch. That would be the source of the bearing noise the previous owner was complaining about. I think when that bearing was installed one (or both) of the outer races didn't get pressed completely into place, and as the car was driven they slowly seated themselves, leading to excessive play. At any rate, we completed the rest of the journey without incident.

I'll post pics of the car later, but she's definitely a looker - especially for a 4 door. No rust (gotta love those southern cars), good original paint, and fewer-than-usual dings.

The problem with the brakes, which the previous owner had supposed was a bad master cylinder, turned out to be an external fluid leak at the passenger side rear wheel cylinder. It was leaking so badly that brake fluid peed out everywhere when I removed the drum. The cylinder on the driver side was beginning to leak as well. I replaced both rear wheel cylinders, as well as the master cylinder (I had already ordered it, and the old one will come in handy the next time I need to do a big brake conversion on a Rabbit) and both of the flexible, rubber brakelines up front that attach to the calipers. I replaced them with braided stainless steel lines to tighten up the brake pedal feel that little extra bit. I bled the brakes using an el-cheapo one man brake bleeder that seemed to work okay, but there's still a little air in the lines so I'm going to pressure bleed them.

The next issue to tackle was the check engine light. My dad and I use the Ross-Tech vag-com software to interface with our Volkswagen ECUs, so I fired up the little orange laptop and took a look at which DTCs (Diagnostic Trouble Codes) were active. Of course, being an A3 Volkswagen, it was: G40 (Camshaft Position Sensor, Implausible Signal). In english, that means "someone didn't know how to do the timing on this vehicle". After a couple of attempts at setting the valvetrain-to-crankshaft-to-intermediate timing, I got it right on the money and the ECU was happy again (no more check engine light).

After clearing the DTCs (necessary to shut the check engine light off in this case), the "Readiness Codes" also get reset. I could write a whole book on readiness codes, but they're basically a bunch of TRUE/FALSE conditions that all OBD-II (1996 and newer) vehicles store in their ECU. They are all directly related to emissions equipment on the vehicle (evaporative emissions system, catalytic converter, oxygen sensors, etc) and all of them must be TRUE (or READY) in order for the vehicle to pass New Hampshire state inspection. So at this point, all of my readiness codes were FALSE (NOT READY). There are a series of procedures that can be performed to enable the readiness codes one-by-one (these procedures vary depending on the vehicle), or it can be done by simply driving the car under all possible driving conditions for several days. So what I found while trying to enable these codes on our new Golf is that a few of them were failing. After a lot of hassle and troubleshooting, I found that the ECU is reporting a rich condition under some of the "driving conditions" and that is keeping some of the readiness codes from being set. I suspect a spark issue based on the car not starting a couple of times after it had rained, and poor throttle response under most conditions (I think all of my cars have had ignition issues at one time or another).

Along the way, I also replaced the front struts and strut mounts, as well as the exhaust. For the exhaust I went with a cat-back system from Neuspeed... yes, the stainless one. You've probably seen it - it looks pretty hot on an A3 Golf, with those dual up-swept outlets. I opted for the version with two mufflers and one resonator, just like the stock system. I didn't want this to be a loud car, but I didn't want it to sound stock either. The sound, I must say, is impeccable. Very subdued, but deep and a little bit throaty at the same time. It's the polar opposite of my obnoxious sounding little A2. On a related note, I was very impressed with the quality of the Neuspeed system. The welds were top quality, and the over-axle pipe mated to the front pipe using a flange rather than the usual slip-over connection. The clamp for joining the front pipe to the catalytic converter was also top quality. The fit was superb, and it was a breeze to install.

So, all in all I'm feeling great about this little car. I'm really excited to get it through inspection and have Claire (my wonderful wife) start driving it on a daily basis.

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Date: 05/07/08, 02:00:08 PDT
From: Anthony
Comments: I've performed conrod bearing replacement procedures bofore, but I have a question about the top part of the main engine bearings. How did you remove and install them? Thanks for letting me know.
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