Vanagon – syncro front spring removal without spring compressor

The other day while replacing the upper control arm bushings on the van I wondered if the spring could be removed without using a spring compressor (Bentley shows compressor being used). I asked on the Yahoo syncro group and a couple of listmembers said it could be done, and they have done it. So today I had a go at it, and at the same time try out the spring spacer I made.

I have to warn you, while this procedure does not expose you to the same dangers as using a compressor , there are dangers to life and limb. That might sound like hyperbole but it isn’t. Please take care if you do what I am about to describe, take it slow, think, be cautious.

Also, what will be described was done on a van with stock springs and with a modest spring spacer. I do not think that it will work with longer springs or thick spacers.

Ok, on with the show. Van jacked up and supported by some solid 8X8 shorts, wheel off, sway bar drop link disconnected, radius rod/arm removed (inner adjusting nut not moved). The lower shock bolt loosened (22 mm socket).

Upper ball joint disconnected, those 2 socket cap bolts.

At this point I was not sure how this was all going to work, seemed like the spring perch would hit drive shaft.

Plastic cap removed from shock shaft end, 17 mm nut loosened but not removed.

Bottle jack supporting shock through hole in lower control arm.

Shock bolt was driven out easily.

And look at how clean that bolt is. I’m lucky, while I have some nasty rust on body, most if not all of the “mechanicals” are in great shape.

When the bolt was driven out and the bottle jack released, the lower control arm fell down. I did not expect this, of course in hindsight I should have.

The 17 mm nut was removed from top of shock and then shock and spring fell out.

Slight digression here, comparing the orange spring (2 white stripe code) from my ’82 diesel westy with the newly removed syncro spring. 20 mm difference between them. Confirms IG16 Wiki data.

And what do you know? The spring pads are different after all. Same part number (although writing this now I recall the syncro spring pad part number has an “A” suffix).

Shock fully extended with syncro spring.

Shock fully extended with orange spring. I would say a shock shaft extension would be need to use this spring in the syncro.

Side by side comparison.

I had to make some slight adjustment to the collar of my spring pad spacer to make it fit the syncro spring pad. Needed to reduce collar diameter a few millimetres

My T-handled tool in through access hole under seat to engage and guide shock shaft up through hole in shock tower.

The shock spring combo needed to be drawn inward to allow shock shaft to go up through hole in tower. I used a ratchet strap.

Here it comes, I’m using the bottle jack to push against the bottom of the shock. Lower shock bolt is installed.

You have to guide the shaft so that the step on the shaft does not get caught on edge of hole.

There you go, installed with spacer. You can see “shadow” line on spring pad that shows how much was in tower without the spacer. I did not re-attach sway bar or radius rod, but did put on wheel and drop van to ground. I bounced van as best I could and measured hub to fender distance. It looks like the spacer did the trick, now 19.25″ at front, 19.125″ at rear. Very preliminary measurement, probably will be a little different after driving.

So then I took it all apart again and removed spacer. I only have one spacer made, but the exercise was worthwhile – I can remove spring without a compressor and I refined my spacer to fit right.

And a bonus, I think I found my pesky squeak – it might be the bushing between sway bar drop link and the sway bar. I had made my own bushings from polyurethane skate board wheels, I greased them during this work and now squeak is gone.


  1. #1 by Burley on July 19, 2012 - 6:34 pm

    Nice Job Alistair , you are a great asset to all of us with the step by step how to’s and showing the installations all can be done with a basic set of tools using the proper know how that you share.
    I like seeing how much you enjoy doing this too. Keep up the good works and please keep sharing with us.
    PS: I really like the red upper control arms, the red looks classy . Cheers Burley

    • #2 by albell on July 19, 2012 - 6:46 pm

      thanks Burl.

      I hope I made it clear that I do not know, but suspect, that the procedure would not work (or at the best be difficult) with longer springs. As is, my spacer made things just a little bit more difficult.

      I’m a sucker for painting parts, but the UCA was painted poorly. Single coat and not hard before re-install. Typical πŸ™‚

      Again, thanks for the kind words,



  2. #3 by famillysyncro on July 19, 2012 - 8:26 pm


    Thanks again for doing this right ahead of me.
    I let you know if it could be done with a longer spring, I have those GW +2″ on the van and I’ll certainly work on it this weekend.
    But as you were able to get the stock spring and your spacer, I am not too worry about it.


    • #4 by albell on July 20, 2012 - 8:14 am


      I’ll be interested to hear how it goes. It might be tight, might be a bit of a struggle πŸ™‚

      Can you measure the overall length of the GW +2″ spring for me?



      • #5 by famillysyncro on July 22, 2012 - 8:25 pm

        The overall lengh of the GW +2″ is 14″.
        Please look at it and let me know if you want it measured another way.

        I didn’t bother to make a nice post about it, you did it for all of us already…. and you are way better at it than me.


      • #6 by albell on July 26, 2012 - 6:12 pm


        thanks, I commented on your blog


      • #7 by seand13 on November 30, 2016 - 9:18 am

        So was it possible to use this method with the GW + 2 springs? Also, that blog link is private, any chance of opening up that post?

      • #8 by albell on December 2, 2016 - 7:35 am

        Hey there,

        I don’t know if it will work for the +2 springs, but… I did manage getting the longer 2wd springs in. I’m sorry I can’t be more help.

        What link is private?



      • #9 by albell on December 2, 2016 - 7:35 am

        Oh jeromes link maybe… yeah looks like he has gone private.


  3. #10 by Jim Davis on July 20, 2012 - 8:04 am

    Though I have the special Syncro tool to pull the upper shock mount through the mounting hole, I didn’t use it during recent shock and spring replacement. Using the bottle jack method, I was able to slowly raise the assembly up and guide it through the hole just with a little side force on the shock to line it up. Saved me from having to remove the seats (easy) and the 6-disc CD changer (more time-consuming) mounted directly above that shock mount access hole.

    • #11 by albell on July 20, 2012 - 8:12 am


      I agree about special tool not being really needed, it was handy though. I found that it took a fair bit of pushing on shock to get it aligned in tower so that shock shaft would get through hole. I might gave being doing something out of order, or maybe the rubber bushing at bottom of shock is very stiff. I did try it with lower shock bolt loose and tight, did not seem to make much difference.

      I’m moving my amp from under passenger seat (going to weld in rotating seat base there) to under driver’s seat, so I will have a similar reluctance to get at the little access hole in the future.

      In any case, it is nice to be able to get spring out without using a compressor, isn’t it?



  4. #12 by Mark de Visser on July 27, 2012 - 3:49 am

    Hello Alister,

    Once again, good nice detailed report and very helpfull for into the comming future.

    Regards Mark

  5. #13 by famillysyncro on August 17, 2012 - 4:06 pm


    I started to put back the front all together and I am planning to finish it this Sunday.
    Any other measurement you would like to get before it is back in place (for a looooonnnng time)?
    Anyway, I hope I won’t have problem, I’ll try without spring compressor but it might not work…, I’ll let everybody know.


    • #14 by albell on August 17, 2012 - 9:11 pm

      Good luck on the work Jerome, here’s hoping the Vanagon gods smile πŸ™‚

      One thing I’m wondering (and I can’t recall if you mentioned it), are you putting on 15 or 16″ rims? And are you installing upper ball joint spacers? I’d be interested to know how much clearance you have between rim and upper A arm.



      • #15 by famillysyncro on August 18, 2012 - 5:14 am

        I already have 16″ rims for summer (215-85-16) and winter (215-70-16), upper ball joint spacer and a 8mm rim spacer too.
        I don’t remember how much clearance between rim and upper arm but tires aren’t rubbing anywhere (and I am too busy/lazy to check for pictures from my blog) so I’ll take a picture when it is done.
        Those upper ball joint spacer were already badly corroded after half winter because of salt, I need to do something about it.
        Rims spacer are doing better.


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