By on August 24, 2018

2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI Interior, Image: VWScott writes:

Hi Sajeev,

The steering wheel on my 2016 VW GTI (manual w/performance package) is off center by a few millimeters to the left. It’s been this way since new and I’ve had the dealer look at it twice.

The first time (w/250 miles on the clock) they told me there’s a service bulletin and that it’s normal pending the telescoping position of the steering wheel. We did an alignment with no luck (it’s cocked to the left in any telescope position). Then a year later the same dealer told me there is no such service bulletin and acknowledged that it’s off center, but offered no viable solution. I’ve noticed via a few online forums that many Volkswagens have this issue (with various fixes, such as tie rod adjustment or repositioning the steering wheel). I’d like to have this fixed as I love the car. Seeking your advice on what path I should take. I am okay with taking my car to an independent mechanic vs. the dealer….

Love your column, keep up the great work!

Sajeev answers:

Interesting query!  As you’ve seen on the forums, there are a few options:

  • Remove the steering and clock it as many splines to the right is needed to compensate (BAD idea)
  • Adjust the tie rods after toe setting is adjusted/verified correct
  • Reset the steering angle sensor (after passing a wheel alignment check)

This thread was a gem, especially this quote:

When checking for steering wheel alignment on any new vehicle listed, be aware that the position of the steering wheel can vary up to 2.5 degrees total. This is dependent on the position of the height adjustment of the steering wheel itself. In the full up position, the steering wheel is set approx. 1.25 degrees off center to the right and accordingly, 1.25 degrees to the left in the all down position. By controlling the offset, when the wheel is pulled into the normal driving position (center tilt) it will be centered. When testing for steering wheel center, make sure the adjustment is centered on the tilt.

Perhaps there’s technically nothing a VW dealer can do? I’d take it to an alignment shop, hope for a second opinion that validates the need to adjust the tie rods.

Go ahead and have a shop tweak something outside a “normal” parameter, I did this to TTAC’s Ford Sierra: finding someone with the fortitude to adjust the tie rods (and everything else) via UK Ford Shop manual and their experienced feel.


It worked well, so I have high hopes for your GTI.  Of course, I went to 3+ shops before finding one that aligned vehicles sans whatever specs are in a computer. Surprisingly, a franchise shop (Meineke) with veteran techs tackled the challenge while independent guys walked away. Lesson learned: never judge a book by its cover.

What say you, Best and Brightest?

[Image: VW]

Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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18 Comments on “Piston Slap: Tie Rod Tuning for a Tweaked Tiller?...”

  • avatar

    The zero point in the electric rack needs to be reset to the correct spot. It will self adjust while the alignment is off, and keep that spot for an extended period of time. Your dealers never reset it. It has to be done with the scan tool on the alignment rack. You can confirm this by turning the wheel to one direction and turn off the car. When you turn it back on it will recenter itself at it’s zero position. If it goes to the same spot you are complaining about, that’s your problem. If it’s only while driving it might be the car’s fast steering and the fact that you’re counter steering for road crown.

  • avatar

    Interesting issue! My first question though is, a couple of millimetres is the problem and the normal tolerance is 2.5 degrees? Huh? Maybe a few mm would bug me – mayyybe – but really it would have to be at least a centimetre off-centre to really notice, no?

    Also, thank you for leaving this discussion as the Enlightenment intended, in SI.

  • avatar

    IIRC the earlier models had only one adjustable tie rod, the other was fixed. I don’t know if the later ones are like this. If so that could be a reason for service people to baulk at fixing it, they would have to sell the customer a new adjustable tie rod. Most are interchangeable from left to right.
    Of course all the other stuff people mentioned will be needed for a proper job, including a proper toe setting. I’m certain most shop’s won’t want to try this as the time, and potential for unintended problems, could turn the job into a $ loss.

  • avatar

    Interesting post, I had this same issue with my 2013 Jetta. The dealer was pretty clueless what to do other than several ineffective alignments. The service manager told me I needed to replace the entire front suspension to correct it. Seemed like a ridiculous solution, so I never got it resolved.

  • avatar

    Surprisingly, a franchise shop (Meineke) with veteran techs tackled the challenge while independent guys walked away. Lesson learned: never judge a book by its cover.

    That’s very interesting. Most of my local shops have such high turnover I don’t know if you’d ever find a grey haired tech to tackle the job.

    What is the rationale behind a system that causes the centering to change slightly as the wheel telescopes? Usually the Germans would come up with a hyper elaborate engineering solution to compensate for such a thing.

    • 0 avatar


      Yes. Germans over engineer stuff.
      Superfluous Complexity.
      I worked with a lighting supplier on a CHMSL. The German supplier preferred design was Multi Bulb.
      7 Small bulbs. 7 holes. 7 more wire connections. 7 Aluminized reflector sockets.
      The US design? 1 bulb. Multi reflector.

  • avatar

    Call NASA they’ll fix it. With an add on system that costs as much as the car and fails regularly.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Geez, this is still happening? My 2010 Sportwagen left the factory this way. It was also to the left. I was also told “they all do this, we can’t fix it”.

    I decided to just live with it. The alignment was fine, the car never pulled, never chewed tires, was laser-straight and stable at 85mph interstate cruises 80K miles later.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, “they all do this,” “it’s within specifications, there’s nothing we can do,” and on and on, with the dealer hoping he will get you to just live with the annoyance. Manufacturers’ warranties, no matter how wonderful they seem, must rely on independent dealers who will say anything to avoid filling a precious service bay with warranty work rather than a cash customer. That has been my experience, with multiple brands and dealers, again and again.

  • avatar

    This is generally an easy (albeit a little time consuming) fix on many cars, not sure about the GTI specifically. You adjust one tie rod end in slightly, the opposing one out slightly. Just enough to remove that miniscule amount of “off center” out of the wheel. They key is to move them exactly the same amount. It really isn’t that difficult if you are precise. Sometimes you have to make a couple of really fine adjustments until you hit it right on the head.

    I will say that I’ve owned a number of new Volkswagens, and probably a third of them either had the wheel off center a small amount (a few mm) from day one. I’m cursed with noticing tiny things like that.

    Technicians usually aren’t ultra picky about a tiny offset in the wheel once the alignment is set properly, I’ve found. Once in a while, you get lucky and find a shop with a tech who is a stickler for this kind of detail. It is fairly tedious from their standpoint, and they really aren’t getting paid to take an inordinate amount of time to adjust out 1 or 2 mm of steering wheel imperfection.

    Sometimes, tires are worn a little differently and by just rotating them, you’ll notice a small steering wheel offset crop up or go away. You might try that first as a DIY.

    • 0 avatar

      It is hard to imagine how a simple tie rod adjustment wouldn’t correct this.

      I measure the toe by comparing the front and back track using a tape measure. Usually there will be some toe-in or toe-out, so I just adjust one of the tie rods to center the steering wheel while achieving neutral toe to minimize tire wear.

      • 0 avatar

        The motor in the rack will want to recenter to what it thinks is centered. Before making alignment changes, this has to be reset to the correct position.

        • 0 avatar

          So the power steering will fight the natural centering of the front wheels?

          It amazes me that they find a way to make something as mechanically simple as the steering system so electronically complicated that even their own dealers are incapable of performing a simple alignment.

          • 0 avatar

            Yeah. It will. The first time I ran into this it surprised me as well. In the car I drive it took me a while to get used to it on high road crown roads because it fights you a bit.

          • 0 avatar

            Crazy. I could put up with the rack adjusting itself to what it thinks is center at each start-up, but I wouldn’t have expected it to compete with the caster while in use.

            From your initial post, it sounds like it’s easy enough for someone with the proper equipment to reset the zero point. I guess the dealers tend to be uncooperative or incompetent.

  • avatar

    I checked Ross Tech’s website and this looks like it can be setup via VCDS. If you own a VW you really need to spend the money on it.

    Here’s a link to the alignment procedure on an older Golf/Jetta. It’ll be close to the Golf mk7. Double check at VWVortex forums.

    • 0 avatar

      Those directions only reset the steering angle sensor at the steering wheel. The rack itself must also be reset. I forget which one you have to do first but there is a correct order. This should also be possible with the ross-tech

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