Sliding door R&R (long and a bit photo heavy)

At some point early last summer, the sliding door began uttering a horribly loud screeching sound when closing the door.  Despite new grease and varying speeds of closure, the stubborn, campsite awakening sound remained.  As a result, we began leaving the door open as much as possible, but obviously, though the mosquitoes thought it ideal, this was not a great solution and the problem landed on my winter hibernation to-do list.

Upon her purchase, Moby’s sliding door striker plate was too high and the latch hit the bottom of the hole in the striker every time we closed the door.  Adjusting the striker plate as low as possible solved the issue but this left the plate with no additional downward adjustment.  When I then examined the bottom door rollers and sliding door track, I discovered what appeared to be a groove worn into the track bottom which might account for some, but not all, of the drop required at the striker plate.  Subsequently, during this winter’s preliminary examination, I noticed that the sliding door used only one shim between the door and lower roller assembly bracket for vertical adjustments, and from what I have read/seen, there are normally two shims.  I also now wondered if, in addition to the wearing of the track and lack of a second shim, the lower roller was worn too.  The combination of these three conditions seemed a plausible cause of a downward door misalignment and thus, why the striker plate needed to be adjusted so low. But could this also be related to the screeching noise?  I decided to take the sliding door lower roller assembly off and try to remedy the problems I found in the hopes of also correcting the noise.

I began by researching fixes for the door track and, predictably, all solutions all involved cutting out the track bottom and welding in new metal; not a project I savored at the time nor did I have the economic backing from my wallet.  Therefore, I decided to try adding a second shim (or third) to compensate for track wear.

There are two spare sliding doors in my parts stash, and I started my search for shims with them.  One door had a single shim visible and the other door had none visible.  Preferably, I wanted three maybe four shims on hand, so I looked online for shims for sale.  Used shims pop up now and again but I could not find any at the time.  They sell them new also, almost exclusively from European parts vendors, but with shipping the price gets a little ridiculous.  Now do not get me wrong, I will pay for a part, especially one of quality, but it just seemed to me a better solution must be out there waiting to be found.  After talking with Tom, we decided it would be easy to make a shim or three out of scrap material using the original from Moby as a template and he happily offered his assistance with help from machinery at his place of employment.

The lower roller assembly is a pretty simple mechanism, consisting of two rollers (one vertical, the other horizontal), a bracket, shims, and three bolts.  I loosened the bolts and pulled the shim only to discover that Moby actually had a second one that happened to be set farther back between the bracket and door and, therefore, not visible to me earlier.  I now had a total of three shims (Moby’s plus one from the spare door).  I gave two shims to Tom who promptly sent four replacements cut out of galvanized HVAC duct material (see template later in post), so I had plenty of shims with which to experiment.

While I waited for the shims, I decided that the roller assembly should be cleaned up, the vertical roller checked for wear.   Both spare sliding doors were pulled in the ’90’s and presumably have less operating time than Moby’s so, if needed, I would use the best parts from all three assemblies for Moby.  I also resolved to inspect and clean the upper roller (on top of the door) and clean out the upper and lower door tracks to remove the old grease and any grit that accumulated over the years that might exacerbate abrasion.

What at first started as a simple shim replacement, quickly grew into a moderate system renovation.  The only part I did not visit was the rear hinge assembly (refurbished by the PO).  The project also revealed that the lower track is not worn all.  Though, oddly enough, while I solved the noise issue, the overall door alignment remained relatively unchanged and the striker plate still sits low.  Eh, it works just fine, so well in fact that during our camping trip last weekend we had to remind ourselves to use a gentle touch least we slide the door right off the bus!

Lower roller assembly and door track.

Green arrow shows the groove I thought was worn into the bottom of the track (as you’ll see later, I was wrong).

Front view of bracket.

Side view.

I marked the position of the bracket with pencil before removal to preserve bracket position and door alignment.  I think it was Ratwell’s site (see link on right side of page) that said ” Don’t remove this bracket”.  Oops…

I used a bottle jack to support the door while unbolting the assembly. Later, I replaced the jack with a stack of 2×6 wood slabs with greater stability in supporting the door.

To avoid stripping the 6 mm allen head on the front bolt, push the wrench in while turning.

The bottom two bolts have 5 mm allen heads. I ended up using the bottle jack handle as an extension for the wrench to help break the bolt free (again, keep a hand on the wrench and push up, into the bolt to prevent stripping).

Pulling one of the spare lower roller assemblies. The 5 mm allen bolts are easier to see in this shot.

The shims were conveniently designed for easy slip in and out, removal of bolts not required.

The lower track has a gap towards the back that allows the rollers to come off the track. To get to it, I needed to move the door and support it with lumber. With the rear hinge assembly the only attachment to the bus, this is a precarious position. Damage to the door, rear hinge assembly, and bus are possible if the door falls.

To pull out the lower assembly, move the bracket to the back of the track and rotate counter-clockwise (as looking down on the bracket).

Roller assembly.  The vertical roller (left) rides along the track bottom and bears the weight of the door. As a result of the load, these rollers usually need replacement. New ones are available from various VW parts suppliers. The horizontal roller (right) maintains a set distance from back of the track. Bearing no weight, this roller seldom needs replacing. They are available new as well, but only in a nylon version.

Top view of the vertical roller. Both rollers are capped by a plastic cover designed to keep out dirt and moisture. VW used a white grease to lubricate the bearings inside, but after 40+ years it is hard or crumbly and, in my case, absent.

The vertical roller was partially frozen and rotated with great difficulty, maybe only a quarter of a full rotation. Closer inspection showed the vertical roller had moved away from the bracket (green arrow) and now impinged (red arrow) on the horizontal roller.  The lack of rolling caused the screeching noise we heard last summer.  The horizontal roller still rotated without issue.

Both rollers were extremely dirty so I cleaned them out hoping to eliminated any blockage and push the vertical roller back in place. Unfortunately, the problem persisted.

Obviously, the lack of rolling started a long time ago and resulted in two big (green arrows) and a few smaller flat spots on the roller.  It’s also easy to see in this photo that the vertical roller is rounded at the edges while the horizontal roller has a larger, flatter surface.

Since cleaning did not help and I still could not push the vertical roller back in place, I carefully removed the plastic cover by inserting the sharp end of a knife between the cover and roller.  With a gentle prying motion, while rotating the knife around the cover so as to pry evenly along the circumference, the cover came off without issue.

With the cover off, I found the reason why the roller moved out of position. The snap ring holding the roller in place popped out of its groove in the center shaft, thus allowing the bearing to migrate towards the viewer of this picture and, in turn, get caught on the horizontal roller.

The snap ring of the horizontal roller was still in place. I took this photo after tapping the vertical roller (left) back down on the shaft. Both worked perfectly at this point.

I wanted to thoroughly clean all the roller bearings and use the best ones from the three assemblies I gathered. A small snap ring plier is all that’s needed to remove the ring. I recommend the type of pliers that open when the handles are squeezed and not the pair I own that operated like normal pliers (open when the handle opens). Mine work, but they’re a little more difficult to use. I also recommend keeping a finger over the snap ring in case it tries to go flying.

Almost every single thread, post, or article I read on the internet describing the removal of these rollers stated that “they should simply pull of the shaft”. After 40+ years, I don’t think anything goes “simply” anymore and since completing this project, I’m not really sure the rollers should side off very easily – they are pressed on the shaft. A couple threads recommended using a battery terminal puller if the rollers were stuck, which of course, mine were, so I bought this terminal/wiper arm puller for about $14. It’s a really nice puller with thin prying surfaces that fit under the roller bearings.

Unfortunately, this particular puller has a cupped center shaft that offered no purchasing surface to use against the roller shaft. While pretty much useless in this project, I look forward to finding a stuck battery terminal or a need to pull a wiper arm someday.

Without a the benefit of a puller, I used a vice to catch the bottom of the bearing and a drift to punch the center shaft out. The horizontal roller must come off first because it blocks the vertical roller.

The setup was a bit awkward (especially when also trying to take a picture), but after a couple of tests with a hammer, it seemed like it would work.  The vice should be open wide enough to allow the bracket to slide in, but remain narrow enough for the bearing to rest on the vice.

Only moderate force is need to punch out the center shaft and release the rollers.

The second roller comes off the same way.

All the rollers from the three assemblies ready for inspection.  Front view (left) is the side of the roller facing away from the bracket when assembled.

Roller center shafts. The snap ring grooves are visible as indicated by the green arrows.

Paint thinner helped cut the grease and clean the dirt off the bracket.

Bottom view with part number.

Since everything was disassembled, it was a good time to clean out the track. I used a rag with paint thinner to remove the old, hardened grease.

After cleaning, I discovered that the door vertical roller didn’t wear a groove into the track  bottom! There is a faint, white line that you can see in the picture that looks like a ledge (it starts just above the lower arrow on the right).  However, this feature is only due to the paint wearing, not the metal and I could not find any lip with my fingernail or screwdriver.  Score one for not needing expensive metal replacement!

After finishing the lower, I moved to the upper track and, while there, figured I should clean the upper roller as well.

The upper roller is fun – it just “simply” pops off.

One thing always leads to another and, in this case, cleaning rollers led to cleaning the plastic cover. The cover snaps over the bracket and is held in place by the plastic pin seen in the picture.

The pin slides out with a little help from the fingernails.

And the cover pops off.  Look at all that old grease, what a mess.

Some more paint thinner to loosen the old grease.

Wipe clean with a rag.

While cleaning, I discovered a washer on the roller shaft. At first I thought it was rubber, but it is a composite material, not felt I don’t think, but paper based perhaps. In either case, it is fragile so care is needed for this part.

Upper bracket and door all clean. The shaft can be adjusted by loosening the bolt under the bracket and sliding the shaft towards the away from or towards the bus, depending on need. Since mine worked well, I left it in place.

The cover got the paint thinner treatment as well.  The brush helped get the grime out of the textured surface.

Much better.

Inside without all the gunk seen earlier (note: part number).

The washer for the upper roller cleaned up nicely.

Remember, this is a fragile part! Good thing I had one stuck to a spare door. I imagine they would still work while broken or a new one could be made from cardboard or felt.  Their purpose is only to provide a surface on which the upper roller spins instead of directly on the bracket.

A clean upper roller. Although these rollers bear no weight, they guide the door around the curved upper track as it closes, so some wear might occur. Like the lower rollers, they sell these new.

Everything I read and everyone I spoke with recommended lithium grease as a lubricant. A heavier grease might work well for the lower vertical roller, but without a direct load on the lower horizontal and upper rollers, such a grease might limit rotation and cause skipping.

Just a dab of lithium grease will do.

And some for the shaft. Green arrow points to the installed washer.

Roller installed. The grease created an air-tight seal that caused the roller to keep popping back up after I pushed it down. I had to hold the roller in place for a minute or so while the air escaped. I wiped the extra grease away with a Q-tip.

I used a light coating of CV joint grease on the outside of the roller and inside both tracks. I wanted something a little heavier than lithium grease because the lighter grease might splatter from the spinning rollers when opening and closing the door. Too much of any grease will cause the same thing – I think that’s why the upper roller cover was so filthy.

The grease needs to be packed into the roller bearings.

I laid down a bead of grease over the bearing and pushed it in with a finger.

Then repeated with a second bead of grease.

Using a small screwdriver and holding the roller between two fingers, I worked the bearing around inside the roller to draw the grease into the backside of the bearing.

Then, using the pencil seen in one of the pictures above, I spun the roller around the bearing. This creates a second type of movement within the bearing and draws grease into different places than with the screwdriver. I repeated this step and the step involving the screwdriver until no more grease sunk into the bearing.

One final grease bead packed in with a finger.

Even after cleaning, the rollers didn’t “simply” slide on to the center shaft. I put the bracket in the vice and centered the roller. The vertical roller must be installed first for the same reasons it must be removed last.

I pushed and wiggled the roller down as far as it would go.

With a brass drift, I tapped the roller down.

But that only got me a roller that was flush with the center shaft.

I finished seating the roller by tapping around the outer edge with a soft-tipped hammer.

The roller seats just below the snap ring groove (green arrow).

Both rollers take the same type of snap ring which are small and hard to find if dropped (or if they fly off the pliers).

Snap ring pliers work well to open the ring, but a small screwdriver might do the job too.

Place the snap ring over the center shaft and expand it while fitting it into the groove. Like taking it off, I recommend putting a finger over the ring in case it tries to go flying.

Snap ring in place.

The plastic cover showing the side that fits into the roller.  I installed this piece before installing the second roller to keep the grease in place and clean.

The plastic ring (facing down in the picture) slides into the roller.

These caps are friction fit.

Repeat for second, horizontal, roller.

To install the roller assembly, insert the horizontal roller at the back of the lower track and rotate clockwise.

Slide the assembly into the  position required for attaching it to the door. Since I added new grease to the lower track, I did not pregrease the rollers.  Instead, I moved the assembly up and down the track to distribute the grease.

Assembly bolts with Permatex anti-seize applied. Although not everyone approves of this stuff for all applications (particularly because anti-seize might interfere with torque value readings), I am a fan and have not had any issues with bolts/nuts becoming loose.  Since I won’t loose a wheel here, I have no worries with these bolts.

When the door is swung over towards the bus, the upper roller must be inserted into its track before attaching the lower roller assembly.  Doing so after installing the assembly is impossible (I inadvertently ran a test of that statement).  When attaching the assembly, I started all the bolts on their threads and left them loose to allow room for inserting the shims and adjusting bracket alignment with my pencil mark.

In the opening paragraphs, I mentioned the shims and home-made replications. The top shim in this picture is original and the bottom is one of the duplicates made from galvanized sheet metal.

The shims are thin, only 1-mm thick.

Shim dimensions drawn up by Tom so others can make their own replacements.  All measurements in millimeters.

Two shims came out, so two shims return. Each cutout fits the two bolts coming from under the bracket.  Once inserted, all the bolts get tightened when the pencil mark I made earlier aligns with the top of the bracket. In theory, the door alignment should be the same as before.  Mine was close, but not exactly the same.  Luckily, no additional adjustments were necessary.

Snapping the cover back on the upper roller bracket.

Insert plastic pin.

All done, well, I need to clean up the sloppy grease a bit.



9 thoughts on “Sliding door R&R (long and a bit photo heavy)

  1. Top quality report. My original sliding door capabilities didn’t squeal in complaints. But was of a terrible balance and shutting was a nightmare. So much force and slamming the door shut was my normal process. The guy renovating my bus has not stated anything remiss and has completely restructured the whole sliding door (it was rotten lower half). It was taken apart by him and will have considerations in putting everything back together. So, when my bus returns it should be much improved. This guidance is absolutely a must for the possibility of future use. Thanks for such a complete analysis and the photographs are perfect. You should put an information booklet together of your inputs all things improvements and fixations. Big thumbs up for this one.

    • Thanks! I’m glad you found the post informative and helpful. Looks like you’re having a lot of work done to your bus. Bet you’re looking forward to her return.

  2. Pingback: Rear brake rebuild: Part 1 | Zero to Sixty . . .Eventually

      • Before I start my own sliding door refresh, can you tell me if there is supposed to be any lateral movement in both the top roller and rear roller assembly? With the door open I can “push” the door from the outside and both upper/lower rollers move within the channel. Hope that makes sense. I can send a short video of each if it helps. Thanks for any help!

      • Hey Steve, The rear roller (the one that runs along the outside of the bus) shouldn’t have any lateral movement. Nor does the bottom roller at the front of the door. The top roller does have a little side-to-side movement, maybe 1/16-1/8 inches, but I only noticed it when I pull out on the door – not when sliding it or pushing in on it. Sounds like you may have wear in the rear hinge and bottom rollers. The top roller bracket can be adjusted, which may help.

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