I bought my car 3 and a half years ago and when I went to attach the new license plate, I found that only one of the screws would engage. I've searched around here a fair amount and didn't find much of use on the issue. I also pinged Carson or my local parts guy at Clair and found out that to get this remedied with new parts would probably cost almost $350 ($250 in parts at the time plus paint) because you have to buy the whole rear assembly (~2ft panel) and then have it painted.
So it's sat ****-eyed on one screw for 3 and a half years.
I just moved out-of-state so this was a prime time investigate this issue!
It's not a huge project by any means, but I'll set it up like a tech article, for the archives. FYI, this is for an AVANT
. I'm guessing it's similar in a sedan, but probably has a few more clips for the interior trim piece:
remove/replace/repair rear license plate bracket and nuts/clips that license plate screws bolt into.
1 or 2 out of 10. If you're familiar with the way Audi/european cars are put together, in particular the clipping mechanisms, it's very straight forward.
Small flat head screw driver (used for prying clips), medium philips head, 10mm socket, short to medium extension (6" is fine), and corresponding ratchet wrench, maybe some rags and cleaning agents to use this opportunity of taking things apart to clean them up.
Took me about 2 hours, but I was going REALLY slow, taking photos, cleaning and getting interrupted to help with other chores. Moving efficiently/quickly but still taking care not to break any clips or posts and cleaning everything as I go would take just less than an hour.
1. Pre-photo. Looks so sad.
2. If you were to go with a new part you would have to replace the ENTIRE piece shown here. A couple notes: 1) I know the 4 is crooked in the S4. The 4 fell off, then I tried to replace just the 4 and now it's crooked. It's annoying, but from a distance you can't tell. 2) yes my bumper is a complete mess. I'll eventually do a euro rear to fit the exhaust better any way... happy to be moving out of boston!!)
3. Ok. Starting the work. I started by unscrewing this screw.
4. Next I pulled off the thin rubber trim that runs around the carpeted interior piece from the glass on each side down to the latch in the middle. Two pieces, a right and a left (no photo). Then the plastic piece that connects to the carpeted trim up on the hatch pillar seemed like the easiest point of entry... it seemed the least secure. I pinched and pulled and tweaked it until a couple little tabs popped out of their stay location and the top corners of the carpeted trim was now a little loose. Then I worked my fingers in between the carpeted trim and the door body and began prying it down. At this point I didn't know how the piece was connected, so I went slow.
5. At last, after working around the whole perimeter of the carpeted trim I started yarding fairly hard and heard a loud pop and the clip came free. I didn't know what I was working with at the time, but you luckily get pictures with the clip type and locations!! So it shouldn't be too hard to find the clips and specifically work them out. The pyramid clips sit it these big black plastic posts that connect to the carpeted trim. The clips then pop into slits in the metal paneling of the door hatch. There are 8 you have to release to completely remove the carpeted trim. For some of the tougher clips I used a small flat screwdriver to coax them into popping free. NOTE: be careful both installing and removing all the clips. One clip broke on me and several of the black plastic posts flexed and fatigued and threatened to fail. All of these connector parts seem somewhat weak, so just work slowly and carefully (especially now that cars are getting so old!)
Hole (yes, I scratched the paint a bit prying the clip out, no I'm not concerned.):
Removed: Note that there are 8 clips.
6. You've completed the hardest part of this task! Here's what the door hatch looks like now, with no trim. Perfect condition Santorin paint! Wish that was on my rear bumper. Anyway. Now what you need to do is remove 7 10mm nuts from the rear license plate bracket. The studs are built into the bracket, so you're just removing the nuts, then the bracket and studs pull straight out of the door. Two on each side, one down near the door latch and two by the locking mechanism. One of the studs by the locking mechanism has a plastic cap on it to prevent it from cutting/wearing through the small plastic tube that runs over it. Make sure to replace this when you're finished!
7 10mm bolts. Two on each side, one down by the latch and two on either side of the locking mechanism.
Close up of the two by the locking mechanism. The one on the left has already had the nut removed from the stud, and the one on the right still has the plastic protective cap on it.
7. Now just pull/push the bracket away from the door hatch... and look what awaited me there. A pile of broken clips and nuts and worn out tape that had apparently been used to hold them in place. Nice job on that one, Audi. I will say now, the clip design is awful. More on that later.
Here's where I took the opportunity to clean everything... also along the door edge where the trim doesn't seal 100%.
I replaced the three clips that had broken or fallen out back into their holes. Also, it's clear from the clips that screwing the license plate bolts in too far presses on the back of the clip, pushing it back and pulls the clip edges into the middle of the hole, either breaking them, or pulling them off their position against the edge of the hole... lesson here is don't over tighten your license plate screws with this design.. they'll hold while you have the same plates, but when you unscrew the plates, the clips may then fall and rattle like crazy... TRUST ME!
Example of a clip that clearly got flexed by the bolt and snapped the clip. A healthy clip should have a flat back.
So I replaced them all and duct taped over them thoroughly just in case (at least if they break they won't fall and rattle around again) and re-installed everything. I did break one of the carpet trim pyramid clips and had to run over to the dealer, but by then I had my new plate on and was all legal!
Let me know if anything isn't clear or if there's any questions. Working on the back of this car offers a lot more space than working on the front. I was happy to sit on the bumper and work over head and have PLENTY of room for once.
Again this is on an avant; I'm guessing a sedan is a bit trickier as there's less room to work and more trim to remove, but I'm guessing it's all roughly the same procedure. Good luck!