Saturday, December 23, 2006

VW - TULZ Part Five

TULZ – Part Five

Gimme a Brake

Howz yerz? Brakes, that is. Block your wheels with something then jump in, release the parking brake and step on the brake pedal. How far down does it go? How far down SHOULD it go? (See the manual.)

Set your parking brake. No, do it again, this time counting the clicks. How many clicks? Make a note of that. Now step on the brake pedal again. How far down did it go with the e-brake set?

How'd it feel when you stepped on the brake? Hard is good. Springy, spongy, bouncy is bad; spongy brakes means there is air in the system; they need to be bled.

You need to change your brake juice every two years, more often if you live in a damp climate. If you haven't done it, go do it. And if you've just bought this wreck, do it anyway… the last guy probably didn't change it either. Brake fluid is hygroscopic; it absorbs moisture from the air. The brake fluid reservoir is open to the atmosphere. Every time you step on the brakes the level of the fluid goes down then comes back up. That slight up & down motion makes a very effective air pump. And the fluid absorbs moisture from the air (didn't I just say that?)

Changing your brake fluid every two years is vital because the master cylinder and wheel cylinders are made of cast iron, which loves to rust. Replacement of the master and slave cylinders on a Volkswagen is almost always due to 'pitting'. And it is plain old-fashioned RUST that makes the pits. (Modern vehicles use aluminum brake cylinders and some use synthetic brake fluid that isn't hygroscopic.)

Even though bleeding your brakes is very easy, you have to get to the backside of the wheels to do it. If the only way to do this on your vehicle is to jack it up that puts the task into the 'Major Repair' category, not because of its difficulty but because of the hazard. Any time the vehicle's wheels are not on the ground and you have to work under it, you must support the vehicle with jack stands. Major Repairs should be done in the company of another person. They don't have to be a mechanic, anyone who can use a fire extinguisher and telephone will do.

Brake work calls for a few special tools. To loosen the bleeder valves you need a special bent-neck six-point box-end wrench. See the Harbor Freight catalog. They sell assortments of brake tools. I don't know if the assortment they sell is suitable for a Volkswagen but the illustration will give you an idea of what you're looking for.

This whole series of articles is about tools. You can't maintain a vehicle - ANY VEHICLE - without the proper tools. Proper tools are kinda like an IQ test. You can do the job – once – with a hammer or pipe wrench or vise-grips or whatever the instant experts say is kewl but that's it; you've buggered the part. If it survives long enough to need maintenance again you'll find yourself worse off than you were before. The smart way to do it is to buy or make the proper tool.

Early Volkswagens used bleeders with 7mm heads on the rear wheels and 11mm heads on the front. Later models used… whatever the hell it is. Crawl under, find out what size your vehicle requires and procure the proper tools. These become part of your Brake Tool Kit and should reside there, apart from your regular tools.

If any of your bleeder valves have been buggered up or are rusty, clogged or whatever, replace them. Bleeder valves are fall into the category of 'consumables,' items that require periodic replacement. And since bleeder valves are a standard maintenance hardware items, most good auto-parts stores carry them in both metric and SAE flavors. But the secret of consumables, which also includes Zerk fittings, ignition parts, generator brushes and so on, is that you don't buy them as you need them, you buy them BEFORE you need them – you always keep a few on hand, replacing the bad one when you come upon it and using the old one as a memory aid. Lotsa guys just put them in their pocket. Next time they go to the parts place, when the clerk sez 'Will there be anything else?' you dig in your pocket and there, along with your pocketknife, a dirty hanky, a hunk of wire and a piece of string about… that long… will be the bleeder valve.

"Yeah," you say. "Gimme two of these."

To bleed your brakes you'll need a bleeder hose that fits over the bleeder valve. Here again, find the size that fits your vehicle and buy about eighteen inches of it. Common vacuum hose works fine but not for long. Cheap hose is made of natural rubber. Brake fluid eats it up.

To turn a length of vacuum hose into a bleeder hose, find a SHORT screw or bolt that is a force-fit in the hose and use it to block one end. Using a pointed Xacto knife or the corner of a single-edge razor blade, make a penetrating cut in the side of the hose just above the end of the screw or bolt. The slit will act as a flapper valve; you can force brake fluid OUT through the slit but it will not allow anything to come back IN.

The last item you need is a glass jar.

Start with the wheel farthest from the brake pedal and end with the wheel closest to the brake pedal.

To bleed your brakes, fit the wrench to the bleeder valve, slip the open end of the hose over the bleeder valve and put the end of the hose with the screw into the jar. Pour enough brake fluid into the jar to cover the slit then loosen the bleeder valve, go around to the cockpit and pump the brake pedal ten times, refilling the master cylinder as needed.

To CHANGE your brake fluid you simply keep pumping until you know that circuit is charged with fresh fluid.

While the symptom of spongy brakes usually means the system needs to be bled, it can also reflect an incipient failure of a brake hose. To check for this you must visual inspect each hose while someone pumps the brakes. Look for any swelling or unusual motion in the hose. If you've got a bad hose, you'll have to get it out of there. This calls for a couple more wrenches unique to brake work.

Use standard replacement brake hoses rather than those kewl after-market jobbies. The standard hose is good for twenty years service. With the after-market stuff, dirt gets into the exposed metal braid and normal flexing is enough to wear them out in a surprisingly short period of time.

Another no-no is those kewl suction-type bleeders. Avoid them like the plague. Your brake system uses a type of chevron seal. A chevron seal works when the pressure is behind the seal, forcing it tight against the cylinder wall. The more pressure, the better it works. When the pressure is released, the elastomeric seal retracts allowing the piston to slide back into battery. But if you apply SUCTION behind the seal when the piston is already retracted (as is the case when bleeding brakes) air will be pulled past the lip of the seal. You can suck all day and you'll still

see bubbles in the brake fluid… because YOU are sucking air into the system through the wheel cylinder. (The little hand-suction kits are handy for checking the vacuum canister on your distributor, for systems using O-ring seals or for do-it-yourself abortions but they should never be used to bleed the brakes on a Volkswagen.)

Another no-no is those ohsokewl after-market wheels that conceal the brake-adjusting hole on the older style drums. You should adjust your brakes WHEN NEEDED. For younger drivers, that can be once a week. I've seen plenty of bugs in desperate need of a brake adjustment that wasn't done because the owner couldn't remove the over-torqued after- market wheels.

Adjusting your brakes is sooper-simple. But the devil is in the details. For an early bug or bus you need your jack, a flashlight, a medium-size flat-bladed screwdriver and your hubcap puller, if you got pullable hubcaps. Plus you need to know where the adjusters are. Buses are different from sedans and front wheels are different from rears.

If you got something with 4-lug drums, such a 1968 or younger sedan, then you need the floor jack and a pair of jack stands. Why? Because the adjusters are on the back of the wheel. And any time you have to put any part of your body under the overhang of the vehicle when the wheel(s) are not on the ground, you support the vehicle with jack stands. (Macho types always ignore such 'silly' rules. Don't worry about it. It's the type of problem that creates its own solution. Darwin was right, you know :-)

The brake adjusters are sleeves that are threaded on the inside. Turn the adjuster one way, it spreads the shoes apart. Turn them the other, the internal springs pull the shoes closer together. To adjust the brakes you turn the screw until the shoe is touching the brake drum then back it off until the wheel can be easily rotated with no sound of dragging.

The Idiot book offers a good how-to on adjusting your brakes, mit pitchers yet.


Doing a Brake Job…

…is pretty easy. And since all of the manuals tell you how, I won't. Read the manuals. Study the pictures.

The hard part is removing the rear drums. I've already told you how to do that (see Part One). Whatever you do, don't go banging on things with a hammer. Through a process called 'brinelling' the pounding creates micro-flats on the race & roller (or ball). Once the roller & race are no longer true, the thing wears out quick like a bunny. So don't do it, no matter what you read in Muir and all the magazines. (For the straight dope check the Journal of the Society of Automotive Engineers. The cause of premature roller- and ball-bearing failure was identified in the early 1950's.)

Another thing often overlooked by the novice is the need to LUBRICATE your brakes. Not the shoes but the adjusters and wherever metal parts move against each other. They make special grease just for this purpose.

If your wheel cylinders are leaking they need to be overhauled or replaced. And if you have leaky wheel cylinders, odds are the master cylinder has gone bad too. Why? The slave cylinders go bad because you've allowed water to build up in the fluid. If there's enough water in the system to cause pitting of the slave cylinders you can bet your bippie the same thing has happened to the master cylinder.

Overhauling a brake cylinder means honing out the pits, polishing the bore and replacing the seals. A wheel cylinder kit typically costs only a couple of bucks. But if you've never overhauled a hydraulic cylinder, this isn't the place to start. Buy rebuilt or new replacements and plan to overhaul the old ones.

The best cure for leaky brakes is to not let it happen. You can prevent the rust that causes the pits by replacing the brake fluid every couple of years. Easy.

Often times I find VW slave and master cylinders so badly pitted they can't be honed, they need to be re-bored and sleeved. (Unless you've got a shop full of tools and a lot of spare time, you can't afford that.) When the cylinders are that bad there's a good chance the hydraulic pipes are also rusty. There's no way to heal a rusty brake line. It must be replaced.

Oddly enough, one of the most frequent results of rusty brake lines is conversion to disk brakes, which cures absolutely nothing. The logic here is slightly baroque so follow me through. The rusty brake lines are restricting flow and the vehicle's braking performance is poor. The vehicle has a history of brake problems and no amount of bleeding or cylinder replacement seems to help. For some reason the owner decides the problem is in the brake DRUMS (disks are better, right?) and off he goes on a very expensive trip down the slippery slope.

Volkswagens have pretty good brakes, as numerous tests have shown. Before you decide to 'improve' the braking system, make sure it really needs it.

Another oft-seen error is failure to replace the grease seals on the front wheels when doing a brake job (or even when repacking the front wheel bearings). I had a kid come by the shop after replacing his front shoes twice in six months, wondering what he was doing wrong. His left front brake drum didn't have a grease seal. He was using the Muir manual which mentions the grease seal only in passing, putting no emphasis on the need for periodic replacement. But the 'official' Bentley manual isn't any better. The grease seal isn't even mentioned in the brake section. Under the section for the front end it mentions only 'Seal for disc.' It is illustrated in the exploded view of the drum-type brake but there is no nomenclature associated with it. Haynes also ignores the seals. Which is probably why I see so many bad front brake jobs.

When grease or oil gets on the drum it will contaminate the shoes. Since none of the common sources of information put any emphasis on the need to insure the seal is doing its job it comes as no surprise to find a lot of bad seals out there… and a lot of bad brakes… and a lot of Conventional Wisdom that sez veedubs don't have good brakes. (But buying that expensive disk brake kit will fix EVERYTHING, right? :-)

Front axle grease seals are inexpensive. The old style used a fiber seal; you had to replace it pretty often. Later versions are made of synthetic rubber and last a long time (your wheels don't rotate very fast). But on a rotating shaft even the best seal needs to be replaced now and then.

The oil seals on the rear axle are a different case. Since the rear axle seals remain in place when the wheel is removed they are normally replaced only when you R&R the bearing.

Ready to do a brake job? Then read your manuals. Be sure to arc the shoes and to keep things clean. Ignore the kewl instructions in the Muir manual for burning the oil off a contaminated brake shoe. That's an old Model T Ford trick. It only applies to asbestos linings installed with rivets. Modern brake lining material does not contain asbestos and the lining is bonded to the shoes with special glue that will be destroyed by burning (when bonded brake shoes are overhauled the first step is to bake them at a temperature that causes the glue to breakdown, allowing the old lining to be easily removed).

Brakes are easy. Keep them adjusted and replace the brake fluid every couple of years, you'll always have good brakes.

-Bob Hoover
-16 April 2K

Friday, December 22, 2006

VW - TULZ Part Four

TULZ – Part Four

Soldering and On-board Spares


To maintain your Volkswagen you need to know how to solder. Get yourself an inexpensive soldering iron (30W to 40W), some rosin-core electrical solder, some wire and have at it. As with all of the manual arts, soldering involves sensokinetic skills – muscle memory – as in riding a bicycle or touch-typing. It is a skill which can be learned but which can not be taught in the usual sense of the word. In effect, you must teach yourself. With rare exception this applies to all of the manual arts.

You need to know how to solder and desolder in order to repair your starter solenoid, replace starter brushes and repair certain types of alternators. But your most common use of soldering will be to replace aging connectors.

The Volkswagen was an inexpensive car. They used the cheapest type of brass connectors. Over time, these connectors age-harden and break. (Better quality connectors are plated with tin, the best ones with gold.)

In a production environment such connectors are crimped onto the wires using a tool that generates several tons of force in order to produce a gas-tight junction. The enormous pressure virtually welds the wire to the connector, insuring the junction will not corrode. When using the typical hand-crimper even the strongest man generates no more than a few hundred pounds of force. The interface between the connector & wire tends to corrode since the joint is not gas tight and the connector will come loose in time. There are better tools for this task, aviation stuff that allows you make a suitable repair in the field, but they cost hundreds of dollars and you need a different set of jaws for each size of fitting.

For automotive work the solution is to use a crimped and soldered connection. Herez how to do it. You solder the lead, trim it to length, crimp it into the fitting THEN solder the tinned lead to the fitting. This sequence insures the strongest possible mechanical joint (ie, crimping to the soldered lead) yet needs only minimum heat to solder the already tinned lead to the connector.

The result is a connection that is gas tight and has adequate mechanical strength. Unfortunately, soldered connections tend to fracture when subjected to vibration. To make them survive in an automotive environment you must provide some means of strain relief at the soldered connection.

A suitable strain relief can be formed using two pieces of heat-shrink tubing, one about three-quarters of an inch long, the other about an inch and a quarter in length. You slide both pieces of tubing onto the wire BEFORE you install the connector. Slide the long piece on first, then the short piece, then crimp & solder the connector. Now slide the short piece over the soldered junction, shrink it into place, allow it too cool then slide the long piece over the long piece.

Most spade type connectors sold for automotive repair come with a ridiculous little plastic collar. Remove the plastic before using the connector. (The easy way to do this is to heat the connector while holding it with a pair of needle-nose pliers. The plastic sleeve may be twisted off when hot.) You can buy high quality spade-type connectors without the plastic collar from electrical distributors (Mouser, etc) and from the better automotive electrical shops.



Your static timing light is nothing more than an automotive lamp (ie, the 'bulb') to which you've soldered a pair of leads fitted with alligator clips (crocodile clips for the Brits). The tricky part of this soldering job is how do you hold the bulb. Try using modeling clay. (If you do much head work you'll have a lump of modeling clay around the shop.) If you don't have clay, try using candle wax.

Once the leads are soldered to the lamp, insulate the thing with vinyl tape. You might also give the bulb a wrap of tape so as to protect it from breaking as it knocks about in your tool bag.

The Muir manual suggests using a replacement light socket & bulb as your timing light and keeping it in a folksy Bull Durham bag. You'll find such sockets bubble-packed in the electrical section of most franchise- type auto-parts stores. But John shows the timing light with only one lead, which greatly limits the utility of the lamp. Replacement sockets with two leads are available. Of course, if you drive an old bus you already have such a device onboard. It is your license plate lamp & socket.

Your timing light also makes a handy trouble light. And a voltage indicator(!).



Your electrical kit should include an assortment of test leads of various lengths two of which should be long enough to reach from the front of the vehicle to the rear. Among the shorter leads you should make up some only an inch or so in length with a spade-connector on one end and an alligator clip on the other. Make a pair of such leads, using both male & female spade-connectors. These are actually adapters but the object here is to give you some soldering practice so I've lumped them together with your test leads.

Other adapters you'll find useful are 'gender benders,' in which you have the same 'sex' connector on each end, and 'Y' adapters, in which two leads are soldered to the same connector on one end (ie, the base of the 'Y') but the 'arms' of the 'Y' are fitted with M-M, M-F or F-F connectors. These are very useful when you need to borrow a bit of power from a circuit or which to monitor the state of a circuit while debugging a problem. If you'll examine the in-line connectors used by Volkswagen you'll see why a lead fitted with an alligator clip can not be used on certain circuits.



Your second-most common need for soldering skills is in splicing wires, a woefully frequent chore with any older vehicle but one carried to extremes with Volkswagens, many of which have enjoyed the inexpert attentions of as many as twenty (!) different owners over the years. (Does your State's department of motor vehicles offer registration history? Most do. For a fee, they will provide you with the name & address of a vehicle's past owners.)

To make a splice you strip back the insulation for about an inch and a half on each wire. Slide two pieces of heat-shrink tubing onto one of the wires. One piece should be about an inch long, the other about two inches long. You want the short piece closest to the splice. (You put the heat-shrink onto the wire because the piece you are splicing in usually has the connector already installed.)

Inspect the stripped wire carefully for corrosion or contamination. If the wire is corroded, cut it back another inch and try again. On some Volkswagens, aging of the plastic insulation produces an acid that causes the wires to corrode. In those cases you need to replace the entire wire. As the years roll by this problem has become increasingly common. Eventually, you'll be forced to rewire the entire vehicle. (This is why replacement wiring harnesses are so widely available.)

To make a soldered connection you want clean, bright copper. If that's what you've got, go ahead and twist each wire into a tight pigtail. Herez how: About half an inch from the insulation, bend each wire at a right angle. Hook the angles together so the leads are pointing in opposite directions. Holding the hooked area, twist (ie, 'wrap') one of the leads about the other wire, making three turns. Now do the same with the other lead. You want the wraps to be tight and close together.

When the wires are twisted together, use your dykes or toenail clippers to trim any excess then twist the ends hard down against the wire to make a smoothly tapered wrap in the space between the last of the three turns and the start of the insulation. You don't want any 'sharpies' sticking up to puncture the heat-shrink tubing.

Solder the splice. Keep the iron on one side of the bundle and the solder on the other, allowing the wire to heat fully. Shake off any excess solder, allow the joint to cool then inspect it BY TOUCH. If you can feel any 'sharpies,' deal with them. You can file them off or crush them flat with smooth-jawed pliers but you have to get rid of them.

Slide the SHORT piece of heat-shrink tubing over the COOLED joint, center it over the splice and shrink it in place. Let it cool for a minute then feel it to make sure a 'sharpie' hasn't penetrated the tubing. (If it has, cut off the heat-shrink, deal with the 'sharpie', insulate the splice with ELECTRICAL TAPE and continue.)

Slide the long piece of heat-shrink over the first (or over the tape) and shrink it into place.

You're all done. Tin the tip of your iron, allow it to cool and repack your electrical kit.

Here's a couple of common-sense rules: When making a splice always use the same size of wire. (Don't go by the outer diameter, strip it back and gauge the size of the copper conductor.) Always use the same COLOR of wire as the original. You are just a bead on a string. Others will come after you. Your legacy is to demonstrate to future mechanics and electricians that you were a competent craftsman. (Maybe this is a guy-thing. Or a pride-thing. But most of all it's a common-sense-thing. Wiring is always coded by color. A competent mechanic always maintains that particular vehicle's color-coding when making electrical repairs.)



On-board spares are, logically enough, those spare parts carried onboard the vehicle. They are easily replaced parts, the failure of which, immobilizes the vehicle or renders it unsafe to drive.

Spare fan belt. The value of carrying one (or more) should need no explanation.

Fuses. Volkswagen used an inexpensive Siemans-type fuse having the fuse-metal exposed to the atmosphere, a handy way to start a fire (and which are illegal in some locales). Buss (brand name) manufactures conical-tip fuses in which the fusible element is contained within a glass envelope. They are not only safer in use, they also hold up better knocking around in the door-pocket. Better auto-parts stores carry them.

Spare lamps. If you have two of something – headlights, taillights, etc – you can generally get by without carrying a spare but a lot of older Volkswagens are owned by youngsters, a lot of youngsters attend college and a lot of college-town cops prey upon students, seeing even the most minor infraction as a source of municipal income. You decide. Personally, I carry a full set of lamps, from headlight to license plate.

(Ed.Note: In the six years since this was written LED lighting has become so common-place that the local auto-parts store has reduced the size of their automotive lamp display by half. If you have not converted your running, brake & turn-signals to LED's it might be wise to add those lamps to your on-board spares.)

Throttle wire & clutch cable. Most folks don't bother to carry these. That's a mistake. The availability of air cooled Volkswagen parts is becoming more difficult, with mail-order being the only option for many VW owners. This situation isn't going to get any better. Indeed, those of us who depend on our antique Volkswagens for transportation are forced to maintain a considerable stock of spare spares on hand, either carried onboard the vehicle or kept at home in ready-for-issue condition.

A common mistake is to carrying spare parts but fail to adequately preserve them. The throttle wire should be painted (!) and the cutch cable greased, then wrapped in several layers of heavy plastic sealed with tape.

The reason for painting the throttle wire is because you can't paint it after it's installed and grease alone isn't enough to protect it. So you paint it ahead of time. Just soak a pad with some paint and pull the wire through the pad, then let the paint cure. To lube it, wipe it down with silicon lube rather than grease.

Replacing the clutch cable on the side of the road can be one hell of a chore. So teach yourself how to drive without using the clutch. Find yourself an empty parking lot, push-start your bug or bus, jump in and… Awful, huh? :-) But you can do it. It's just a matter of coordination… and rolling through the stop signs. Being able to drive without using the clutch will allow you to reach a safe refuge where the repair can be done.

To do an emergency replacement of either the throttle wire or clutch cable, roll that side of the vehicle up onto a curb or dig a trench and back over it. You have to work under the vehicle and you NEVER do so using only the jack.



The need to carry certain on-board spares means you must also carry certain tools, the one dictates the other.

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that you need a jack and a lug wrench if you want to change a tire, or a 21mm wrench and a screwdriver if you want to change the fan belt. And a source of light so you can do those things at night. And some form of protection so you do those things in the rain or snow or mud or desert heat… just common sense. I'll leave you to figure out which tools you need. (I drove a '65 bus. The type & amount of stuff I carry wouldn't make much sense to someone with a Ghia or bug.)

Your on-board tool kit is liable to be different than mine but there are a couple of things everyone should carry, such as duct tape. Ditto for bailing wire. (Yeah, I know, nobody uses wire to bale hay any more.) Go down to the hardware store, back where they've got cement and rebar and ask the guy for a roll of 'tie-wire'. He'll sell you a five-pound roll of the stuff for less than the cost of that cute little half-pound roll of 'Repair Wire' they sell to the yuppies.

Your on-board tools are a part of the vehicle, not a part of your regular tool kit. They go where the vehicle goes, all the time, every time. If you don't understand the logic here, re-read this Part until you do.

One of the more useful on-board tools is a piece of canvas about three feet wide by six feet long. I keep it folded & wrapped around the tools, secured with about thirty feet of light rope. I use it to lie on if I have to work under the vehicle but mostly it's to keep the tools clean and things organized. If I lived where it rained I'd also carry a big sheet of heavy plastic. And I mean HEAVY. Five mil stuff. Instead, I carry a roll of plastic garbage bags. (And a throw-away rain suit.)

Wherever I go, there I am. I try to schedule my maintenance so I can do it in a place of my choosing but weather or circumstance may force me to use the next wide spot on the road. And of course, when you breakdown, you don't have a lot of choices; wherever you are becomes your shop for the duration of the repair. So I do what I can to make my roadside shop as comfortable and convenient as possible, knowing the work will go faster for having spent a few minutes to insure my safety, comfort and convenience. Here again, common sense should be your guide. You erect some form of roof to protect you from the sun, rain or snow, and you put down some form of floor to keep you from having to lie on the ground. And you always protect your tools.

Cardboard and plastic makes a good floor – you can discard it and pick up new stuff at the next town. A tarp becomes your 'sky', secured with duct tape and bailing wire, using the corner of a fenced parking lot, a tree, picnic table or what-have-you as the other 'wall.' (In Baja you carry a couple of poles… or travel two-by-two and park the second vehicle so as to support the tarp.) When the work is done and you're ready to move on, you clean up after yourself. I carry a leaf rake, a broom and some trash bags; I leave no sign of my passing. It's not that big a planet.

-Bob Hoover
-14 April 2K

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

VW - TULZ Part Three

TULZ – Part Three

What do you want to do with your Volkswagen? Fix it up? (whatever that means..) Paint it? Build a new engine?

Go on, make a list. Define your car in terms of the things you want it to be or that you want to do with it. Put the thing you consider most important at the top of the list then work your way down.

(WARNING: #1- 'Bitchin' Sound System' gets you an F for the course :-)

A fancy name for making this list is 'Prioritization.' It's what you gotta do to maximize the effectiveness of your limited resources. But that ain't all. It is also a sly way to introduce you to the 'Divide & Conquer' concept of automotive management in which we first decide what has to be done then break the task down into doable bites that match your resources. In this case, 'resources' means your skills, tools, time and the availability of working space.

Whatcha wanna bet your list is not the same as everyone else's list? See, that's a bit of a problem for me, because if I'm going to be telling you about how to maintain your Volkswagen I need to lay out a plan; I need to prioritize my time & work. But what if the most important thing you need to do is fix a broken window… and I don't get to that until Part Eighty-seven or whatever. Odds are, you'll be long gone and I'm sitting here boring everyone to tears.

So I'm not going to do things that way. I'm going to get you your own teacher. In fact, I already have… it's you. I'm going to hang out under that tree over there and let you work up the syllabus for your vehicle. That's the purpose of the list. Those are the things that you feel are important. So go ahead and get busy. If I see you doing it wrong, I'll throw rocks at you :-)

The lesson here is one most will fail to appreciate. You are in charge of your life. The secret of Life, The Universe and Everything is not '42'. The secret is to keep your priorities straight, to break tasks down into doable chunks and then to actually do them; to progress along your chosen course. Most folks don’t. Most mistake activity for progress, fill their lives with busy-ness and end up with little or nothing to show for it. Knowing how to maintain your vehicle is something of lasting value, well worth your time and effort.

But before you get busy fixing your Volkswagen I'd like you to do me a favor. I want you to add three items to the very top of your list. The first item is 'The ability to STOP.'

Stopping – good brakes – must ALWAYS have the highest priority. Making a car go is easy; you don't even need an engine. But when a sixteen hundred pound bug starts rolling, no matter how slowly, it represents one hell of a lot of energy (and a bus weighs twice as much). The ability to stop MUST be your first priority.

The second item, #2 on ANY list of priorities is 'Steering' and the logic is similar to that for stopping: Once a vehicle is in motion you must be able to steer. So before we get to the Bitchin' Sound System lets make sure you can get the thing out of the parking lot without hitting a pole.

Finally, as item #3, I'd like you to add 'Safety' and yeah, I'll be the first to admit it's probably a waste of time to put it on a list, because if you haven't learned by now that safety, not only around cars but in EVERYTHING YOU DO has to be a HABIT then you probably never will. But I want it on-record. And I want the record to show two sub- heads, the first is 'Personal Restraints' – that's your harness and the seat you sit in. The second is 'Fire' and under 'Fire' I want you to open two sub-sub-heads: 'Fuel' and 'Electrical'.

The safety thing turns off a lot of guys because they simply aren't bright enough to Get It. We probably should have called it Free Money, Good Sex or mebbe Long Life because 'safety' is all of those things. Safety is Positive Force, something you channel for your personal benefit. The way you channel it is by being cryogenically cool and totally professional. That skews the odds of success 'way over to your side of the board; you leave nothing to Chance.

Pretty dull, eh? Brakes. Steering. Safety. Nothing totally kewl. So here's a pop quiz for you. Who wins the race?

Come on. Think it out. What defines the winner?

It's the guy who finishes first. No, not the fastest car in the race, the car that FINISHES FIRST… no matter what he averaged.

So chew on this: You gotta finish to win. (And not just in a car race.) Brakes, steering and safety are fundamentals. Then comes making it durable, so you know you'll be able to finish the race. Only then do you devote any resources to making it go fast, 'Bitchin' Sound System,' 'Kewl Upholstery,' and other necessities of life :-)


Can you solder? Do you have a soldering iron? Go find one. A good mechanic is also a pretty good electrician. You will eventually be both. Get yourself some rosin-core ELECTRICAL solder to go with the iron. And a pad of fine-gauge steel wool. And a pair of toe-nail clippers. The toe-nail clippers are for clipping wire, not toe-nails. You may use diagonal cutters if you wish but the toe-nail clippers are a lot more fun. Avoid Radio Shack if at all possible. Their quality is awful and their prices too high, in my own personal humble opinion.

Have you got some spade-lug connectors? You're going to need some. Get the kind that are coated with tin; they look kinda dull silvery. Buy the ones WITHOUT the plastic sleeve. If that's all you can get, be prepared to remove the plastic sleeve. Volkswagen was a cheap car, very cheaply made. They used the cheapest electrical components. The unplated brass connectors suffer from age-hardening and corrosion. Much of your maintenance work is going to be replacing bad connectors so let's make sure you start out with good replacements to begin with. Try Home Depot or order them via mail from Mouser.

You also need some heat-shrink tubing and a pair of crimpers for the spade-lug connectors. And some wire. Mebbe fifty feet or so. That is, TWO colors of wire, fifty feet of each. Sixteen gauge will be fine.

And some alligator clips. And a roll of vinyl electrical tape. And a pocketknife.

What's all this leading up to? Old Volkswagens have a high incidence of electrical problems. Most electrical problems are easily diagnosed and simple to fix. We're going to make some test leads and a timing light. These are basic tools, something you'll use the rest of your life. In making up the test leads you will learn how to solder and install fittings onto wires, a skill you're going to need to keep an old Volkswagen running.

Now figure out where you're going to keep all this electrical stuff. You want to keep it separate from your other tools. Later on we'll add a multi-meter and a strobe-light to the kit so find something big enough. A .50 caliber ammo can will work, except nowadays they cost more than a real toolbox. Those canvas tool bags from Harbor Freight are handy and not very expensive. The tool bags come in large & small plus they offer a Rigger's bag that is about the handiest thing since beer in cans.

Word to the Wise: IF you live where folks frown upon mechanics, DON'T use a regular toolbox. Fake them out.

Gym bag works great. So does an old bowling bag. Go down to the Salvation Army and pick up a couple of awol bags or small suitcases. Use a backpack if you gotta but your full kit of tools is going to be a pretty heavy load and a major pain in the ass if you have to keep hauling them back and forth. So don't. Haul them. Roll them. One of the smartest ideas since pre-sliced bread is those suitcases with wheels & a handle. The alternative is one of those fold-up carry-on carts from Wal- Mart or wherever. Anything with wheels is worthy of consideration. Baby carriage. Office chair. Golf bag carrier. Shopping cart. BICYCLE. (If you have a home with an attached garage and lotsa shop space all of this will sound pretty silly but it's Mother's Milk for someone living in the barracks.)

I'll let you work it out. You are the Mechanic-in-Charge.

-Bob Hoover -10 April 2K

PS – Got the 'official' Bentley manual? Then read Chapter 10, the Electrical System. Pay particular attention to the explanation of Ohm's Law.

The Size of American Money

Now you always have a ruler in your pocket :-)

VW - Bore x Stroke

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Guns and Common Sense - II

Buckeyered wrote:

> I change my carry ammo about every three months, is that about right?


Dear Red,

It's not something carved in stone. The type of weapon, how/where the weapon is carried, the type of ammo involved and whether you're speaking of loaded vs carried ammunition are factors in the equation.

For example, revolvers expose more of the round to contamination than does an auto-loader. Indeed, if it's a double-action semi the rounds are pretty well isolated from contaminants.

Being softer and often coated with grease, lead slugs tend to pick up more debris than FMJ rounds.

A stubby in an ankle holster represents a fairly harsh environment not only for the ammo but for the weapon. Ditto for a shoulder rig during warm weather :-) A holstered weapon, worn at the waist, outside of trousers or skirt is generally the best environment if you're wearing civvies.

With the logical exceptions, the above conditions also apply to your re-loads.

The rules above apply mostly to the contamination of the ball and corrosion of the shell casing, in which case FMJ bullets and nickel plated cases tend to do better than lead & brass. Properly loaded, the powder and primer are not part of the equation, assuming we're talking of American goods. The purity of components used by American manufacturers ensures the round will have a useful storage life measured in decades.


For most of us, once we hang up our uniform we continue to observe the habits of practice, cleaning, qualifying and ammo rotation developed prior to that time but the odds we'll have to use our personal weapon becomes vanishingly small. In the final analysis, if you feel three months is about right, then it probably is. Because when you get right down to it, no one can appreciate your particular situation better than you.

-Bob Hoover

VW - TULZ Part Two

TULZ – Part Two

This is gonna come as a shock to a lot of folks but automotive engineering is not subject to the democratic process. Just because all your buds are doing something don't make it right. Jumping on the Internet and conducting a poll for the 'best' engine won't work.

Access to VALID information is a more serious problem than most people realize and one that is going to plague you all your life so listen up. Are you familiar with the classic 'bell-shaped curve'? (Then lookit up.) If Volkswagen owners took a test about their vehicle you'd end up with a classic distribution curve. The kiddies would be down on the idiot- end and the experienced mechanics would be up on the expert-end and everybody else – two-thirds of the total – would be lumped in the middle.

Now here's the problem: Virtually ALL of the information you're going to run into is aimed at the lower slope of that curve, at the na?ve, inexperienced people.

Here's an example. Volkswagen of America offers an 'Official Service Manual' for their air-cooled vehicles. It is in fact an ABRIDGMENT of the REAL manual. In the 'Official' manual they shyly caution you to not put much faith in the manual but since kiddies only look at the pictures the warning goes unnoticed. ( '…be especially careful about proceeding with any specific task on the basis of the information in this Manual.' Section 1, Part 5 of the Official Service Manual [VW Part No. LPV 997 164] )

Another example is the late John Muir's ever-popular "How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive – A Manual of Step-by-Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot." Unfortunately, John was a better philosopher than a mechanic. His manual is larded with hilarious gaffes, some of the 'procedures' will cause damage to your vehicle and a great deal of information simply isn't there, such as how to overhaul your carburetor or transmission. Trannys are actually easier to work on than engines and rebuilding the Solex carb is a classic no-brainer, a task well within the scope of any nine-year old.

(Ed.Note: The above was based on John's first manual, the original spiral-bound 1st edition. The manual has since gone through about 25(!) editions and has been expanded to include carbs and trannys. Alas, it still contains most of the errors from the original.)

John's manual serves to demystify the art of automotive mechanics and the book is well worth the read, for the artwork if nothing else. But don't put a lot of faith in it when it comes to technical accuracy.

The better manuals lack the sugar coating of the Idiot book and are more complete than the 'official' abridgement. Probably the best all-'round manual for the bug and Ghia is the Haynes book, their #159. It is certainly the most cost-effective and most widely available.

If you plan to do your own engine overhauls you should also hold a copy of Tom Wilson's excellent "How to Rebuild Your Volkswagen Air-Cooled Engine."

If your ride is a bus, Ghia or convertible, there are books devoted to those as well.

One source for most of these manuals is J.C.Whitney. If you're not on their mailing list you probably should be. Most of the after-market suppliers also carry manuals although they don't often mention that in their ads in the magazines.

You can't maintain your vehicle without the manual any more than you could take a history class without a textbook. In learning to maintain and repair your Volkswagen, the manuals become your textbooks.

I shouldn't have to tell you that you need a manual but there is good evidence that many Volkswagen owners disagree, relying instead on magazine articles, their peers and the Internet for such information. That's as dumb as it is dangerous. The infomercials in the magazines are long on hype and thin on technical accuracy, and as this Newsgroup (Ed.Note: RAMVA) clearly illustrates, the most commonly held Conventional Wisdoms are generally wrong. ( The –009 is a good idea, right? :-)

The wiser course is to take such 'popular' information with a grain of salt until you can test it against reality. (And that includes mine. Think for yourself!) Be especially wary of data offered by someone trying to sell you something. Volkswagen built over twenty-two million air-cooled vehicles. Most of the people offering you advice hasn't built even one. (As a point of interest, Volkswagen of America is not a manufacturer.)

Once you've acquired your manuals the real work begins. You must actually READ them. No Cliff Notes. No 'repair by consensus.' This is especially difficult for American youngsters because the present-day educational system does not teach students HOW to learn a subject.

I learned mechanikin from my grandfather and my dad and from fellow mechanics, including some wonderful German fellows who worked at Deet Eichel Volkswagen in Modesto, California. They were my mentors and my apprenticeship lasted about ten years. By the time I was sixteen I was a very good electrician, a pretty good machinist, a competent weldor, and a fair mechanic. That was more than forty years ago and I'm still learning. You obviously have not enjoyed my advantages; you would not be reading this if you had. But some portions of the path I followed are still available to anyone wishing to make the journey.

Have you ever seen a gasoline-powered washing machine? They are still common in much of the world and were the standard in rural America until the 1930's, some remaining in use well into the 1950's. I thought they were marvelous things. Not the washing machine, the little kick- start one-cylinder engine that powered them. By the age of nine I was an accomplished small-engine repairboy :-)

If you're a total greenhorn when it comes to cars, tools and getting greasy, it might be a good idea to step back and get yourself a copy of the Haynes (or other publisher) manual for small engines, the kind you'll find on a lawnmower. The reason for this is because a one-cylinder lawnmower engine has about 85% of the 'DNA' in your Volkswagen engine. Same poppet valves, same Otto-cycle, same relationship of crankshaft to cam, same type of carburetor and so on. The manual for these engines assumes NO PRIOR KNOWLEDGE on your part, unlike automotive manuals that, of necessity, must start rather high up the learning curve.

The object here is to use a free lawnmower engine to teach you how engines work. And yes, they are free… as many of them as you want. Just tell folks you're a student and will pick the thing up.. for free… and they'll give them to you. Go on. Try it :-)

What happens next is kinda funny. About half of those free lawnmowers won't have a thing wrong with them. Oh, they may need a new spark plug or the carb might need to be cleaned but they aren't junk. Give them a bit of TLC, sharpen the blade, run them down to your local swap- meet and the thing is worth a twenty-five dollar bill.

The nice thing about one-lungers is that they're small. Light. You can put down some cardboard and work on one in your dorm or on the kitchen table. You'll need a few tools that are unique to small engines but they aren't very expensive and can be easily resold when no longer needed. J. C. Whitney (and others) carries them. (See their big catalog.)

The other nice thing about one-lungers is that the knowledge and experience you gain from them can be transferred to a Volkswagen engine with about an 85% match.

Part Two is meant to point you toward your textbooks and to suggest a lab project you can keep under the bed. But as with any educational process its effectiveness is up to you. DON'T go into this thing expecting instant gratification. That's a myth. Education is expensive and time consuming. Budget both your time and your money. Ideally, try to make the system pay for itself, either by the lawnmower ploy or by doing maintenance on other people's vehicles.

-Bob Hoover
-7 April 2K