Vanagon Odds & Ends

I realized a few weeks ago that we’ve had our Vanagon for 10 years as of this past April. My kids all spent the better part of their childhood summers camping in this van on our family trips and vacations. I’ve used it as a home base for many bike camping trips and bluegrass festivals. It is a fantastic and delightful machine.

And while all that is true, I know that the past few summers as I drive the east coast highways on a hot July or August Sunday afternoon, exhausted and making my way home from a bluegrass festival or bike ride, I look around at the cars passing me. I see that I am alone. That there are no other cars even remotely as old as mine on the road. The lack of air conditioning means I’m driving with the windows down, sweating, straining to hear the tunes on my stereo. I admit that I have questioned my sanity at times.

Why drive this thing? Why not get a Sprinter or a Pull behind or something. At the end of last summer I even thought about selling the vanagon.

Then, this spring, with mental note of 10 year anniversary in mind, I got under the van to do an oil change. Then, for whatever reason, I decided maybe I should try to fix my fluctuating idle. I cruised The Samba and Ken’s YouTube video’s and soon I had a properly adjusted TPS and a silky smooth and steady idle and was immediately reminded of why I’m never selling this thing: the satisfaction of maintenance. I’ve worked on bicycles since I was a little, little kid but never cars until I got the vanagon and now I feel reasonably sure that I can fix a lot of what might go wrong with the van or at least identify what’s wrong and find someone knowledgeable enough to fix it.

Taking the Vanagon on a road trip is an exercise in relinquishing control. I do what I can do for maintenance and making sure the van’s in good shape but when driving a nearly 40 year old vehicle, there is always a chance I won’t make it to where I’m going when I thought I’d get there. I’m still digesting this lesson, learning what’s in my control and what’s not and the Vanagon continues to be an excellent teacher in that regard.

The controlled chaos of “getting the Vanagon ready”

So but anyway, to celebrate 10 years of great summer trips and to get ready for the longish drive out to DelFest in Cumberland, MD, I gave the Vanagon a bunch of TLC over the past few weeks:

  • Oil Change
  • Throttle Position Switch
  • Fixed several vacuum leaks
  • Replaced rear brake shoes (I had a local VW mechanic as I felt just a bit over my head and was equally pressed for time as the amount of time I spent working on the Vanagon was starting to create some issues for my other responsibilities)
  • Replaced 3 belts
  • Polished and Waxed Van (forgot how good it can look)
  • Fixed the charcoal canister/vacuum/crushing gas tank problem
  • Cleaned the slider door tracks
  • Cleaned/painted aux battery compartment
  • Replaced aux battery
  • Replaced front door handle seals and painted door handles
  • Painted front grills, added silver trim
  • Coolant flush
  • Added GoWesty’s upper window seals to front doors, what a difference. Reducing wind noise is definitely the best bang for the buck, way more so than adding sound deadening to panels. At least for my vanagon.
  • Replaced fuel filter (local shop put the last one on facing in the wrong direction, yowza.)
  • Coolant flush (used shop vac and, with some success, the Libby Bong)

And all that was great and made me feel pretty confident but it wasn’t until I took out my Dremel and cleaned up a hard to reach grounding point in the engine bay that suddenly caused the idle and throttle responsiveness to improve way more than I thought was possible.

So.. clean yer grounds!