Saturday, December 30, 2006

VW - How to NOT buy Tires


4 June 2003

I spent three hours today not buying tires.

The joke is that I really wanted to buy some. I had lotsa money, knew what I wanted and wasn't in a rush. But I couldn't find anyone who wanted to sell'um as much I wanted to buy'um.

1965 Volkswagen bus. 14" rims. LT 195-75's 4 ply (actual count) minimum. I was willing to pay a hundred bucks each. And I wanted two, please.

Even had it all wrote down on a 3 x 5 card. Didn't help at all.

First outfit, the guy read the card, fiddled with his keyboard, comes up with $295 for all four. That is, four P 185-75's. Two-ply passenger car tires. With the usual “Four Ply Rating” bullshit that is as useless as tits on a boar when you own a vehicle that requires tires having the stiffer four-ply sidewalls.

Just what part of LT 195-75 didn't he understand? "That's not the right tire for your vehicle, sir." Gee, I wish someone had told me that three hundred thousand miles ago. Since he didn't know the difference between two and four I thanked him and eased on out the door.

Next outfit wanted my name, didn't even look at the card I'd written out.

"I just want a price, not an appointment."

He sez, "I still need your name for our computer." His computer is still longing for my name.

Next place, the kid tells me they don't make LT 195's any more... but he's got something even better... I'm still laughing as I go out the door.

Finally found an outfit that seemed to know what they were doing. Quoted me a price... kinda high ... that included everything from 'Road Failure Insurance' to 'State Required Disposal Fee.' I told them I'd keep the old tires. They said they couldn't allow me to do that. They are required by law to see that all tires are properly disposed of. For a fee, of course. Which means people are not allowed to carry away their used tires.

"Lemme show you how it's done," I told him as I got back in my bus and drove away on my used tires.

(I'm still wondering about that 'Road Failure' business. You don't suppose they meant TIRE failure, do you? Hell of a thing, having a road fail on you.)

Having exhausted the local new-tire emporiums I tried a couple of llantaria's, used tire guys where it helps if you speak Spanish. No luck finding LT's of my required size. I bought a couple of new valve stems and puttered my way back home.

Dug through the mess out behind the shop, found two old tires that had a bit more tread than the ones presently mounted on the bus, spent the rest of the day dismounting the old ones, cleaning up the rims, remounting the 'new' old ones. Hell of a chore if you don't have a tire machine.

Since I had the nose of the bus jacked up I gave her a lube job, adjusted the link pins and brakes. Mounted my refurbished wheels and checked the toe-in, took off the front belly pan and lubed the accelerator, gear shift & e-brake. Cleaned things up a bit. Just frutzing around.

Not a bad way to spend a day but what I really wanted was some new tires.

Maybe in another life. Or another town.


15 June 2003

You don't need to be a rocket scientist to buy tires. The manufacturer tells you what kind of skins your ride should be wearing so there's really no mystery at all as to the size and load-rating.

Experience plays a role, as does where & how you drive, but mostly in the selection of a particular brand of tire. Having two new tires blow-out on their first trip to Baja is pretty good evidence that tires from some manufacturers are simply not suitable for my kind of traveling.

With all of that in your war-bag you should have no trouble buying tires. But about ten days ago I posted a little billy-dew to this Newsgroup describing how local tire dealers kept trying to sell me what they had instead of what I wanted. I finally found a shop that had the size & brand I wanted only to have them try to pad the bill with fallacious charges. So I patched up some old tires and drove on.

But I still needed some new rubber; in fact, I've been budgeting to replace all four tires in preparation for a trip I'm planning to make this fall.

I ordered a pair of Yokohama Y356 LT195/75-14's from the Tire Rack, over in Las Vegas. Shipped via UPS then mounted & balanced by a local shop that's set up for wide-fives, the cost came to a little over $80 per tire.

Did I save any money? I've no idea. I budgeted $200 for two new tires. I now have them. Come August, I'll get two more. No hassles, no valueless warranties, useless road-hazard policies and no lies from idiot salesmen. After a good bath the old tires will be donated to the anti-erosion program run by a local water conservation district.


June 2006

Someone wrote: > It has been three years since you installed a set of Yokohama Y356 LT195/75-14. > I wonder how they are holding up?


Dear Someone (and the Group)

(He's referring to my 'How Not To Buy Tires' posted back in 2003.)

Originally, it wasn't a full set, just a pair. I squeezed the piggy bank for the other pair that fall.

They appear to be holding up just fine, although I haven't put many miles on them (about 20k). I haven't had any flats nor blow-outs and they've seen a fair number of miles off-pavement. I made a couple of trips along old Highway 66 from Ludlow to Fenner, and down the road alongside the tracks between Cadiz and Goffs. I also did a trip up Milpitas Wash looking for an old mining site I'd seen from the air but got stuck and thought I'd have to homestead the place before I could dig myself out. Wasn't the tires fault; I went nosing up a dry wash toward the Chocolate Mountains and got into some fine sand. (Except for dunes or down in the washes, the desert is mostly gravel.) But I wasn't the only one :-) A bit farther north, up near the Mule Mountains, I found a Jeep buried to the axels. Been there a while and pretty well stripped. I can't figure out how he managed to get stuck like that -- the thing was really dug in.

-Bob Hoover

VW - TULZ Part Ten

TULZ – Part Ten


The steering and front suspension on older Volkswagens needs a lot of attention to keep it working properly, reflecting the 1930's origin of the design. In keeping with the design philosophies of that era the steering and suspension systems are overbuilt by modern-day standards. Although it takes more work to keep these antique vehicles running, the tasks are relatively simple. Designed to be overhauled with a minimum of tooling, the robust nature of the components makes it possible to keep these antiques safely on the road virtually forever.

Unfortunately, the above does not apply to the Super beetle. I've found their MacPherson strut front ends to be less robust than ball joints and down right fragile compared to king pins, making the Super unsuitable for the kind of traveling I do. The poor suspension is made even worse by the steering system used on the '70 through '74 models, a overly complex design that Volkswagen abandoned in favor of the later rack & pinion system.

(So how does the Mexican-built beetle - - with it’s MacPherson-strut front-end - - manage to hold up so well? Crawl under and take a look. The Mexican-built front-end has additional re-enforcement plates not found on the hammer-head chassis from Germany.)

In the automotive world the last person to work on a vehicle is often held liable for what happens next, even if it happens to a component they did NOT work on. Do a tune up and get sued because the kid runs off the road? Sounds crazy but it can happen. This is clearly unfair but so is a great deal of automotive consumer legislation. The question of liability causes me to avoid working on Super Beetles or any Volkswagen with a modified suspension system. My comments in this article, indeed, for the entire series of TULZ articles, are addressed mostly toward earlier model stock Volkswagens.

Whatever your vehicle, before you can maintain its front end you need to understand how it works. You should be able to make a sketch, either schematic or pictorial, depicting all of the components in your front end and know their names. All of the manuals contain this information in one form or another but I think the novice will find the 'Idiot' book to be the most helpful for this task.

Now let's go play. But before we do, note that I use a different sequence of diagnostic checks than does the 'Idiot' book. Try it both ways then decide for yourself.

Jack up the front end, pop off the grease caps on the front wheels, take the slack out of the bearings then jack up the front end and SHAKE THE WHEEL. You're looking for play; for looseness. Try to lift the wheel up & down. Then try to rock it back & forth. Finally, grab it at 6 & 12 and try to rock the wheel in & out. A tiny bit of up & down is okay. Anything else sez repair or adjustment is needed. No play? Then skip on down to the steering check.

When you feel looseness the next step is to figure out WHAT needs to be repaired. As a general rule, any up & down or in & out play indicates wear in the SUSPENSION; in your ball joints or king pins. Any back & forth movement indicates wear in your STEERING. (Super beetles are a special case. In & out movement may indicate wear in your control-arm bushings.)

On old bugs & buses if you feel a lot of in & out play you may need only to adjust your link pins. Link pin adjustment is a simple chore, something you're supposed to do every other oil change (No, not 'Every 6000 miles.') Read the fine print. There's a whole list of things that require you to change the oil more often. The list of exceptions – driving in dusty conditions, on unpaved roads and so forth – also applies to your other periodic maintenance requirements. So use the oil change interval as a guide. And every other oil change, WHATEVER THAT INTERVAL MAY BE, lube and adjust your link pins.

King-pin spindles use bushings for the king pin and either bushings or needle bearings for the link pins, depending on the model year & vehicle type. Rebuilding king pins consists of removing the spindle from the trailing arms, taking the spindle apart, pressing out the old bushings, pressing in new ones then reaming them to fit the new king pin. The Haynes manual does an especially good job with king pins.

The new king pin and bushings come as a kit of parts but if you're a machinist you can make your own. The link pins also come as a kit except on later models there's no reaming; they come with needle bearings instead of bushings and the needle bearings are already the proper fit. See the real shop manual for your particular ride. A number of fellows who have rebuilt their front ends have described doing so in messages you'll find in the various archives on the Internet.

Newer buses & bugs don't got link pins. Them got ball joints. That's where you'll find most of your up & down play. See the manuals for the specs but anything more than a tad is bad.

You can keep a link-pin front end running just about forever but once a ball joint goes bad you got a major headache. Oh, you can do them. In fact, they're easier to do than rebuilding a link-pin spindle. But you need a hydraulic press and some fixtures. And you gotta pretty much dismantle the front end to get at them, which can take additional special tools. The reason for the additional dismantling is because the ball-joints are installed on the trailing arms, meaning you've got to remove the trailing arms in order to replace the ball joints. Removing the trailing arms is a no-brainer but the stabilizer bar is clamped to the lower trailing arms and new, replacement clamps are no longer available. If you're careful dismantling the old clamps they can be reused but a better option is to use Sway-A-Way bolted clamps. Cost is about thirty bucks for all four. I don't know if they've got them for buses.

Muir and a lot of others say ball joints should only be replaced by a VW dealer. That may have been valid back when John was alive but today such advice is little more than a bad joke. Nowadays the typical Volkswagen dealer wants nothing to do with you and your antique ride. They don't carry your ball joints, they don't have the tools to replace them and their mechanics are not familiar with your vehicle.

If you take your veedub to the dealer to have the ball joints replaced, odds are they will order rebuilt trailing arms from an after-market supplier who specializes in VW front end components. The trailing arms would arrive with the ball joints already installed, reducing the repair job to nothing more than dismantling and reassembly, a task anyone can do. Indeed, you can do exactly the same, saving yourself some serious bucks along the way. Check the ads in the magazines for outfits offering rebuilt trailing arms.

Buying rebuilt trailing arms is probably the most common method of repairing front ends but there's really no reason you can't do the entire job yourself. Ball joints are inexpensive, which is good because they don't last very long. No grease nipple. 'Lifetime' part. An hydraulic press makes their replacement easier but a twenty-ton bottle jack is strong enough to pop the ball joints out of the arms and to press new ones back in, assuming you have a suitable pressing frame and the necessary fixtures to support the trailing arms while you do the pressing. You can make the required fixtures from sections of steel pipe of the proper diameter. The sections of pipe have to be notched & shaped to accept the trailing arms (you need a left & right fixture for each). The notching is done with an angle grinder and the trailing arms themselves serve as the pattern. I was out of Prussian blue so I begged a tube of lipstick from my wife to use as spotting compound. (You press the parts together then grind off the high spots, as shown by where the lipstick transfers from the trailing arm to the fixture.)

The pressing frame is just a rectangle about two feet high by a foot wide fabricated from sturdy (2 x 4 x 1/4) steel 'C' section, welded or bolted together at the corners with gussets. (I say 'about' because it has to be sized to accommodate the height of the fixtures you make and the particular jack you use.) In use, you position the old ball joint atop a short section of pipe that serves as the 'drop space' to receive the ball joint when you press it out, then put the pipe-section driver on the bottom of the ball joint and seat the hydraulic jack atop that, extending the jack until it contacts top of the frame. Then just pump the jack. The old ball joint will be pressed out of the trailing arm. Installing the new ball joints calls for a bit more care. There is an alignment notch that must be taken into consideration, your fixtures must be a very nice fit and the trailing arm needs to be propped up to keep everything aligned. It sounds sorta hay-wired but it works okay. The first time I did it, it took about four hours to make the fixtures and another hour to replace the four ball joints.


Now let's check the steering. Start by lowering the vehicle. Your front wheel bearings are still tight (ie, all the play has been taken out; see the previous procedure). Your ride is parked, wheels on the ground, engine off, e-brake set. Reach in through the driver's side window and use ONE FINGER to turn the steering wheel.

How far did it go before you felt resistance?

That's too far :-)

It should only go about ONE INCH. Time to go find your partner, because diagnosis of steering problems takes two people, one to move the steering wheel, the other to figure out where the lost motion is going.

Your steering gets sloppy because of accumulated wear, mostly in the steering gearbox. See that little adjusting screw on the steering box? LEAVE IT THE HELL ALONE. That governs engagement of the roller with the worm and odds are, it's okay. (The roller adjusting screw wanders around from model to model. It's on the top of the steering gear box in bugs, on the side for buses.)

There are three main places for wear to accumulate inside the steering gearbox. Two of them are on the roller, the other is axial play in the worm, which accumulates wear more rapidly than the others due to the gear ratio between them. But in recent years an entirely new problem has cropped up, one that is due entirely to age and as such, is not covered in any of the manuals.

On early bugs & Ghias the steering gear is connected to the steering wheel through a compliant coupling. Before you start adjusting anything, inspect the coupling. That takes two people, one to move the steering wheel while you inspect the coupling. What you're looking for is any deterioration of the rubber puck in the universal joint. Also inspect for any motion on one side of the coupling that does NOT get transmitted to the other side.

Make sense? The coupling is a rubber disk. Two bolts hold it to the steering wheel shaft, another two hold it to the steering gearbox. If the coupling is bad you end up with a lot of play in your steering wheel even though there is absolutely nothing wrong with your tie-rod ends or steering gear.

So check it. Look for axial motion in the gear box shaft as the steering wheel is turned. (If the steering joint looks suspicious, pull the fuel tank and examine it more closely.) (Note: Axial means in & out; motion along the axis of the part. Radial motion means movement ACROSS the axis of the part; along the radius of the part.)

Early VW steering uses a worm & roller arrangement and is meant to be periodically adjusted to accommodate wear. The worm gear is on the end of the shaft to the steering wheel; when you turn the steering wheel you rotate the worm gear. The worm gear engages a roller gear that gets pushed from side to side as the worm turns. The side-to-side push is what's used to move the wheels.

Most of the slop in your steering gear is due to wear on the shim at the upper end of the worm gear and is adjusted by loosening the large lock- ring on the bottom of the steering gear box then turning the deep multi- point socket-type adjusting nut. Odds are, you don't have the wrench for the locking ring nor the socket for the adjuster. But you can make both of them.

To make a wrench, draw the shape of the nut onto a suitable piece of steel then use the best available means to create the hole. The usual procedure is to drill a series of small holes then hold the blank in a vise and use a chisel to 'connect' the drilled holes. Once you've made the opening you simply file the hole to fit. Since you probably will be using mild steel, make a box-end rather than an open-end wrench.

The internal multi-point socket can be made using any commonly available METAL-FILLED epoxy. To keep the epoxy from sticking to the nut, spray the cavity with silicone lubricant. The keep the epoxy from oozing out before it cures, use tape to secure waxed paper & cardboard over the epoxy. To provide a means of turning the newly molded socket, you may insert a large-diameter coupling nut into the epoxy or fabricate a more elaborate matrix by welding a nut to a steel plate ground to almost fit the socket. In this latter case the metal-filled epoxy must bond to the matrix so provide plenty of keying surfaces and keep the matrix perfectly clean.

The adjustment is straight forward: Take up the slack until you have the spec'd one-inch of play measured at the steering wheel. There is some interaction with the roller gear so you may need to make a SMALL adjustment there as well. But be careful. You can force the roller into such tight engagement with the worm that it will cause the steering to bind. You'll discover this when you go around a corner… and keep right on turning, up over the sidewalk, through the drugstore and back out onto the street, round-and-round you go. It can ruin your whole day.

The Haynes manual (#159) does an especially good job of illustrating the steering gearbox adjustment procedure.

Lost motion in your tie-rod ends usually appears as the rod-end being pushed up or down or leaning to one side instead of smoothly transmitting the push or pull. If you grasp the suspect rod-end in your fist and squeeze tight while your partner moves the steering wheel, the play in the rod-end will be clearly evident.

Replacing tie rod ends are a no-brainer. You unscrew the old ones, screw in the new ones. But there are a couple of Gotchas! The first is how to get those suckers apart and here again, you need the proper tools. One tool you DON'T want to use is the beloved 'pickle-fork'. (You'll end up bending a tie-rod.)

The proper tool for popping loose ball joints and tie-rod ends is a fulcrum-type press. You slide it on the joint, turn the big bolt then give the SIDE of the eye a sharp rap with a SMALL hammer. The shock causes the stressed parts to pop apart like magic. You loosen the nut but leave it on the fitting to protect the thread.

Nowadays its getting hard to find just the tie-rod ends. They want to sell you the whole tie-rod. If that's all you can get, fine. They've also stopped putting Zerks on the tie-rod ends. Instead, they are 'Lifetime' parts, meaning they'll only last about half as long as they used to. Progress, eh? :-)


This applies only to Transporters.

In the bus, the steering gearbox is in front of the torsion bar housings, what most folks call the front axle assembly (it's actually part of the front suspension system). But the steering tie-rods are BEHIND the axle. To transfer the motion from the steering gear to the wheels Volkswagen was forced to use a different arrangement than they used on the sedans and Ghias.

The swing arm pivots on a pin supported by bushings. The pivot is highly stressed and sees a lot of motion, resulting in fairly rapid wear of the bushings. This wear is a major cause of sloppy steering in buses.

When the wear is minor you'll see a slight cocking of the swing arm as the steering wheel is turned. That's all it takes to totally screw things up.

When the wear is extreme you can actually rattle the swing arm with your hand. IF you find one this bad, DON'T DRIVE IT.

The repair is similar to doing your king pins in that you remove the old bushings, press in new ones, ream them to size and install a new pivot pin. Read all of the manuals then decide how you want to tackle the task. You'll probably end up following the procedure in the 'Idiot' book. I prefer to pull the whole front axle and simply swap it, partly because I've got a spare but mostly because I do better work standing up than lying down


After working on your front end you need to check the alignment and you'll probably hear more bullshit – and waste more money – on this task than any other of your many periodic maintenance requirements.

The first Myth and money-waster is that the work is so esoteric and of such precision that it can only be done by an alignment shop. Not true; not a bit of it.

The truth is, of the four factors effecting your alignment (caster, camber, toe angle and king-pin inclination), two of them (caster and king pin inclination angle [the term applies to all vehicles, even those without king-pins]) are not adjustable in the normal sense; they are built-in to the Volkswagen front axle assembly and unless you've suffered collision damage or modified your suspension, caster and king-pin inclination are fixed; there is no adjustment, no matter what the fellow at the alignment shop has told you.

Of the remaining two factors, you set the camber when you rebuild your king pins or replace your ball-joints. With king pins, the camber angle is set using shims and all of the manuals give the appropriate shim-stack data. All you need to do is make sure the shims are NEW (ie, of the proper thickness) and check the result with a protractor to insure camber is correct when you are done.

With ball joints, camber is adjusted by turning the eccentric barrel on the spindle in which the upper ball joint pin is mounted. Here again, you need a protractor of some sort. The spec for camber is about half a degree (check your manual). You can buy inexpensive (ie, about $30) wheel-alignment protractors that are accurate to about one-quarter of a degree (J. C. Whitney carries them) or you can make your own using plywood and a plumb-bob that is accurate to about three seconds of arc [ie, about one-twentieth of a degree] (see the article titled 'The Camber Checker Thingee' in the archives of the Type 2 Mailing List [] ).

That leaves only your toe angle.

Your toe-angle will change as wear accumulates in your front end and steering. This is normal. So you check it periodically. This too is normal. I do it every other oil change because on my old bus, that's when I adjust my link pins. Any time you adjust your link pins you will probably find your toe angle has changed slightly. So you adjust it.

To adjust your toe angle you measure the difference between the front and rear edges of the rims of your front wheels. The wheels should be slightly pigeon-toed. With fifteen inch rims, the front edges should be about an eighth of an inch closer together than the back edges. To make it so you simply loosen a tie rod and turn it. Making the tie rod shorter will pull the rear edges IN forcing the front edges OUT. Turning the tie rod in the opposite direction (ie, making it LONGER) will have the opposite effect.

Read the toe-in adjustment procedure in the 'Idiot' book. It's as clearly written as most.

Are you all done? Then adjust your front wheel bearings, put the grease covers back on and safety the speedo cable. Since the wheels are in the air you might as well adjust the brakes, too.

-Bob Hoover
-10 May 2K

Thursday, December 28, 2006

VW - TULZ Part Nine

TULZ – Part Nine

Keeping Your Balance & Going Straight

When you buy new tires you always get them balanced, right? Sure you do. Everybody does.

And you have them rebalanced as the tread wears off, right? Of course you don't. Nobody does… except folks who like a good ride and thousands of 'free' miles from their tires.

Here's a harder one: Did you balance your brake drums? Howzabout your rotors? I mean, you balanced your tires, right? So when you install a new brake drum you take it down and have it balanced, right? Okay, so you don't balance your drums. But let me tell you why you should.

Your brake drums are castings. If the core that makes the hole for the axle gets misaligned during the casting process the casting comes out heavier on one side than the other. You never saw this sort of thing with German parts but today, with most of your parts coming from Mexico and Brazil where piece-rate labor is still common, it's a fairly frequent occurrence. Why? When folks are paid piece-rates, quality goes out the window. You see miscast cylinders, where the fins don't line up, and miscast wheel cylinders and lots of miscast brake drums. Even miscast cylinder heads. Hell of a problem.

Back in the Good Old Days, whenever that was, no auto-parts dealer would carry such junk because no mechanic in his right mind would buy it. But nowadays the typical buyer is a kid who shops only by price; he doesn't know enough to tell a good part from a bad one. And the dealer is there to fill the demand, right? Wanna guess what happens when folks start paying good money for bad parts? GOOD PARTS vanish from the marketplace. A basic rule of economics is that shoddy goods will drive quality goods out of the market, a fact pointed out by Adam Smith more than two hundred years ago.

The point of all this is that you could be driving around with wildly imbalanced brake drums, hammering out your bearings and pounding out your tie rods. But that's not the best part of this joke.

The punch line comes when you try to find good parts. You take your calipers and mikes to the dealer and, if they'll allow it, you check their stock of drums or cylinders or whatever and buy the best they have, which are still pretty bad. THEN you gotta pay to have them balanced and machined. By the time you get done your inexpensive parts end up costing far more than the quality parts they've driven out of the marketplace. Really kewl, eh? Saving all that money :-)

A nice example of this is seen in the stock muffler. Available from Mexico, it costs about $25 while the ones made in Germany cost about $45. Big savings, eh? Except the ones from Mexico often don't fit (!) Mexican mufflers are famous for the misalignment of the carb heater pipe, with buggered threads or even undrilled flanges. To make it fit properly you have to do a bit of heating and bending and drilling and tapping some threads. By the time that inexpensive, money-saving muffler is installed, the bill is more than if you'd opted for the German- made muffler. Welcome to reality :-)

But at least your wheels are straight, aren't they? Never over-torqued? Spin in a perfect circle without the least sign of wobble? Ummm.. well… okay. It's your ride.

Straight Wheels

First thing you do is take off one of your front wheels, tighten up the bearings and check to make sure the drum is true. (Yeah, we're checking the wheels but work with me here.) To do that, you rig yourself some sort of a fixture – a tool box will do – to hold a gauge, such as that sooper-sophisticated machinist's instrument the #2 Yaller Pencil (which is a Yellow Pencil for most folks, except it's not. Yellow. It's only painted yellow. But there it is.) (You may use a dial indicator if you wish, 'cept most guys don't got one.)

You slowly rotate the brake drum, searching for the high spot. When you find it, you extend the pencil to touch the drum at that point then fix the pencil in position and rotate the drum again, this time looking for the low spot. Ideally, you won't find one; high will be equal to low; the drum is true. But if you DO find a low spot, and if it is more than a few thousandths of an inch (use feeler gauges to measure the gap between the pencil point and the brake drum), you need to take the drum to a competent automotive machinist, explain the problem and have the mounting surface of the drum turned perpendicular to the bore.

Once you know the run-out of your drum, mark it clearly on the drum with chalk. Imagine the brake drum is the face of a clock. A five-hour face for old drums or a four-hour face for newer models. Use whatever notation you want so long as the data is clear. I show the run-out by each lug in thousandths of an inch with a plus or minus sign. Counting around from 'noon' it might look like this: +2, +1, 0, -1, +1.5. That tells me I've got three thou of run-out. (That is, the total magnitude of +2 plus –1.) Anything under .005, I can live with.

Once you know the run-out of the drum you install the wheell you're going to check, torquing it to spec in the proper criss-cross pattern. Move your gauge to pick off the run-out from the rim of the wheel and do the above test again, this time making notes of the run-out or if you're a slob like me, writing on the tire with chalk. Don't be surprised if you see a LOT of run-out. But whatever you see, you adjust the reading by the data you recorded for the drum, adding the negative values and subtracting the positives.

Did that come across? Let's say you gauged the wheel and recorded two thou of run-out at the same relative location you recorded three thou of run-out on the DRUM. Whatever your figure, part of it is the DRUM, not the WHEEL. So you need to cancel-out the drum's run-out from the wheel's run-out.

(What we're doing here is 'blueprinting' our rims. Since most of you don't have massive surface plates, spin fixtures or precision instruments, I've described a method of using a wheel as your spin fixture.)

So what can you get away with? See your manual for the exact spec but if it's more than a sixteenth of an inch, about 1.5mm (ie, about sixty- thou), it's too much.

What's the fix? There is none. You have to scrap the rim. Which is why Ford and Renault and Saab and lotsa other car makers stopped using this type of wheel. They are easily sprung and once bent, you can't straighten them, you just keep chasing the bend around the wheel.

What causes them to become sprung? If you mean what kind of DRIVING will spring a wide-five, cobblestones will do it. Or hitting a good chuckhole. But you don't even have to leave your driveway to damage your wheels. Over-torquing the lug bolts is enough to trash a wide-five rim. Good tire shops understand this and are careful to tighten Volkswagen wheels to the proper spec & sequence. Bad shops like to see how fast they can destroy your rims, using pneumatic tools set for 200 ft/lbs :-) If you'll examine the wheel you'll see that each lug bolt hole has a tapered rim. Over torquing flattens that rim and distorts the wheel.

Why is this important? Because the amount of run-out is how far the tire travels SIDEWAYS for every revolution. (Yeah, I know. That answer isn't scientifically correct. But it is FUNCTIONALLY ACCURATE.) So junk the bent rims. They're causing your tires to wear out a hell of a lot faster than they should but the real horror story is what those bent rims are doing to your suspension and steering.

About half the VW wheels you run into are bent out of spec, thanks to being over-torqued by idiots with pneumatic tools. To make things even crazier, a lot of after-market rims are out of spec even when brand new! A lot of kiddies get all bent outta shape when you tell them their wheels are. "Oh yeah? Well, if it's such a big deal how come I never see nothing about it in the magazines."

Good question.

The problem with 'wide-five' rims (wide six on some makes) has been recognized since about 1937 when Ford stopped using them. Yet you still hear a lot of instant experts telling the kiddies a bent wheel is no big deal. Read the manual. Decide for yourself. Keep in mind that the greater the amount of asymmetry, the greater the amount of tire wear. You can get sixty thousand miles and more from a set of tires on a Volkswagen with straight rims & drums. Or less than twenty thousand if you've got a serious wobble. (And don't even THINK of pushing that thing over 40mph or thereabouts.)

Unfortunately, with bent rims accelerated tire wear is only the tip of the iceberg. The real problem is what happens to the rest of that sideways energy generated by a bent rim. It is being dumped into your steering and suspension system, literally hammering them to death. I know a kid who was looking at his THIRD set of ball joints in six months when he sold his bug to the next sucker in line, disgusted with 'That piece of shit.' Alas, the only fecal matter in view was those lovingly polished chrome rims… that wobbled so badly you could see it even from the side.

Balancing Your Wheels

A bubble balancer works fine… up to about 120 miles per hour. So why does everyone use dynamic balancers? Two reasons: The first is cost. It takes less time to balance a wheel with an automated dynamic balancer. The second is also cost. You don't need any skill to run a dynamic balancer, just watch the pretty lights and be able to count from one to seven and know the inside of the rim from the outside. Ex-burger flippers planning a career change are welcome at most tire shops. If they're husky, that is :-)

Using a bubble balancer takes lots of patience and a fair degree of skill.

If you use a bubble balancer you'll need an adapter that supports a wide- five rim. Some balancers come with such adapters (J. C. Whitney sells one) or you can make your own using a wide-five adapter; any of them that has a round hole in the middle. But before you start balancing wheels you have to balance the adapter. Deburr the central hole then take it down to the balance shop and have it balanced to a gnat's ass or .1gm/cm, which ever is closer. Have it balanced without the hardware. Then balance the hardware. You can do that yourself using a gram scale. Just find the LIGHTEST of the lug bolts or nuts and file or grind the heads of the other four to match within half a gram, plus or minus. It's not nearly as hard as it sounds, the major problem being half of you haven't any idea in the blue-eyed world what I'm talking about :-)

Once you have a balanced adapter you zero the balancer. To do that you install it, permanently if possible, and true it up so the bubble is perfectly centered or quartered or whatever indicates zero on your particular balancer. Now you put the adapter onto the balancer and hope the sonofabitch reads the same. It won't. But it will if you gently raise the adapter, rotate it a few degrees and sit it back down. Keep doing that until you find the 'sweet spot,' where the bubble is nicely zeroed. When you do, mark that orientation on the cone & adapter and thereafter ALWAYS place the tire in that orientation. If you NEVER find the sweet spot, make one. Mark the orientation of the adapter to the cone THEN zero the balancer.

When you think you've got the balancer & adapter all trued up, check. Ask someone else to put the adapter on the cone and read the bubble. Come to understand the significance of parallax. When you're sure the thing is true, put a dab of fingernail polish on the adjuster screws.

To balance a wheel you bolt the adapter to the wheel, place it on the balancer then start herding the bubble to zero by sitting balance weights on the rim of the wheel. You'll quickly come to realize why everyone uses those quick & easy dynamic balancing machines :-) But you should also know that a bubble balancer can do a perfectly good job… if you do.

We're balancing our wheels because they are made out of balance. The rim has a hole in it to accommodate the tire's valve and the tire itself is never perfectly uniform in construction. Even at the slow speeds a tire rotates, the moment-arm is enough so that minor imbalances can have a major effect on how the vehicle steers and how quickly the steering components, suspension and tires wear out.

So you make sure you have straight wheels then you balance them and KEEP them balanced, checking them at least once a year in order to accommodate tread wear. Get a flat? Plug the hole? Then you gotta rebalance the wheel. No mysteries here, just simple old-fashioned Auto Shop 101.

(John Muir's 'Idiot' book contains a nifty method of balancing your wheels. Unfortunately, it doesn't work. But it does a nice job of measuring the drag of your oil seal & bearings.)


If you do a lot of traveling in the boondocks you're probably running tubes in your tires. Tubes are easy to patch and you don't need a Baja Tire Pump to seat the tire back onto the rim. (Baja Tire Pump. Tubeless tire has broken the bead. You can't pump it up. You're ninety miles from Nowhere, the temperature is a hundred in the shade and there ain't no shade. So you pour about two ounces of gasoline into the tire, slosh it around, let it lay there and vaporize. Then, from a few feet upwind, you toss the match. WHOOP! And the tire is tight to the rim. It doesn't do the tire much good… but you can always buy another tire, assuming you haven't died of thirst in the desert. PS – Don't set the tire on fire :-)

Patching a tubeless tire is pretty easy. You use a plug gun. J. C. Whitney sellzem. The trick is pumping it back up. Once it's seated on the rim both types need air.

Most of those little 12v air compressors are junk but they'll work… once or twice. If you're a serious traveler you probably carry a bottle of high- pressure air with a regulator, hose & tire chuck. The handiest air compressor is hard to find nowadays. It is a tiny one-cylinder compressor that screws into a spark plug hole. Unlike what you generally hear, they DON'T use the fuel-air mixture to pump up the tire; they only use the pressure of the compression stroke to drive the little piston, which pumps outside air into the tire. Displacement is typically one cubic inch or about 2.5 cfm at an idle but the thing will pump up to 300 psi, meaning it will fill even a big tire in a hurry. For down & dirty reliability, include an old-fashioned MANUAL tire pump in your kit if you're using tubes or air mattresses or whatever.

Most of your tire tools should travel as on-board spares. You need a tire pressure gauge, some spare valve cores and valve stem caps and the little tool that lets you remove a valve core. But the most important part of this particular kit is the box you carry it in. The valve cores are relatively fragile. Their small size and fragile nature often causes them to become lost in the depths of your tool kit to become damaged by the time you discover them. So carry them, suitably padded, in a little metal box. I use one that sez 'Altoids' on the lid. Some kinda breath mint, I think. A strip of tape will keep it closed. (I usta use a Prince Albert can but it got away from me and they let the Prince outta the can years ago.).

If you plan on patching tubes you'll need tire irons and a patch kit. If you use cold patches, replace the kit fairly often even if you don't use it. The cement tends to evaporate and the raw rubber tends to dry out. Read the Muir book if you've never patched a tube. For patching tubeless tires, the instructions come with the plug gun.


For your bug or Ghia you can get by with passenger car tires but the Transporter is in fact a light truck and needs LT's (ie, light truck tires).

Conventional Wisdom says the VW bus gets blown all over the road. That's bullshit. It is a high-centered, high-profile vehicle but so is a Greyhound or a semi. How such vehicles handle side gusts is a reflection of their suspension, steering and tires.

Like any high-profile vehicle your VW Transporter needs tires with stiff sidewalls. In plain language that means tires with actual ply counts of four, six or eight. A 'Four-Ply Rating' addresses only the strength of the sidewall and not it’s stiffness.

Fitted with proper tires, with the steering up to spec and the front end properly aligned, a Volkswagen bus will typically handle cross-winds better than a lot of modern high-profile vehicles. So why the bad rep? Because with the proper tires and shocks and no play in the steering your Transporter will drive & feel exactly like what it is, a small truck. Yuppies got tender asses or something; they're always talking about the 'quality' of the ride, in which softer is better, having mistaken road-handling for toilet paper. Trucks are trucks. Try to make it ride like a car and you'll end up getting blown all over the road.

The typical VW on the road today is wearing the wrong tires, mounted on bent rims bolted to brake drums that are probably out of spec with regard to balance and run-out. The steering is sloppy and the front end probably hasn't been aligned since Jonah was a Seaman Deuce. The truth is, the typical VW owner has no idea how well their vehicle CAN drive. It was in bad condition when they got it and from that day to this they've spent most of their time making it look pretty rather than making it run good.

-Bob Hoover
-5 May 2K
To All:

Today is Monday, 8 May 2K.

On Cinco de Mayo I posted Part Nine of the thingee on tools in which I said a bubble type wheel balancer works fine and that J. C. Whitney carried them. So far, so good.

Today a fellow called to ask if I'd ever actually balanced a wheel using a bubble balancer. That kinda got my dander up. So I told him 'Hell yes,' and offered to show him the balancer I use, just before I stuck it up his nose.

He back pedals a bit and explains that he bought a bubble balancer from J. C. Whitney some time ago and can't get it to work. Then this weekend someone mentioned my article and since he lives less than twenty miles away, virtually a next-door neighbor in motorized sudden California, he decided to give me a call.

After we chatted for a while I told him to bring the thing over to the shop and

let me take a look at it. So that's what he did.

The balancer he bought is J. C. Whitney part number 75xx2442B, the price about thirty dollars. For another five bucks he got an adapter for wide-five rims, JCW p/n 75xx2423B. (The 'xx' changes from one catalog to another.)

The thing is a total piece of shit. Don't buy it. It does not work. In fact, it CAN'T work.

Here's why: The principle involved here has to do with balancing a car tire atop a pivot. The level indicator is a bubble trapped in a viscous fluid inside a transparent plastic button that sits atop the center of the pivot- point. The pivot point is a steel ball bearing, hardened and polished and smooth as a mirror. The pivot sits atop a pivot shaft and that single pivot point supports the mass of the wheel.

There are several problems with this piece of junk but the most serious is the shaft on which that pivot point is supposed to balance. It is a hunk of cheap all-thread, 3/8"-16, foreign made crap, the threads shallow and ill- formed. Unfortunately, the threads are damaged and the ends, one of which is supposed to serve as the pivot point, were ragged, the marks of the shear still grossly evident. There is no way in the blue-eyed world this piece of crap can work.

The 'adapter' isn't much better. It is a shallow saucer-shape, stamped from a piece of sheet metal. It would be nice if it were round but it misses that by several thou. It would also be nice if it fit on the balancing cone but it doesn't do that either, finding equilibrium only when cocked at an angle.

Finally, the bubble-level is a cheap plastic thing that is supposed to sit atop the balancing cone. Except the top of the balancing cone ISN'T FLAT. The balancing cone is a Zamak casting with a rough, irregular edge where the equally shoddy little bubble- indicator is supposed to perch. Try as you might, there's no way to sit the bubble atop the cone without it being tilted.

Pure junk. Don't buy it. If you bought it, send it back. J. C. Whitney owes the public an apology for selling this kind of crap.


The bubble balancer I have is mostly cast iron. The wide-five adapter is a pot-metal alloy but everything else is iron or steel. The bubble-level is brass & glass, the same sort of thing you see on a surveyor's transit, except end-on. The pivot is a hardened steel point that goes into a button of what appears to be carbide. The whole thing is about the size of a gallon can of paint. It bolts to a corner of the workbench when I need to balance a wheel. When not in use the bubble-balance tube goes into the tool chest with my mikes & stuff while the two-part cast iron balancer goes on the shelf. I've had it more than thirty years. I think it cost about fifty dollars but I honestly can't remember. I do recall that I bought it out of the J.C.Whitney catalog after seeing one being used to balance aircraft wheels.


Okay, so there's this guy with his bubble balancer that don't work. He's had this thing for a while, not sure if the problem was him or the device but in either case it's too old now to return. So he's out thirty-five bucks.

So I fixed it.

The lathe wasn't set up for anything so it was a simple matter to make the fellow a pivot rod. I didn't have a piece of half-inch mild steel rod handy but I had some half-inch L-bolts, the things you put into concrete. Chucked one up, cut it off at about six inches, flipped it around and turned down the thread to about .365, chamfered the end, chased that at 16tpi with the regular cutting tool then chased that with a 3/8-16 die. Flipped it around, knocked off the tit with a file, used a Slocum to make a little pilot hole then let it ride on that while I turned a short taper down the shaft for an inch or so. Balance shaft. Took mebbe twenty minutes.

To make an adapter plate I took off the three-jaw, mounted the faceplate and bolted an 8x8 hunka half-inch aluminum tooling plate to it atop an old VW differential bearing race I use for a spacer. I just hogged right into it. Twelve-inch lathe, it'll cut some metal when it has to. The result was a lipped ring, the ID of which matched the slope of the balance cone, the OD matching the minimum span of a wide-five rim.

To flatten the rough casting I smeared some lipstick (!) on a corner of the surface plate, rubbed the rough casting on it then scraped it true. (Zamak -- pot-metal -- is a zinc-aluminum alloy. It scrapes easy.) [Yes, I got bluing. But I can never find it when I need it.]

He went home happy, albeit poorer :-)

Having given you guys a bum steer by pointing you toward J.C.Whitney I offer the following to make amends.


Wanna make a Precision Bubble Balancer?

Start with a junked camshaft & gear. See the indentation in the end of the shaft? Go find a ball bearing to sit on there. Not too big. (No old camshaft handy? Then use pipe. Floor flange for the base, twelve-inch nipple for the upright, reducer to hold the ball bearing.)

You gotta level it so drill & tap three quarter-twenties equidistant around the gear. Or the floor flange. No taps & dies? Then glue it to a plywood base and put the three adjusters in the plywood. Buy some of those theaded inserts. (Don't laugh; it works.)

To level it, remove the ball bearing and replace it with your circular bubble level. Turn the quarter-twenty machine screws until you've centered the bubble. Okay; that's good enough.

To hold the wheel go find a three-pound coffee can. I use MJB but suit yourself. Make five ninety-degree angles, about three-quarter inch on a side. If you got some thin cheap aluminum angle stock, cut them outta that. If not, bend them up out of something. Gotta be strong enough to support the weight of the wheel.

Stuff the coffee can through the hole in your wide-five rim. Yeah, it's tight; push harder… there. Mark the five points where the lugs go. Pop- rivet your angles at those locations. Put your angles on the INSIDE of the can with their legs sticking OUTSIDE. The idea is for the wheel to sit on the tabs. Use countersunk pop-rivets if you gottem. Real rivets will also work. But you gotta keep the heads low or they'll cause the rim to hang up. (Honest, a 3 pound coffee can is a near-perfect fit to a wide- five.)

Stand the can on the tabs and find the center of the bottom, which is now the top but....

There's lots of ways to find the center of a circle; use which one you like the best. Drill a TINY hole right there, smack dab in the center of the bottom of the can. Now turn the can over. Sit it on a piece of softwood; plywood or something like that. See the hole in the bottom? Balance the ball bearing on the hole. (Okay, so debur it. Now balance the ball… okay, you do it.) Got it balanced? Now hit it. Use a hammer and a piece of wood for a drift. Just give it a rap. Not too hard. That should do it.

Test it. Put the ball bearing back on the pivot shaft and position the coffee can ON THE BALL BEARING. Balances, eh? :-)

Now check it. You can't use the bubble balance because of the bump you just raised in the bottom of the can, right where the bubble balance should sit. So put something over the bump. (I don't know! It's your shop, for crysakes! Howzabout a tuna can? Or that lid over there; try that… no, the one on the can of paint thinner… yeah! There ya go!)

Balanced? I didn't think so.

So balance it. Get some solder, cut off a little bit and crimp it to the bottom rim of the coffee can. When you get the bubble back in the center MARK EVERYTHING. Use fingernail polish. Put some on the solder balance weights you've crimped to the rim and dots of it to show the orientation of the bubble balance and the lid, can or whatever you're using as a base for the bubble.

Does it work?

Of course it does! VW wheels are better than two foot in diameter. Sixty miles an hour, they're only spinning eight, nine hundred rpm. Your coffee-can bubble balancer is more than accurate enough for that. A smaller pivot point would provide a bit more accuracy than does the ball bearing but it should be more than accurate enough.

Or you can buy one. But mebbe not from J.C.Whitney this time.

-Bob Hoover
-8 May 2K

AV - Survival


Birthdays come faster as you get older. With one rapidly approaching I've been advised that a certain gaggle of grand-children have pooled their funds to buy grandpa something 'really good,' which just happens to be a plastic gizmo consisting of a whistle, compass, thermometer and magnifying glass.

I should mention that the gift probably stems from the question: "What happens if the motor stops?" I explained that the plane would then become a glider and that I would have to land wherever I happened to be, which lead to: "How would you get home?" Walk ...and "What if you got lost?"

I'm quite touched by all this. Given the kid's financial resources, the toy whistle reflects a significant expenditure. Equally touching is the thought embodied in the selection of the gift, in that they would like to see their grandpa safe even if the motor stops and he has to walk home. (Kids - - even little ones - - really do worry about such things.)

So I am prepared to be suitably surprised and honestly grateful. I only hope they won't ask me to make a fire, plot a course or demonstrate the whistle because the thing is a classic example of Yuppie Junque, about as useful as tits on a boar. But like the man said, it's the thought that counts.

- - - - - - - - - - -

Some years ago ( more than twenty of them, now that I think of it ) the few local homebuilders who were actually building something would meet at a local restaurant to exchange progress reports, borrow tools and swap lies. During one of those meetings we got to talking about pilots who had Gone West and someone mentioned Don Jonz, a ten-thousand hour youngster who was driving the 310, the loss of which caused Congress to force us to install ELT's that aren't worth a bucket of warm spit. That lead to the subject of survival in general and our own in particular.

Most of us were ex-military and had endured the usual Escape, Evasion and Survival schools. Two of them had even Been There; Did That and got the T-shirt, so we were pretty much in agreement as to the content of our crash kits. But a couple of fellows at the table had managed to escape the joys of military service and sought our advice on various 'survival' devices and produced something similar to the whistle-compass-magnifier-thermometer do-dad.

When we stopped laughing we took Rambo out to the parking lot and encouraged him to demonstrate the abilities of his fire-starting lens. Or fire-starting sparkler. Or what-ever.

In the middle of a summer's day, under a cloudless southern California sky, the poor fellow spent ten minutes focusing the sun's rays onto a crumpled paper napkin without producing so much as a whiff of smoke. (For comparison, the grungy, scratched, lexan lens in my crash kit will set paper on fire even before the beam is fully focused. Why? Because that grungy old lexan lens is nearly three inches in diameter whereas the Yuppie magnifier was less than three-quarters of an inch across.)

When you're trying to start a fire with a lens, success depends upon the latitude, time of day and the size of the lens. A lens three inches in diameter has nearly twenty times the area of one only three-quarters of an inch across.

In the hands of a novice, spark-type fire-starters are equally ineffectual. Not because they don't work but because a spark is not a flame and the whole secret is the transition of one to the other, which boils down to having your sparks land in a suitably prepared nest of tender. Without the right tender -- and some experience in the realities of fire-making, you can shoot sparks for hours and end up with nothing to show for it.

As for the whistle, its frequency is too high, making it inaudible at any distance. What you want is a plain, old-fashioned police whistle. Not an English bobby police whistle but a downtown Chicago-rush-hour-American-traffic-cop police whistle. Or mebbe a surplus Navy life-raft whistle, which is the same thing only bigger.

All of this took place about the time David Morrell's novel 'First Blood' got released as a movie which lead to the BFK Phenomenon, which deserves a word of explanation. Given our location (Vista, California is tucked into the arm-pit of Camp Pendleton.) it's not surprising that a number of local homebuilders are involved in the movie industry and even though 'First Blood' was shot in British Columbia it had been in production about a year and people in the industry were familiar with its script, which had been whipped into shape by the late Bill Sackheim, a Hollywood producer with significant credits.

According to them, one of Bill's contributions to the script was to have the psychotic lead-character carry a '...BIG f**king knife...' Not just any knife but a macho-kewl Super Hollywood BFK, complete with a Secret Compartment in the handle.

Big f**king knives aren't anything new but making one with a hollow handle is pure Hollywood, since it weakens the knife... unless you machine the whole thing out of a single bar of steel. Of course, when you do that, the price goes up, as in 'way up. In effect, you pay about a thousand dollars for the little bit of space inside that hollow handle, which has to be kept fairly small because of the strength issue. But that's reality whereas movies aren't, so the people producing 'First Blood' got the late Jimmy Lile, the Arkansas knife-maker, to whip them up a BFK to order, hollow handle and all.

Sure enough, shortly after the movie was released a fellow shows up at the homebuilder's meeting to show us geezers his version of the perfect 'survival knife,' which he refered to as a 'Rambo' knife. Not the real thing of course, but a cheap copy in which the blade was glued to the handle with epoxy.

I don't recall anyone laughing. At least, not out loud. But after a minute somebody dug in their pocket and produced a Springer rigger's knife and tossed it on the table. By fits and starts, all of us who were carrying a pocketknife produced them. There among the coffee cups and ashtrays was the Springer, a couple of Swiss army knives, an electrician's knife and a couple of 'Boy Scout' knives, including mine, which was made by Ka-Bar. Because the whole point is that the best survival knife is the one you have when you need it.

Over the next couple of months the BFK Phenomenon came up several times. Most of us admitted to having a sturdy fixed-blade knife in our kits. But they were real knives, usually a hunting knife or the survival knife dictated by whatever Service we'd been in; the thing the parachute rigger attached to your flight gear.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

When it comes to survival in the aviation sense, the point a lot of folks seem to be missing is that we never fly alone. When a plane goes down, we try to find it, and the downed pilot is as much a part of the system as those who are searching. In that context, survival means facilitating your rescue rather than evading capture or setting up a homestead and putting forty acres to the plow. Under those conditions what you have between your ears is liable to be a thousand times more useful than anything you might have strapped to your hip.

Another point often overlooked by homebuilders is that we're generally forced to ride the plane all the way to the ground. No ejection seat nor even a parachute, except for those first few flights - - and maybe not even then. In effect, that makes the plane part of our survival kit. I'll let you think about that for a while :-)

In the meantime I'll prepare myself to be totally amazed and absolutely delighted upon receipt of my survival whistle-magnifier-compass-thermometer. And I'll carry it with me, too, as a constant reminder that even on a solo cross-country you're never really alone.


PS - - All-Electronics will sell you a 75mm lexan lens for a buck.

The blade of a rigger's knife is slightly serrated along one edge. It will slice through a seat-belt or parachute harness with ease. ('Springer' is the brand name of a German rigger's knife that was popular in the 1940's.)

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

VW - TULZ Part Eight

TULZ – Part Eight

Getting Your Shift Together

With your tranny at one end of the vehicle and you at the other, selecting a gear can be a bit of a bother. Volkswagen came up with an elegant solution to the problem using only two levers and a torque tube. One of the levers is your gear-shift. The torque tube is the shifter-rod. I'll tell you about the second lever in a minute.

The shifter-rod is a long piece of light-gauge steel tubing that runs from the gear-shift lever to the tranny where it connects via an elastomeric coupling. It is hidden inside the central tunnel in a bug. On the bus it's hidden in that tube just above the heater duct under the cargo bay floor. The cockpit-end of the shifter-rod is fitted with a socket. The gear-shift lever fits into the socket and is indexed by a pin.

The socket is the second lever in the system. It pokes up perpendicular to the line of the shifter-rod. It doesn't poke up very far and most folks overlook the fact it functions as a lever but it is crucial to the system, allowing you to rotate the shifter rod. It is the rotation of the shifter rod that selects the particular gate, 1-2 (no rotation) 3-4 (to the left) or R (to th right). It rotates when you push the gear-shift lever left or right. Once you've selected one of the three gates, to select a particular gear the shifter rod must move forward or aft, again controlled by the gear-shift lever.

As with all levers the secret to success is in the fulcrum; the pivot point. For the gear-shift lever the pivot is a spring-loaded ball & socket arrangement built into the fitting that supports the gear-shift lever. For the shifter-rod, the pivot is a nylon bushing in a bracket concealed inside the central tunnel.

To prevent selecting reverse gear by accident there is a lock-out plate under the fitting supporting the gear-shift lever. A flange on the gear shift lever rides above the lock-out plate for the four forward speeds. To select reverse you select the reverse gate then push DOWN on the gear- shift lever. This defeats the lock-out plate and allows you to input the down & back motion that selects the reverse gear in the tranny. (The motions are REVERSED at the tranny because of the lever arrangement [ie, pushing forward on the gear shift causes the shifter-rod to push backwards, etc.]. You need to keep that in mind when you're checking out a replacement tranny at the junkyard.)

Thanks to just three friction points and a superb balance of lever-arm ratios, Volkswagens are noted for their crisp, precise shifting. It takes only finger pressure to flick from gear to gear, giving the experienced driver a distinct advantage over anyone wrestling their way through the changes on the typical American gearbox. That was then.

Today, the typical Volkswagen's gear shift is about as crisp as mush and finding reverse can become a snipe hunt. There are a number of reasons for this woeful degradation but the most amazing part of the puzzle is that, never having driven a new Volkswagen, a majority of VW owners believe such poor shifting is normal!

Why is the shifting so bad? That's a good question but here's a better one: When was the last time you greased your gear shift? Howzabout the nylon bushing in the tunnel? Whadabout the lock-out plate? (See? Now you know why :-)

Another common maintenance fault is failure to replace the tranny mounts. They're made out of natural rubber that breaks down when it gets greasy and trust me here, yours are greasy. The same problem attacks the shifter-rod coupling.

Up on the other end of the system, it is a LACK of grease that causes the problems. Without periodic lubrication the shifter-rod eventually wears out the nylon grommet and begins rubbing its way through the steel bracket. Once it wears far enough the shifter-rod drops off the end of the gear shift lever and you're stuck, literally, in whatever gear you happen to be in. By the time that occurs both the shifter rod and the bracket will have to be repaired or replaced but in a lot of cases the vehicle ends up in the scrap heap. 'Tranny's locked up,' the guru tells the kiddie. Which isn't incorrect but it's sure as hell inaccurate.

So what's the cure? Easy. You pull the shifter rod and replace the nylon bushing, grease things up, put it back together and promise to keep it greasy thereafter. Of course, if the bracket is worn to an oval, putting in a new grommet won't help very much. In those cases you need to drill out the spot-welds securing the bracket to the tunnel and repair the bracket. Or just cut the top off the tunnel, do the repair and weld it back on as a complete assembly, being careful to NOT install the nylon grommet until all the welding is done. (Nylon melts, right? And gasoline explodes. Your fuel pipe is also inside the tunnel.)

Repairing a worn shifter-rod is a bit more difficult. You can't use a sleeve; it won't fit through the grommet. And it takes a pro to do an inline repair of thin-wall steel tubing. One method is to do the repair with a sleeve then to fabricate a new grommet from a block of Teflon to match the larger diameter of the sleeve. This is a good fix because the Teflon block will last about ten times longer than the nylon bushing. This is a more permanent fix and it's doable but it's a lot of work. The smartest method is to simply pull the gear-shift lever about once a year, clean things up and apply fresh grease. But nobody does that. Too much trouble or something.

Doing the tranny mounts (most folks call them 'engine mounts') is a no-brainer; the instructions are in most of the manuals. And the shifter-rod coupling is mother's milk; you can get at it from under the back seat of a bug. (Ah ha! I'll bet you've been wondering what that inspection plate was for!)

Buses are a little different, easier in some ways, harder in others. The grommet on the shifter-rod can be gotten to from under the vehicle so it's pretty easy to replace. But the shifter-rod is a bear. On the bus, they use a two-piece shifter rod. (Because the gearshift lever is in FRONT of the front axle.) First, you separate the two then you pull the engine, pull the tranny (and the rear axles if it's an early bus) THEN you can remove the shifter-rod, which pulls out to the rear. Inside the tube running under the cargo bay the shifter-rod is supported by two nylon grommet-thingees that clip onto the shifter-rod. They come in two sizes so be sure you get the right ones for your ride. Don't trust the clerks here. A certain after-market retailer kept sending me the wrong size, insisting there was only one type. I finally bought them from somebody else. Here again, you can machine a better, more durable part from a block of Teflon… if you happen to have the Teflon. And an engine lathe… and know how to twirl the knobs.

It goes something like this: You gotta have good tranny mounts because that's what holds the tranny in alignment with the shifter-rod. Soft or rotten tranny mounts, the nose of the tranny kicks up & down, wears the hell outta things and makes it very difficult to select the proper gear. You gotta have a good coupling because once the coupling starts to go you lose radial motion; you can't select the full range of gears. It might work fine in first & second but you can't get it to rotate far enough to pick up third & forth, or over the other way to catch Reverse. You gotta keep the gear shift greasy or you'll wear out the lock-out plate, preventing you from finding the right gear. Like the man said, keep her greasy, she'll go a long time :-).

Big mistake in tranny mounts and couplings is to use those hard urethane jobbies. They were designed to handle the high-g loads imposed on the mounts & couple by off-road racing, where the vehicle catches a lot of air-time. They transmit more of the load – and more of the noise – into the chassis. They have no place on a street machine. (But kewl, right? Peek under there, see those big chunkies of red urethane! Macho, eh?) This'll come as a big surprise to the kiddies but mechanics notice stuff like that. It tells them they can sell the sucker anything at all :-)

Another cruel joke is trying to cure a shifting problem by installing one of those kewl gear shift kits. All they do is alter the lever ratio of the gear shift lever but in doing so they can mask a lot of problems. The wiser course is to return the system to spec and then decide if you really need it. In most cases, you don’t.

If, once the system is returned to spec, you find your life simply isn't complete without a speed shifter, take a look at the one sold by Gene Berg Ent. Like most of Gene's stuff, the shifter is well made and priced accordingly. But at least it works. The typical 'speed shifter' is a lo-buck piece of Taiwanese crap aimed squarely at the kiddie market. Some are difficult to install and tend to come adrift while others don't work as well as the stock system.

Recently I've been seeing an increasing number of VW's with shifter problems. By the time it gets to me it has usually been through the gauntlet of local experts, meaning I see a lot of bailing wire & sheet- metal screw fixes. The coupler is liable to WELDED to either the hockey stick or the shifter rod and finding the remains of a bungee cord or block of wood(!) inside the tunnel no longer comes as a surprise. By the time things have gotten that bad you really don't want to know how much the repair can cost; often times it's more than the vehicle is worth. Unable to shift gears and unable to afford the repairs, the vehicle often ends up on the junk pile to be salvaged for parts. This is really unfortunate since the shifter is a very simple system, easily maintained. Which begs the question: How's yours?

You've gotta be able to stop. You've gotta be able to steer. The engine should start every time, all the time, regardless of season and you have to be able to shift your gears. You need certain lights, a horn and wipers. Those are the minimums. The bitchin' sound system and the three thousand dollar paint job and all the rest of it is just so much junk if you don't have the basics underneath. The record shows most have paid more attention to the junk than the basics.

-Bob Hoover
-30 April 2K

VW - TULZ Part Seven

TULZ – Part Seven

Dead Whales on the Moon

Lubrication as a concept is an interesting subject and an area of study in which mankind still has a lot to learn. Natural lubricants such as sperm oil and castor oil continue to reign supreme for certain applications; some instruments in the lunar lander were lubricated with sperm oil.

Lubricants are typically made up of 'long-chain molecules.' When I read that I got a mental image of ropes or strings. That's wrong. What I'm about to say is also wrong in the technical/chemical sense but it will provides a better illustration than does 'long-chain molecules.'

Liquid lubricants are beads. Thin lubricants are little beads, thick lubricants are big ones. Grease is a special case. Grease is a necklace; beads on a wire. The wire is usually lithium, molybdenum or some other metal. The beads in grease are typically smaller than the beads in liquid lubricants. The thickness of grease comes from the fact the beads stick together whereas in oil, the beads are free to move around.

Oil wears out when the beads get broken into smaller beads. Grease wears out when the wire holding the beads together gets broken, when the long strands become short strands.

Oddly enough, we don't change our oil because it wears out, we change it because it becomes contaminated. (Large marine and industrial engines, which may use a thousand gallons or more of lubricating oil, don't change their oil, they simply filter it and periodically adjust its chemistry.) The usual contaminants are water and by-products of the gasoline combustion process. These combine with the oil and create new compounds some of which are corrosive and others, mostly carbon granules, make good abrasives. While some combustion products get into your sump by sneaking past your piston rings, most arrive there via your exhaust valves, which in the Volkswagen are not fitted with seals.

While combustion products are something of a problem in all engines, In older engines such as Model-T's or Volkswagens, a more serious fault is that the crankcase is open to the atmosphere. Particulate contaminants such as sand, dust, pollen, chicken feathers or whatever you happen to be driving through get sucked into the crankcase, along with plenty of moisture.

We change our oil to get rid of those contaminants. This wasn't always the case. The normal oil consumption for many early engines was as much as a quart every hundred miles. Early motorists considered an oil- change to be rather foolish since they were replacing the entire contents of the sump every five hundred miles. Back in those days you didn't change your oil, you simply 'topped-up' the sump.

Up until the late 1940's all motor oils were of the same type and the sumps of all engines of that era were open to the atmosphere. As moisture and combustion products reacted with the oil, a thick, jelly-like sludge was formed. This wasn't entirely bad since the sludge trapped most of the particulate contaminants. But eventually the sludge would fill all of the void-space within the sump and valve gallery, reducing the oil capacity by as much as 80%. To get rid of it, the engine was periodically 'slushed-out', a steam engine term transliterated into 'flushed-out' when applied to automobiles.

Slushing-out an engine meant removing the sump and valve gallery covers and scraping out the sludge. It was a messy chore, usually assigned to the youngest apprentice. (Ask me how I know :-) Flushing out an engine meant filling the sump with an oily solvent such as kerosene or fuel oil, running the engine for few minutes then draining the oil. Unfortunately, dissolving the sludge in this manner released all of those trapped contaminants. You got rid of the sludge but in doing so you did a lot of damage to the engine.

Another alternative was to prevent the sludge from forming by adding a detergent to the sump. The detergent prevented the formation of sludge, other than for heavy particles, which would settle out of the oil when the engine was stopped. Of course, that meant the chemical contaminants would remain in the oil but you dealt with that by draining the sump -- replacing the oil every five hundred or a thousand miles.

When compared to scraping out the sludge and flushing the engine every couple of years, the strategy of adding detergent to the oil and dumping it out at frequent intervals prolonged the life of the engine. The oil companies, who owned most of the service stations, began adding detergent directly to their motor oil and promoting frequent oil changes. The drained oil was then recycled by the oil companies using the same processes of settling, filtering and chemically 'overhauling' used for marine engines but on a vastly larger scale. The oil was then and sold back to the motorist. Changing your oil instead of merely topping up quickly became the standard procedure.

The key point here is that old motor oil can be 'overhauled' by simply removing the contaminants. Passing the oil through a filter gets rid of some of the contaminants but a real overhaul requires that the oil go back through a refining process to get rid of the chemical contaminants as well. Re-refined motor oil is just as good a lubricant and the brand name stuff.

Synthetic lubricants are more durable because their beads are smoother, in the chemical sense. They do not combine with the products of combustion as readily as do natural lubricants. This greater durability is of no benefit in early Volkswagens because the crankcase is open to the atmosphere, forcing us to change our oil every couple of thousand miles just to get rid of the contaminants sucked into the sump. You might want to keep that in mind the next time someone tries to sell you the latest flavor of sooper-dooper synthetic lubricant at thirty-two bucks a gallon, justifying its higher cost by how well the stuff worked in New York City cabs or Florida patrol cars in which the oil was never changed for years at a time. The fact the sump of those engines is not open to the atmosphere is never mentioned.

Remember the sperm oil and the lunar lander? There are some applications where traditional lubricants work best and your antique Volkswagen is one of them.

Multi-grade motor oils use small beads plus a plastic additive that is sensitive to temperature. When the temperature rises, the plastic additive pulls the beads closer together causing the oil to act as if it were made up of large beads. But if the temperature rises too high the plastic additive breaks down, leaving you with a sump full of small-bead oil when you need big-bead oil. For example, 10W-50 means the oil is 10W but has plastic additives that make it act like 50-weight oil as the temperature rises. But if the additive breaks down you're left with a sump full of ten-weight oil.

Multi-grade oils don't break down until the temperature reaches about 350 degrees on the Fahrenheit scale, well above the highest temperature in any water-cooled engine. But in an air-cooled engine, in the area nearest the exhaust valves, it gets hot enough for multi- grade lubricants to breakdown.

There are high-temperature multi-grade additives but their cost is quite high, causing them to be used only in multi-grade lubricants used in aircraft engines.

Oil Filters

Steam engines didn't have oil filters. When internal combustion engines came along, they didn't have oil filters either. If it was good enough for grandpa it was good enough for me, right? Nineteen million Model-T Fords and twenty-two million Volkswagens didn't have oil filters, proof that you don't need such things, right?

On the other hand, the service life of the Model-T was 20,000 miles. And its normal oil consumption was one quart per hundred miles. The Volkswagen was a phenomenal improvement. The VW was designed to last for sixty-two thousand miles (100,000 kilometers) and to use no more than a quart of oil every six hundred miles (*) Amazing improvement, eh?

(*) That's right, up to 3.4 pints per thousand miles. Most veedubs use a lot less but that is the spec for normal oil consumption. See the manual.

Today, the only thing we find amazing in such specs is how poorly they compare to modern automobiles, most of which can be expected to deliver up to a quarter of a million miles of service and measure their oil consumption with an eye-dropper instead of a bucket.

A major factor in this remarkable improvement in durability is cleaner oil, achieved by passing the output of the oil pump through a treated paper filter before any oil is delivered to the engine. This is called 'full-flow oil filtration,' meaning the total output of the pump is filtered even though only a few ounces of that are used for lubrication. This repeated filtering of the oil supply prevents most contaminants from doing any harm. Then too, all modern-day engines use some form of Positive Crankcase Ventilation in which the sump is not open to the atmosphere except under controlled, filtered conditions.

Ford Motor Company published the results of a formal study of full-flow oil filtration in the mid-1950's in the Journal of the Society of Automotive Engineers. Their report offered conclusive evidence that full-flow oil filtration reduced all modes of engine wear by a substantial amount, up to 600% in some cases. On the basis of that report, full-flow oil filtration systems were immediately adopted by all major automobile makers… except Volkswagen.

Hot-rodders, whose engines often represent an investment of thousands of dollars, were among the first to appreciate and to use full-flow oil filtration systems. Following publication of the Ford study, Volkswagen enthusiasts came up with a practical means of adapting full-flow oil filtration systems and found that doing so doubled the life of their engines.

The Type IV engine was designed around a full-flow oil filtration system but it took the Mexican engineers at the Puebla plant to come up with a retrofit for the early model VW engine. Their add-on filter-pump adapter was introduced in 1992 and copies are widely available from after-market sources. Unfortunately, a high percentage of the copies do not fit correctly. Unaware of the problem, many VW owners hoping to improve their engines ended up destroying them by bolting on the poor quality filter/pump adapters.

Keeping It Greasy

'Keep her greasy, she'll keep going,' was the punch line of a hoary old joke having to do with a misunderstanding between a bridegroom named Ford and a deaf mechanic named Doc. It was a real thigh-slapper. But like most folk humor it contains a nugget of wisdom. With regard to cars, keeping her greasy does make her last a long time.

Mention lubrication and the first thing folks think of is changing their oil. That's okay. But when it comes to Volkswagens, most folks do about as much harm as good because they remove the sump plate. Remember the thing about old-fashioned non-detergent oils and sludge? That's why the VW engine has a sump plate. So they could flush out the sludge. See that void space under the strainer? That's part of your sludge collector. If you are using non-detergent oil then you must remove the sump plate and get the sludge outta there. But if you use modern high-detergent oil all you need to do is remove the drain plug; you should leave the sump plate alone. And stop calling the strainer a filter. It's there to keep chunkies out of your oil pump, not to somehow miraculously clean your oil. Oil filters remove particles so small they are measured in microns. A micron is a millionth of a meter and a meter is 39.37 inches so a micron is about .00003937 inches. The mesh of the strainer is about sixty thou (ie, .060)

That's like trying to catch fleas with a chain-link fence!

The main reason VW owners do so much damage changing their oil has to do with the design of the sump plate and strainer. The sump-plate is part of a five-layer sandwich consisting of the crankcase, a gasket, the oil screen, another gasket, then the sump plate. To insure a leak-free assembly you need to start with all of the surfaces being flat and clean then use high-compliant oil-proof gaskets, non-hardening sealant and the proper torque values for the six nuts. Things go awry right off the bat because typical sump gaskets sold today are permeable cardboard instead of resin-coated non-permeable gasket material. In plain language, they are unsuitable as oil gaskets; they leak. That means you have to spray the cardboard jobbies with a non-hardening sealant. Most folks don't. So the sump drips oil. So they over-torque the nuts which bends the hell out of the sump plate and the flange of the oil pickup screen and after that, it leaks even worse. Go figger.

The other thing folks do wrong is to not replace the crushable copper washers on the sump studs and drain plug. The copper washers are designed to do two things. The first is to form an oil tight seal, the second is to prevent the drain plug & acorn nuts from coming loose. Crushable copper washers are a one-time-use item. On installation, when torqued to the proper value, it gets crushed. The crush is what keeps the oil in and the drain plug or acorn nut(s) from coming loose. Re-use the copper washers and you have to over-torque them to form an oil tight seal and by that time there isn't any 'crush' left, meaning things are going to come loose. Loose acorn nuts, you got a leaky, messy sump plate. But a loose sump plug can cost you an engine.

Over-torquing the drain plug also strips it out. The proper fix is to replace the sump plate and drain plug but most folks just get one of those expanding rubber plugs and torque it in there and give themselves a pat on the back for being so smart. A fair percentage of the Volkswagens I see have those IQ tests installed.

The crushable copper washers you need to do a proper oil change are part of the oil change gasket kit. Unfortunately, some outfits charge up to five bucks for the kit, making an oil change a rather expensive proposition. Which is why so many people re-use the same old gaskets and washers, over-torquing the hell outta things in a wasted effort to stop the drips.

Usta be, you could go down to the VW dealer and buy just the crushable copper washer for the sump plug. Cost something like eight cents. But since Volkswagen has abandoned their aircooled vehicles don't expect to find the drain plug washer at a VW dealer. Some FLAPS carry them (look in the Dorman trays) but most don't. Fortunately, Toyota and Nissan both use crushable sealing washers on their sumps, including one size that fits the VW drain plug. So take your drain plug to your Toyota dealer and pick up a baggie of washers. Cost is presently (circa 2000) about half a buck each. Cheep, compared to five bucks for two cardboard gaskets.

Another major part of keeping her greasy is your tranny lube. It's good for two years of normal use, less if you do a lot of driving, ford creeks, dusty, unpaved roads and so on. The tranny and differential holds 85 ounces of lube, same as your engine (ie, 2.5 liters or 5.3 pints).

To change your tranny lube you begin by removing the FILLER plug… cuz if you can't get it out, you don't wanna remove the drain plug until you can. The tranny filler and drain plugs are tapered so you have to be careful when you torque them in. Too much muscle and you'll crack the tranny. The plugs are socket-heads, they accept a 17mm Allan wrench or you can make up a tool using a 17mm nut or the head of a 17mm bolt.

Once you've drained the tranny you refill it by PUMPING the 90W lube. FLAPS will sell you a suitable pump. But they may not have a suitable lubricant. You need GL4 type for old Volkswagens. Most folks will try to sell you GL5, which is the present-day standard. Unfortunately, Volkswagens started using cheap aluminum-phosphor-bronze synchro rings about 1958 and GL5 contains additives that cause the synchros to corrode. So be sure to use the right stuff. Every two years.

The axle boots are part of your tranny. If they are leaking, replace them. If you have a 4-joint rear end (All Volkswagens have 'IRS' rear suspension. The problem is that the magazines don't know the difference between the different types of independent rear suspension.) …if you have a 4-joint rear end, use CV lube and your needle to top up the CV joints. Or dismantle & relube them every two years. (Hell of a chore.)

The third most common category of greasy is lubing your front end. Here again, most folks make a serious error.

You know enough to periodically change your motor oil. And you know enough to replace your tranny lube. So will someone please tell me whythehell all the kiddies simply top up their chassis lube?

To lube your torsion bars and spindles and anything else that uses grease you count the strokes until you see grease coming from the vents. Then you give it that many strokes more. The whole idea behind a grease job is that you are trying to change the grease, not merely topping it up.

Your front wheel bearings are the last common 'greasy' item. And the specs for packing Volkswagen wheel bearings are different than for American cars (those that still use unsealed bearings). The difference is that the design of the Volkswagen's front brake drums requires you to fill the void-space with new grease, after removing all of the old stuff. A lot of folks just grease the bearings and let it go at that. Doing so insures early failure of the wheel bearings due to lack of lubrication. Don't take my word for it. All of this is in the Volkswagen manual. The real one, not that 'official' joke from Bentley.

And right about there most people stop. Engine, tranny, chassis and wheels. All done, right? Not quite. Most Volkswagens use an oil-bath air-cleaner, which is good; they work better than filters made of treated paper. (Treated paper filters came into use not because they are better but because it costs less to replace the filter element than to clean an oil-bath filter.) Each time you change your oil you're supposed to scrub out your air-cleaner and replace the oil. In addition to the oil bath your air-cleaner incorporates a labyrinth-type filtering element made of coir. Once a year or when otherwise needed, you flood the coir element with solvent, slosh it out, let it drain than soak it with kerosene. The kerosene serves to glue particles of dust to the coir fibers.

Now you're all done, right? Actually, you're just getting started :-)

Let's begin with the steering gearbox. Same rule as for the tranny; change it every two years. Now lets look at your tie-rod ends. Do they have Zerks? If so, lube them. But many of them are 'lifetime' parts, meaning they'll only last about half as long as they could. So you get yourself a 'boot needle' and squirt some lube into them anyway. (Boots gone bad? Sorry Charlie. If the boot is bad, so is the tie-rod end. Plan to replace them.) Ditto for your ball joints and CV joints; the boot is a necessity. Once it has failed the joint becomes contaminated.

How's your hood latch? It gets a different kind of grease but it still gets some. Or should. Ditto for the cable, which you are supposed to remove, clean and re-lube periodically (or discover the thrills of breaking into your own trunk).

Door hinges. Door latches & striker plate. Door lock (dry lube only, please). Window regulator. Wiper shafts. Wiper motor (it has a gearbox too, you know). Ignition lock(!) Wind-wing latches & pivots. (Ditto for push-out quarter-windows.) Gear shift, including the Infamous Grommet. Glove box latch & hinges. Heater valves. Emergency brake lever. Pedal cluster. Clutch cable & throttle wire. Heater wires. Seat tracks. Seat backs. Visor pivot. Deck hinges & latch. Throttle shaft & linkage. Graphite or other dry lube on the air flaps & thermostat linkage (oil or grease collects dust).

Got a radio? Does the antenna extend? Then it gets lubed too. And if it's a powered antenna you've got another motor & gearbox to deal with.


Back in the good old days, whenever that was, most of the items above were checked and lubricated every time you took your Volkswagen to the dealer for service. They used a check-off list to be sure they didn't miss any of those 'unimportant' items and they used the proper lubricants for each case, about a dozen different ones and several different applicators. They did the work so neatly that you couldn't tell it had been done. All you knew was that you took your bug in for an oil change and got it back as good as new, or nearly so.

Today, we hear a constant litany of broken hood latch wires and sticky brake pedals and doors you have to slam nine times and bad wipers and wacky steering …

Now you know why.

Your antique Volkswagen is a high-maintenance vehicle. If you must pay someone to do all of the required maintenance according to your vehicle's original preventative maintenance schedule, you'll find it costs more to own & drive and old veedub than a modern luxury car. But if you fail to give your veedub the maintenance it requires you'll soon find yourself driving a piece of shit. For most of us that means the only option is to buckle down and learn how to do the maintenance ourselves.

It's up to you. You're the Mechanic-in-Charge.

-Bob Hoover
-25 April 2K

Sunday, December 24, 2006

VW - TULZ Part Six

TULZ – Part Six


Gotta fire extinguisher? No? Howzabout a bag of marshmallows? Cuz if you own a Volkswagen you really should carry one or the other. Your choice.

On average, it takes a 15 lb dry-type fire extinguisher to snuff an engine fire on a Volkswagen. That's assuming you know what you're doing and jump right on it. Assuming you've got one on-board. And can get to it. Bus owners should carry two, one reachable from the driver's seat, the other from the cargo-bay door. Jump on it quick and the damage can be limited to the wiring, fan belt and hoses. But if you dawdle the fire will ignite the magnesium crankcase and tranny. Ever tried to put out a magnesium fire?

Come to think of it, have you EVER used a fire extinguisher? Old sailors like me know how; firefighting and damage control is part of Navy boot camp. (Why? Cuz you can't walk home.) If you've never donated eyebrows to the Maltese Cross it wouldn't hurt to check with your local Fire Department. Most of them will be happy to show you how tackle a gasoline fire. There's a bit more to it than Point & Shoot.

(Funny-Sad Stories: Woman's westy catches fire. No problem, she has a big extinguisher. Lugs it around to the smoking vent… and finds she can't pull the pin, unaware that particular extinguisher requires the handle to be partially depressed to allow the pin to pull free. Marshmallow event. Similar but different case: Plumber in his service truck sees a VW bug smoking on the side of the road, pulls up to help. Discovers the safety pin on his extinguisher has had the end peened over. Has to find a pair of pliers to free the pin, by which time it was too late to do much good.)


Volkswagens like to catch fire, mostly because of you; because of the things you do and because of things you don't.

A fire stands on three legs, fuel, air and a source of ignition. Chop off any one of those legs and you don't have a fire. With a car, you can't do much about the air or the source of ignition so you focus on the fuel, the gasoline.

Pound for pound, gasoline has more potential energy than dynamite. Toss a kid a two-pound stick of 20% Hercules and he's liable to crap his pants. But give him an even more dangerous quart of gasoline and watch the foolishness begin.

Here's a good example. See that cute little fuel filter? The one between the fuel pump and the carb? You probably paid about two bucks for it even though it only cost a nickel, wholesale. When you installed it you thought you were doing your ride a favor but the truth is, those two bucks can cause your Volkswagen to catch fire. Herez how: The added mass of that little filter, combined with the normal vibrations produced by the engine and the surface of the road, is enough to loosen the brass ferules in your carb and fuel pump as the hose wiggles up & down. And once they come loose, they pop out. The engine keeps right on running of course – there's plenty of fuel left in the carb. And so long as the engine is running, so is the fuel pump. The gasoline gets sprayed all over the engine compartment and is ignited by the sparks from the generator or the distributor (there's plenty of sparking going on inside your distributor and it's open to the atmosphere).

That little fuel filter can be the dumbest two bucks you'll ever spend.

Volkswagen provided your fuel system with a strainer in the fuel tank and a fine-mesh filter – finer than any orifice in your carb – in your fuel pump. When they went to the non-rebuildable pump they put the filter under the fuel tank.

The filter in your pump is supposed to be cleaned every three thousand miles. Nobody does, of course. Too much work or something. Instead, they buy one of those kewl two-dollar filters that everybody sez is such a smart idea. The only smarts in this equation is the 2000% mark-up on that crappy little filter :-)

So why'd folks start putting filters between the pump & carb? Because either the gas tank or the fuel pipe was starting to rust. The VW is a cheaply built car, the fuel tank is made of plain carbon steel. It loves to rust. When it does, you don't add filters, you deal with the rust. You pull the fuel tank, etch it with acid then slosh it with PVA sealant. Bingo! No more rust. Or you replace the fuel pipe. Or both. (See the real Volkswagen Workshop Manual for the repair procedures.) [Roland Wilhelmy replaced the fuel pipe in the tunnel of his '57 with a single piece of stainless steel tubing. He put threaded fittings on either end. Neatest bit of plumbing I've ever seen on a bug.]

The punch line to the joke is that lotsa kiddies will spend thousands of dollars getting rid of the rust on the OUTSIDE of their Volkswagen but ignore the cancer in their fuel tank, even though they know it's there. That's why the bought the filter, right? (And if you haven't figured it out by now 'kiddie' has nothing to do with age. It has to do with acting in a childish or immature manner.)


So you check the brass ferules on your fuel pump & carb and, big surprise, they're loose. Now what?

The best fix is to replace them with threaded fittings. There is some aircraft stuff that is small enough to fit the casting yet provides adequate flow.

Or you can knurl the ferules and reinstall them with a dot of sleeve retainer. And then safety the hose. Herez how.

To knurl the brass tube you use a mill-cut file as a knurling tool. ( A mill- cut file has just one row of teeth across the face of the file.) You put the brass ferule on a piece of smooth wood then press the file down on top of the brass tube then ROLL the tube by pushing on the file. The teeth of the file will EMBOSS grooves in the brass and in doing so, increase the OD of the ferule. Making it larger in diameter makes it fit tighter in the casting. (No grooves? Press harder. The hardened teeth of the file WILL emboss the softer brass. Just be sure to use a block of hard wood, leather or plastic for the 'anvil' on which you do the rolling. If you roll it

on metal, the metal will simply flatten the grooves out again, as fast as you make them.)

So go clean the casting (ie, the carb or the fuel pump). Chuck something into your Makita, put a wisp of fine steel wool on the tip and polish the bore in the casting. When it's shiny, swab it out with MEK and a Q-tip. Now the sleeve retainer will bond to the pot-metal casting.

Got your sleeve retainer? Sleeve retainer is high-strength loctite, the green stuff. Use MEK to clean the ferule you've just knurled, put a dot of sleeve retainer on the knurled part and drive that sucker into the bore with a well aimed tap of a hammer. Then let it cure for 25 hours. 24 if you're in a rush.

Install the fuel hose with clamps on both ends. To safety the hose, use light-gauge safety wire, the same stuff you use to safety the set-screw on the shifter-rod (I think it's .028; mebbe .016. Either size is commonly available. See the Harbor Freight catalog.) Make a double wrap around the hose BEHIND the clamp then secure the wire to the carb or fuel pump. Now even if something comes loose, the worst it can do is leak; it can't blow off and spray gasoline all over the engine.

The other common cause of engine fires is due to your failure to replace the grommet isolating the fuel pipe where it passes through the forward breast tin.

Back in the good old days, whenever that was, every time you took your Volkswagen in for service they'd check the grommet. (You check it with your thumbnail.) If it was hard, they'd replace it. And it got hard pretty quick since it's only inches away from the #3 exhaust stack, which runs red hot at highway speed. The rubber grommet soaks up the radiant heat from the cherry-red steel and cooks itself harder than a bride's biscuits in no time at all.

Once the grommet gets hard it cracks into pieces and falls out, leaving your fuel pipe to rub against the .025 edge of the sheet metal of the forward breast tin. Now, you wouldn't think a piece of sheet metal would make a very good saw but remember, it only has to cut far enough to let the fuel spray out. And that don't take long at all. So now you got raw gasoline dribbling out the fuel pipe just inches from the #3 exhaust stack.

See why you need to carry those marshmallows? No sense letting a good bonfire go to waste :-)

So what to do? You can just keep putting grommets in the hole but that's sorta lame. It was okay back then; cheap car, inexpensive service, only takes a few minutes to replace the grommet. And so long as you had the vehicle serviced by the dealer there was never a problem. But times change. Nowadays, the whiz kid at the local quickie lube emporium wouldn't recognize a grommet if it ran up and pee'd on his leg. And even if he did, he'd want a zillion dollars to replace it, being a highly trained technician and all.

So you install a bulkhead fitting, which actually isn't. Bulkhead fittings are threaded on both sides. What you'll make up looks kinda like a bulkhead fitting but it's actually a 'pass-through'. Easy to make. Cost you mebbe two bucks. No more grommet, no more fuel-pipe failure and no more fuel-pipe-related fires. You can leave the marshmallows at home. (But keep the extinguisher in the car. Shit happens.)

To make your bulkhead fitting you begin with a piece of Volkswagen fuel pipe, three inches long. Quarter-inch tubing (that is, non-metric SAE stuff) is a little bit too large for the stock VW fuel hose but a SAE brake line stock, which is available from most FLAPS, is close enough to work.

The three-inch long piece of fuel pipe must chamfered on the ID at both ends and then the ends must be carefully smoothed with #600 paper. Finally, you need the flare the ends just a tad to create a SMALL lip to secure the hose. Be careful here. Small means exactly that. You can feel the flared lip but it isn't obvious to the eye. The important thing is that the hose will feel it too.

The other parts for the bulkhead fitting are down at your local hardware store, hanging on the rack with the other ELECTRICAL repair parts. Ask for 'lamp repair parts.' A common brand-name 'Angelo' (ie, Angelo Brothers Co., from Philadelphia). You want a threaded barrel one-inch long. It will probably come in a blister-pack with an assortment of barrels of other lengths. The 1/8-IP thread is standard for all lamp stuff so don't worry about it; lamp nuts fit on lamp barrels.

Once you have the barrel you need two nuts to fit it. They'll be hanging on the same rack. If they have internal-tooth lockwashers for the nuts, get some.

The other part of the kit is a pair of fender washers having an ID large enough to accept the threaded barrel.

Lamp hardware comes in both brass and steel. Brass will work but the steel stuff is stronger. If you live in the rust belt, brass might be a better

choice. I assume you'll paint the steel stuff.

To assemble the pass-through you want to bed the piece of fuel pipe in the threaded barrel. To do this, insert the fuel pipe into the barrel for about an inch then slather RTV on the exposed fuel pipe for a distance of about an inch. Now insert the slathered fuel pipe into the barrel using a twisting motion. You want to end up with an inch of fuel pipe projecting from each end of the threaded barrel and the fuel pipe firmly bedded in RTV inside of the barrel. Once you've achieved that, put the thing aside to cure.

To install the pass through you spin a washer (and lockwasher, if you have it) onto the barrel, about half-way down. Then slide a fender washer onto the threaded barrel so it comes up against the nut (or lockwasher).

The object is to insert the threaded barrel through the hole in the forward breast tin and form a sandwich of fender washer – breast-tin – fender washer, secured by nuts on either side. That's the goal. And it works. But the first few of these I made, the nuts came loose. I used lockwashers and even two nuts on each side but given the heat from the exhaust stack and the vibration, the things eventually loosened up.

So I glued it together. I used some high-temp (red) RTV and liberally buttered the washers & nuts before tightening the thing down. That was in 1981. It's still tight. So use the RTV trick to keep it from coming loose.

Stock VW fuel hose will push over the SLIGHTLY flared ends of the fuel pipe. You should then install hose clamps but do so LIGHTLY. You don't have to tighten a hose-clamp very much. The combination of the clamp and the small flare effectively locks the hose to the pipe.

There are some details here you should be aware of. The old fuel pipe will need to be shortened. I use the stock bracket on the end of the blower housing to secure the stock fuel pipe. On some vehicles the bulkhead fitting can be difficult to install with the engine in the vehicle. I

think it's a mod worth dropping the engine for but then, I drop the engine just to wash the engine compartment.

One thing you should do IMMEDIATELY is go out to your car and check that damn grommet. IF it is hard or missing, replace it NOW. A quick but TEMPORARY fix is to slit a section of suitably sized hose, clip it around the fuel pipe, slide it into the hole in the breast tin and slather it with high- temp RTV. In theory, that should work at least as well as the grommet and maybe as well as the bulkhead fitting. But in practice, the thing tends to come adrift, possibly because it gets gasoline on the RTV or mebbe from the heat or… something. The metal barrel works best. But you're the Mechanic-in-Charge. Your ride; your decision.

The grommet problem isn't new. It was first identified as a cause of Volkswagen engine fires about 1958. In the 1960's I used aviation-grade bulkhead fittings on my Volkswagens, replacing all of the stock fuel plumbing with higher quality aviation stuff. That's when I was working for Uncle Sam and he didn't mind if his nephews diddled the system a little, so long as the planes didn't fall out of the sky. Not too long after leaving the Navy I needed a bulkhead fitting, saw how much the silly things cost and came up the lamp-parts arrangement as a substitute. It works.

-Bob Hoover
-20 April 2K