Vanfettling

With probably somewhere north of 50,000km under the van’s wheels over the last year and a quarter, there’s a few jobs been waiting for suitable facilities, and for some parts to be sourced. Finally, everything landed in one place, and it was time to get grubby again.

Albania had taken a toll on the van, and we finally figured out that a very scary sounding rattle from the back was related to one rear corner sitting much nearer the ground than it should. We’d broken a rear spring.

Purely by coincidence, another user of the Club 80-90 forum had a pair of brand-spanking rear springs for sale, despite the proper ones for our Westfalia camper being long unavailable. He’d been sent them in error, looking for different springs for his Syncro 4×4 van. Since he was going to be sending them out to us anyway, we decided to get a few small bits, via a Brickwerks order, sneaked into the same package whilst we were about it. And so, installed in the yard, the van went up on axle stands, the overalls went on, and under I went.

A slight delay was, of course, caused by saying hello to the kittens. Unfortunately, though, the bold little black one who’d so charmed Ellie previously had probably been a bit too bold for it’s own good, and hadn’t been seen for a couple of weeks. One of the driveshaft joints that had been replaced back in France had been repeatedly coming loose, causing all the grease to escape, and the joint to make ‘orrible noises. Since that needed to be unbolted anyway for the spring, it seemed like a good idea to swap it for the spare good-used one we’d kept last summer. Especially when the noisy one fell apart in my hands… They do dismantle and reassemble, relatively simply once you get the knack (think ’80s executive shiny chrome-and-black leather desk puzzle), but when I put the worn one back together it seemed to be locked firmly in place, instead of moving smoothly. Not good.

The same corner also gives a home to part of the cooling system, a plastic “tower” which distributes coolant to the heater and radiator as well as separating any air out. We’d had a few slight drips from there, and I’d assumed it was a common problem, a welded joint failing. Thanks to another 80-90 user, there’s a fairly straightforward fix for that, but I’d decided that a replacement was wise insurance. As it turned out, it was just as well, since removing the old one saw the stub for the heater pipe just fall off and crumble. The plastic had totally delaminated and failed. Only good luck had stopped us losing all our coolant…

Whilst all the coolant was out of the van, it was the perfect time for a couple of other minor jobs on the cooling system – a replacement temperature sensor for the fuel injection, giving us a much nicer cold start, and a new fan switch after the old one seemed to lose the low speed in Montenegro (it still kicked the fan in, but only on the very loud high speed, and only when the temperature was a bit warmer than ideal). We’d also had some drips of coolant from the front. The van’s engine’s at the back, but the radiator’s at the front, with long plastic pipes connecting the two. To prevent the plastic being crushed by over-tightened hose clamps, VW put steel inserts into the pipes. Over time, though, these inserts loosen, and can cause the hoses to pop off. We’d come very close to that, with only that same good luck causing one insert to wedge at a slight angle. Once that was all sorted (well, temporarily – only expensive replacement pipes will properly sort it), it was time to pour gallons more coolant in. The engine in this van is basically the venerable Beetle engine, but wearing a wetsuit – and VW quickly found that using normal antifreeze caused corrosion of the studs holding the cylinder heads on. As a result, they developed a different antifreeze, red in colour, which is nowadays fairly common – but still far from cheap. Remember those long plastic lines? We needed plenty of it…

Fortunately, Louis’ cousin-in-law (or something) runs a car spares shop just down the road, and we soon became regulars. We’d popped in on our last visit to get oil, and were back for coolant this time. Then, whilst the back wheels were off, I thought it wise to take the brake drums off. Ooops, new linings needed – the weight in the back had taken a toll since Sarran, and they were very thin. So thin that, where there’s a small indent in the metal backing, I could break a bit of the lining off with a finger… No problem – they were ordered and arrived within a couple of hours. Then, on changing them, the brake cylinders themselves looked more than a bit tired. Fortunately, a pair was in stock, since there’s still plenty of our old T3 vans in use as workhorses around the Balkans. We’d also found that the exhaust had been getting louder and louder. Since we’d had a brand new stainless system sent to us back in Sicily, we knew it would only be something fairly minor. We’d managed to lose one of the two clamping straps for the silencer, though (Tunisian rough roads this time), and I suspect that’d put more strain than intended on one of the pipes, which’d started to fracture. Not a great problem, given where we were – in the yard of undoubtedly the best welder we have the good fortune to know. Just as well, since there was also a small but slightly crunchy section of floor needing a patch.

With that all refitted, it was time to restart the van and make sure it was all healthy. Oh, wait. I’d forgotten to tighten a clamp on one of the coolant hoses to that tower, half-hidden just above the gearbox and under the bed. The resulting spray of coolant quickly shrank back to a fine jet. No, wait. It’s not a jet of coolant – it’s PETROL! WHAT THE…?

Barely an inch from the clamp in question, there’s a short stretch of rubber fuel hose, connecting the plastic pipe from the pump to the engine bay. Since the van’s got fuel injection, that pipe’s under a lot of pressure – about the same as the air pressure within the tyres. Whilst I’d had a good look over the hose I could see, that bit’s so well hidden that I’d completely missed it – and it turned out to be utterly knackered.

With a date-stamp on it that said it’d never been changed since the van was built, the slightest tap whilst I was working near it had been the straw that broke the camel’s back, and petrol came gushing out… Amongst the stocks of parts and tools we had on board, there was a length of brand-new fuel pipe, just in case. With that fitted, all was well, and it was time to take our leave from our wonderful hosts again.

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One Response to Vanfettling

  1. Pingback: Belgrade and beyond | Wherever the road goes…

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