Rear Closet Modification

Vanagon Westy Rear Closet Modification

By Frank Condelli

The pictures below document the modifications I’ve recently made to the rear closet on my 1987 Vanagon Westfalia. This modification makes better use of the space that was previously accessed by the small door behind the rear table. Now with two shelves, sliding doors and cut original door the space is more useful and easily accessible when the rear space behind the rear bench seat is full of luggage.  The project took two days to complete and cost approximately $50 in materials including paint which was mixed to match the original grey colour.

The sliding doors were made from 1/8″ fiberboard. The track is white plastic sliding door channel available from Home Depot. It is made specifically for this application. You can see small pieces if it on the shelf in one of the pics below.  The top channel is deeper than the bottom to allow the door to be cut shorter so that it can be raised in the upper channel to allow insertion and removal. The track was mounted with small nails to the edge of the closet fascia board. The opening was cut along the original lines of the existing rear opening, leaving the same space between the front edge and corner as the rear had, 2-1/2″ if I remember correctly. The side edges were trimmed with the edge trim removed from the rear closet opening, starting & stopping with the ends of the door channels. The top and bottom channels were trim covered with a strip of wood trim molding.  The two doors must be equal in width or 1/2 the width of the opening plus 1″ ~ 2″ overlap.


VW Vanagon Westfalia / Dometic Fridge Maintenance

VW Vanagon Westfalia / Dometic Fridge Maintenance

By Frank Condelli

      The Dometic fridge that’s installed in your VW Vanagon Westfalia camper needs some maintenance now and then to keep it working well.  This article will address this issue.

       Some symptoms that indicate the need for this maintenance are no or hard starting on the propane setting, improper cooling, ventilating fan noisy or inoperative, and the LED run indicator not working.  To execute the needed maintenance requires that the fridge be removed from its location in the camper cabinet.

Step 1.     Begin by making sure the propane valve is shut on the propane tank.  You can test to make sure it is by trying to light the stove after you have shut the valve off.  If the stove does not light then the valve is shut properly.  

Step 2.    Remove the fridge flue vent on the side of the van by removing the three screws holding the outer most vent ring.  Then remove the five other screws you will find underneath this ring.  Remove the all the pieces including the gasket.  If there is any rusting around the opening in the wall of the van now is a good time to look after this situation.  Keep track of the order in which the parts come off, as it is very important they go back in the same order.  All these parts must be cleaned of any corrosion before re-installing them.  The rubber parts should be coated with Krown rust proofing oil or a similar product.  Use the Krown on the metal side of the van, all the metal plates and screws unless replacing the screws with stainless steel ones, which is a good upgrade.  If the metal plate that goes onto the rubber gasket has the two holes that hold it to the side of the van enlarged to the pint the screws do not hold you can use soft metal washers behind the screws. 

Step 3.   Go to the front of the fridge and remove the door by sliding it upwards on the hinges, remove the front panel of the cabinet by removing the plastic screw caps by prying them off with a sharp object like a penknife blade and remove the screws. Remove the small screw in the metal part of the cabinet at the upper left hand corner of the panel.  The panel can now be slide to the right to disengage it from it slot in the cabinet and pulled forward.  Now there are four more screws on the sides.  Two can be located by opening the door of the storage compartment below the sink and looking on the wall next to the fridge you will find two small holes in the wood paneling and recessed in these holes you will find the two screws.  Then on the other side in the storage compartment next to the fridge beneath the swing out table you will find one more and then in the lower compartment next to the fridge you will find the last one.   Remove the metal vent on the side of the cabinet so that you can access the exhaust tubes and help them not get hung up as they come through the wall of the van and the interior panelling. 

Step 4.     Disconnect the propane line. Removing the drawer under the sink and reaching in behind the fridge to access this fitting can accomplish this.

Step 5.     Disconnect the 110-volt plug from the fridge from its receptacle in the cabinet underneath the sink.  Disconnect the two 12 volt electrical connectors, one with three wires and one with one black wire.  All these wires should be held to the back of the cabinet by a strap that has a snap connector.  To undo the snap, you man need to pry it open with a small screwdriver.

Step 6.     Remove the fridge by sliding it out toward the middle of the van, slowly.  You should now be able to slide the fridge all the way out.  The exhaust pipe will most likely get hung up as it tries to clear the opening in the wall of the van so watch that it clears this point.  You will have to tip the fridge at an angle to allow the exhaust pipe to duck under the cabinetwork and let the fridge come all the way out.  

Step 7.     Once the fridge is free standing in the middle of your van take it to a workbench to complete the following maintenance.  The fridge must be blocked to level for all these operations to be done correctly.

Step 8.     Turn the fridge upside down and block so that it is level.  Let stand in that position for a minimum of 24 hours.  This will dissolve any of the crystals that “MAY” have formed in the chemicals that are inside the cooling system.   Some of the work described below can be done with fridge in this position.  For others, you will have to wait until you can turn the fridge right side up.

Step 9.     Around the backside of the fridge you will see the ventilating fan, cooling fins and propane burner and more than likely you will find this area full of dirt, cobwebs, and all kinds of goodies that have accumulated there over the years.  Clean this area and the top of the fridge using a vacuum and or compressed air.  

Step 10.     Open up the combustion chamber of the burner by removing the six screws that hold the bottom of the burner in place.  Before removing these screws undo the fitting to the propane line and remove the screw holding the sparking starter and remove the starter. Now remove the six screws and remove the bottom cover and see how much dirt has accumulated in there. Clean this out and also check to see if the air intake going to the front of the fridge, with the small screw cap, is not blocked.  If it is blocked which is highly likely, take a length of wire and slide it down the tube until air can pass then blow it out with compressed air. Check the propane lines are clear.  Remove the jet and place it in a small jar with Lacquer thinner so that it is submerged for 15 ~ 30 minutes, then blow it out with compressed air.  You can use a small copper wire to pass through it to aid in cleaning it.  Do not force the wire, as you do not want to damage or enlarge the jet.  You should be able to see light through the jet when holding it up to a strong light source.  Before re-installing the jet, blow air through the propane line by using compressed air from a compressor source, input with a blow gun at the main line connection at the top rear right hand corner of the fridge.  Open the main propane valve, set the thermostat to MAX, push in and hold the bypass/safety valve, then blow for a few minutes to make sure the lines and valves are clear.  Now you can re-install the jet and burner pipe once your satisfied the lines, jet and burner pipe are clear and clean.    

Step 11.     Check the exhaust and air intake stack tubes. They need to be free and clear of any and all obstructions. Use compressed air here again.  Check the exhaust pipe for cracks especially in the corrugated flex section. If it is cracked you will need to repair or replace it.  Small cracks can be repaired successfully with muffler cement and or muffler tape.  

Step 12.     Check the gasket between the bottom cover and burner pot and if it is bad you can make a new one from a piece of inner tube or similar material or you can use Loctite, Ultra Copper High Temperature RTV Silicone sealant on the old gasket. 

Step 13.     After your confident that everything is nice and clean, check that the spark starter is working by pressing on the starting button on the front of the fridge. You should see a nice healthy blue spark. If the spark starter is not working then you will need to find out why.  The wire may be broken or the spark is no longer any good in either case it will need to be replaced.

Step 14.     Once your confident the combustion chamber, exhaust pipe and air intake pipes are clean and the starter is functioning you can replace the cover of the combustion chamber, the spark starter and the propane line.  

Step 15.     Now you want to test the burner.  This can be done by taking the propane tank and the feed line to the burner from your backyard barbecue and connecting to the propane connector on the back of your fridge. Open the tank valve and start the fridge as per the instructions on the fridge door.   If all goes well the fridge should start up relatively easily.  You can check to see what the flame looks like by removing the Piezo starter from the firebox and peering into that hole.  The flame should be blue and even over the whole run of the burner pipe.  Turn the thermostat up and down and the flame should vary, if not the thermostat valve may be faulty.  Now let it run for awhile so that your sure it’s working well.  You can shut it down and restart it a few time to insure that it fires right up consistently, if not the Piezo may not be in the proper location and you should try to reposition it.  You can check the operation of the cooling system now if you wish by taking the door of the fridge and placing it on the fridge and block it somehow to seal as best you can.  After an hour or so of operation the temperature of the cooling pipe behind the cooling fins inside the fridge can be checked with an infrared thermometer or just place an ordinary thermometer on the lower ice cube tray.  The temperature on the rivet to the far left is the coldest, it should reach -7 Celsius.   

Step 16.     While the fridge is running you need to verify that the black wire leading away from the small start valve which is located at the end of the push-in starter valve on the front of the fridge is providing 25 ~ 35 millivolts.  That wire is connected to a Thermocouple at the end of that valve.   See the explanation of how this works here > Thermocouple.   This Thermocouple is what turns on the LED on the control panel telling you that the fridge is running.  

Step 17.     Turn the fridge off, wait awhile then re-start the fridge again.  It should start right up.

Step 18.     Now that your fridge is working perfectly on propane.  You should also check the electric ventilating fan.  Connect a source of 12-volt power to the Brown and Blue wires at the fridges 12-volt power plug, the Blue is the negative and the Brown is the positive.  Using a heat source such as hair dryer or heat gun heat the thermocouple, the small disc device attached to the cooling fins and wired in series to the fan, just until the fan starts up.  The fan should come on and go off as the thermocouple cools.  If the fan does not come on then either the thermocouple or the fan is defective.  Bypass the thermocouple to check.  Replace the defective parts.  A good suitable replacement for the fan is a 2″ computer muffin fan.  

Step 19.      Check the cooling fins inside the fridge.  The cooling fins/ice cube tray holder assembly is clipped to the cooling tube behind it and uses Thermal Mastic on the mating surfaces to provide proper transfer from the cooling pipe to the fin assembly.  If this unit is loose then the cooling system will not function properly and the Thermal Mastic will have to be renewed.  Remove the cooling fin assembly by pulling it forward.  Clean the mating surfaces and coat the inner surface on the cooing fin unit with Thermal Mastic and reinstall the unit by pushing it back onto the cooling tube and set it level.  Once the Thermal Mastic has dried the cooling fin assembly will stay in place.

Step 20.     Check the 110-volt operation plug in the 110-volt plug into a working 110 volt household outlet and turn the appropriate switches on the front of the fridge. It will take awhile for it to get cool; the only way you can tell it’s working, so be patient.  You can do the same thing for the 12volt operation by supplying 12 volt power to the 12 volt electrical connector, Black is the positive and Blue is the negative, then turn the appropriate switch on the fridge.  The two heating elements are retained in metal tubes welded to the exhaust stack.  They are retained in these tubes by setscrews at the bottom of the tubes.  They need to be tight for the heat transfer to work properly so check them.  You can slide the metal cover over the insulation of the exhaust stack up wards to access these setscrews.  Now once you’re satisfied the fridge is working well your ready to re-install it.

Step 21.     Check the air pump.  The air pump, operated by the control knob on the far left of the control panel, is there to introduce fresh air into the firebox.  Since the firebox and its intake and exhaust tracks are completely sealed, a way of getting fresh air, oxygen more precisely, to allow the propane to light, is needed.  Remove the end of the plastic hose from the pump where it connects to the metal tube and put it into a vessel containing water.  Actuate the pump and you should see bubbles.  No bubbles, the pump is not working and will have to be repaired or replaced.  There was a modification service bulletin issued to perform on the air pump to make it work better.  Check to see if this modification has been done.  If not you should do it now.  Remove the pump, remove the original plastic air supply line and check valve and disassemble the pump.  Drill out the exit port where the plastic tube connects with a #40, 3.5mm, 9/64″ drill bit.  Disassemble the pump piston assembly.  Install an O-ring between the metal plate on the side of the circlip and the piston.  This O-ring needs to fit tightly on the rod.  You should be able to find a suitable O-ring at your local auto parts or building supply.  Discard the original plastic air supply line and check valve.  Obtain a new check valve, Volkswagen P/N 055 131 101 or equivalent, drill out the two ports with the same drill bit used above, install this new check valve using two lengths of 4mm, (5/32″) ID x 65mm (2.5″) long surgical tubing or equivalent.  Be sure the one-way valve is installed in the proper direction, air to fire box when pump is actuated.  Secure the check valve to the ignitor with a tie wrap.

Step 22.     Before you re-install the fridge you should take the opportunity to clean up the space in the van behind the fridge.  Upon close examination you may find rust and debris there that needs to be cleaned up.  The Fiberglas insulating material that was used to insulate the walls of the Westfalia tends to soak up and hold any humidity that collects in there and I found that removing this insulation and replacing it with 2″closed cell Styrofoam that will not absorb moisture will be to your vans benefit.  If your van is a Canadian model with the electrical outlet below the water tank and city water outlets then you will need to remove that electrical outlet and push the electrical cord into the storage compartment before trying to remove the Fiberglas.  If it’s an American model then there is no need for this operation.  Once the Fiberglas has been removed use a shop vac to clean all the debris from behind the cabinets.  If the floor is still intact with no rust holes, remove the two rubber plugs from the drain holes in the floor so that any moisture that gets in there can drain out.  Once all is clean spray the floor area between the cabinet and van wall, the wall and the wall support brace with a good rust preventive like KROWN or RUST CHECK.  This will help stop any rusting already in progress and prevent further rusting.  Now cut three 15″ x 16″ rectangles of the Styrofoam , insert them through the opening behind where the fridge was pushing them as far to the sides as you can then cut another 15″ x  whatever is missing and jam it in-between  the pieces already installed to make up a complete wall covering.  Tape the visible joints with house wrap tape.   Now go to where you removed the electrical box and cut a hole in the Styrofoam so that the electrical box can be fitted trying to keep the Styrofoam as close to the electrical box tube as you can.  You will need to make space for the hose clamp screw to fit also.  Once the electrical box is back in place and the area cleaned up you can go about putting the fridge back in place.  See pictures of this area by clicking > here.  One last thing should be checked before re-installing the fridge.  The City Water outlet connection where the brass fitting is screwed into the plastic housing tends to crack and leak.  Whenever you turn on your sink water using the water from the water tank this city water line is pressurize right up to this fitting as there is a check valve in the plastic housing to keep the water from going out through the City Water inlet.  This is a major source of water behind the cabinet that helps to cause the rusting away of that panel behind the cabinets.  If this connection is leaking then it needs to be repaired.

Step 23.  Replace the fridge by reversing all the steps you did in removing it making sure the electrical connectors are plugged together properly and the propane fitting is secure and then your ready to test it in the van.  Turn on the switch on the electrical LED panel on the front of the sink~stove~fridge cabinet so that when the fridge lights on propane the green LED at the left bottom of the panel will light telling you the propane has lit.  It may take a few minutes to light up on propane as the propane will need to make its way up the line from the tank to the fridge burner.  Let it run for 15 ~ 30 minutes, shut it down and restart.  Go for a drive with the propane service running, making sure the drain at the bottom of the fridge is closed, to see if the fridge stays lit while driving, it should with no problem.  If it goes out then there is a leak in the intake~exhaust track to the burner pot and you will need to find it. Check the 110 volt and 12 volt services.  If all went well then your fridge is once again ready for camping and cold beer. 


     If your sure the fridge is running, a simple method is to touch the exhaust plate on the side of the van, it should be hot so be careful, and the LED is not working you need to check the single black wire, the same one we checked before, to the control panel and if your sure that is correct then you need to check the board on which the LED is located.  It could be the board; LED, resistor or the LM324 control chip is bad.  The control chip is at the far right side of the board, Radio Shack part #276-1711; this chip controls the LED on the control panel board. The LED, resistor and chip can be replaced by obtaining them from Radio Shack or other electronics supply shops, then un-soldering and removing the defective piece and soldering in the new one.  

     The drain at the bottom LEFT HAND corner of the fridge can also be used to clean out the burner pot periodically between major servicing by using air from an air compressor through a blowgun.  The higher the air pressure the better.  You can also use this drain to get air into the firebox to make it easier to light the propane if it is being difficult to light, which sometimes is because of a lack of oxygen in the firebox.  This is why Dometic installed the air pump on the front of the fridge control panel.  That air pump I find is not sufficient and blowing air in there through a small plastic hose using air from your mouth will in most circumstances get the fridge to start up on propane.  Keep this small plastic hose in the van as a tool to get your fridge lit.

     There are two good upgrades that you can do while you have your fridge is out for service.  One is to add a small, 2″, 12 volt, computer muffin fan inside the fridge to circulate the air which will provide more uniform temperature circulation when the fridge is full.  The fan can be attached to the top of the cooling fins with tie wraps so that it blows air downwards.  The wires from that fan can be brought to the rear of the fridge through the same hole as the thermostat’s capillary tube.  The fan wires can then be connected to the 12 volt constant power to the LED panel through a small switch you can mount on the sink~stove~fridge cabinet front next to the LED panel.  The second upgrade is to install a 3″, 12 volt, computer muffin fan in the City Water service port, which most of us do not use.  The City Water service port is located appropriately directly in front of the fins that must dispel their heat.  If you do not want to loose your City Water service then you can make a new hole in the side of the van next to the City Water service port to mount the fan.  This fan can then draw out the heat from behind the fridge to the outside and will allow the fridge to operate properly on hot days.  The heat from behind the fridge was designed to rise up into the van through the grillwork behind the top of the sink~stove~fridge cabinet and then out the skylight.  Once the interior of the van reached 80 degrees F, the fridge will cease to transfer heat and will stop to cool properly.  To proceed with this project, remove the City Water service port, cut off the rear of it so you have a housing with a flat surface to mount the muffin fan.  Choose a muffin fan that will have at least two of its mounting holes line up with two opposing mounting screw hole of the City Water service port.  Using spring clip type screw clips on the muffing fan will allow you to screw longer screws through the outlet, through the body of the van and into the spring clip attached to the fan thereby holding the whole unit in place.  Run the wires from the fan up to where the LED panel is on the sink~stove~fridge cabinet and wire in to the 12 volt constant power found there through a switch you can mount next to the LED panel.  If you want to be really creative find a small micro switch than can be mounted on the City Water service box so that the fan operates when the flap door is open.  The flap door can be propped open with a Popsicle stick cut to the appropriate length and stored behind the flap against the fan when the flap is closed.  I have done this but it does take some dexterity to accomplish.

What is happening under my valve cover?

By Bob Donalds

There is no substitute for experience so I thought that I would share a few of those experiences which can bring you up short. In other words,some lessons are well learned. I have made most of the mistakes one can make under the valve cover and I have reviewed the remains of other people’s mistakes for instance, rubber mounted rockers when the wrong rocker gaskets are used by mistake. Do you have any oil leaks?

What is so complex about the stuff under valve cover? Looking at it you see a metal cover, the clips (bails) that hold it on, some bolts the gasket the rocker arms and the often fooled-with adjusters.

I have made some expensive mistakes with the valve covers that I have installed. One such example comes from my racing days. One day at the track just before the race,and after adjusting the valves I reinstalled the valve covers on a Formula Vee engine. I had done that many times before. No big deal, right. I found out the hard way that the valve cover was leaking it. The car was smoking to beat the band in the hard right turns. I had not checked the covers for leaks. I lost the race, the crankshaft, and the connecting rods. However I gained experience which has lasted 20 plus years; check your valve cover for leaks every time you reinstall them. That means let it run and look to see that it is dry. It may take a few minutes for the oil to get up to the cylinder head. This effort is well worth the wait. When installing the valve cover always I put a fresh gasket on! I do not glue them on so I can’t get them off later. If it still leaks try a new bail . They are less that two dollars at the dealer and they hold the cover tight against the head. You may find that the valve cover is just too old, rusty or bent. Try a new one.

So your heater box is wet with oil and your’e sure the cover isn’t leaking. Push rod tube gaskets and lower head studs can be responsible. There are expandable push rod tubes to repair any leaks that come from the tubes or tube seals. When rebuilding air cooled engines I seal the studs inside the valve cover with silicone (non- corrosive kind). This could also be done at any time if the parts are free of oil. By the way, on some of the early 36 hp and 25 hp engines the lower cylinder head nuts had an o-ring which seals the lower stud holes.

Adjusting those valves must the simple part right? So you just adjusted your valves but they sound like the Hammers of Hell’. What gives? The answer may be the head temperature. The valve lash increases with temperature on all but the oldest stale air engines with long rocker studs. Anytime the oil temp goes over 200F degrees the cylinder heads can over-heat and that can show up as a noisy valve train.

Perhaps the engine is not too hot but one or two valves are ticking away. You’ve gone back and tried adjusting them again and you are sure that the valves are set correct but the ticking noises remain! What to do? One possible answer is that the valve is not adjusted to the clearance of the feeler gauge you’ve used. The gauge simply bridged the dish in the end of the valve stem.

Since the tip of the valve stem wears over time, it’s possible the feeler gauge can not flex enough to accurately reflect the lash the rocker will have and thus the ticking noise. Try adjusting it by feel with no feeler gauge. The rocker needs to move about the thickness of a dollar bill (.004ths).

Lash caps are one way to deal with valve stem wear These go over the stem and give you a flat surface. The rocker stands may need to be shimmed to make room for adjustments. I shim the rockers on every engine I build to set the geometry. Every manual covers geometry but its rarely paid atten valve guide.

Also repeated loss of valve clearance on the exhaust valve indicates stretching valve stems or valve seat erosion. It is then time to remove the heads for inspection and a proper valve job.

I hope sharing my experiece’s under the valve cover helps you avoid some of the problems I’ve incountered. As a famous guy once said “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it”.

Low Oil Pressure in 2.1l Waterboxer?

By Bob Donalds

I have had more than one 2.1 water boxer engine brought in for rebuilding with symptoms of low oil pressure. Despite having put in the longest spring the customer could find for the pressure relief and adding thicker oil, the engine still had low oil pressure at a warm idle. These findings had been confirmed with a gauge. So as I disassembled these engines I was very careful to check for excessive clearances. It turns out the clearance between the rod bearing and the crankshaft rod journal had gotten to the point that it allowed the oil light to come on at warm idle. Unfortunately the more common results of this problem in the 2.1 is that the rod winds up hanging out of a new vent hole its has created in the top of the crankcase. The 1.9 on the other hand is not known for throwing rods unless it was run low of coolant or oil.

The one thing that has been consistent in all the 2.1 engines I have stripped and measured is that the large end of the connecting rods are no longer round. With this problem in mind I started paying more attention to the big ends of all the water boxer con rods that came into the shop. The first thing I found was that the 1.9 and the 2.1 con rods are the same size and length. In fact they are the same rods. My inspections showed the 2.1 rods had consistently more distortion at the big end. What is the difference between the two applications of the same con rod? The stroke is longer in the 2.1 engine so the rod angle is greater, plus the 2.1 make more power witch puts more strain on the rods. Itâs clear to me from my days at the race track that nothing distorts con rods faster than exceeding the power curve but the fuel injection has a nifty rev limiter built right in. This doesnât explain why we see rod distortion in one engine and not the other. Next I went to the Bentley book to compare the torque specs. The 1.9 rod has a reusable rod bolt that call for a torque of 33-ft. lb. and the 2.1 has torque of 22-ft. lb. plus ¸ turn. The manual also says not to reuse bolts on the 2.1 engines.

The conclusions:
1) Never reuse the rods without having the big ends rebuilt ever!
2) Never rely on Plastagauge alone it does not always show if it’s out of round
or if the cap is shifted.
3) Consider rebuilding the engine when the heads start to leak if it has got a hundred thousand
or more miles on it. Keep in mind the core may not be rebuildable if you wait longer. There is
no doubt the rods are the major reason for the catastrophic engine failures.

More than one person that has told me that they only got six thousand mile from a rebuilt 2.1 long block before a rod blew through the case. They also told me the big ends of the rods had not been measured or rebuilt. The facts speak for themselves. I see this problem on a daily basis and thought I should pass on my observations.

Rebuilding 2.0l Air Cooled Engine

By Bob Donalds

Air-Cooled What?
As anyone with any experience with air-cooled engines will tell you, this is a much different beast from the water-cooled  engines that drive most cars today. Because these engines are no longer being put in new cars, it can be very difficult to find mechanics who are knowledgeable about the idiosyncrasies of these machines. Furthermore, the Bosch fuel injection system that delivers fuel to many of these engines is not always understood or properly maintained.

The main distinguishing characteristic, and cause of many of the problems associated with air-cooled engines, is heat. Because there is no water jacket, the heads on these engines run at a much higher temperature then their water-cooled cousins, and thus there is a much smaller margin of error in which these engines operate.

Because air-cooled engines do not have water jackets around the cylinder heads to keep the temperatures lower and more uniform, it is easy for hot spots to form and for cylinder head temperature to become a problem. Because air-cooled engines have only the air moving over the fins and oil to keep them cool, they run at a much higher temperature then a water-cooled engine,  leaving a much smaller margin of error for sustained engine performance. Adding to this challenge is that these engines were designed in a time of much higher fuel octane, so today’s fuels force engines to work harder to produce the same power. One common condition caused by the lower fuel octane is pre-ignition, which occurs when the head temperature gets high enough to ignite the fuel before the spark plug fires. This can result in a snowball effect in which pre-ignition causes higher head temps, which in turn cause more pre-ignition, etc. Also adding to the heat problem is that most of these engines are pushing around heavy vans with a lot of wind resistance, which puts a heavy load on the engine. All of this can result in blown head gaskets, seats falling out, valves burning, poor performance and shortened engine life. Another common problem with these engines is oil leaks. Since  we normally are rebuilding used engine blocks, it is easy for a small fracture or oil leak not to appear until the engine is assembled and running. There are several steps that can be taken to minimize the chance of a surprise oil leak when the engine is finished and in the car.

Disassembly and Inspection
Its time. Your engine is dead or in need of a serious overhaul, and you’re ready to get that sucker out of the car and breath some new life into this tired old horse. You can learn a lot about your engine’s life from this part of the process, and a good diagnosis of what killed your car will determine the best way to heal it. I’m not going to cover exactly how to get your engine out or take it apart, because that is all covered in any decent manual and would require pages of instruction, but I will highlight the things you should be looking for as you go.

Before you remove anything from the car, take a look in the engine compartment and make sure all of the cooling tin is in place. Many people think this is unnecessary, but it is absolutely essential in keeping the air moving over your engine to prevent it from overheating. If ANY of the tin is missing, put it on your parts list because its got to be in there. Its not so easy to find anymore, either, so expect to hunt around a little.
Pull the engine from the car and remove the cooling tin and intake and exhaust system, keeping a list of what is missing or no longer serviceable. For instance, injector seals become brittle and are a common source of vacuum leak. Fuel lines become brittle and crack, and I replace them with every job. They are typically original parts, and fuel isn’t something to mess around with. A fuel leak can cost you your vehicle.
Check out the flaps in the fan shroud, and make sure they are still in place and moving easily. I replace the thermostat, but if you don’t have the cash, you want to at least inspect it. They are designed to fail in the open position,. so if it is not expanded, its okay. This is another essential feature, because it allows your engine to warm up on cold days and stay cool on hot days. A working thermostat and flaps will increase the life of your engine, and too often people simply leave it out. If you opt to leave the old thermostat in the engine, check it periodically after you drop in the new engine, because the new engine will create higher temperatures then the old one while its breaking in, so if its going to go, its going to go then. The cylinder heads will tell you how hot your motor has been. In most cases, they are cracked and have experienced some valve recession. This means the valve is lower in the valve seat and it tells me the seat is soft. Black, sooty burnt oil around the exhaust valve springs indicate valve failure. New seats, valves, and guides are a must if you plan on having this engine last. You probably can’t do this work yourself, but a specialty shop such as Boston Engine can rebuild your heads or exchange them for new ones. This job requires a lot of skill and attention. This is not the place to save money, so make sure that these are done well and the correct parts are used.

Inspect the pistons for burns and the rings for wear. This can tell you about the life the motor has lead. Piston rings that are worn to nothing with extremely sharp edges are the result of unburned gas washing the lubrication off of the cylinder walls. Burnt or scored pistons tell you that the motor has been too hot. We’re not looking to reuse these pistons, even with new rings. This is just your engine’s autopsy. New rings on old pistons will not prevent oil consumption.

Before you split the case, make sure every last nut and bolt has been removed. There are nuts and bolts hidden all over the place on this block. Don’t forget the one on the flywheel side of the case.  Never force the case apart. This requires some patience, and I would recheck it several times. When you think you’ve got them all, take a break and then recheck. Once you’ve got her open, its time to inspect the crankshaft for wear. Some indication of crankshaft wear can be seen from the bearing surfaces. If the copper color is showing on the main or rod bearings, there was a lack of lubrication. This is probably because of  gasoline diluting the oil, or lack of oil changes. Remove the connecting rods and have the crank measured and the gears pulled by a somebody who does this all the time. Its not wise to go past the first undersize, because you go past the surface hardening. Make sure to find out if you need a new crank or simply a regrinding.

Any grooves or pitting in the camshaft lobes means it needs to be replaced or reground. Again, a machine shop should be able to tell you which of these options is right for you. There are two different styles of camshafts, one is made of cast iron, and is forged. Each of these require a different type of valve lifters, so this is the time to figure out what type you need to order. Only the original forged steel camshaft will have a gear riveted on. If the gear is bolted on, its most likely cast iron.  Bob from Boston Engine wrote an article that explains this in detail, and he will gladly send you a copy if you mail a SASE.

Cleanin’ and Machinin’
Once you’ve got everything out of the case, including the dowel pins (save ’em!), the oil pressure relief valve, and the oil galley plugs (if you’re swapping them). pack up your case, heads, crank, cam, rods, and anything you want to clean, and head for the machine shop.

First thing to do is to degrease the case. They’ll have big chemical cleaning tanks to do this in. You also want to clean your crankshaft, camshaft, connecting rods, rocker assemblies, heads, oil cooler, tin work, and hardware at this point. Unless you are a real expert, you probably just want to hand your crank, cam, heads, rods, flywheel, and case over to someone who does this all the time. I already told you what has to be done to the cam, crank, and heads. In addition, you need to get your rods balanced, rebushed, and checked for size and straightness, your case checked for crank shaft bore size, and your flywheel resurfaced. Depending on the condition of your engine, you could be told you need to replace any or all of these parts. Don’t try using parts that don’t meet specs, because you’ll just end up wasting a lot of money on an engine that won’t last, and you’ll lose all the money you put into this rebuild. Remember that the aspects that make a successful rebuild are proper clearances and good parts.

At this point you should decide what you want to do with your engine sheet metal. Depending on its condition, you may want to derust and seal it with a zinc paint or some primer. I like a nice semi-gloss Krylon paint. It ads a nice shine to the project, and can protect hard to find tin work.

Selecting the right person to help you with your machine is vital. You don’t want somebody learning on your motor, so find someone who has been doing air-cooled  you are in over your head. Volkswagens for a long time and knows what to look for and how to handle the job. Bob Donalds at Boston engine has been doing exclusively Volkswagen machine work since 1968, and he will machine or exchange any parts that need it. He also does a complete long block assembly if you think you are in over your head.

Get It Together!
Again with this section, I’m not going to tell you exactly how to reassemble your  engine. Rather, I’m going to describe the changes I make and the points I’ve found that need special attention. Any good manual will walk you through reassembly. I recommend the Bentley manuals for this.

Before you put anything back in the case, you may want to drill and tap out the oil galley plugs behind the flywheel. These are push-in aluminum inserts, and they can pop out. To deal with this problem before it happens, I replace them with threaded brass inserts and then seal them with 3M weather-strip adhesive. The brass expands at about the same rate as aluminum, so it makes for a good combo. This is a lot easier to do now then on that cold morning when your engine starts gushing oil. If you’re going to do this, you might want to get them out and do the tapping before you degrease the case to get those aluminum shavings out of the oil passages.

When I’m ready to put the case halves back together for good, I seal them up with a thin layer of Permatex #3D form-a-gasket. I’ve found this helps form a good seal that will not crack with heat. I use the 3M weather-strip adhesive to seal the 6 large case bolts at the washers.

There is a technical bulletin published by Volkswagen in 1990 that describes a few changes they make upon reassembly. First, eliminate the head gasket and replace it with a 1.6mm aluminum shim (#071 101 34), or a steel one,  at the base of the cylinder between the cylinder and crankcase.  Increase the piston / cylinder clearance to .045mm +/- .005mm. Cut a 1.5mm deep oil groove in the large end of the connecting rods into the thrust surface on both sides to splash oil on the bottom of the pistons. For a more detailed description of these modifications, send an SASE to Bob Donalds, and he’ll give you a copy of the bulletin.

There are some parts that I replace on every rebuild, because I have found that they need to be new for the engine to run reliably. Remember that a system is only as strong as its weakest link. I replace: pilot bearing,  pistons & cylinders (not just rings!), bearings, hydraulic lifters, valves and guides, redone or new heads with  upgraded seats, OEM valve cover clip, oil pressure switch, FI head temp sensor, FI seals, valve adjusting screws, cylinder shims, gaskets, push rod tubes, flywheel seal, crank noise seal.  Make a parts list and begin getting the parts as soon as you can, because it can take a while to get them all and you don’t want this project to be put on hold while you wait for parts.

In order to get the pistons into the cylinders, you’re going to need a collapsible type ring compressor. The solid type won’t do it, so don’t get surprised.

When reassembling, I use silicone at the base of the cylinders and on the four head nuts in each valve cover under the washer.  I also use silicone to seal up the oil drain plate. This plate, if overtightened, will break off and turn your entire case to junk. In the life of you’re engine, you shouldn’t ever have to touch this, and its too risky to mess with it.

Final Touches
If you have the resources, you can save yourself some time and aggravation by performing an oil pressure check with the engine out of the car. Bolt up the bell housing to the long block and install a starter motor. Crank it until oil pressure is achieved, and you can spot any oil leaks and compression leaks.  I use soapy water around the cylinder heads to see if the cylinders are sealing. This also gives the lifters a chance to pump up.

You need to let the engine run at around 1500 rpm for about 20 minutes in the car before you drive it, to get everything seated and happening and check for leaks. Remember that this engine needs to be broken in just like a new engine, so keep it at 55 or under for the first thousand miles and change the oil at least twice in that time. I do the oil at 300 miles and again at 1000 miles total. Oil breaks down quickly, and a lot of contaminants tend to be suspended in the oil, such as residues from the cleaning solvents we used.

The finishing touches to the job are the timing, and a full inspection of the fuel injection system. No engine will last with a bad air/fuel mixture. First, do the timing with a strobe. Make sure to do the timing throughout acceleration and not just at an idle. Inspect the air flow sensor door and the centrifugal weights on the distributor and make sure they’re working correctly. Also lubricate the pad under the rotor with a single drop of three in one oil while the distributor is open (this should be done twice a year). Check your vacuum advance. A skilled technician can do a more thorough test of your fuel injection system if you suspect problems. When you think you’re done, take your car for an emissions test. Test it before the catalytic converter. This will assure you that everything is working correctly and your engine is running efficiently. You’ll sleep better knowing the job was done right.

How to help your rebuilt engine last

By Bob Donalds

Just as with the engine in a brand new car, a rebuilt engine needs a break-in period to insure long life and low oil consumption. The new rings, lifters and valves have to find their place in the scheme of things.
The new rings and cylinders generate a lot of friction during the break-in. The bore has a cross-hatch scratched into it, and dragging rings across the freshly honed bore creates initial frictions that are only there until the rings seat. Three rings on four pistons moving up and down real fast, even at low RPM, create a lot of heat in a new motor, and this is extra heat the new motor has to contend with.

Oil is a very good heat exchanger as well as lubricant. I change the motor oil twice in the first thousand miles. Any name-brand 10-30 oil will do the job. The used oil comes out looking like metal flake because it has the residue from the rings and cylinder walls.

You will see a decrease in crankcase pressure when the rings finally seat properly.

I use new or reground OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) camshafts and German lifters in my engines. If lubricated properly, these pieces will work-harden. If they become dry, they will scuff and wear out rather than break in. After-market camshafts are not induction-hardened as are the OEM camshafts, and must rely on a hard lifter to harden themselves. I prefer a hardened camshaft to start with. This makes an even playing field for all the parts.

A fresh valve job produces a good seal in the heads and good compression. (Pressure is heat!) Valves will work into the seats very quickly and the clearance needs to be checked twice in the first thousand miles.  I am also very big on spring tension. Those valves should follow the camshaft as closely as possible. They should not float. Most valve-train damage occurs from pounding as they float. I use new springs and sometimes shim them for higher pressure.
The rebuilt engine is oil- and air-cooled, and, as you can tell, overheats even before putting a load on it. So how can you take care of this overheating new engine you just spent money on?

Keep it as cool as possible. Make sure you install the whole cooling system and all fresh-air tubing. Set the timing as best you can. Before you actually start the engine MAKE SURE you have oil pressure. Crank it over with the coil wire removed and watch for the oil light to go out. Now attach the coil wire and start the engine.

Above all, let it idle for at least the first twenty minutes. Keep it at 1500 RPM for that time. The reason for this is to keep the cooling fan spinning fast enough to properly cool the oil and heads.  Driving it for that first twenty minutes (putting a load on it) would be the worst thing you could do. It creates too much heat and the fan might not spin fast enough. Also, wind resistance on the highway increases with speed and adds to the load put on the engine. This is really true for flat-nosed buses. For this reason, once you do begin driving, keep your speed under 55 mph for the at least the first thousand miles.

One last note about gasoline. If it has been in the car for one year or more, get rid of it.  As it enters the exhaust system it is still burning. I have seen exhaust systems glow red-hot because of old fuels.

It has been my experience that small details make or break a project, and these small adjustments and fine tunings are not guess work. After rebuilding an engine, my policy is to review the customer’s installation so that the customer will have the best running engine for the longest possible time. This follow-up is very important, and service not usually offered by other engine rebuilders.

Waterboxer Head and Gasket Replacement

By Bob Donalds

So you’re thinking its time to replace the heads on your water boxer, and you’re asking yourself  if you can do a job like this.  Can this be done on the ground without a lift?   I will try to help you answer these questions.  First, lets go over the most common reasons to remove the cylinder heads. Make sure to be clear about what’s leaking before you begin the job. It can be oil or coolant that’s dripping from the heads. Washing the engine is very helpful when looking for leaks.  If the push rod tubes are leaking or if a lifter has collapsed, you can use an expanding push rod tube, which is available at the dealer for  $50 each, or in the aftermarket for about half of that. The most common coolant leak is from a cracking or splitting rubber outer coolant gasket at the head.

Often this will be accompanied by a corrosive reaction where the rubber gasket contacts the head.  Unfortunately, there is no easy way out of this repair.  The heads must be removed to replace these gaskets, and at this time a close inspection of the heads will indicate the extent of corrosion. A corroded head will not make the best possible seal with the gasket.

Another reason the heads may need to be removed is pressure build up in the cooling system. This is do to the head gasket at the top of the cylinder leaking compression when the engine is cold.

TEST #1: Pressure Tests for the Cooling System
     The first test of the cooling system is done when the engine is cold.  A cooling system pressure tester can be installed in place of the radiator cap. Pressure in the cooling system and hot coolant are not something to be treated lightly.  Use caution, and never remove the radiator cap from a engine  that has been run even for even a short time.   After installing the gauge, pump it up to 10 pounds. Look around for leaks if the gauge shows any pressure loss.

Common trouble spots  include heads, hoses, water pump and rear heater core. If you smell something sweet when you turn the heater fans on, it may be a coolant leak at one of the heater cores, or simply the O-ring at the rear heater valve leaking. Because there is often more then one leak in the system, it is necessary to continue pressure testing until the system holds pressure.

Start the engine cold with no pressure indicated on the gauge.  The pressure in the cooling system builds to aprox 7 lbs at normal running temps looking around for leaks. But if the pressure builds quickly to around 15 lbs the pressure is coming from one of the cylinders through the inner head gasket. This can also show up as a coolant pressure loss in the first test. In extreme cases the cylinder can fill with coolant, and will not turn over. This is know as hydraulic lock, and if you suspect this pull the spark plugs and try to turn the engine again. Pulling the plugs from the engine allows water to escape from the spark plug holes.

and some things to consider before you attempt this job

Yes, head removal can be done on the ground with a good set of heavy duty jack stands. Disconnecting the battery is the first step. I consider cars to be a fire hazard, since  there is everything you need to make a great fire in short order. I have set more than one car aflame.

This is a messy job, and you can expect to spill coolant on the ground. No mater how you jump and dance, those last few drops will get you.

Remove the coolant expansion tank cap and the 6mm Allen head coolant drain bolts between the push rod tubes on each side. I also pull the bleeder from the radiator because it allows the cooling system to drain more completely.  Next drain motor oil remove the filter.  With the fluids draining, start  undoing the ground wires on the left head. Tie rap them together so none are  forgotten . They will need to be cleaned and inspected before reinstalling, using new bolts and anti seize compound. Labeling the wires saves time and guessing later.  Next remove the alternator and the belts, and inspect the belts for wear and cracks.  Check the water pump pulley shaft for bearing play by grabbing the shaft at 12 and 6, and seeing if it wobbles. Now check for leaks at the vent hole on the underside of the pump. If its leaking, this a great time to replace it, since its much easier with the heads off and the cooling system drained.

Unbolt the intake manifolds complete with the fuel hoses and injectors, and  tie them up out of the way.

Removing exhaust bolts and studs at the head to exhaust connection is one of the hardest parts of this job. Use only six point sockets, trying not to round the heads off. When the head of the fastener is rusted you may need  go to the next size smaller socket installed with a hammer or nuts can be spilt then turned off the stud. Drilling or sawing  the head off the bolt works, leaving the remainder of the bolt to grab and remove after the head is off the engine. The exhaust brackets are very important and need to be reinstalled they keep the exhaust pipes from flexing and cracking as the engine moves.

Inspect the adjusters when removing the rocker arms. They take a beating and can be hard to get on short notice.

Keeping a parts list is key to a smooth, timely and effective repair. Faced with the option of using something that is junk, or waiting for my second parts order to arrive, I’ve had to re-use the tired part. I can’t have my grocery getter off the road for too long.

Cylinders do get stuck to the head and taping (hitting) the head just below the exhaust ports with a plastic compethan mallet helps. Going from side to side helps to separate the head from the cylinder. You may need to push the head back in place and start again if the head moves more than two inches with the cylinder still attached. The piston in the stuck cylinder should not be at the bottom of its stroke. DO NOT pull the head and cylinder off  as one because piston rings cannot be compressed to put the cylinder back on until you remove the piston from the engine. Wrist pins and pin clips are hard to access and remove even when using the expanding pin tool and the oxy acetylene torch to soften up the varnish on the pin. The #1 and #3 the pistons are first to be installed and last to be removed. This means the # 2 or 4 cylinders are in the way and must be removed before the 1 or 3 piston pins can be accessed for removal. Then the time comes to install the #2 and #4 piston pins the inaccessibility of the con rod creates a real challenge.  Volkswagen has a special tool (#3090) that supports the connecting rod while you install the wrist pin. One possible solution is to modify a coathanger to do this, but I find it faster to remove the engine and reinstall pistons and cylinders on the engine stand, because I can rotate the engine onto its side.  The o-ring at the bottom of the cylinder is not likely to leak if you disturbed the cylinder.  I Boston bob have never heard it to be a problem but having said this I’m sure I will now here otherwise.

Pistons, cylinders and rings do not show signs of wear like the air cooled engines.The oil consumption is typically not high and the pistons and cylinders do not need to be replaced normally unless over heated or you are doing a total rebuild.

     Options for cylinder heads: OEM @$625 each at the dealer, Spanish AMC after market heads @$450 each. We do not use the valves that come with these heads.

There couldn’t be a better time to replace the water pump or any weak exhaust pipes, injector seals and high pressure injection hoses. I recommend using only OEM sealant when resealing cylinder heads. Some silicones can be corrosive when used on aluminum.

Most coolants are now suited for aluminum engines, so read the label on the coolant you are thinking of using. Corrosive inhibitors can be purchased to supplement the coolant, but I don’t think it is necessary if the antifreeze is changed every two years.

How do I know if it is time to replace the lifters? The lifters are hydraulic, and tired lifters take longer to pump up, if they do at all. Lifter replacement is judged by how long you hear  the ticking when the engine is cold. There is no extra labor involved to replace the lifters when the heads are off.

I have tried the procedure in the Bentley book for filling the lifters with oil, and they still take time to quite down when they’re new. I recommend soaking the lifters in oil overnight before installing them. This is just as effective.

PARTS # list
Part  Number  Notes 
cylinder head for the 1.9:  # 025 101 355  (2.1 heads will work)
cylinder head for the  2.1:  # 025 101 355C  (1.9 heads will work)
gasket set (one per side):  # 025 198 012B
black sealant for black coolant rubber gasket:  # D-000-40-01
yellow sealant for head nuts:  # AKD 456-000-02
valve cover (all years):  # 113 101 475 B
cover clip (all years):  #  043 101 487
cylinder head nuts (all years):  # N 901 841 01
push rod tubes 8 needed (all years):  # 025 109 335
water pump 1.9:  # 025 121 010A
water pump 2.1:  # 025 121 010C
thermostat (all years):  # 025 121 113 F
thermostat o-ring (all years):  # 034 121 119
2.1 heat exchanger water hoses at oil filter:  # 025 121 058D &
# 025 121 058G
(These are considered mandatory replacement at this time. They supply coolant to the heat exchanger that is between the oil cooler and the block
short coolant hose from water pump to head:  # N 901 287 03  Mandatory (Same # for the cross over pipe union under pulley if needed.)
expandable push rod tube : # 025 109 337 (If you have a leaking tube or a junk lifter this makes it possible to repair without removing the head. Priced at $50 each at the dealer, also now in the aftermarket for half of that).
hydraulic lifers:  # 022 109 309
valve adjusting screws 9mm:  # 025 109 451
rear heater core (all years):  #  321 819 109
o-ring for rear heater valve:  # 861 819 297
exhaust gasket:  # N 901 316 01 (For collector to exhaust pipe connection. This isn’t included in the head gasket kits, and two are needed.)
high pressure fuel injection hose:  # N 20 281-1
fuel injection seal small:  # 311 133 261 A
fuel injection seal large:  # 311 133 261
muffler bracket upper drivers side 2.1:  # 025 251 519 F
muffler bracket upper pass side 2.1:  # 025 251 520 F
strap for above brackets:  # 025 251 521 C
cat converter 2.1:  # 025 131 701
muffler 2.1 : #  025 251 053 N
exhaust elbow joins front + rear pipe and collector 2.1:  # 025 251 217
exhaust collector pipe before cat 2.1:  # 025 251 147 BM
gasket collector, pipe to cat and cat to muffler 2.1 and 1.9:  # 025 251 509 A
support bracket, front pipe to front pipe:  # 025 251 619
exhaust pipe for 1-3  cylinders (front) 2.1:  # 025 251 172 AD
exhaust pipe for 2-4  cylinders (rear)  2.1:  # 025 251 172 R
exhaust collector joins front + rear pipe ends at cat 1.9:  # 025 251 147D
exhaust pipe for 1+3 cylinders (front) 1.9:  # 025 251 147 G
exhaust pipe for 2=4 cylinders (rear)  1.9:  # 025 172 251 G
driver side lower exhaust bracket,  collector to block 1.9:  # 025 251 235
driver side upper exhaust bracket, collector to head exhaust stud 1.9:  # 025 251 245
driver side upper exhaust bracket, collector to stud on rear pipe 1.9:  # 025 251 227 A
pass side short upper exhaust bracket,  muffler clamp to rear pipe 1.9:  # 025 251 349
pass side long upper exhaust bracket, muffler clamp to block 1.9:  # 025 251 347
pass side longest exhaust bracket, muffler clamp to block 1.9:  # 025 251 349
muffler clamp, upper 1.9:  # 025 251 519
muffler clamp strap, lower 1.9:  # 025 251 521
cat converter 1.9:  # 433 131 701
muffler 1.9:  # 025 251 053 E
tail pipe 1.9:  # 021 251 185 E
tail pipe gasket 1.9:  # 025 251 235
lower tin (protects push rod tubes), left side all years:  # 025 109 655
lower tin (protects push rod tubes), right side all years:  # 025 109 656
6×1.0x15mm bolts and washers (2)
8mm nuts (30)
8x30mm bolts for the exhaust (aprox 20)
8mm ID flat washers
4 hoses clamps for the intake runners

and to find out what we don’t have.

Run the tap into the head nuts, making sure they are clean inside. Next, take the 10×1.50mm die and clean the head studs.

The lip that holds the head gasket on the block needs to be inspected for burs and rot. If needed, wire brush and clean.  I use Jb weld epoxy in the eroded surface to restore its shape, filing it in aprox. 24 hours when dry.

Install the inner head gaskets in the head with a dab or to of grease to hold it in place. Next do the rubber gasket on the block. Apply the black sealant to the black water gasket in the middle of the gasket.  Put the head onto the studs, leaving  room to install the push rod tubes. I use the push rods to hold up the push rod tubes until they are all in place. Next start one of the center head nut  inside the valve cover to tension the tubes, then inspect the tube gaskets toassure proper  alignment. Turn the one head nut you started so you can start the other nuts.  I apply the yellow head nut sealant to the opening in the head for the stud and to the nut itself, trying to it keep it from getting in the nut. Using the torque pattern in the book bring the head down evenly. This can take two or three times to get the nuts ready for final torquing.  The torque for the heads is 20 ft lbs, then 36 ft lbs with a bar type torque wrench.

The push rods can hang up on the edge of the lifters which results in no compression. There are some simple tricks to installing push rods.  First I have heard that  greasing the push rod tip when installing the push rod can help.  When I install push rods I push them in, then lift the far end and push again. This is done with the rocker arm installed, using light pressure to hold the rocker in place until you feel the push rods are seated, then install the nuts. A good pen light is very useful to see the down in the push rod.

I’ve heard more ways to bleed the cooling system than you can imagine.  Some may even work.  Here’s what I do. Its simple and it works.  This is done only then the engine is cold.  Coolant, when heated up to running temps, will give you a good burn.  I lift the nose of the van about 4 inchs.  Fill the cooling system with coolant. Let stand ten or fifteen minutes with heater valves open. Top off again, and let stand for another five minutes. For the best results, remember to pre-mix fresh coolant with equal amounts water. Next, start the van with at least a full jug of pre mixed coolant at your side. Rev the engine to 1,500 rpm and expect to pour coolant in  the expansion tank. Don’t let it get low.  When the coolant is coming out of the radiator in a steady stream, plug the bleeder in and tighten it. Top of the coolant, tighten the cap, let off the gas, and you’re done. This has worked for me repeatedly.

Checking the timing and exhaust emissions are the finishing touches to any engine work. Exhaust gas testing lets me see just how well the engine is burning the fuel. The test must be done before the catalytic converter. That is what the plug  in the exhaust collector pipe is for.  Testing after the cat just shows if the cat is working and it fails to show how well the engine is burning the fuel. This is also the time to check throttle switch operation. If its clicking its probably  working.

Checking the radiator fan and switch is important if the fan does not cycle or responds later (hotter) than you would like. It is most likely the thermal switch that is screwed into the radiator. These do fail, and will also in time be less responsive to temp increases.

The thermostat restricts the coolant flow to the radiator until the engine achieves proper running temps.  There are thermostats that have lower temps and fit the housing.

Another good thing to test or just replace at this time is the coolant temp sensor (also called ntc sensor) for the fuel injection control unit. This test is covered in the Bentley book.


6mm Allen wrench 3/8 drive
torque wrench bar type recommended
metric socket set
metric wrench set
2 ton floor jack
heavy duty jack stands I like the 5 ton stands
drain pan or two for oil and coolant
pick for o-rings at top of jugs
something to clean the head surface with wire brush or a sharp scrapper
10×1.5 mm tap and die to clean the  head nuts and studs
hammer and a good chisel for stubborn nuts
screwdrivers misc
plastic compethan mallet for head removal

Final Notes
     My contacts at vw tell me this head gasket and corrosion problem is unheard of in Europe. They suggested that fuel might be the problem, but I don’t know how fuel could contaminate the coolant. The difference is that the fuel system the vans in Europe are carburetored, not fuel injected as in the states. This could this play a roll.  VW now prorates this repair by mileage. Call your local VW dealer for the latest information.

Hydraulic Lifters, the untold story

By Bob Donalds

There are performance problems that have been traced to the hydraulic lifters that are in some air-cooled and all water boxer VW engines. Among the symptoms are noisy lifters on cold start. However keep in mind that if the van has been parked for a few days one or more lifters can bleed down and this can be the reason for the noise and does not necessarily mean that there are lifter problems. The symptoms of the lifter problems I am talking about in this article are low idle when cold, hard or not starting hot, poor performance when the engine warms up and the power (vacuum) assist brakes may not work as well at times because of the low intake manifold vacuum. These symptoms can be caused by improper hydraulic valve setup. This article is about how to properly setup the vanagon engine with hydraulic lifters. There have been a lot of differing opinions and methods regarding proper setup of hydraulic lifters.

This issue of proper setup has haunted me for years and cost me lots of time, money and peace of mind. In fact one of my own vans would not start hot unless it was push started or it was left to cool off for a couple of hours. This went on for 2 years with no trace of a reason until I understood that it was the lifters.

It’s no understatement when I say I have lots of trouble and limited success with preloading of the hydraulic lifters in the VW busses and Vanagons. In fact I have had lifters that would not take any preloading at all. It has been suggested that because the lifters are installed on their side that they trap air above the check ball that’s in the center of the lower piston that’s inside the hydraulic lifter and I agree. Air bound hydraulic lifters that are preloaded or that are set to O lash (no clearance or preload) do not allow the valves to close completely after the engine warms up. I believe this is due to the air in the lifter expanding as the engine warms up. I now understand that installing new or used lifters pre-loaded (no valve clearance) may NEVER allow the hydraulic lifters to displace the air remaining in the lifter because the plunger’s travel in the lifter body is minimized.

A long time ago I gave up trying to fill the lifters per Bentley and never looked at those pages again until I spoke with Stan at Bentley publishing who pointed out that there are two versions of the lifter bleeding process in the book (on page #15.7 and 15.24). I personally found both descriptions confusing. The first method instructs you to fill the lifter with oil and then install the lower piston using a scribe to bleed off the oil under the piston as you press the piston into place. As for installing the lifter socket into the lifter they don’t tell you that after you get the lower piston in place it travels back up when you let it go of it, leaving no room to install the lifter socket and clip. The second procedure would have you compress the lifter in a press with an old push rod and purge the air as the lifter is submerged in oil. They don’t say the procedure can take as long as ten minutes per lifter and that a hydraulic press is needed. So I, as most people do, put only enough oil in the lifter so I can compress it enough to get the clip installed.

In the Past

    When trying to adjust the valves on a rebuilt engine, or when working on an engine that has had the heads or rockers off for a few days or when replacing lifters I have recommended the following. Set the valve lash to .006″ (i.e. no pre-load). This does two things: first the valves will for sure close all the way when the engine warms up, and, secondly, the piston in the lifter is now traveling it’s full range of movement has a much better chance of pumping out any remaining air. Run the engine for a couple of weeks before trying to preload the valves. Bring the engine up to running temp then let it cool down to the point that you will not burn yourself when you start to work on the engine. While the engine is still warm restart it for no more than 30 seconds and check for any valve noise. If you hear noise, drive the car for a few more days and check it again. Next, remove the valve covers, bring each piston to TDC, and turn the adjuster screws in ¼ to ½ turn. If the valve opens when you turn the adjusting screw in this means the lifter is fully pumped up with oil and you can tighten the lock nut. In most cases the lifters will now self-adjust and allow the valve to fully close and stay pumped up. If instead of the valve opening, the rocker arm moves the lifter as you turn the adjuster, then re-set it to .006ths clearance, reinstall the valve cover, and recheck it in a few days. The idea is to replace any unwanted air in the lifter with oil.

So what’s new?

    In the past week I had a customer call and tell me he had not tightened the bolts on his torque plate – the ones that hold the plate to the converter – and after 1400 miles, and having no luck finding that rattling noise, the final bolt came loose, the engine seized, and the van stopped moving. I offered to help him repair the engine. When he dropped it off I got the rest of the story. It seems that after a highway run of less than an hour at 65 mph he pulled in his drive way and let the engine idle and the oil light came on. He also reported that he thought the engine was down on power. At this point I felt that I might learn something if I took the engine apart. So I offered to do so at no expense to the customer and he agreed.

The first thing I did was to put the engine on the engine stand and install a flywheel and put my cut up bell housing and starter motor on so I could spin the engine and test the oil pressure. The oil pressure was at the low end of the normal range 45pds with 10/30. The next test was the compression test and it was 125 on all cylinders a – little low but still ok. Next step was to look at the rockers and check to see if the customer had preloaded the valves. Some valves had lost clearance while others still had approximately .006ths. I was very surprised to see that some lifters were still soft and air bound because the customer had not reported any lifter noise. When the engine was disassembled I inspected and measured everything. The inspection revealed that the only damage or problem was that the customer had scuffed all four pistons on the load side (the load side of the piston is the side that is pressed against the cylinder wall as it’s pushed down on the power stroke).

I was a little disappointed not to have found more of a problem that would explain the oil light coming on (even though the customer had pushed the engine too fast when it was new). The customer had agreed to buy new pistons and cylinders. I thought that was the end of it with no great discoveries until my engine assembler, John Silva, pulled the lifters apart for inspection. John over filled one of the lifters and could not get the lower piston back down into place and instead of pulling the piston out and removing the oil he tried moving the check ball to one side with a scribe and pushed the piston down with a small screw driver. It dropped down enough to allow him to install the upper lifter socket and clip. The next step is what’s missing from the Bentley procedure. John took the same scribe that was used to release the check ball and installed it in the oiling hole on the side of the lifter body. This held the lower piston down so that he could install the upper socket and retaining clip. Once the clip was in place he tested the lifter by pushing the upper socket. The lifter was hard as a rock indicating that there was no air in the lifter. No other methods that I have tried had these results. This looked promising but I remained skeptical. I asked John to finish bleeding the rest of the lifters in the same way and adjust the rockers to the usual .006″ lash. We would test the compression as usual after the engine was completely assembled. The first compression test showed that we had 135 lbs on all cylinders. Next we preloaded the valves ½ turn and immediately repeated the compression test: some of the valves had not closed so we waited ten minutes and repeated the test. The compression was slightly lower: 125 lbs on all cylinders. Because it was lower we then tested each intake and exhaust port with a vacuum tester to see if the valves were closed and found that all the valves were sealed 100 percent. We next removed the valve cover and checked each lifter by prying on the rocker and looking for movement: all the lifters were still hard as a rock. The next morning we checked for soft lifters and found that the # 2 exhaust valve lifter was soft. We spun the engine again for about one minute using the starter motor and then checked the #2 lifter: it had regained most of its rigidity.

My conclusions

    Lifters can be pre-bled and preloaded at ¼ to ½ turn at the time the engine is being assembled provided that the above-mentioned procedure is followed. However, assembled engines always have at least one or more lifters on the lobe of the camshaft holding them open. Open valves have their springs compressed thereby increasing pressure on their lifters. The increased pressure will cause the lifters to lose oil over time. This can be days or weeks, depending on how clean the oil and the lifter’s check valves are. These engines may not have enough oil available to the expanding lifters when the engine is first turned over during the start up procedure. If the oil galley is empty, the lifter can take in air instead of oil and becomes air-bound. An air-bound lifter may expand as the engine heats up, and thereby prevent a valve from closing. To prevent this, some shops use a pre-oiler. Oil is pressure-fed into the oil galleys before the engine is first started.

So, caution must be used when preloading valves on any new engines. Air-bound lifters are hard to detect. Exhaust valves that don’t close completely when the engine warms up will not transfer their heat to the valve seat, as it was designed to. Instead, this excess heat travels down the valve stem and scorches the oil lubricating the valve stem and guides, drastically reducing their life. I have seen this specific damage time and time again on air-cooled engines as little as 10 K miles.

I consider pre-loading valves to be optional. You may never have had this lifter problem before, but I assure you the potential is high and expensive. While the intake manifold vacuum is an easy way to know if the intake valves are completely closed, the only way to be 100% sure all the valves are closed when the engine is warmed up is to do a cylinder pressure differential test (sometimes known as a “leak down” test) that is commonly done on race engines and aircraft. This test measures air pressure going into a cylinder, and how much air remains. 2%-4% is ideal.

I hope this helps

Looking Up VW Part Numbers

One of the most frustrating things for any VW owner can be trying to find parts for your Vanagon.  Many times you will call a local parts store, or the VW dealer, try to describe what you are looking for, but it is a shot in the dark, whether they actually understand you.  So you could be waiting for a week or two for a part, that when it shows up, is the wrong one.  Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to look up your part ahead of time, get the part number, and then call your parts supplier with the part number in hand?  For some reason VW has always jealously guarded their part numbers as if they were made of platinum or some other precious metal.  I can understand this back in the day when they were trying to sell new parts for vehicles that they had a dealership network that depended (partially) on the sale of parts.  Fast forward to our day when the Vanagon is over 30 years old!  Your local VW dealer could care less about the Vanagon (they actually hated them when they were new so guess what they think of them now).  There is no longer any reason I can see to keep faithful VW enthusiasts from getting the part numbers for the parts they need to keep their vehicles on the road.  Yet VW still guards them like they are Fort Knox.  Enter Russian Hackers.  Yup, those guys that everyone hates or sees as the Bogey Man right now.  Well they are actually the best friend your VW ever had because for the last several years they have given us the keys to the kingdom!  A web site that allows you to look up VW’s precious parts diagrams with most of those precious part numbers (yup some are deleted due to age, thanks VW for sharing before that happened… Not!)  Here is a link to the site at this moment:

This is subject to change because every few months or so, VW will find them, and kill the site.  But they will usually pop back up somewhere else.  So if you can’t find it at this address let me know and I will update it to the latest and greatest.  Now go, and spend countless hours looking at VW parts exploded view diagrams.  You know you want to.  Be sure to thank the Russian Hackers for their help.  🙂

Blue vs Green Coolant- Fight!

By Dennis Haynes

To begin I wish to apologize for not keeping up with the list and this discussion. I have been a bit busy and this topic seems to get attention like oil and tires. There is just a lot of information out there and probably the best feature of many products is the advertising.

For my experience I have dealt with cooling systems and water treatment for vehicles and numerous industrial systems. The good, bad, and sometimes ugly. I have been amazed how truly de-ionized water can discolor (rouging) stainless steels.

I have been working on VWs since about 1974 and grew up with the introduction of the VW water cooled stuff and even owned some Sciroccos and an 81 Rabbit convertible before getting into Vanagons. Back in the day due to advertising and perceptions most everything got Prestone Green Stuff. Except for an occasional water pump I never knew I had an antifreeze choice problem. Even my first Vanagon, an 84 GL passenger that I purchased about a year old got the green stuff after a water pump change. I sold it at 96K as I needed $$$ to help acquire Fun Bus. That was February 1988.

So let’s talk about Fun Bus! Yes I still have it and lately been using as a daily driver. I am hoping to get it to 350K. I have less than 38K to go. While I have had to do a number of transmission repairs, (Broke 4th gear twice 3-4 slider hub, and a pinion bearing), the engine has never been opened. Currently you can tell where it was parked by the Mobil 1 dripping from the crankshaft seals, (both now), but it still has proper compression, good oil pressure, and the antifreeze leaks now are mostly the heater cores. I did have to replace the valve covers a few years ago as they rusted out enough to leak. Also, once the Vanagon lifter clatter let the push rod fall out the rocker socket for intake valve cylinder 1. However the heads have never been off.

How often do I change antifreeze? Not very. It seems that during “condition based” maintenance there is always a reason to open the cooling system more often than modern antifreezes need to be replaced. Unlike lubrication frequent additions, top offs, and even excessive coolant changes is not a good thing. Why, when you add fresh coolant or water you are adding fresh oxygen. If you have leaks you are also losing fluid but leaving the bad stuff behind and overtime the bad stuff gets concentrated. So the most important part of cooling system maintenance is to not have leaks. In theory the only loss you should have is evaporation from the recovery tank.

The science! I am sure some folks here have home heating systems with radiators or baseboards. Cast iron boilers, copper pipes, valves with steel parts, etc. They all last for 20 to 30 years and there are no additives used all. Fill the system, let the oxygen purge out, metals or whatever reach equilibrium and the stuff is just there.

Now let’s look at the Waterboxer head gasket failure from corrosion problem. For all those that have worked on these and seen the corrosion on the head and also on the case where the gasket sits have you noticed that the corrosion is only in that area? Well, at that point it does not matter the choice or age of the coolant! The gasket (sealant) was failing long before the corrosion.  That’s right. If the gasket seal was good the antifreeze wouldn’t be there. However, once it is there the heated coolant mixture mixes with air and the corrosion process begins.

So now let’s talk about antifreeze types. Back in 1999 I purchased a new motor home. Ford chassis with the Triton V-10 engine. There were numerous stickers near the coolant tank warning to use only specified fluids and NOT to use Dex-Cool. This took me by surprise. After all Dex-Cool was the long life antifreeze darling at the time. My antifreeze education was about to begin.

Fast forward to 2004 and the motor home gets upgraded to one with a Cat Diesel. Diesels it turns out have a whole different bunch of requirements. So I got to learn about cylinder cavitation erosion and all the additives or special antifreezes that deal with that. Also the need for longer life requirements and less abrasives to extend water pump seal life and reduced internal wear of really expensive radiators and stuff.

OK so back to my experience. Of all the engines and cooling systems I’ve worked the coolants that seems to leave the nastiest stuff inside an engine include Dex Cool and the Blue stuff. The Blue stuff is an older technology and I just don’t see a real advantage of it.  Dex-Cool seems to only work in systems designed for it. Flow velocity has to be part of that system design. As I truly like to reduce maintenance requirements (lazy) I became intrigued with the long life solutions used in the large Diesels and industrial uses. The state of the art for these applications include coolants such as Global Final Charge. These are 6 year, 600,000 mile coolants that only require an additive update at the half life for the cylinder cavitation prevention. These coolants also have great “wetting” abilities which improve cooling performance. The only real downside is that with the lower surface tension if there is a chance for a leak there will be one. Using these in the vanagon seems to also have another benefit, extended water pump life. Since these coolants rely less on abrasives for corrosion control water pump seal life is greatly extended.

Fun Bus and most of my customers now run on this. I also do use the pre-mix. It is convenient and I end up with a more consistent mixture. Yes, there is more cost for the “water” part but I know the mixture is correct. Also for winter fill, I have seen the water and antifreeze fills not get mixed enough and cause freeze damage. Especially if a fill is done and you can’t get the engine running long enough to really get the coolant mixed.

As for adding a wetting additive such as “Water Wetter” these high performance Diesel antifreezes have that covered. Like good oils, use the good stuff and additives are not needed.