Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Driveway Auto Mechanics in Bend

One thing you gotta say about working on a car on the driveway in Bend, is that you won't know whether you'll be rained on or sunned on. Or both at the same time.

My son, Jim, came over on the weekend to help his old man make some modifications on our 1984 VW camper van.

On Saturday we installed a new transmission cooler and swapped a part on the transmission called the "governor" with a modified one that Ken over at German Transaxle on 2nd Street gave me.

German Transaxle is fairly famous among the VW crowd for their excellent transmission rebuild work, and I'm lucky to have them within 5 minutes of our house because the other good transmission house is located near Seattle.

Before the swap, the van was pretty sluggish. It upshifted too soon. Anyone who drives a stick knows you don't upshift from 1st to 2nd when the engine is at 2,600 rpm, which is what this transmission was set up to do. Upshifting that soon results in poor acceleration, and the van's 1.9 liter engine is capable of better than that.

It was a stupid design. I shifted manually when pulling into traffic and let the engine wind up to at least 4,000 rpm.

With the modified governor the transmission now upshifts around 3,400 rpm, which is more like it.

The transmission cooler we installed was a kit from GoWesty, a company in Santa Cruz, California. GW is one of the premier vendors helping us keep these lovably-unattractive yet practical camping machines alive and making them better and better.

Automatic transmissions can get very hot pulling a heavy van (and me with a trailer behind filled with camping gear) up long grades in the desert heat, as I found on last year's trip through southeastern Washington on my way back from Flathead Lake, Mont. So anything a fellow can do to help his transmission stay cool will prolong its life.

Likewise for the engine.

VW designed -- some say "overdesigned" -- a great cooling system for the engine, but the engine oil itself can still get too hot -- your good oils are starting to degrade at 230F -- so on the next day, Sunday, instead of resting, the son and I installed a very fine oil cooling kit from Chris Corkins, who hails from New Mexico. He goes by the handle "tencentlife" on the Intertubes (http://www.thesamba.com/vw/classifieds/detail.php?id=514460).

Chris's kit came with very clear instructions and the parts quality was excellent. We had very little difficulty installing it. There was a bit of confusion about which hose to use where, but that was due to my kit being a custom one with a couple extra bits added so I could hook up an oil temperature gauge while the instructions were for your generic kit.

One good sign after working on anything that involves fluids is that the fluids stay where they are supposed to and don't drip all over the driveway. We were fortunate -- no drips on the driveway to disturb Mrs Elliott.

And finally, I modified the linkage to the gas pedal yesterday so I can more easily swing the throttle from idle to wide open with the limited range of motion my fused right ankle provides.

BRUCE MILLER recently observed that I like my camping van.

It's true. I do. I enjoy it for how swell it is for camping, and I do love me some camping.

But even more importantly, that thing is gonna save our ass when the imminent zombie apocalypse happens. If movies teach us anything, it's that a zombie outbreak is inevitable. And when it does happen, Mrs Elliott and I are heading to the hills in a totally cushed-out and reliable* camping vehicle set up with stove, refrigerator, a warm bed, and solar-powered lighting and music. I'm listening to hip hip right now, Mrs Elliott, not so much.

We will be ready for a very long stay along some desert river in the shade of sycamore trees while the outbreak burns itself out.

At least that's what I tell myself when I'm laying under the van, chunks of schmutz falling into my eyes, torquing a bolt, my feet getting wet from a shower while the sun shines so brightly that I have to squint when I come out.

* "Reliable" is a relative term. After all, this is a Volkswagen product.


  1. Working on a vehicle in your driveway is a good step toward becoming a real Central Oregonian, but to achieve full status you need an old pickup truck permanently up on blocks in your front yard.

  2. Just buy a VW Routan and be done with it.

  3. Routan? That's a mini-van. No pop top, no stove, no refrigerator, no sink, no beds, zero coolness. Not a camping vehicle. Great for taking the kids to the soccer game, though.


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