Monday, May 7, 2012

Working On The VW Camper Van

(For some darn reason, I can't log on to this blog using Google Chrome, the default browser I use on my daily Linux machine. So I had to unlimber Firefox to post this.)

I busted Mellow Yellow, our 1984 VW Vanagon "Westfalia" pop-top camper van out of cold storage last Friday. It spent the winter beside our house slumbering under a fabric cover, with a bowl of mothballs inside to discourage mousies from setting up shop.

It took a few turns of the starter to get'r running, but the engine finally realized that I wasn't kidding and fired right up.

Best thing to do with a car that's been sleeping is get it running and take it for a drive, so I loaded a bunch of stuff that we don't have room here for (Christmas decorations and plastic storage boxes filled with tax and financial records going back to 1997 -- I've been audited before and know the value of keeping a lot of paper) and hauled it all down to Wall Street Storage for, well, storage.

While I was waiting for a loading dock to clear, I noticed a small puddle of coolant on the pavement below the van's radiator.

"This can't be good," I thought.

I emptied the van, hand-trucked the stuff to our space, and drove home.

I took the grille off the front of the van and studied the situation. No visible leaking. I started the engine and let the van idle until the booster fan turned on, indicating that the engine was warm. Still not leaking.

"Maybe," I thought, "one of the hoses was just stiff from winter's cold and just needed a bit of limbering up to seal properly." But I posted a query about this on the Vanagon listserve, which reaches a bunch of knowledgable folk, and it was suggested that I pressurize the cooling system with a bicycle pump to see if any leaks spring.

And yeah, a small but steady leak appeared on the otherwise featureless and smooth metal surface of the radiator.

I have a failed radiatior.

There's nothing for it but to replace the radiator. A messy and awkward and expensive job. CarQuest, on Greenwood, had the best price in town for a new radiator, so I ordered one and will pick it up tomorrow.

BUT IN THE MEANTIME, my son graciously assisted me this weekend on a job that I needed to take care of, one that had been awaiting the Spring Thaw, a disagreeable, complex, and time-intensive task: the removal of the entire friggin' dashboard from the van so that I could break open the heater box and rebuild the little flapper valves that open and close various vents which direct air to the driver's feet and face.

28 years ago those flappers worked perfectly, but over the decades the foam rubber seals that assured that the driver's feet would not be exposed to dead cold outside air in winter or hellishly-hot pavement air in summer had crumbled and turned into dust, exposing both driver and passenger feetsies to temperature extremes. 

Following procedures we removed the dashboard. And here is what I was facing on Saturday evening:
OMG. Will this ever go back together?
On Sunday morning we rebuilt the heater box.  Its flaps were rebuilt and its cables adjusted. It received a new blower motor AND a new heater core (these being things that typically fail so one replaces them when one can).

While we had the chance, the windshield wiper gear got all lubed up, the various 15-or-so wire grounding connections got cleaned and made mo' bettah, the old master brake cylinder was replaced; and I put in a few electical improvements: the front of the dashboard received three new cigar lighter power outlets (better for charging phones, running a GPS, etc.), and I mounted a new "aux" input jack for the stereo for easier iPod connecting.

Finally, after much fussing and sorting, we got the wiring sorted out, the various ducts re-ducted, the dash heaved into place and gummed down.

We re-connected the battery, turned on the key, and Hey Presto! everything worked. Didn't start the engine. That'll have to wait until after we replace the stupid radiator.

My son will be coming over tomorrow after work to help with that. I'm enjoying working with him and I'm gratetful for his help. We reckon that we'll be able to install the new radiator installed and have the coolant system topped off before it's too late in the evening. If not, it'll be a two-nighter.

It will be messy. And there will be coolant everywhere. Coolant's attractiveness to cats, dogs, and other little critters is matched only by its toxicity, so I will be on cleanup duty.

Mrs Elliott, sweet soul that she is, has offered to pay for the radiator. "My contribution to the camping we do." I will not say "no" to that.
My son and I are camping this upcoming weekend. We have a spot in the BLM area at the foot of Pine Mountain that we car-camp in twice a year: once, at the beginning of the season, and once at the end. If Mellow Yellow is pasted together well enough to go camping in, we'll car-camp there. And if Mellow Yellow still has ailments, we'll go backpacking. We're thinking Alder Springs, between Sisters and Madras.

Woody Bob says it's an easy hike.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, just stumbled this post while searching for parts for my vanagon. I'm nearing the end of a partial restoration and had to tear out my dash as well - pretty scary behind there. I'll be heading west (from Maine) before the end of summer. I'll surely pass through Bend at some point. Any "must sees" you would recommend?


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