[apologies for no pictures. One-man spanning has its drawbacks sometimes plus it was raining and frankly I forgot]
Whatever you do, stay away from this fix. Knock down a sky scrapper and rebuild it, attempt to count the sugars in your sugar dish or do anything else but attempt this fix if you are doing it for recreational purposes. I had some difficulty changing into first gear and after some little research I discovered the problem might lie with the linkage. I had plans for Sunday afternoon so I thought a quick two hour fiddle before I left home would make for a wonderful 1st gear experience later that afternoon.
But lo and behold! At 8pm I was still under the car having gone through a whole range of problems like losing 1st and 2nd gear then gaining 2nd and losing reverse and 1st. My day was ruined, it was raining most of the time that afternoon and I was all alone.
So what the hell was I to do?
First thing: As much as possible, get a helper. You will have fewer trips to the box at the front and the alignment there will be spot-on
But if you are quite literally a one-man spanner like I am then am happy to say there is also a way.
- Put the shifter in neutral
- Loosen the pinch bolt midway to the back of the van. After the fuel tank in my case
- Very important: Where the shifter meets the gearbox, ensure that the final linkage piece is pressed into the gearbox approximately halfway (or if you have good perception of parallels, ensure that the vertical, second last linkage piece is perpendicular to the ground). I made this possible by using a file secured against some suspension part at the back to do the pressing. Anything that will give you the correct alignment is fine. That was just a one-man spanning method
- Go under where the box is in the front, make sure the right side of the protruding gear stick finger thing is about 20-23 mm from the right side bar thing that reverse goes under. This is observable when you are under the van, where the spare wheel goes, looking into the open side of the box and some form of lighting. I found setting the 20-23mm to be the most difficult bit because each time I left the front to go to the pinch bolt, it would go out of alignment. Solutions? After hours of trying and cursing, I discovered a ‘magic tunnel’. When you are under the van directly under the pinch bolt, raise your head and look towards the front of the van. There’s a ‘tunnel’ beside the fuel tank that gives a direct view of the box at the front and any fiddling at the pinch bolt is observable through it. So I set up light at the box, made an approximation of where 20-23mm was and I did the adjustment through the ‘magic tunnel’
- Tighten the pinch bolt while making sure nothing goes out of alignment
- Test drive
- Favourite beverage
Any Vanagon owner must rank this as one of the most annoying things with Vanagons. The solution is a cocktail of measures as explained in this wonderful article from the GoWesty website. Followed instructions in it and my van now sounds great. By that I mean it does not sound anymore..
I also recommend that you take a look at the wonderful articles at the SHOOFTIE website. There’s an A-Arm article somewhere in there. SHOOFTIE is a Vanagon legend if you ask me.
The tell tale sign of worn front bearings is a grinding sound as you drive along particularly at a slightly high speed like 60kph. There will also be noticeable drifting of the vehicle to one side if you let the steering go (and assuming your camber, caster and toe alignment is correct). Bearings are not some of the things you could afford to avoid for too long because bearing failure as you drive along can be a proper disaster. This post therefore shows how to replace bearings on a 1985 2WD VW Vanagon. My front disc brakes are the 278mm diameter types. Some vanagons have 258mm diameter types.
- Find the correct replacement parts (bearings, races and seals). In my country I cannot lay my hands on an authentic bearing kit so I make do with a Japan made bearing kit. Works just fine but they usually do not come with the inner bearing seal so I have been re-using it. Not the most ideal, but again I have survived thus far 🙂
- Jack the van up and support it as safely as possible, remove the tyre and the brake caliper
- The disc has a securing nut and washer for the outer bearing and these need to be removed carefully.
- Remove the outer bearing that easily pops out after the removal of the nut and washer and then pop out the rest of the disc
- Turn it around to access the inner bearing and before anything remove as much grease as possible. This is quite a dirty and greasy job and you will want to have as much rags or paper towels around as are necessary
- Try to pry out the seal VERY VERY gently with a flat screw driver if you intend to re-use it. The outer bearing will just pop out
- In the absence of a bearing race removal tool, a good hammer and strong chisel like tool will do the trick
- To remove the inner bearing races, insert the chisel into the disc via the front (outer side), align it to the grooves on the disc that give you access to the inner bearing races and hammer it. Turn it 180 degrees to the groove opposite and hammer it again. Keep this rotation going so that the bearing race pops out with ease and without damaging the disc. A few hammer blows should pop it out.
- To remove the outer bearing race, access its grooves from the back (inner side) and repeat the above process. It should be much easier
- Clean the disc thoroughly with your favourite grease solvent and ensure there is no grit. Grit is a bearing’s biggest enemy
- Position the new inner bearing races on the clean disc, carefully ensuring that you do it facing the right way. Use the old inner bearing race to help you drive the new race into position. Hammer opposite ends so that the race slides in correctly and keep hammering until there is a change in sound that will tell you the race is properly seated. Please be careful not to hammer the new race directly. Use the old race for that
- Repeat the above process for the outer bearing race
- Grease the bearings properly using a bearing greasing tool if available or with your hands that I emphasize must be totally free of grit
- Grease the inside of the break disc well as well as on the insides of the races
- Position the inner bearing well and carefully slide back the grease seal if you are reusing it
- Grease the spindle on the wheel again ensuring no grit ends up on it and then pop back the disc ensuring that it sits correctly and rotates freely
- Insert the outer bearing followed by the thoroughly cleaned washer and nut
- Tighten the nut until it just stops then loosen it again slightly. Rotate the disc so that it feels like it is moving freely. The idea is to tighten it enough to secure the bearings but not too tightly as to cause them to be ground by the movement of the wheel.
- After the slight loosening I usually hold the disc on 12 and 6 o’clock positions and shaking it then at 3 and 9 o’clock positions and shaking it as well. Make sure you JUST ABOUT do not feel any play in the bearings at those positions
- Clean the disc of all grease using a good grease solvent
- I admit these procedures are dark arts but for the DIY mechanic with no torque wrench and Japanese parts they come in handy
Please refer to this link for a schematic diagram of the pierburg 2E3 carb. I was too busy learning it to take any pictures. 🙂
Excuses out of the way, this is perhaps the most annoying part of any fix for the DIY mechanic. The Pierburg 2E3 carburetor is a marvel of confusion and complexity that has led most people to switching to more ‘reliable’ carbs such as Webbers. Well the Pierburg 2E3 is not the worst of instruments, with a little patience and lots of knowledge you could get it working like a charm.
Common problems caused by the carb are poor idling (too high or completely non-existent), very poor running during a cold start, fouling of spark plugs due to too rich a mixture or other problems due to too lean a mixture and of course the worst of them all poor fuel efficiency. I shall attempt to guide you on what to do to try and iron out some of these issues assuming everything else that the carb is dependent on such as distributor and engine timing are working well.
Solutions to common problems
Vacuum leaks are common and these occur at gasket points and vacuum lines. Determine a vacuum leak by spraying some carb cleaner on the base of the carburetor where it meets the intake manifold and if there is a change in engine sound then there is a vacuum leak there. Also spray between the upper and lower part of the carburetor and listen for change in engine sound. Examine the vacuum lines especially the one to the distributor and ensure the line is not split or punctured. This simple test will solve common idling problems however idling problems could also take on larger proportions. Caution: Ensure you have a fire extinguisher at hand when you spray carb cleaner on a hot engine. There could be a fire incident
Most common problems will also be solved with a good cleaning of the carb using carburetor cleaner. Spray the carburetor jets and linkages occasionally and they will run problem free. Frequent fuel filter replacements will also do your carb a world of good.
Cold starting/Choke problems
This is the Pierburg 2E3’s Achilles heel. It has a choke mechanism that has always been misunderstood but this is the theory;
A choke is meant to actually ‘choke’ or starve the carburetor of air when the engine is cold so that the richer mixture is ignited easier. As the engine warms up a bi-metallic strip uncoils as it senses the increasing engine temperature. This sensing of engine temperature happens with the help of coolant that is ran through part of the carburetor’s choke mechanism. The choke works hand in hand with a mechanism called fast idle cam that if well set, keeps idle speed high and reduces it with increasing engine temperature. There is an additional component that helps heat up the bi-metallic strip using electrical energy from the battery. This usually helps open up the choke faster than the water would. From my experience, it is not very important here in the tropics since we hardly have very low temperatures and furthermore, it keeps failing. I’ve totally disabled it in my van and I am running just fine.
The aim is to set the choke (butterfly) gap such that when the engine is at its coldest it leaves a gap along the barrel that is only small enough to accommodate a 3mm drill-bit and the fast idle cam can cause idle speed to rise to 2000 +/- 200 rpm.
- Remove the choke body to reveal the bi-metallic strip
- Open the throttle and position the fast idle cam screw on the highest step of the cam by turning it
- Push the pullrod on the choke pull-down diaphragm the furthest it could go and check the gap left when the bi-metallic strip is turned to the ‘start’ position. Turn the screw that manages the pullrod in or out accordingly until pushing the pullrod furthest in will lead to a 3mm gap between the choke butterfly plate and the barrel, when the bi-metallic strip is turned to its ‘start’ position.
- Refit the choke body ensuring that it remains on the ‘start’ position when coldest.
- The position of the choke body can always be adjusted depending on seasons so that there is always optimum cold start engine speeds
- Position the fast idle cam screw by turning it in or out to the second step of the fast idle cam and check that the fast idle speed is between the specified 2000 +/- 200 rpm for fast idle. Adjust as neccessary
- Ensure the engine is running at optimum operating temperature
- Various engines have various idle speeds but they usually range between 750 and 950 rpm
- Set your engine to run at the recommended rpm by turning the idle speed control screw
- Turn the mixture screw in until the engine begins to stumble and then turn it out again until the engine begins to stumble as well. Somewhere in there will be the optimum mixture setting. This will be verifiable over time with the process mentioned above
- Sometimes turning the mixture screw has no effect on the running of the engine or idle speed cannot go lower than a certain point. If that is the case, check the carburettor barrels to ensure they are clear of any foreign matter and if not then the engine timing is off. I have assumed you have determined that there is no vacuum leak at this point
Engine timing is absolutely crucial for proper working. Timing is usually done using equipment such as a timing gun but that costs some money and people like me prefer to trawl in the inexpensive waters so I discovered a pretty decent method with inspiration from this guy;
I tried his method but the negative part of my coil kept my test light on unlike in his video. So I tried several variations and this was my discovery;
- Place a test light on one of the terminals on the negative part of the coil and ground it appropriately. Ensure there is still a line from the negative terminal on the coil to the distributor
- Loosen the 10mm bolt that secures the distributor and stops it from rotating
- Pop out spark plug no.1 (right side when you are standing behind the car, closest to flywheel)
- Put the car on neutral gear and ensure it is well secured so that it does not roll
- Turn the crankshaft wheel clockwise using a 30mm spanner or any other equipment while you have a finger placed over the spark plug hole
- You will feel compression building up and that will signify that the piston is moving up just as it would as it compresses the air/fuel mixture
- Watch the crankshaft wheel as you do this and you will notice two marks on it. A U-shaped mark and a V-shaped mark. The U-shaped mark signifies the position of Top Dead Centre (TDC). That is the point where the piston is at the very top of that cylinder. If you are turning the wheel clockwise, you will observe that the V-shaped mark is to the right of the TDC mark. That is you will get to the V-shaped mark before the U-shaped mark. This V-shaped mark is the ignition timing mark. This signifies the point at which the spark will ignitite the fuel/air mixture in the cylinder.
- Turn the wheel and align the timing (V-shaped) mark exactly to the centre of the engine (the split line between the two engine block parts). Pull back the number plates and peep from there to get the alignment right
- As you were turning the wheel you probably noticed that the test light dimmed momentarily. If it did not turn the wheel past the ignition or even the TDC point and you will notice the light flicker. This signifies the point at which the spark would have been introduced into the cylinder. This needs to occur exactly when the crankshaft wheel’s ignition timing mark is aligned to centre of the engine. So return the wheel to this point
- Turn the distributor clockwise or anti-clockwise until you notice a similar flickering of the light. Once you have determined the approximate point, turn the distributor clockwise until the light dims or goes out and then turn it anti-clockwise just ever so slightly such that you are just on the verge of the flickering. Some practice will help you know how to get it right
- With the crankshaft wheel at this point and the distributor as described above, you have your engine timing right.
- Tighten the distributor’s 10mm bolt, return the spark plug and look for your favourite drink
It’s been a while since I updated this blog. While I was away my life was getting ruined by the world famous Pierburg 2E3 carburettor and some iffy engine timing. This is the story;
I had taken my engine to a local mechanic for an overhaul gasket job. I would have done this myself but the van was all leaky and I did not have the time so I bought a gasket kit and let the guy do the job. Driving the van after that I realised there was a very significant drop in fuel efficiency and power. I immediately knew that the guy had got engine timing and carburettor set-up all wrong.
How stuff works
The Vanagon’s ignition system works like any other. If you are not familiar this is how it is; the engine runs by the combustion of an air/fuel mixture. The air/fuel mixture is created by the carburettor in a Vanagon and we are going to discuss this a little later. The spark responsible for the combustion is caused by a spark plug. The spark plug receives the electrical energy that creates this spark from the electrical coil via the distributor that gives this electrical energy to each of the four spark plugs in a pre-determined order also called the firing order. The coil transforms 12V from the battery to a very high voltage (heard somewhere it’s up to 10,000V) before it sends it to the distributor. All this occurs when the piston compresses the air/fuel mixture in the cylinder and at a pre-determined moment, this compressed mixture is ignited resulting in power. The process of Engine timing is responsible for ensuring the firing occurs at the best possible moment.
Sorry I’ve not updated this blog for ages!! Been working on the van and there are lots of one man spanner heroics to report about! Time has been at an absolute premium and even though I am on the internet most of the time I hardly get a chance to do anything outside my web design work. Anyway, this past weekend I made a trip to Mombasa (a wonderful coastal town in Kenya). My friend Eric, whom I’ve mentioned in previous blogs was moving to Mombasa for a new job and we enlisted the services of the vanagon to move his modestly stocked 2 bedroomed house.
Its amazing how much the van can carry!! We had 2 disassembled 4X6 beds with their mattresses, a set of 5 seater seats, a coffee table, fridge, microwave, tv, sound system, massive carpets, water drums, the whole kitchen including a gas cylinder and all manner of things you can imagine are in a house. Check out this not so good picture;
We also had a motorbike to ride and so we had decided to split driving/riding duty. The idea was the van sets the pace at about 100Kph and whoever rides the bike keeps up. I started the first 125km since I needed to feel the van considering the night before we finished servicing it and preparing it for the trip at around midnight! But all was well. I then did the next 250km on the motorbike and in the hot terrestrial radiation of the Taru desert that is no mean feat. The rest of the journey was straight forward, just leaking oil which I shall discuss in my next post once I get to the bottom of it but the issues are I decided to use SAE 10W-40 instead of SAE 20w-50 that I usually work with and i also suspect the problem could be with other things like the flywheel oil seal. Will report on that soon. Well, we got to Mombasa and headed straight for the best restaurant in Kenya in my opinion. Its a wonderful swahili restaurant that specialises in swahili dishes only. Its called Tarboush try it when in Mombasa.
Being us we also decided to head for the beach instead of the house, with a fully loaded van! Having been raised in the mainland, the beach still fascinates me as though I am a small kid. We eventually retired way past midnight and we were quite worn out. Next day, unloaded the van, got the stuff in the house and repeated the previous evening’s activities – Tarboush then the beach, albeit a small detour to the historic neolithic Fort Jesus for some tourist antics!
I’ll always treasure this picture of the vanagon in the sand just a few meters from the beach. Nothing techy in this article but normal business should resume soon!