Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Vanagon Windshield Replacement

Driving with a cracked windshield doesn't bother me all that much.  In the state of Washington, a crack is not a ticket-able offense unless it impairs the driver's vision.  Contrary to what the radio commercials tell you, a cracked windshield is not likely to suddenly fall in your lap, shower your loved ones with glass shards, or blow out all over the road.  It doesn't affect the structural integrity of your vehicle - I think that's what all that metal is there for.  It can affect the performance of the airbag in certain types of accidents, so that could be a concern, but no Vanagon's were equipped with airbags.

I did lose a windshield years ago driving a 1974 bay window panel.  I was driving along Badwater Road in Death Valley when a motor home passing in the other direction kicked up a rock about the size of an orange.  I think it may have been lodged between the dual rear wheels and launched out, but I'm not sure.  Anyway it struck at face level on the passenger side (luckily I was driving alone) made a large hole and shattered the entire windshield.  I stopped by the gas station at Furnace Creek, removed all the remaining glass and deposited it into their dumpster.  I was about 300 miles from home. As you might imagine, driving without a windshield on the freeway produces a high degree of wind turbulence inside the van (and an accompanying huge amount of drag). Rummaging around in back, I was surprised to find my full face motorcycle helmet. Wearing this bright red helmet allowed me to drive with my eyes open (preferable to the alternative) although it also made me the subject of some finger pointing accompanied by guffaws. A little rain fell on the return trip, and upon reaching home I was amazed at the diverse collection of bugs crawling about in the back of the bus.

Westly's windshield was cracked and had a couple of "bulls eyes" as well.  The crack , about 27 inches long with a 3 inch branch upwards was a nuisance to passengers as it lay directly in their line of sight.  When freezing weather came, it extended another 12 inches toward the driver side and then I knew it was time to search for a replacement.

New glass is relatively easy to find (comes out of China now), but I checked on Craig's List first and found just what I needed - a windshield from a '90 Vanagon, including the rubber seal for $50.  I hightailed it over to Leschi to take a look.  No cracks or pits, just a little scratch from scraping it on some other parts while wresting it from the loft of a backyard storage shed.  It had the upper tint (my original did not) which seemed horribly blue when the glass was sitting in my shop, but now that's it's been installed, I don't really notice it. The rubber seal was pliable with just a little blue paint on the edge from a careless masking job at some point.  Bonus - it didn't have the chrome plated plastic trim that was common to the older seals which after 30 years is cracked and rusty brown looking.

The "new" glass  (upside down) - the blue tint doesn't
seem that dark now that it's installed
We struck a deal and I made plans to install it with the help of a neighbor who reportedly had some experience with the task.  This turned out to be a very good plan, as he not only knew how to do the job, he also had a large, heated shop into which we could drive the van and close the door.  The van is too tall to fit in my tiny shop, and the weekend forecast was threatening freezing rain and snow.

We removed the wiper arms, cut the old seal and pushed out the cracked glass from the inside. This was fun - scrunch down in the seat, put your feet up on the glass and push!  Rust in the lower corners of the windshield frame can be a big problem, requiring repair before proceding.  I was relieved to see all the supporting frame was in perfect condition.

No rust!

After cleaning the frame, we applied a little KY jelly around the corners ( the most difficult place to seat the seal). Preparing the seal involved pressing it into place around the glass then inserting a polypropylene string  into the groove with a loop of string left at the top.  I was inside with a blunt instrument (so as not to poke through the seal) and worked around the windshield starting at the lower middle, one hand manipulating the seal with the tool, the other hand pulling the string out as the seal slipped into place along the frame. My neighbor was on the outside pushing gently on the glass and giving me all kinds of helpful advice interspersed with dire warnings about the glass cracking if I made one false move. It took about 15 minutes of this to fully seat the windshield.  I later squirted a little polyurethane caulk under the edge of the seal because some water was seeping in - not while parked but while driving in heavy rain.

Windshield successfully installed!

After finishing the installation, I took the opportunity of being in the large heated space to raise the pop-top and waterproof the canvas.  A couple of 14-oz cans of Kiwi Camp Dry sprayed in two coats (had to turn off the heat and open the door for ventilation) seemed to be enough  - we'll see next rainy campout.  I also washed and hand waxed the entire body.

The same week, while perusing Craig's List I found a local Vanagon owner offering a set of four wheels, tires and hubcaps for a very reasonable price.  He had recently purchase a new set of 15" wheels and tires from GoWesty and wanted these out of his garage.  The tires were fairly new with hardly any wear, and most importantly were the correct load capacity for the Vanagon.  These vans are heavy, especially when you add the Westfalia conversion.  Finding 14" tires with a load rating of about 1,600 lbs is not that easy (which is one reason why the 15" or 16" wheel conversion is so popular - many more tire choices).

Someday I'd like to find some 15" wheels like this for Westly
Original equipment on 2000 Mercedes CLK
We met by the Fauntleroy ferry terminal and made the swap - his unwanted wheels and tires for my cash.  The deal included a set of GoWesty hubcaps and valve stem caps with tiny VW emblems on them.  After a half-hour or so of Vanagon talk, we parted happy.

Ready to go - but first, a couple of weeks of freezing weather
A small electric heater kept the inside warm and dry
I do have a cover - but didn't put it on in time 


  1. Sure is nice driving right after having a windshield replacement. Everything looks so clean and clear!

  2. Any tips on the windshid rust repair? Our 1982 diesel, Mae West, has two little spots, one on each lower corner. We were considering pulling the windshield and using some Por15.

  3. Hey KuhlFace - Por15 is a great idea to stop the destruction and may be all you need for small spots. If there is actually metal missing, then rebuilding the area with fresh metal should be done to hold the seal properly thus preventing leaks and errant windshields. I saw an informative thread about this on The Samba. Thanks for asking!