Monday, June 25, 2012

Vanagon Transaxle Oil Change & More

Westly's transaxle has a leak. A very occasional drop on the driveway and when I'm crawling around underneath (which I do periodically to check things out) I wipe the shiny spot off the bottom of the case. It's not the flange seals as I replaced those when renewing the CV joints. It's coming from somewhere deeper -  maybe the seal/o-ring on the adjusting ring - but lacking a puller to remove that part, I just roll with it. 

But after enough drips, I knew the oil level had to be getting a little low and there was no record of when the oil was last changed. Ideally, it should be done every couple of years, so one spring morning when the dew adorned the daffodils like sparkling baubles, I set about the task.

The fill plug can be difficult to remove. It's a good idea to make sure you can break it loose before draining the oil - otherwise you would be stuck in your driveway, friends driveway, parts store parking lot, etc until you are able to extract it and refill the box. As gear oil is highly viscous, I let it drain for a day or so, raising the front of the van to coax it all out. The DZ transaxle capacity is a little over four quarts. Only around three drained out. Guess it had been leaking a long time! The oil had a few tiny yellow metal flakes suspended in it, the magnetic rod on the drain plug was mostly clean.

I put in four quarts of Royal Purple Gear Max Synthetic 75W90 oil. This wonder of modern technology is API rated at GL-4 and GL-5, is non-corrosive to "soft yellow metals" which are evidently found in abundance inside the transaxle, and possesses "proprietary Synerlec additive technology". This is some way pricey gear oil, but I figured a transmission rebuild isn't cheap, so why not be protected by the best I could get? Subsequent research online has me thinking that most any gear oil with the proper rating would suffice - the key is to change it on a regular schedule.

Synthetic oil does pour much more readily than honey-like dino oil (which requires a pump that usually breaks when you're about half-way through filling). I set up a funnel with a clear pvc tube on the end to poke into the fill hole and the bottles dumped quickly. With the van level, you keep filling until oil dribbles back out of the fill plug hole, then close it up.

Fill plug on the left.
Drain plug on the right with a magnetic rod to keep
any metal bits from circulating in the oil.
There's not enough room to get a 17mm allen wrench on the fill plug.
This adapter tool makes getting the plugs
in and out easy.  You could also use a double-nutted
17mm head bolt and wrench.
Removing the right rear wheel allows better
access to the fill plug.
The fill plug is on the right rear of the box.
The white blobs next to it are lithium grease on the shift rod coupling.
The bottle just fits in the funnel.  Avoid contaminating your new oil by
washing loose dirt and debris away from the area ahead of time.
Prior to the oil change, I would hear and feel a little "snick" when shifting from 1st to 2nd gear (particularly after having not driven for a few hours) unless I did so very slowly and deliberately.  I don't know if it was because the oil level had been low before, or it was due to switching to synthetic oil, or maybe the "proprietary Synerlec additive technology", but after the change that "snick" is history.  

Air Filter
When Westly's engine was replaced, the original air filter box was discarded and a funky ABS drain pipe fitting was constructed with a K&N filter on the end. It attaches to the intake manifold with a flexible rubber "hub-less" connector. It has apparently performed it's task well for 30,000 miles or so, but over time heat from the nearby exhaust manifold caused the ABS to shrink and crack. The best part about this is that all the parts are readily available at most any hardware or home improvement store. I glued up a new unit with an additional piece to situate the filter in a more protected area - it formerly hung down low beside the engine where it was subject to all manner of road grime. After washing and re-oiling the filter it all went back in place with the addition of a support loop of heavy gauge wire to keep it from bouncing around so much.  

Westly's custom low restriction air intake system
I've seen online where some Vanagon owners with non-stock engines have adapted the air filter box from from a '90s Chrysler mini-van.  The filters are easy to find, inexpensive and it all fits very well in the space to the left of the engine.  And you can attach the original snorkel hose that runs up to the left side air scoop (left over from when the Vanagon was air-cooled) so the air intake is situated high, out of the trail of dust and water spray kicked up under the van. Next time I'm at the Pick and Pull, I'll check one out.  

Vacuum Pump
Vehicles use vacuum for various accessories such as cruise control, heating & A/C controls, door locks.  The Vanagon's primary use of vacuum is the power brake booster.  Diesel engines do not produce vacuum as gas engines do (during the combustion process), instead they have a mechanically driven vacuum pump.  While doing some poking around Westly's engine I noticed the hose connected to his vacuum pump was cracked. Bearing in mind that plastics become increasingly brittle with age, I slit the hose where it attached to the pump fitting and pulled. The fitting brashly responded to my careful preparations by separating into two pieces, shamelessly exposing it's inner parts. After an unsuccessfully attempt at gluing, I made a plea to the online Vanagon community for help.  

The broken fitting.
(white with a little red thing poking up the middle)
The new fitting, hose, and check valve in place
It seemed the preferred method of repair was to remove the cover and the original fitting (which was pressed in), cut threads into the hole and insert a brass hose barb. The threads of the barb must be shortened and ground flush so they don't interfere with the pump vanes which spin directly below the cover. I accomplished all this quite handily, and put it back together with new hose and a check valve from a BMW (keeps some vacuum stored in the hose and booster so you get a couple of assisted brake applications with the engine off).  It works perfectly and should last a good long time.

Alternator Bracket
All relationships come with some baggage. When Westly rolled into my life, he had this un-orthodox alternator bracket cobbled together from an old Ford part and some scrap metal. The drive belt was impossible to fully tighten which led to incessant squealing. This was highly embarrassing - I just couldn't take him anywhere.

M-I-C-K-E-Y   M-O-U-S-E
Because of the engine cover directly above, and the battery directly to the right, the space allotted for a bracket was very limited. I had an idea of what the ideal bracket should look like, and searched around wrecking yards but came up with nothing. I tried to contact a friend who has metal fabricating skills and equipment, but he pretended he never got my message so I knew I was on my own.  

Looking around in my pile of Stuff That Is Pretty Much Useless But Too Good To Toss, I came upon a bracket left over from when an old garage door opener motor failed and it was cheaper to buy a whole new opener package than just replace the motor. This is the bracket that attaches the chain drive mechanism to the door. It's fairly thick steel, though not all that hard. The curve looked just right, and I figured it was worth a try so cut out a notch to clear a protrusion on the alternator body, and a slot for adjusting belt tension. The lower mounting hole needed to be opened up slightly for the bolt to fit.

Original door opener bracket below.
Modified bracket above.
The bracket in place and looking
just slightly less M-I-C-K-E-Y  M-O-U-S-E.
I put it all back together, and determined a shorter belt would be needed.  With that in hand, it all fell into place and has performed well now for 6,000 miles.  I always check it over carefully whenever the engine cover is off.

Mud Flap Mend
Vanagons with the Westfalia conversion are equipped with a single stout mud flap behind the left front tire.  It's purpose is to stop debris kicked up by the tire from damaging the propane tank that hangs under the van directly behind it. I noticed Westly's flap was starting to tear and had some vague idea about reinforcing it before it separated, but didn't get around to it. Then, on a particularly rough road near the Wild Horse Wind Farm, it let go. Luckily, we were turning around at the time because the road was quickly becoming impassable, and Van Brother, who was outside directing me so I wouldn't get stuck in a ditch, found the detached part. I later used some galvanized straps and a handful of brass bolts to re-unite the two pieces.

Yeah, it's ugly but it will do until I can get
a full set of mud-flaps from Van Cafe

I had inquired about getting "Slopoke" for Westly's license plate, but found it was not available. We discovered it on this supercharged Saleen Mustang at a Father's Day car show. In fact, in Washington state every variation of the word 'slow' is already in use, likely all on 
vehicles with exponentially greater horsepower than Westly. Such irony. 

Another intriguing ride at the show, the 1958 BMW Isetta. The 13 horsepower single cylinder motorcycle engine propelled the car via chain drive to a top speed of 53 miles per hour.  The only way into the car is through the front door which includes the wind screen, the instrument panel (speedometer, light switch and ignition key), and the steering wheel (the shaft is hinged so it moves aside as the door opens).  This one had two wheels in the rear with a narrow track so no differential is needed.  Earlier models had only one rear wheel and were subject to tipping.  I assume the third brake light is original, as the rest of the car seemed so.  Looking at the size of the license plate relative to the body of the car gives an idea of the proportions of this micro-machine - like a Smart Car ancestor.

I have a foggy memory of my cousins and me playing with a toy model of this car while visiting my grandmother in Santa Ana.

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