Sunday, October 7, 2012

Diesel Vanagon Battery and Charging System

Ok, I know I haven't produced any new blog posts all summer.  Not that Westly and I haven't been spending a lot of time together though - quite the contrary.  It's just that life as I knew it took a rather dramatic turn when Van Spouse and I separated (for reasons beyond the scope of this blog).  Following a tearful goodbye, Westly and I headed off under a stunning sunset that seemed especially suited for the occasion.

The intrepid van became my full-time home for a time, inhabiting rest areas and parking garages until I was offered a comfortable basement room in the home of some very kind and gracious friends. Westly no longer has quiet, secure off street parking and was even egged a few nights ago (really - people still do that??) but he's adapting well.

One of the worst aspects of the situation is that Van Kid is no longer "allowed" to go camping with me.  Hopefully we can work that out in the future but camping without him is kind of dull and now that school has started weekends are the only time I see him, so outings have been greatly curtailed.  One of the more memorable though was a day hike to Talapus and Olallie lakes.  Van Kid traversed the entire eight miles with no complaining, carrying his own pack.  Way to go Kid!

Van Kid at Talapus Lake
Too cold to swim but we had fun watching crayfish along the shore
Taking a break along the trail
Photo by Van Kid
Gawd I'm looking old!
So what else did we do all summer?  My friend Redwood and I took a trip to Seven Bays on Lake Roosevelt in North Eastern Washington.  Redwood's dad lives there in a unusual combination  of house and airplane hanger.  With the temperature hovering around 100 degrees F, we did a lot of swimming and exploring the lake in a rented skiff.  This is a large reservoir lake, about 150 miles long with 600 miles of shoreline, so we didn't get to see it all (understatement alert!).  You can rent a really nice houseboat here for $1,000 a day or so depending on the size and season.  The largest boat sleeps 13 (but with only 10 pillows so somebody will have to bring their own) and sports a hot tub.  Our skiff didn't have a hot tub, but did feature a lovely swirling pool of bilge water.

Redwood's dad - the Pilot Poet
Physically grounded but mentally soaring
View from inside the cool dark hanger to 100 deg f bright sunshine outside
That's one serious garage door!
The grassy area beyond is a runway
Piloting the skiff on Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake
Along the way, we stopped at the Reptile Zoo near Monroe, WA.  At this serpentarium (real word - I googled it) we were awe-struck beholding such sights as a two-headed turtle (they claim the heads have individual personalities), albino alligator (looking forlorn in it's concrete tub), the Worlds 10 Deadliest Snakes(!), a Goliath Bird-eater Tarantula (name not so representative of the actual product) and my favorite, Blaberus Giganteus - the giant Brazilian Cockroach with prime specimens approaching 3.5 inches long (sometimes kept as pets & tethered by tiny leashes).

By the way, I was reading recently that incorporating too many parenthetical statements was a sign of poor writing.  Well ok...guilty!

Green Mamba- bite 90% fatal, can slither up to 15 mph (yikes!)
Or maybe it was the African Bush Viper, but the Mamba is just way more interesting
Other shorter trips took us hiking, fishing and sightseeing but plans to journey to Yellowstone and make more campouts with the WetWesties had to be postponed for a future summer.

Westly performed flawlessly, if ponderously most of the summer except for a period where he petulantly refused to start, particularly after sitting alone all night.  Some mornings he would start right up with vim and vigor, other mornings just an abject clicking or worse - no response at all.

The diesel engine is an utter power hog during starting.  First the glow plug circuit is activated - essentially four heating elements that glow red hot to get the combustion party started.  Then, the starter motor which must overcome 22.5:1 compression (some 2 to 3 times that of a standard gas engine) to turn the engine over.  Once it's going though, because a diesel has no coil or spark plugs (and in one of this vintage, no computerized anything) it has virtually no electrical load - just a small fuel solenoid that could operate on a 9-volt battery if necessary.  In fact, here is a keen trick I learned.  You can wire up a 9-volt battery (we used to call them transistor radio batteries back in the day) to a pigtail that connects to ground and the solenoid wire.  Then if the van battery it totally dead, you can attach this small battery to open the fuel solenoid and push start the van.

Portable jumper battery under the back seat, wired through an Anderson Power Pole connector
directly to the starter and ground.  Makes jump-starting sooo much easier and quickly
detaches for other uses
Anyway, the voltmeter during the less active starts would show only 8 or 9 volts, not nearly enough to accomplish the formidable task before it.  It would jump start easily, or after having a battery charger on for a short time.  And it would push start readily so in addition to the portable jumper battery, I took to parking on hills whenever possible (not too difficult around Seattle) so I could coast a few feet and pop the clutch in 1st gear.  Works, but I imagine this procedure is a little taxing on the equipment.  I cleaned and tightened the battery cables to the engine block, the starter and the braided ground strap between the transaxle and the frame.  This helped, but not enough.
Interstate MT-41
650 cold cranking amps
This is the battery you want for the Vanagon diesel
Even though the battery was not quite three years old, I suspected a weak cell or two and brought it to the local Interstate Battery Center for testing.  They pronounced it adequate.  I countered that it certainly would be with a gas engine, but was sorely lacking in getting the diesel motivated.  After some deliberation, they agreed to replace it.  The battery has a 72 month warranty but reading the fine print reveals that if installed in a diesel engine vehicle, the warranty period is halved.  With the pro-rated warranty I ended up paying $60 instead of the original price of $135.

This effectively solved the starting problem but then a couple of months later the charge indicator light stubbornly refused to go out.  The voltmeter showed no charging action at all and the drive belt was tight so I called my favorite local parts store and ordered an alternator which arrived within the hour.  I had trouble removing the alternator from the mounting bracket, so unbolted the entire assembly and brought it in.  The helpful folk at Auto Sports Imports in Seatac, WA got them separated and swapped the pulley from the core to the new alternator for me at no additional cost.  I love you guys - if you had a website, I would include a link to it here!

Rear view of the Bosch AL33X alternator with "W' terminal
that sends the signal to the tachometer
Back home, I installed the alternator and bracket along with a new belt.  Success - now charging at 13.8 volts!  I noticed that a little over 5,000 miles had accumulated since the last full service so Westly also received an oil and filter change, air filter cleaning, new fuel filter, tire rotation and heaps of positive affirmation.

On another day I replaced the bushing that supports the sliding door handle as mine was missing, allowing water and dust in and making the outside handle all floppy feeling.  The little knob that locks and unlocks the door from the inside had fallen off and gotten lost on some bumpy dirt road so I made a replacement from an extra front door lock knob I had scavenged from a parts van.  While the inside door panel was off I tightened and lubed the lock and connections.

Now Westly's charging system, engine, tires, and doors are all operating smoothly.

Hoping my life will smooth out as well...

1 comment:

  1. Do you have any pictures of the bracket you used with the AL33X? Is it a VW part?