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Hey, guys! It's me, Dan... your friendly neighborhood VW cartoonist! Well, after years and years of driving Beetles and Super Beetles, I've swapped over to become converted into a Bus person! I've always loved them, never had anything against them, but it never dawned on me to get one. Well, after all of these years, I got myself a solid 1980 VW Vanagon. Still air-cooled, still looks and smells like an old Volkswagen... I love it. Only paid $1,000. Came with boxes o' parts (extra wing vents, door and window rubber / scrapers, an extra windshield, an extra passenger-side door, an extra 4-speed manual trans, an extra alternator, etc etc etc. With the trans, alone, I practically got more than my money's worth, yes?
Here's the deal, though. I know that Buses, in general, sometimes have starting problems... mostly due to the great length the wiring has to traverse between battery, engine and ignition switch. The Vanagon carries on that long-standing tradition, but in reverse. You may know, instead of being back in the engine compartment, the battery is in the passenger compartment, under the right-side front seat (I wonder who's brain child THAT was). Anyway, enough of that.
I bought the van about 70 miles south of my home in Flushing, MI (yes, go ahead and giggle at all of the obvious toilet humor popping into your heads now, and get it over with). ;-) The van was just outside of the Detroit area. I got it, as I said, for $1,000, which was all I could afford. It ran, it drove and had lots of good parts to come with it. I noted that the engine had a hard start, but originally checked it off as the van not having been run regularly for 6 months. Had to make a few stops along the way, for gas and for air in the tires, to check the oil, etc, before I made the schlep back up north. Each time, the engine started, but it cranked really hard... as though the new battery (according to the prev owner) hadn't enough juice to start the engine. Still, managed to get it to start and drove it home.
A few things about the drive home: We had wind advisories in Michigan due to gale-force gusts blowing the heck out of the whole of Mid-Michigan. I thought to myself, "Great! I'm driving home in near gale-force winds in an unfamiliar car that has all the aerodynamics of a brick!" Still, that Bus only fairly reacted to the winds buffeting it cross-ways from the West as I drove North. The wider track, improved suspension and, ironically, altered and heavier body style aided in keeping my tires on the road!
For the considerable length of a Vanagon, as compared to the small VW passenger cars, the heat seemed to have no trouble making it up to the driver's cabin. This, too, was without use of the supplimental gas heater beneath its belly. The weather was freezing, the winds were strong and I even had my wing vent cracked open for smoking. Still, I never froze while driving the thing. I do like that the heat ducts / channels go up into the doors rather than coming out along the floor. Seemed to assist in keeping the heat from getting lost down by the pans.
I love sitting up high over the front wheels... with a full view and command of the road, even over the passing mini-vans. It was much like driving a Bug, only much bigger and the only thing you're looking at outside the windshield is the road.
About five miles from home, I decided to stop by for a bathroom break. Flushing is a rural suburb of Flint and, since I was out in the country, I decided to pull over to the side of the road and relieve the only "radiator" in the car in the ditch behind the van. I left it running, because the weather had grown even more freezing and the motor had demonstrated such a difficult time starting back up. When I got back in the van, and went to buckle up, the engine stalled. Ok, one more time cranking it up and I would be home. Turned the key... and nothing. Lights were still bright, idiot lights were all coming on, even the door buzzer that warns when you leave your key in the ignition... all very strong. Too, I noted, there was no characteristic "tick tick tick" from the starter solenoid... though I wondered if I'd be able to hear it from all the way up front.
Towed the van home and began to go through the electricals. Ok, the connections to the starter solenoid looked dirty and one was a little oxydized. Battery connections were good and the wires even looked brand new. Checked the voltage and the battery was good. Checked the ignition switch. Good. So, unhooked the battery and cleaned all of the wire connections to the starter solenoid. A little sand paper and vaseline and I got it all straight. Still nothing when I hit the ignition switch. Jumped the posts on the solenoid to connect the starter directly hot to the battery. The starter whirred to life as one might expect. So, am I safe in assuming my problem is just a shot solenoid? If so, I know just where I can get one locally for not that much, even with a charged core. I'm so used to the simplicity of the older generation Volkswagens that to have one with all of this extra wiring on it is a bit daunting for me, I must admit. Any advice will be welcome.
P.S. The trans is for sale for $300 I will even sell the windshield, the extra dash cluster (sans speedo, but has the clock), etc for reasonable offers. Not sure yet how much to ask.
Hope to hear from you guys! Dan
#1. Make sure your ignition switch is in good working order. If there's any
question about it, replace it.
#2. What I have found that improves starting on any aircooled vehicle, 6 0r 12 volt, is to rewire the ignition switch power supply, circuit #30, directly to
the battery positive terminal. That is a very simple proceedure for your van.
First, remove the plastic cover under the steering column. Next pull the ignition switch harness and plug out from under the steering wheel. Terminal
30 is the red 10 ga. wire in the center. This wire gets it's power from terminal 30 on the light switch, thus the excessive resistance in the start circuit. Leaving enough wire to complete a splice, cut that wire and either insulate or
remove it from the light switch.
Now run a single strand of #10 ga wire from the battery positive terminal to
the ign. sw. plug and butt connect the wires. That should clear up your hard no crank/start problem.
On rare occasions, the red/black wire, circuit #50, may need some attention also. Follow that wire to the multi point connector under the dash and cut
both ends out of the connector and splice them together with a butt connector. Next, get under the car, pull the push on connector off the solenoid. If it's clean and tight, reinstall it. If not, change the connector.
This proceedure has worked for me for a good many years. I hope it does for you too.
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