Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The Smell of Petrol

Before I purchased Pea Soup I did a lot of research in to VW campers in the hope that once I got one I wouldn't have too many surprises.

One very scary thing that I found out during my research is that these vans are very prone to catching fire.  I found no end of horror stories about peoples pride and joys getting completely burnt out, and saw hundred of photos and videos of both the aftermath of fires and of the fires in action.

The reason for them being prone to fire comes simply down to rubber fuel hoses that get brittle over time and then split and leak petrol over the engine.  Being that the engines in these air cooled vans run hotter than modern cars there is enough heat to ignite the petrol and that then is pretty much the end of your van.

In order to try and reduce the risk of these fires happening, and also limit the damage should one occur it is highly recommended that the two first things you do IMMEDIATELY when getting an old VW van is a) replace all the rubber fuel lines, and b) fit an automatic fire extinguisher in to the engine bay.  These automatic fire extinguishers get triggered by heat and so if a fire does start they should go off and hopefully put the fire out.

Bearing all this in mind I made sure that included in my budget for the van was both of these things.

So, when I first spoke to the dealer selling Pea Soup it wasn't too much of a surprise when he said to me "I've just started her up and noticed a fuel leak and so want to get the fuel lines replaced before you come to view it.".

A week or so later I spoke to him again and he'd had the offending fuel lines replaced and so we arranged to go and see it.

On viewing the van there was still a strong smell of petrol inside.  Knowing that there had been a fuel leak I put this smell down to still being lingering from the leak, and this, combined with knowing from my research that I should check in detail all the fuel lines anyway, didn't put me off.

I didn't however want to drive it anywhere before being able to check everything out and so much to my delight the dealer said he would be able to deliver it to our house on the back of a lorry, and so as promised, a week or so later Pea Soup was delivered to our door on a low loader and the only distance I had to drive it before being able to check everything over was the few metres on to our driveway.

On her arrival it was very evident that the smell of petrol was still there.  Any remaining smell from a leak should have long since disappeared and so I knew there was more to it, and so over the next couple of weeks I embarked on a completely strip out and replace of pretty much the entire fuel system.

It became apparent very quickly that the dealer had only replaced the one piece of rubber fuel line that had had the leak in it.  Meaning that there was still a lot of VERY old rubber fuel line that was from the look of it original - so 36 years old.  The good thing is that replacing all the fuel lines themselves is a very easy task.  

First part of the job was to drain the fuel tank.  I knew there wasn't much fuel in it and so got a couple of fuel cans in case and upon crawling under the van to do this I noticed that the fuel lines coming from the tank were actually oozing the smell of petrol from them.  You should not be able to smell petrol going through a good solid rubber fuel pipe and so this meant that these pipes and corroded/split to the point that petrol was actually leaking though them - good job they were all coming off anyway!

Pulling off the fuel line from the tank to the the petrol pump so that I could drain the tank showed me just how bad they condition of the rubber was - it literally crumbled in my fingers, flooding me we petrol as it fell apart.

It didn't take me long to get all the old rubber lines off and new ones fitted, and having done that I could move on to the harder part of the job.

The fuel tanks on these vans have a fuel breather system that takes any evaporated fuel and then feeds it in to the engine.  This fuel breather system is mainly made up from metal pipes, however the metal pipes are joined in numerous places by little pieces of rubber hose, and these also need replacing as if they split you start venting fuel vapour which not only smells but can also be flammable.  Doing this was where the "fun" started.

Most of these rubber joining pieces are tucked away in the fuel tank compartment which is behind a bolted in firewall, which in turn is behind the engine.  With the engine out you can easily remove the firewall to get good access, however with the engine place all you can do is move the firewall cover out by a couple of inches at the top allowing you to just get your arms in to the fuel tank compartment where you then have to replace these sections of rubber hose by feel alone.  This took me hours and hours and resulted in my arms getting totally scratched up from forcing them through gaps where they didn't really fit.  Getting the old bits of hose off wasn't a problem as again they were all just crumbling and falling apart (I think these were the cause of the strong smell of petrol) but getting new hose on, along with jubilee clips screwed up tight on both ends, when you can't see what you are doing and have hardly any space to move was a nightmare.  I did thankfully manage it though so no need to remove the engine - yet...

Sadly doing all this was before I decided to blog and so I didn't take many pictures, however I did take a couple of pictures with our mini camera inside the fuel tank compartment to try and help me know where I was trying to do things.  In these pictures you can see the small pieces of rubber hose that I was trying to replace and how small an area I was working in - I'd say the height as seen in the picture is about 7cm.

While I had the firewall open a crack I figured I may as well replace the only other bit of rubber in the fuel system that I hadn't already replaced - the petrol filler hose that goes from the filler cap on the side of the van to the petrol tank.  This again would have been easy with the engine out, but proved to be another nightmare that took me another good few hours as again I had to do it though two small holes completely by feel.

The final parts of the fuel system that I then replaced were the fuel gauge sender unit that bolts in to the top of the fuel tank and the carbon filter in the fuel breather system.

One of the previous owners had fitted an extra third party fuel gauge which used a different (non-vw) sender unit.  I'm planning on trying to get the original fuel gauge working, hence the replacement - and this also means that a new seal is fitted around the sender unit which should stop any petrol fumes leaking from there.

The carbon filter in the fuel breather system is basically a big box that is filled with activated carbon - any fuel vapours coming off this fuel tank are collected in the carbon filter and then sucked in to the engine and burnt next time the engine is run.  The activated carbon stops working after a time and so the whole thing starts smelling of petrol, and so I stripped the filter down, go some new carbon from a pet shop supplier (it's the same stuff as used in tropical fish filters!) and refilled it. Simples!

With the fuel system all restored I left the van overnight to see what the petrol smell was like in the morning.  To my delight, after having all aired out the smell of petrol was completely gone, and so that must mean that at least one of the parts I changed was a problem before and is now fixed.

It also hopefully means that Pea Soup is less likely to catch fire as the main causes of fire have now been replaced.

There was one thing left to do before I could say that this job was complete - check that the van still runs.

On first attempt it fired up fine and then died after a few seconds.  Second and third attempts did the same.  So I started checking things, like making sure that fuel was flowing etc. but no luck - everything seemed fine.  I was beginning to think that I'd broken something major when I noticed a pipe on the engine connected at one end but just dangling at the other.  After a bit of hunting around I found that it should have been connected to the air filter box and after putting it back on correctly I tried the engine again and it started first time and kept running.

Phew - that was a hard and not very pleasant job!

*** Update *** This was all done about two months ago now and I'm pleased to say the smell of petrol has stayed away :o)

Saturday, 19 May 2012


When reading round the internet looking for various bits of info about VW Campers you'll regularly see people saying that theirs was stolen.  Being 36 years old they have very little in terms of security on them and are very easy to break in to and hotwire, and so I guess that being that they are so sort after, this makes them an easy target for stealing.

One of the first jobs I did when I got the van was fit and alarm and multipoint immobiliser which helps to an extent, but after there having been a very dodgy van that we have seen driving very slowly up and down our road numerous times, with the two rough looking men it it looking carefully at each house (noticed by and number plate recorded by various people in the street now) I figured I should get Pea Soup some extra protection that was both highly visible, and would stop all but the very seasoned or determined thief.

So Pea Soup got a new shoe on one wheel - the Clamp!

Friday, 18 May 2012

Finishing off a door

Having been working on the passenger door a lot in the last week I was getting desperate to finish it off and so today was spent fitting a new door seal and then finally fitting the new door card and refitting handles etc.

I thought fitting the door seal would be an easy job - 5 hours later I was still at it and knew it wasn't.

I think the problem might have been that I was using a "reproduction" door seal rather than a VW original - it just didn't want to fit.  And then when I thought I'd fitted it OK I tried to close the door only to find that there was no way that it was closing with the new seal in place.

After hours and hours of fiddling, refitting, twisting and refitting again I managed to get it on so that the door would close if you gave it a really hard shove!  Am just hoping that once it's been closed a while the new seal will compress a bit in to place so that the door will close easier.  

That was NOT a fun job and I'm dreading having to do the other side :o(

On a brighter note, having now completely finished renewing all the passenger door and window seals, and fitting the central locking in to the door, I could now finally finish putting the door back together and fit my newly made door cards.

In order to try and fully make it water tight I first cut out some plastic sheet to the same template as the door cards and fitted that to the door.  Anyone who has ever taken a car door apart will know that these plastic liners are stuck on with what can only be described as "black gunk".  I have no idea where you would get "black gunk" from and didn't want to use it anyway, and so I used something that I found a tip for online - BluTack - apparently it works just as well as the gunk keeping it water tight, and allows you to remove the liner without ripping it should you ever need to.

With the plastic liner in place I could finally fit my new door card, and put everything back on the door.

(everything back in place bar one vent cover in this pic!)

It's nice to finally be doing some reconstructing work where you can see things are progressing.

One door down - one to go!

Fitting Central Locking Solenoid

Having made the passenger door (hopefully) water tight again there was one job left that I wanted to do before putting all the trim back on the door - fit central locking!

Yes I know that this is a '76 van and I'm trying to keep it quite original, but that doesn't mean I can't have a few more modern luxuries hidden away.

I'd already fitted a remote alarm a couple of weeks back, and that alarm had all the stuff built in to control central locking and so it was just a case of fitting the locking solenoid in to the door and wiring it up.

Unlike most things, this job went nice and smoothly.  There isn't much space in these old doors and with the solenoid in place there must have been less than 2mm clearance between it and the window glass when the window is being wound down. But it did fit and worked first time when I wired it up :o)

Refurbishing the cab door

One of the problems with a 36 year vehicle is that anything made of rubber has gone brittle, split or perished by now.  Many of these rubber bits are involved with keeping water out, and so I'm gradually making my way around the van replacing bits as I go making it water tight again.

One of the worst offenders for letting in water was the passengers door.  The weather seals around the window were completely perished allowing water to drip down inside the door, and as the doors plastic liner had long since disappeared much of this water leaking in to the door ended up inside the van.

So, two days ago, with a bit a dry weather, I finally felt brave enough to completely strip the passenger door down in order to renew all the window seal and hopefully cure it's leaking. This was a job I'd been waiting to do for weeks but because of our wonderful British weather and the really wet April I'd not had the chance.

Luckily I found a really good guide online that went through in detail exactly how to strip the door and window down, and before long the the window guide channels, the inner and outer scrapers, and finally the opening quarter light were all out.

If only putting it back together were as easy a job as stripping it all apart...

The company who I got the new seals from hadn't been able to supply me with a window surround that matched the existing one (theirs was shiny chrome, whereas the original was matt aluminium and I'm trying to keep it original!) and so the first problem was removing the outer window scrapers from both the old and new window surrounds so that I could then attach the new scraper to the old surround.  The scrapers are held on with rivets and so getting them off was just a question of drilling, however being that the surround is made of very thing aluminium this had to be a painfully careful job so as not to bend it - which of course I did a couple of times, but managed to bend it back without any lasting damage. Phew!

The next hard part was getting the new seal on to the opening quarter light.

The opening part of the window was again held in place buy a pivoting rivet and so more drilling was needed. Didn't take too long to get this one out.
Once the opening part of the window was removed it should have simply been a case of pulling the old seal off and putting the seal around the window frame.  However getting the new one on was a pig of a job. You'd get one bit fitted and then another would pop off - it took ages.  Did eventually manage it though.

With the opening window seal done it was time to put it all back together again.  Wasn't too hard, but took quite a bit of time.

Would say the whole job took me about 4 hours, but the depressing thing was, just looking at the van you can see no difference for those hard 4 hours as unless you look really closely it looks just the same.  Hopefully though when it rains next the door won't leak meaning less water getting in to the van.

The even more depressing thing is the thought that I have to do exactly the same thing again on the drivers door :o(

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

New Door Cards

Sadly, the original door cards from the van are slightly beyond my repair abilities.

This isn't however the end of the world though as due to me having new seat covers made using a slightly different green vinyl I could make new door cards using matching vinyl.

So, I using the original door cards as templates I made new cards out of hardboard, and cut out all the same holes for handles, loud speakers and mounting clips etc.

I then covered the cards in a thin layer of sticky-backed foam - in order to give them a soft touch.  This was actually flooring underlay left over from when I put wooden flooring in to our old house - I knew keeping the left over and even moving it between houses would be worth it!

And then glued the new green vinyl on to the cards.

And finally I cut out the various holes for handles and loud speakers etc. in the vinyl.

Not too bad a job if I do say so myself!  

Now need to do the rest of the refurb work that I want to do to the doors before I can fit them!

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The Haynes Manual

Back in my youth when I was doing up cars the Haynes manual was both a bible and life safer allowing me to do all manner of jobs that I would have had to pay a fortune to have done by a mechanic.

On my 1972 Mini Clubman Estate for example I changed the petrol tank, fitted new valves, tuned the carb, replaced the rear sub-frame, put in new suspension - to name but a few things - and during all these jobs my trusty Haynes manual would always be within grabbing distance to see me through.  I spent so much time with that Mini manual that I decided I couldn't part with it and it's now sat boxed up in the loft, coming out to remind me of times gone by each time we try to clear out old stuff, but each time going back in!

So, with all my history of worshipping Haynes, you could say I was more than a little bit excited waiting for my VW Camper Haynes manual to arrive after winning one on eBay.

The day came, the manual came through the door, and I think over the coming days I spent hours reading about and looking at pictures of how to do all the jobs I had coming up - I was in heaven!

But my excitement over the manual very quickly wore off once I got started on the jobs.  It turns out the world has moved on since I was 20 and last did lots of mechanical work on a vehicle. Although the Haynes manual is still a great reference guide it's nowhere near as good as something very simple that most people now have available in their home - GOOGLE!

Everything you could ever want to know about doing any job on a VW campervan has been documented in great detail on the internet, with colour photos and discussions about how to do things better/quicker/cheaper. And for most jobs you can even find videos showing you step by step how to do it. It's wonderful and all this detail is far more useful than a couple of paragraphs description and the odd black and white photo.  Very quickly I found my Haynes manual deep in a pile of papers to sort, while my Android tablet was coming outside to the van with me, assisting me in ways that Haynes never could.

The Haynes manual is still useful to have and flick though, but it's not much use any more in reality - RIP my Haynes VW Camper manual...