Tuesday, December 19, 2006

VW - TULZ Part Two

TULZ – Part Two

This is gonna come as a shock to a lot of folks but automotive engineering is not subject to the democratic process. Just because all your buds are doing something don't make it right. Jumping on the Internet and conducting a poll for the 'best' engine won't work.

Access to VALID information is a more serious problem than most people realize and one that is going to plague you all your life so listen up. Are you familiar with the classic 'bell-shaped curve'? (Then lookit up.) If Volkswagen owners took a test about their vehicle you'd end up with a classic distribution curve. The kiddies would be down on the idiot- end and the experienced mechanics would be up on the expert-end and everybody else – two-thirds of the total – would be lumped in the middle.

Now here's the problem: Virtually ALL of the information you're going to run into is aimed at the lower slope of that curve, at the naïve, inexperienced people.

Here's an example. Volkswagen of America offers an 'Official Service Manual' for their air-cooled vehicles. It is in fact an ABRIDGMENT of the REAL manual. In the 'Official' manual they shyly caution you to not put much faith in the manual but since kiddies only look at the pictures the warning goes unnoticed. ( '…be especially careful about proceeding with any specific task on the basis of the information in this Manual.' Section 1, Part 5 of the Official Service Manual [VW Part No. LPV 997 164] )

Another example is the late John Muir's ever-popular "How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive – A Manual of Step-by-Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot." Unfortunately, John was a better philosopher than a mechanic. His manual is larded with hilarious gaffes, some of the 'procedures' will cause damage to your vehicle and a great deal of information simply isn't there, such as how to overhaul your carburetor or transmission. Trannys are actually easier to work on than engines and rebuilding the Solex carb is a classic no-brainer, a task well within the scope of any nine-year old.

(Ed.Note: The above was based on John's first manual, the original spiral-bound 1st edition. The manual has since gone through about 25(!) editions and has been expanded to include carbs and trannys. Alas, it still contains most of the errors from the original.)

John's manual serves to demystify the art of automotive mechanics and the book is well worth the read, for the artwork if nothing else. But don't put a lot of faith in it when it comes to technical accuracy.

The better manuals lack the sugar coating of the Idiot book and are more complete than the 'official' abridgement. Probably the best all-'round manual for the bug and Ghia is the Haynes book, their #159. It is certainly the most cost-effective and most widely available.

If you plan to do your own engine overhauls you should also hold a copy of Tom Wilson's excellent "How to Rebuild Your Volkswagen Air-Cooled Engine."

If your ride is a bus, Ghia or convertible, there are books devoted to those as well.

One source for most of these manuals is J.C.Whitney. If you're not on their mailing list you probably should be. Most of the after-market suppliers also carry manuals although they don't often mention that in their ads in the magazines.

You can't maintain your vehicle without the manual any more than you could take a history class without a textbook. In learning to maintain and repair your Volkswagen, the manuals become your textbooks.

I shouldn't have to tell you that you need a manual but there is good evidence that many Volkswagen owners disagree, relying instead on magazine articles, their peers and the Internet for such information. That's as dumb as it is dangerous. The infomercials in the magazines are long on hype and thin on technical accuracy, and as this Newsgroup (Ed.Note: RAMVA) clearly illustrates, the most commonly held Conventional Wisdoms are generally wrong. ( The –009 is a good idea, right? :-)

The wiser course is to take such 'popular' information with a grain of salt until you can test it against reality. (And that includes mine. Think for yourself!) Be especially wary of data offered by someone trying to sell you something. Volkswagen built over twenty-two million air-cooled vehicles. Most of the people offering you advice hasn't built even one. (As a point of interest, Volkswagen of America is not a manufacturer.)

Once you've acquired your manuals the real work begins. You must actually READ them. No Cliff Notes. No 'repair by consensus.' This is especially difficult for American youngsters because the present-day educational system does not teach students HOW to learn a subject.

I learned mechanikin from my grandfather and my dad and from fellow mechanics, including some wonderful German fellows who worked at Deet Eichel Volkswagen in Modesto, California. They were my mentors and my apprenticeship lasted about ten years. By the time I was sixteen I was a very good electrician, a pretty good machinist, a competent weldor, and a fair mechanic. That was more than forty years ago and I'm still learning. You obviously have not enjoyed my advantages; you would not be reading this if you had. But some portions of the path I followed are still available to anyone wishing to make the journey.

Have you ever seen a gasoline-powered washing machine? They are still common in much of the world and were the standard in rural America until the 1930's, some remaining in use well into the 1950's. I thought they were marvelous things. Not the washing machine, the little kick- start one-cylinder engine that powered them. By the age of nine I was an accomplished small-engine repairboy :-)

If you're a total greenhorn when it comes to cars, tools and getting greasy, it might be a good idea to step back and get yourself a copy of the Haynes (or other publisher) manual for small engines, the kind you'll find on a lawnmower. The reason for this is because a one-cylinder lawnmower engine has about 85% of the 'DNA' in your Volkswagen engine. Same poppet valves, same Otto-cycle, same relationship of crankshaft to cam, same type of carburetor and so on. The manual for these engines assumes NO PRIOR KNOWLEDGE on your part, unlike automotive manuals that, of necessity, must start rather high up the learning curve.

The object here is to use a free lawnmower engine to teach you how engines work. And yes, they are free… as many of them as you want. Just tell folks you're a student and will pick the thing up.. for free… and they'll give them to you. Go on. Try it :-)

What happens next is kinda funny. About half of those free lawnmowers won't have a thing wrong with them. Oh, they may need a new spark plug or the carb might need to be cleaned but they aren't junk. Give them a bit of TLC, sharpen the blade, run them down to your local swap- meet and the thing is worth a twenty-five dollar bill.

The nice thing about one-lungers is that they're small. Light. You can put down some cardboard and work on one in your dorm or on the kitchen table. You'll need a few tools that are unique to small engines but they aren't very expensive and can be easily resold when no longer needed. J. C. Whitney (and others) carries them. (See their big catalog.)

The other nice thing about one-lungers is that the knowledge and experience you gain from them can be transferred to a Volkswagen engine with about an 85% match.

Part Two is meant to point you toward your textbooks and to suggest a lab project you can keep under the bed. But as with any educational process its effectiveness is up to you. DON'T go into this thing expecting instant gratification. That's a myth. Education is expensive and time consuming. Budget both your time and your money. Ideally, try to make the system pay for itself, either by the lawnmower ploy or by doing maintenance on other people's vehicles.

-Bob Hoover
-7 April 2K

1 comment:

Daz said...

Ref "How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive" Hi Bob, your blog is indeed an interesting read, Have you thought about writing your own aircooled manual.