Category Archives: Vanagon Stuff 2006-7

Turning a 1985 VW Vanagon GL 7-passenger van into a custom camper

It's been quiet over here, eh?

I haven’t been posting here, because Teri and I are blogging at about our new life in rural Oregon – very different from Brooklyn! You might not find it very interesting, but at least there are lots of pretty pictures =)

I miss the people and pizza in NYC, but not much else…except my favorite live band, Lourds. Right now, Lourds is climbing the ranks in the voting for bands to go on the next Lollapalooza tour, so I’d like to encourage anyone reading this to check out her site (there’s FREE MUSIC there!) and think of visiting the following URL to vote for her to be on the LollaP bill:

And yeah, I see the missing function call…deleting the function was a desperate attempt to stop the comment spam. I’ll fix it some day….

CV Joints

About 700 miles into our trip, I started to get a klunking sound upon decelleration, coming from the right rear. My guess was cv joints, and the experts on concurred. Stopped for the night and the sound was gone in the morning, so I continued on to Detroit without any problems. I’ve been collecting information/parts/tools for the joint work, but hoping to put the job off till I get somewhere warmer. In the meantime, I’ll be injecting them with grease and crossing my fingers. When I pull ’em, I’ll document the whole thing here, because I had to read about half a dozen sources to learn all the stuff I want to know before getting under there, and I figure it’s a good chance to write an ultra-detailed guide to the job for CV noobs like myself.

The troubles so far

Teri and I are blogging the fun parts of our trip at, but I’ll keep the mechanical related posts over here.

We left five days ago from Brooklyn on a planned 3-month trip (details at . The van was running perfectly in every way, and sporting new tires, muffler, etc.

It started losing power and stalling in heavy traffic and heavy rain on the BQE, and finally died IN the tollbooth for the Triboro bridge. We managed to limp to the first rest stop outside NYC with flashers on, stalling and coughing.

First there would be power loss – butterflying the pedal seemed to help it keep going, but it would go through periods of nearly no combustion and we had to roll to a stop and restart a few times, then do hurtful things with the clutch to get it moving with a heavy load and reduced power.

It felt like a fuel issue, so I got down under the slider door and asked Teri to turn the ignition to on. BAD noise from the fuel pump – hooray! Something that makes sense! I clamped off the lines and pulled the fuel filter, which I had installed about 6 months ago. It was orange; when I shook it, it looked like *(^% coffee grinds coming out of there.

Gas tank rust….OK, simple…but I’m in a rest stop at night in the rain with no spare filter. I filtered the crud out of the spilled fuel which I had collected in a starbucks cup, then poured the filtered gas into the input end of the filter.

Inverted the filter and blew with all my might (mmm, taste of unleaded!), and repeated the process, rinsing out the filter. Reinstalled the filter, and made it to Woodstock, where we were staying with friends.

The VW gods at got me 3 new filters overnight for less than the FLAPS wanted to charge me for one filter, and we were back on the road. I’ll have to pull that gas tank and clean it out, but in the meantime I’ve got two extra new filters.


Symptoms: intermittent loss of power, seemed like partial combustion. Coolant temp started dropping as less and less fuel got burned.

Diagnosis: had someone turn the key to “on”, and heard the fuel pump cavitating (sucking but getting nothing)

Ozark Engineering fix: rinsed out filter with clean gas and reinstalled, good for another hundred miles. Replaced with new filter and keeping a few spares on hand.

Proper fix: Gotta pull that fuel tank and clean it out, which will be a good time to replace all the hoses, too.

Getting near the end (as if such a project could ever be "finished"!)

Whew! Can’t wait to stop working on it so much and take a trip! ‘Nother month…

Finished up one of the dining/computer tables:

It’s less pretty underneath:

Made an insertable screen with a shrouded fan…not the prettiest, but it’ll come in handy:

The water finally works without twisting wires together etc:

10 gallons of water for hand and dishwashing in the sink cabinet, and storage above tank:

Hasps and padlocks for the Thule pod:

Also got the swingarm for a Westfalia table from Busdepot, but the part that goes on the table is backordered. And topped up the power steering fluid, fixed a dead taillight, put a bit of Marvel Mystery Oil in the crankcase for luck, got 4 new tires put on, finished boxing in the rest of the passenger-side rear cabinetry, found a little rack to hang from the front console, and finished wiring up the solar stuff.

There's water!

SinkFinally got a 10 gal freshwater tank put in for the little hand/dishwashing sink. Hooked up the pump, and watched my 3 gallon test fill run dry in no time flat.

Lazily, I bought a little GE switchable voltage power supply for $12 at home labyrinth. It converts 12v into 3, 6, and 9, and has one more setting that feeds the 12v straight through. At 3v, the pump wouldn’t run. At 6v, it took about two to two and half minutes to run a gallon of water, which seems about perfect. I’m just gonna wire that puppy in, so the sink can be on “water economy” setting most of the time but put out a fire when it’s needed.

For potable water, there’s a 5 gallon thermos, which in the boonies will be fed by a Katadyn Base Camp gravity feed water filter, which rocks.

Naturally, with so much going right, something had to go wrong. My accessory battery has run very low, and I’ve been driving much more than using the appliances, so I must have blown the fuse (easy) or the relay (annoyingly hidden under passenger seat)…or something somewhere is eating up a lot of juice despite being turned off. I’ll plug in the solar panels while I’m at work tomorrow to fill it back up and figure it out this weekend. I cheaped out a bit on the deep cycle battery (Energizer instead of Optima), home that’s not coming back to bite me. edit: The power sucker was the 12v–>16v adaptor I got for my laptop. I’ll have to remember to unplug it when not in use.