This is a cry for help ! from Truro, Nova Scotia My husband and I own a 1984 Westfalia Camper Van (bought in 1994) and we really love it. We know we will not be in a position to do any real travelling for a very long time, but our van has provided some wonderful vacations. We would really hate to part with it. Anyway, now for the SAD part ... it is costing us too much to keep it going and we fear we may have to part with it. We have been taking it to a fellow who specializes in Volkswagons for the past year, but the repair totals have gotten ridiculous. I don't know if the van is just a lemon and these bills are a given, or if it's the guy working on it who is the problem. The latest has been a transmission fluid leak. They figured it was a seal and replaced it ... didn't work ... they replaced it again ... didn't work ... they charged us $600 and told us they think there is a pin hole in the converter. We said forget it and we are now leaking transmission fluid far worse than ever. Is there a better way ? If you have any ideas or words of wisdom at all please e-mail us. Thanks, Tamara Raeburn-Jans
Back in the old days, VW had a crash box transmission that could be repaired by Old Man Sprouse on the front porch in an afternoon. No special jigs or tools, and everything fit together only one way. This - of course - was the philosophy of the car. Herr Professor's philosophy. Simple and easy to fix. Maintainable basic transportation.
Up through the sixties, this was still the philosophy behind Volkswagen, although there is evidence of the intrusion of harsher reality. But when Prof Porsche died, things changed abruptly. Relays and plastic components and power brakes and more powerful engines and specialty tools etc etc made their appearance.
Some will argue that these changes were necessary for VW to keep up with the rest of the automotive world, but my feeling is that the College Boys were in control and Dr Porsche's view of an affordable car was merely an inconvenience and irritant to them. Jeez - these guys didn't even drive VWs; they were making the big bucks and driving BMWs and Mercedes.
My choice for the stupidest engineering is not the VW automatic transmission, but the basic design of the type IV which requires the car to be completely disassembled in order to to remove or install a gas tank. But the automatic transmission is not far down on the list.
What - after all - is the purpose of a VW with automatic transmission. Nodody buys one in order to specifically waste one out of every six gallons of gasoline (although that's exactly what happens). Nobody buys a VW automatic transmission because it shifts faster on the track allowing for better overall race standings.
Automatic transmissions sell to people who wish to avoid moving their left foot 14 inches onto and off of the clutch pedal on an intermittant basis. Fear of the clutch or fear of having to learn how to use the clutch or laziness or perhaps that malaise (so common to Americans these days) of letting someone or something else take care of business?
And the price of an automatic transmission? Aside from the sticker price and the one gallon of gasoline for every five gallon trip, there is a another price tag hidden among the planetary gears and fluid pumps. And you've found it.
Sooner or later, every unit made will be scrapped or face repairs. And don't expect Old Man Sprouse to drag your tranny up on the porch for the afternoon. Even if he had the inclination and knew how to do it, he probably wouldn't have the special tools required.
And so, that unique advantage of a VW has faded to memory. The bug was the most popular car on history not because of its dashing good looks but because it was PRACTICAL. In their pursuit of automotive sameness, the College Boys have abandoned that particular branch of history, and with the advent of the Concept car, I believe they embark on the path to ruin. They are on the 30 hour work week already. Have a caution buying VW stock. I predict that they will be out of business in a few years.
Which doesn't solve your problem, but might illuminate it.
Of course, your mechanic may be a scoundrel. You could take the car elsewhere and hope that the new fellow is not a scoundrel. Or you could take it to a smorgasbord of mechanics and see if you can even out your luck. You could make a project out of taking it to each and every mechanic in Nova Scotia, although that might involve a lot of tranny fluid. But even then, the basic problem - the hidden price tag of an automatic transmission - will still be lurking.
Mario suggests that the seal keeps going bad because the bearing right behind needs to be replaced. I wouldn't spring another $600 on a remote, sight-unseen diagnosis, but it makes sense to me.
At the simplest level - why not replace the entire transmission with another one? I'll bet the entire deal would cost less than that $600 you already spent. Get a guarantee when you buy the transmission.
Or here's an even more radical thought: maybe you want to explore the installation of a standard manual transmission in place of the reprobate auto. I know this can be done on earlier (eg 73) buses and may be possible for yours. Salient points are motor mounts, shift linkage, and clutch cable. While this approach will require imagination and fabrication, it may also be the fastest and cheapest route.
And if it were my vehicle what would I do? Maybe pull the damn engine and trans out, sell them for whatever the market would bear, mount a big fine A-frame trailer tongue on the front and go to the license bureau for trailer plates. I'd paint the inside of the windshield so that curtains would not be necessary, and I think I'd put the toilet right where the driver's seat is now, although I am a bit torn as to whether it would be a chemical toilet or a hole through the wheel well. Not only would this cost less than $600, but you would have the additional reliability of not having to depend upon a late model VW drive train.
You know your other options: new torque converter, sell the car, park it out back as a permanent guest house or down on the shore as your own vacation facility, etc etc. There are probably other good solutions as well, and if any occur to me, I'll let you know.
If you'd like, I'll put your problem in the Junkyard web pages for everyone to see. Maybe someone has had the same problem before and maybe someone has even solved it.
Thanks so much for your reply. We will look into some of your ideas - ones we never would have thought of. My husband got a real chuckle out of some of them ( which was sorely needed). I'm still too depressed about the whole thing to laugh right now. We just returned from checking with the VW dealer who has given a prognosis of $850 to $3200 ... HA !... now that's funny ! Thanks again !! From Tamara Jans
c 1996 Air Cooled Volkswagen Junkyard of Richfield, Ohio http://www.acvwjyro.com "Where Advice Is Always Free" (216)659-3638 This story may be distributed only if it is not altered in any way and is distributed freely without charge.