What its all about

What its all about

Sunday, January 10, 2010

How to work on your bus... from the beginning, to making a living.

Go to the used book store and buy the thickest book on car maintenance from the 60's you can find. Back then they did cut away drawings, and explanations of HOW stuff works, in addition to just how to replace the part that’s gone bad. Rebuilding worn parts starts with an understanding of how they work, and what makes them tick. Take stuff apart that you are replacing with new, just to see how it works. Buy the Bentley manual for the Bus, and the idiot book. The most important tool for working on cars, or anything else is your brain. Use it and a lot of problems go away. The more you know, the less you need… and the less time it’ll take to find the problem and fix it.

For most jobs you will want to unhook the battery cable. For electrical jobs you want to pull the coil wire so it doesn’t burn out the points.

Put your adjustable wrench away, hide them in a closet. They are good for assembling chinese furniture (junk in a box,) or doing plumbing work along side a pipe wrench. Reach for a socket before you reach for a box wrench. Use the closed side before you use the open. Vice grips are for AFTER all else has failed. Use penetrating oil on everything, days in advance. Use anti-seize when it goes back together. Those tips are hard earned... learn from my mistakes!

Buy a few rolls of blue shop towels, they rock. Get some GOJO or other hand cleaner, and a bottle of Dawn dish detergent... as grease and grime are unmatched in tenaciousness. Perfume hand soaps are no match for the shmutz under a bus. Its not good for you, but used motor oil works well to get cleaned up after an extremely nasty grease job… like dissolves like.

A drop light, and a bunch of spare bulbs. Get an extension cord, long enough to reach the work spot and both sides of the car. Get a battery charger, while you are there get a 4 in one battery terminal cleaner. A good flashlight is a great thing, small enough for the pocket, light enough to be held between your teeth. (Mag lights taste bad after the anodizing is worn off… I don’t much care for them because of short battery life and bulbs that go out if you drop them!)

Get a set of Craftsman, or any other lifetime warranty 6 point sockets long and short in 1/4, 3/8, 1/2 inch. Get a set of junk 12 points in each, and keep them in the bus... that way you don't lose your good stuff on the side of the road, or at the junk yard. (Or if someone steals the bus, your not out a few hundred bucks of stuff you probably don't have inventory of, and receipts...) Same deal with the box wrenches, good stay at home… cheap ride under the seat. Get a set of stubby cheapo 12 point box wrenches too and leave them in the "good box” you won’t use them often enough to want them in the bus, but when you need them… you’ll be happy you have them! (Cut off wheel + Angle Grinder + Good wrench = Shorty wrench at 1am)

6 points won't round a fastener as quickly as 12's will. 12's will mangle a rusted up bolt head and leave you wimpering... When this happens, try “Craftsmans Bolt out” before you reach for vice grips.

Get a longer 3/8th ratchet than what comes in a set. You want one about a foot long, so the leverage works for you. With all the ratchets... grab the head and twist and listen to the gears. If it’s clunky feeling, move along... if it sounds like a finely tuned piece buy it. Hunt around: pawn shops, garage sales, flea markets... all good places to buy GOOD stuff at cheap prices. Buy tools you can get replacements for, and buy good ones so you don't need to... buy duplicates when they go on sale! If you break or lose them on a sunday night and the bus isn’t back together, it helps to have two. Then you don’t have to call it quits, and if/when its your only runner… you can still put it back together!

You can go junky on the 1/4 inch drive extensions and swivels. Buy stuff that feels good, not just any cheap stuff. Wobble extensions rock, and knurling for easy turning by hand when its coated in oil is a plus. 3/8ths needs to be a little nicer... and 1/2 inch can either be top quality, or cheap impact grade. If it doesn't feel massive and impossible to break don't buy it. Crappy 1/2 inch stuff will break with around a hundred and fifty lbs... good stuff closer to 200. Cheap 1/2 inch stuff is a good way to hurt yourself. Get adapters for 1/4 to 3/8, 3/8 to 1/2... going both ways. Also buy a 3/4 down to 1/2, for the super huge castle nut on the rear axle.

For extensions, get a bunch of them. You will want everything from tiny 1 inch, on up to a longer than a foot. Grab a few cheap 6 inchers in each size, so you can add and subtract in the road bag. Get two 3 inch, 1/2 inch drive extensions... you'll break these before the socket goes. 6 inchers will flex before the socket breaks, and then the head of the breaker bar goes caboom.

Get a breaker bar. Buy 2 (2) TWO... 1/2 inch drive breaker bars. These are the beasts that will get the suspension loosened up. If you work on it long enough you will break one. Go ahead and buy some heavy wall pipe that slips over the handle. 3 feet, is a good starting point. 6 feet will pull a car off the jack stands (be aware...) 8 feet and standing on it will shatter sockets. You do not EVER put a pipe on a ratchet that you care about... 1/2 inch drive craftsman ratchets will stand the abuse for the short term... but eventually explode and send guts shooting across the yard. (Then you go get a new one...)

I'm not a big fan of 3/8ths and 1/4 inch breaker bars, as bolts start breaking. Plus with a 6 point socket more often than not you don't have the throw to line up just right... a 12 point on one of these is asking for a rounded off head.

4 jack stands and a floor jack. Plus a pair of folding chocks if you carry them with you... or a few bricks to set by the parking spot. I like axle stands, 6 ton high lift ones. Don’t go cheap on these… you will eventually get scared by a jack stand when the car settles. Overdo it, and always bump, push and shove so it settles before you are under it… do not get under a car that is off the ground without jack stands under it.

Add a few pieces of one foot square thick plywood, or hardwood if you don't have a paved workspace. Go get a piece of scrap remnant carpet just wider than your shoulders, and "Long enough" I like one that covers from head to knee's so you can slide around a little. If you have a paved work space, get a creeper... they rock on cold nights and hot summer days. You also don't hunt all around for a tool you've been laying on so long you don't feel any more...

Get a couple cans of penetrating oil, a tub of anti-seize, a tub of high moly grease, and a GOOD grease gun. Get a tube of RTV, and a tube of permetex gasket maker. Get a gasket scraper, I use a razor blade (window scraper) style in a 1 dollar mini-holder that’s only available at the grocery store! Get and carry a few green scotchbrite pads in the bus. Buy a paint can full of carb dip/parts cleaner for soaking stuff, a basket is really nice. So is a parts cleaning brush, nylon bristles looks like a giant artists paint brush. Carb cleaner is great for cleaning greasy parts while on the move. Be environmentally responsible and use a solvent that is biodegradable when possible. Simple green is good stuff. Brake cleaner is good. You will spray brake drums to wet out the dust and flush it away. No air hoses, do NOT breath the dust. Handle brake shoes and pads by the edges, don’t get hands on them… and spray off the drums/rotors before putting them on so they are oil free. Same deal with clutches and flywheels.

Buy a torch that can use both Propane and Mapp gas. Propane is for doing soldering in the house, and mapp gas for working on the car. Heat + penetrating oil = frozen stuff that has rusted together comes apart.

Get a good set of feeler gauges. Something that doesn't come from harbor freight and aren't chinese. Machine shop grade is overkill for most stuff… until you get into engine work and then micrometers and other goodies come into play.

Buy LOTS and lots of screwdrivers. Get acquainted with the various size phillips heads, and slotted heads on screws. Using a #1 phillips on a #2 doesn't work well. Loose fitting ones in the slotted will turn that screw into a safety screw that you can tighten but not loosen. Whenever you see one on sale, buy the set. The BEST bar none screwdrivers are ancient snapon, with wood handles. They fit great, don't bend... and almost never round the screw head. If you see one, buy it… throw away the ones that don’t fit your hand or are poorly made. File the ends to fit the screw heads perfectly. Craftsmans lowest grade suck, everyone has them, everyone tries to use them… they suck. The magnetic one with a bunch of tips is nice to have in the bus. Buy one of those stubby cheesy ratcheting ones with a lot of tips too… sometimes they are perfect for a funky 10,000 tpi screw that’s a mile long.

Stubby screwdrivers are good for tight screws. Get ones that are super wide so you can get a good grip with your palm. The other ones good for tight screws are square shank screwdrivers that you can really lean on, and grab the shank with a wrench. Try tightening before loosening to break the rust loose. Hit them with oil... pray to the gods of speed... give offerings to the bus, etc.

Pliers. Pliers are for grabbing, not for loosening nuts or bolts. They are like longer fingers to reach where you can’t… or portable vices. You will want three needle nose minimum. Normal, long, and really long. Add in a few 90 degree ones and your in business. Get a few channel locks (water pump pliers) in various sizes. Do NOT go cheap on any slip joint plier. I have had more blood blisters and busted knuckles from crappy pliers than any other tool. My favorite are SK/FACOM… French. You can use a channel lock to pull cotter pins similar to the real tool, straighten out the legs, grab the loop and bend over against the castle nut… out they come. Don’t re-use cotter pins… they are a safety item.

Get a pair of side cutters. These are like little wire cutters, that will cut darn near anything. A dull pair are really nice for cotter pins. Sharp ones will go right through them though, and then you need a tiny drift pin to knock them out… oops!

Speaking of wire cutters, Klein makes REALLY nice electrical stuff. Their wire strippers and crimpers are top notch. You will need both. Get a combination one first, and then when you are up under the dash and trying to figure out how to crimp that wire that is in an impossible position, go get a dedicated crimper. You can get them at sears or lowes… their screwdrivers are up there in price, but don’t suck. Craftsmans cheapo ones suck…

Practice your electrical crimps. It is very straight forward, but you would be surprised at how many people that don’t know how to properly make a crimp joint. The rounded side covers the two rolls, the nub goes into the back. Crush it down and try to pull it out. Butt connectors get smashed on both sides, but don’t need to be crushed completely flat. Shrinking connectors are the cats meow… expensive, but they won’t corrode anytime soon. Shrink wrap is cool too, best way to shrink it is with a butane powered soldering iron with C shaped end about an inch wide. Shrink one side, shrink the other… done. No more melting your thumb nail, burning the insulation…

Hammers. Claw hammers don’t belong hammer on anything but nails. They can chip and chipping hammers are dangerous. Ball Peen are what you’ll be wailing with. Get a 1 ounce and a 4 ounce. The one ounce is not only a great joke for when a buddy wants a hammer… but you will love it for working under the dash and the tiny stuff that just needs a little tiny tap. Brass is excellent for the one ounce, no marks. The four and six ounce will do most tapping on non-suspension stuff. Then get one that’s 20-30 ounces for hitting suspension parts. A mini-sledge isn’t out of place for dislodging rusted on drums. A rubber mallet is essential for hitting aluminum and other alloy parts. Get a hack saw and a few broken broom sticks/shovel handles and make some wooden influencers. Set it where you want a non-damaging hit, and hit it without leaving a mark. (Safety glasses… splinters fly.)

Buy a set of chisels, and a set of punches. A six ounce ball peen will mushroom these if you put any swing into it… buy a file to keep them cleaned up. Files are essential to the tool box. A chain saw sharpening file, round rat tail, round bastard, and a few long and wide flat bastards or mill files will flatten out “machined” surfaces on new crappy parts, and true up slightly tweaked valve covers. I like single cut files… push, lift set back down and do it all over again. Do not drag a single cut backwards or it’ll dull the teeth. A file card is nice, but a set of picks will work if you only have a few files.

When you start getting into stuff that requires big blows, but no marks and scuffs… buy a set of brass drifts. They deform (on both ends) and leave no marks. You can use them and get away with a good bit of stuff that “should” require a hydraulic press to assemble and disassemble. A set of steel drifts that don’t taper come in handy too. Long grade 8 bolts work in a pinch…

Speaking of picks… when you buy a set you won’t know how you did without them. A straight pick helps out undoing plastic electrical connections. 90 degrees are excellent for working little springs loose, and cleaning up screw heads so the screwdriver fully seats! The little squiggles and funky shaped ones come in handy… it’s a eureka moment when you look at something and know which ones the perfect shape. They are great for getting little nuts started on threaded studs far away from reach. Slide the nut, washer on. Hold them high up on the handle, set the end of the pick on the stud and spin them on… otherwise you better be a contortionist!

Eventually you will need power tools of various sorts… electric drills, grinders, and cut off wheels. Don’t go rushing out and buying them straight away, as learning how to do without makes you come up with other ways to get something apart… and your first impact or air ratchet is a beautiful moment! A lot of guys with the goodies can do a lot of work in the shop, but when they break down in the field haven’t done it the “hard way” before.

Trays! Tins! Zip Lock Bags! Organize! The less mess you make, and the more stuff that stays in order the less time you spend pondering what you did, and where something is and the more time spent wrenching! Cut down those chromed spring socket racks so they are long enough for the sockets you keep on them. Get a rack for your wrenches, even if they no longer fit your tool box. When you use one, put it back. Get a magnetic tray and stick it to the car near where you are working, and put the fasteners on it, particularly if you are working in grass or on gravel. If you drop it, listen for the sound of it hitting the floor. Keep a magnet on a stick near by, and hunt it down NOW before you forget that you lost one…

The digital camera is a great invention for electric, vacuum, and general big projects. Take a picture from every angle possible, and “where does this go” is easily answered. The book won’t tell you for your year… if its new vacuum hose, the old bends won’t show. Wire takes a set, lay it out and see where it wants to go. The top side gets dirty, the front if its exposed to moving air. Insulation goes brown where it is near heat.


arwagne2 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
arwagne2 said...

How did you manage to fix the holes in the area in front of the windshield in those before, during, and after pictures? It looks fantastic...

Trenchant said...

Good article here. It sort of sums up what's really essential from the Idiot's Guide and adds some items from personal experience. A lit of essential items to bring on a road trip might be helpful to other readers as well.

'76 Bus - 1800cc Type 4 engine

RedShifty said...

My husband really loves your first post. He wants me to transcribe it onto his rear left panel.. i told him it's way too long but I plan to annotate and rephrase it a bit to fit ill post my final cut

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The VW Bus

The VW bus as a daily driver.
Forget... forever onward what you consider the definition of transportation.

You are about to journey down the path of enlightenment, and learn the curious nature and language of a mechanical being. The Volkswagen is a peculiar beast, fed a steady diet of oil and gasoline it will move slowly from place to place.

Buses mark their spot. They pee on you when you least expect it. Like a foreign customs agent, it takes time to figure out where they want the grease. They take a little tweak here and there, when something not quite right they tell you if you listen.

When you hop behind the wheel of a bus you've got the best seat, as you'll soon experience she's a low flying slow air plane. Flying high enough off the ground to do an oil change, swap master cylinders, and cv joints without jack stands. Head and tail winds effect speed over ground, your steering wheel at speed is more for yaw, in the end she goes where she wants, or doesn't.

Buy her quality parts, or she'll spit them back at you. Your bus is half truck and half home; sometimes a magic carpet to distant places… other times a squatter. Wandering down the road with a smile on her face, the grins and thumbs up from those on the same path make her day. If you wish to show off your wrenching skills, she'll humble you. Trust her, lover her... and she'll be one happy camper.

You've got to love her deep down or she'll leave you stranded, half the battle is the will to keep her on the road. If you don't think she will, she'll know it... scratch her rattles, lube her squeaks. Never forget she’s an aging mistress; her joints aren't what they once were... if its cold it takes a little bit longer to get motivated. One day you will too.

You've had your fair warning. Spend your time cuddling and she'll fire up when you need her, but if you've got other projects you've got to give an offering. When she humbles you, give a prayer to the gods of speed and give the bus in question a shot of oil. Mostly problems come from not driving her, buses get sad… some more than others, and if you don’t drive them they question your love. Miles are the VW anti-depressant.

Give her a pat on the dash and thank her for the trip at the end of the day.