On July 21, we took the family out to Assateague Island (MD) on our first major camping trip in the bus. Previously, we stuck to trips within our AAA towing range as we got to know our new addition. I also spent the first part of July taking care of some issues that popped up. Unfortunately, because this blog did not exist at the time, these issues were not documented photographically. While the issues mostly involved little stuff like adding missing cooling tin, seals, or correcting some minor PO hacks, we did have to replace the transmission.
The transmission was the most concerning component on the bus. One of two unknowns (the engine the other) at the time of purchase, it had repeatedly refused to go into 3rd gear (either up or down shifting) without some serious finagling. While the engine continued to run strong, the trans just remained temperamental and a little noisy. Hoping that it would last through the summer, I planned to drop it during the winter months, rebuild the nosecone and make sure the front linkage bushing/shifter were good (rear bushings and coupling were replaced by PO). In a vain attempt to help it along, I purchase a gallon of gear oil with the intention of changing the trans oil. I had the perfect weekend picked out for the job. On July 3rd, we’d be heading up to Leesburg (about an hour away) for a beer festival. Not only would this trip provide nice warm trans oil to drain when we got home, but we would come home minus the kids as they were staying with Martha’s parents. I’d have a whole afternoon to get the work done without interruption!
During the trip up to Leesburg, the transmission behaved as usual but it wasn’t happy in the 35-45 mph range. The ride at that speed was not smooth but rather consisted of surges. I had only noticed this particular issue before when driving through the historical sections of Fredericksburg and Winchester at very slow speeds. Luckily, the slower country roads were only a small portion of the trip and the bus ran strong on the remaining highways. In the back of my mind was our upcoming trip to Assateague; a 4-hour trip that made me a bit nervous. I told myself it still would not be impossible to get back home if we had an issue and hoped some new oil might breathe some life into the trans – hey I’ve heard it worked for others:)
The trip home from Leesburg went without a hitch, the bus ran great on the highways and when we turned onto the country roads, the surging didn’t seem as bad was it was that morning. About 20 minutes from home, the gear shift popped out of 4th gear without warning, noise, or change in driving. Reaching over, I shifted back into 4th only to find it would not stay there. Crap!! Well, at least we weren’t on our way to Assateague and were pretty close to home! I managed to drive another 10 min holding the shifter in 4th gear and the bus drove just fine. At the 10 min mark, I needed to make a left turn and ended up stopping for oncoming traffic. I made the turn, shifted easily through 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and then into 4th. Wow, it wasn’t popping out of 4th! For the next 5 minutes we drove along just fine….. until we needed to make a right turn. As I slowed down, I found I could not shift out of 4th; it was locked up!
The people standing in their front yard around the corner looked up as we turned at a snail’s pace and ever so slowly crept down the road. Stuck in 4th, I could not gain speed easily and hoped to get over the hump in front of us and use the downhill beyond to get us back up to speed. Took a bit of clutch burning, but we got over the hump, down the hill and back up to speed. If we were on the major roads, instead of these country ones, I’m not sure we would have made it home. One red light and we’d be done! But at this point I knew we could get home and was very happy we took the leisurely route! When we came to our driveway, I realized I would have to slow down to a crawl to make the turn between our two brick pillars guarding the driveway. This would most likely prevent us from making it up the hill to our house. Slowing down, I tried to make the widest turn possible in order to maintain speed. As we passed the pillars, I started feathering the clutch in hopes of gaining some momentum for the hill, but it was not enough. We made it about ¾ of the way up the hill before running out of steam (keep in mind we have a very long driveway) and had to get the tow rope and a neighbor to help pull the bus into the garage. In true VW fashion, though hurting, our bus got us home! Standing in the garage looking at her, I reflected on the fact that she also saved me from wasting the new gear oil and provided a kids free afternoon for Martha and I to hang out!
Fortunately, I had a spare trans in the parts I (for some unknown reason) did not get rid of years ago and spent the next 2 weeks cleaning it up, swapping it with the broken one, and tackling all the small projects I mentioned at the beginning of this post. This was a great time to get to know the bus a bit better and learn about the dual kadrons that came with her. A lot of time was spent negotiating PO “solutions”. As I worked through it all, I began to feel these projects seemed more like a test than normal “fix it” projects. I’m sure the bus was determining my commitment to her and my knowledge of how to take care of her. I know this might sound odd, but anyone who has spent time with an old VW knows what I’m talking about. After lots of patience and improvements she ran great! The best she’s run since we got her (and with a week to spare before our big trip!!
To work out any remaining kinks, we headed out to a camping spot about an hour away. The only issue that came up was a broken driver’s side window regulator, but in the heat of summer I really didn’t mind the window stuck down.