Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Vanagon Realities in Watercolor Animation

Not posting too much these days, but had to share this beautiful snapshot of Vanagon life. Stop-motion animation using watercolor stills. Gorgeous!

Van Life from Parachute Parachute on Vimeo.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Back on the Road

Ruby the Vanagon was out of commission for most of the summer. We experienced catastrophic transaxle failure just outside of Portland, ME and had the van towed up to FAS in Harpswell while we figured out what to do.  It didn't take long to conclude that Ruby was a keeper, and that she was worth the continued investments.

On the road with the boys
The first step was dealing with the transmission. We wanted to get the van up and running again, but we weren't prepared to shell out the minimum of $2500-$2800 (but almost certainly more with unavoidable ancillary extras and related labor) for a fully rebuilt transaxle from FAS. We went with the much cheaper, but more risky, route of sourcing a used transaxle to drop in. My local Vanagon expert mechanic, Greg at Greg's Repair Service in Natick, happened to have a good used transaxle from one of his very own vans that he assured me was in excellent, smooth-shifting condition. I took his word and drove back up to FAS in Maine with the used tranny. Between the combined cost of the used transaxle and the labor and extra parts needed to install it, we spent less than half of what it would have cost to have a fully rebuilt transaxle installed. I feel good about the decision right now, but if this transaxle fails after 500 miles, I'll surely regret not spending the extra cash on the rebuilt trans. So far, so good.

While the van was in the talented hands of Jon and crew at FAS, we decided to have them also take care of our most concerning safety issue. Every Vanagon owner probably has a long list of things that could be done, should be done, or need to be done, and we felt our deteriorating braking power fell into that last category. The work required an overhaul of both front and rear brakes: new brake lines, hoses, cylinders, front calipers, front rotors, rear shoes, rear drums, and parking brake cable. Whew. Costly, yes, but the difference in stopping power is wonderful. I can't feel bad about spending that money, especially with the little toddler joining us on the road these days. The guys at FAS also addressed some leaky seals (valve cover gasket, oil breather tower). No more oil drips!

With all the searching—of the soul and parts varietiesand repairs, we unfortunately didn't get to use the Vanagon all that much this summer, but it's great to have her back in excellent running condition. She's part of the family for the foreseeable future, and the money we recently dropped is great motivation to plan some trips. Jay Peak overnights perhaps?

Monday, July 29, 2013

Major Problems in Maine

towing vanagon
Last weekend we loaded the family into Ruby the Vanagon and headed up the coast for a few days in Maine. We enjoyed a beautiful weekend in Camden exploring the farmer's markets, artist's markets, and coastal waters. In that blistering summer heat, Parker would have swum for two days straight if we'd let him.

Ruby was cruising along and shifting wonderfully throughout the return trip on Sunday afternoon. As we approached Portland the traffic slowed and I pressed the clutch to downshift. To my great surprise and disappointment, I was unable to shift into third. Damn. I tried to put it back into fourth. Nope. How about second? Barely. So in second gear I limped off I-295 S into downtown Portland.

We definitely weren't going to make it back to Boston in second gear, so we had the Vanagon towed 35 miles north to Foreign Auto & Supply, Inc. in seaside Harpswell, Maine. Fortunately these guys are some of the best Vanagon specialists in the business, so Ruby is in good hands.

FAS, Inc. Harpswell ,Maine
The next day FAS called to deliver the news. The shifting problems weren't simply caused by a bad linkage or low gear oil as I'd hoped. Ruby has a failed transmission. We're now facing a very expensive repair bill and some serious decision-making. Ruby's fate is unknown...