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...

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Vanagon Road Trip: West River Westies X, Bald Mountain Campground Townsend, VT. July 12-14

We made a last-minute decision to jump in the Vanagon and head north to Townsend, VT for the 10th annual West River Westies gathering at Bald Mountain Campground.  We rolled in on Saturday afternoon and were clearly among the very last to arrive. After circling the campground's Westfalia acreage a few times, we settled down next to some kind neighbors from New York on one side, and Maine and Vermont on the other. Coincidentally, we were also parked next to this very same NY Vanagon at the 2011 Transporterfest in Brookline. It's a small VW world.

The weekend was a bit rainy and the weather may have dampened our pop-top tents but it certainly didn't dampen any spirits. There was record-setting attendance at this gathering of over 60 Buses and Vanagons, with the award for oldest going to a 1962 split window, gloriously rusty.

The vehicles were of every color and variety, old school and new school, some original to the smallest detail and others wildly updated with modern looks and comforts. "Young" and old, the vans were accompanied by an equally diverse bunch of VW-loving owners. Jacob even found some new toddler buddies.  

Summer Dreams of Vanagon AC

At this time of year my thoughts always turn to air conditioning in the Vanagon. Not too long ago we completed a 10,000 mile cross-country road trip in June and July without AC. We crossed badlands and farmlands, mountains and valleys, coasts and plains. We survived. We've traveled in the driest and dustiest of heats, and the most oppressively humid. It has always been part of the adventure and strangely, part of the charm.

I'm certain at one stage in its near-antique existence our late model '90 Multivan had a functioning AC system. We, unfortunately, have never experienced a cool blast of Freon-chilled air from the now dust-filled ceiling vents. Does our AC work? No. Could it work? Maybe. Will I ever try to fix it? Hopefully one day. I don't know exactly what's wrong, but I do know that it is pretty much guaranteed to be a costly fix.

Now that there's a toddler in the picture, our threshold for heat tolerance--both for our sake and his--is much lower. I don't think Jacob would have tolerated the sweaty hauls that we've endured and I wouldn't want to subject him to that misery.

I'm considering this mostly DIY Red Tek approach as detailed on the Samba:

  1. buy a new receiver drier & expansion valve 
  2. buy the R134a kit from van cafe (for the fittings, o-rings, and oil) 
  3. buy brake air line anti-freeze 
  4. buy Red-tek (5 cans) 
  5. buy Red-tek pro seal (1 can) 
  6. have system professionally evac'ed of R12 
  7. clean evaporator by blowing dust off 
  8. remove old receiver drier 
  9. remove mineral oil from compressor and lines (blow through) 
  10. use brake line anit-freeze and blow lines in both directions making sure to blow where receiver drier was connected as well. 
  11. install new receiver drier & expansion valve, and o-rings 
  12. remove old fittings on compressor and replace with new 
  13. evacuate lines (use cheapo harbor freight version) 
  14. add oil (2oz - low pressure side) 
  15. add some red tek (~ 5 oz low pressure side) 
  16. add pro-seal (low pressure side) 
  17. run a/c to get oil and pro-seal throughout the system 
  18. hook up gauge (low side) - the gauge I have fits between the a/c fittings on the compressor and the can of coolant 
  19. add remaining red tek (low pressure side) while compressor is running until the pressure is about 30psi (low side). Float cans of red tek in warm water to help get all the contents out. 
  20. check pressure: At idle - 30psi low side, 200psi high side. At 1500rpms – 25psi low side, 200psi high side.

Or, we could just forget about having AC while on the road and opt for the shore-powered window unit!