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?