Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Timing your Purchase

A friend of mine asked me about getting a VW bus this past week.  I thought I'd do a little post about what advice I gave.  T and I spent Saturday playing in the snow on Mt Hood, so I'll write a little about that too.

Spring in the Air, Snow on the Mountain
This has been one of the weirdest ski/snow seasons I can remember in the Pacific NorthWest.  We had virtually no ride-able snow until after the Winter Solstice.  SkiBowl wasn't officially open until well after New Years Eve (and they've been closed since the first weekend in April).  After a lame early and mid-season, the late season snow has really been coming on strong.  I'd seen that Timberline had been getting consistent snowfall last week, so after hosting a family friend from Australia and helicopter-parenting C to an 8:AM lacrosse game, T and I spent Saturday on the mountain.  The roads were wet from the steady rain, SkiBowl looked like late Spring and the Summit ski area looked like a spring meadow.  Our expectations for sliding were quite low.  As we ascended Timberline Highway, though, the rain slowly gave way to wintery-mix and then a steady snow.  The parking lots were nearly empty, but the falling snow wasn't sticking... to the asphalt.  It was definitely sticking to the slopes.

The smaller terrain parks on Thunder and Walt's Way had been taken down, leaving just the jumps.  So, while the high-fliers and hard-core terrain riders played on the big stuff fed by the Stormin' Norman lift, T and I had Thunder and Walt's Way to ourselves.  Neither of us had been on the snow much since his concussion, so it was really nice to just feel the snow under our feet and hang out together again.  As the day wore on, the snow got better, and the jumps less scary.  By the last run, we were both getting air (T doing tricks, me mid-air panicking) and sticking landings consistently.  It was a great day to play in the snow.

Pick One
As I mentioned at the start, I was asked about buying a VW camperbus.  I obviously love the idea.  There are 4 viable used models to choose from: splitty (T1), bay-window (T2-called "bays"), vanagon  (T3) and eurovan (T4, T5).  They all have their upsides and downsides.  Splitties look neat, but they are the most under-powered and probably the most rusty.  They can be very spendy as collector cars since they fell out of production in 1967.  Bays were sold from 1968-1979 in the US and were the most widely built/sold around the globe.  They were manufactured through 2013 in Brasil, making part availability unequaled.  Of the 4 styles, these are probably the least expensive.  The vanagon (1980-1990) is probably the most roomy, or at least it feels the most roomy, and is more powerful than most bays.  Called water-leakers by many, the early cooling systems are prone to rusting and failing.  Still, the Synchro (all-wheel-drive version) is really cool, and the camping portion of the vanagon is well done when compared to the bay (especially the early bays).  The Eurovan (T4 1990-2003, T5 2003-current) doesn't feel like you're driving a bus, but the interiors are very nice.  It could be the most reliable on the day of purchase, but also the most expensive to maintain, and it still feels like a standard mini-van behind the wheel.

When to Buy, When to Sell
Once you've chosen a target vehicle make/model, the next most important step is deciding when to buy it.  While this may not seem terribly important, it very much is.  You could considerably overpay if your timing is wrong.  I'm kind of a used-car market geek, trolling craigslist and eBay alot, and I've noticed distinct patterns.  We are entering the worst time of year to buy a car.  Car dealers hold "dad's and grad's" sales, so you'd think there would be excess inventory they are selling off.  In reality, there are lots of buyers in the market heading into Summer, and the car lots are trying to get those shoppers.  Who doesn't want a new-to-them car to play with all Summer?  Lesson to shopper: wait.  Wait until July when the price spike starts to pass.  As Summer wears on, prices drop until they bottom out in October.  By then, anyone who wants to get rid of a car before Winter is willing to take a loss rather than store it.  What remains after mid-October are cars held by sellers who think their car is worth more than it is, or very unusual cars which hold their value, but are only interesting to a niche market.  Over the Winter, the supply is thin so prices stay somewhat stable; not at late-Summer deal prices, but not as high as late-Spring either.  By March, prices start to climb again.  So, if you want to buy a bus, wait until the end of the Summer when the last guy who had that dream has decided he doesn't want to deal with it over the Winter.  Deal for you, and they found a new loyal owner.

That's it for today.  Sorry I didn't have any pictures of us playing in the snow.  We were too focused on enjoying the conditions to record how good it was.  Seriously, there's still snow in them thar hills.  Go play while you still can!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Spring Sprang Sprung

I played with the bus a little bit this past weekend.  I made some headway on a few things, but only really completed one thing, so I'll post about that today.

What's that Racket?
Now that the jalousie / jealous window in the sliding door has been rebuilt, I thought the noise in the bus would have been greatly improved.  It isn't.  Okay, well, it isn't as improved as I thought.  When I'm at idle at a stop light, the engine drops to around 900RPM.  At any speed, there's an harmonic vibration, but at 900, the helper-springs in the Riviera pop top really get going.  They bang against the scissor supports and make a terrible racket.  It sounds like "sprang-sprang-sprang...".

Silence the Din
muffling the noise-maker
Now, I could remove the springs.  That would make the pop top much harder to lift.  The pop top has 6 springs, though only 2 are easily visible.  The other four are way up near the top, but still on the outside of the scissor supports.  There are no springs on the front or rear.  They are all just less than 1" in diameter and just less than 2' long when the top is up (and springs at their shortest length).  I've seen pictures of pop tops where the spring over the slider door had a cover that looked like it was made of cloth, which got me thinking about other options.

It was a beautiful Spring day and Boo had been spending the afternoon waging
slight bowing over drip rail
 a war on the dandelions in our yard while I clowned around in the garage.  About the time I was considering the springs she realized she needed some grass seed for the holes she was making, so we headed for Home Depot.  She headed for the lawn/garden stuff and I had this spring-silencer idea and headed for pipe insulation.  I got 2 6' lengths of the cheapest pipe-insulation they had for 1" pipe, costing about $2.25.  I figured I could cut them into 2-foot lengths and wrap the springs so they wouldn't make that racket any more.  I simply cut them into thirds, and slit their lengths so they could slide on.  I quickly had a muffler for each spring.  They installed in a couple minutes, and very effectively stopped the noise.  I didn't have the time to make a full test drive, but simply idling the engine in the driveway was much quieter.

The one drawback I've noticed is that the pop top doesn't sit as cleanly between the drip rails as it used to.  I may experiment with removing the covers on the the lower springs to see if the loss of noise reduction is made up for by the top sitting properly.

That's it for today.  Thanks for following along-

Monday, April 7, 2014

Film at Eleven

With the start of April comes the Pacific NorthWest's faux-Summer.  We're really experiencing that now, with mid 70's temperatures, clear blue skies and bright smiles on everyone's face.  In an ironic contrast, I spent Sunday afternoon in my sun-blasted garage solving the water-block problem both under the belly-pan and in the passenger door.  I'll hit that today.

Plastic Fantastic
from vw-resource.com
First, I need to give credit where due.  I stumbled upon this website while trying to figure out a viable way of keeping the water that makes it past the window seals from damaging the new inner door panels / cards.  The old plastic was pulled out, and the cards were destroyed.  The guys at the vw-resource web site had a great suggestion for using BlueTak on their page dedicated to the doors.  In my last post, I mentioned that I bought some of the 3M stuff that was basically the same.  I borrowed their picture on the right here.  The 3M stuff is white, so it doesn't show up as well in pictures.  I posted one here anyway.

trash-liner door-liner
Note how much less I used (I relatively uniformly used around 1/4" thickness).  That became an issue when I tried to hang visqueen.  The plastic sheeting that you get in most home remodeling shops is too slickery, and won't stick easily.  Instead, I considered what was originally in there: a very thin film.  I grabbed a kitchen garbage bag, and hung it on there instead, aligning the bag bottom with the door top and one edge against the front edge of the door .  Because of the static electricity built up in the bag, it immediately clung to the steel, making the pressing into the 3M stuff much easier.  I cut the bag in half along the front / leading edge of the door, and folded it back against the rest of the door.  Some simple trimming later, and the door is sealed.  Like the vw-resource guys, I poked holes where the rubber bits will be going and made sure to run loops of sticky-stuff around those holes.  Be sure to run loops of the sticky-stuff around the holes for the window winder, door pull and the latch.  One other thing to note, I didn't run the plastic to the very bottom of the door; only to the very bottom of the hole in the door and then put multiple runs of sticky stuff along the bottom.  Remember, the whole idea is to keep inside the water that's inside the door, so it runs out the bottom.

Bag in the Pan
exposed electricals. 3M sticky
After such a simple success with the door, I slid under the front of the bus and pulled the belly pan off. My drive-by-wire electronics are under there.  This has been a source of concern any time I go for a drive when the pavement isn't dry.  While it is really just a simple resistor attached at one end to the pedal and the other to a wiring pigtail, its still an expensive replacement.  If it got wet, it would fry, and I'd need to replace it.  As I write this, I realize that there aren't any fuses in the wires either, so if something shorted out, there could be ECU troubles.  Anyway,  in looking at the exposed electronics, I noted so many openings where water could get through: from the rear where all the controls go through, over either side of the main frame members, etc.  Yikes.

same view, but bagged now
I had thought of plastic-sheeting the entire area, but that would have been nearly impossible.  Instead, I figured I could just "bag" the electronics by running a circle of sticky along the bottom of the floor and sticking another kitchen trash-liner against it.  It totally worked.  It has a small hole for the pigtail, but otherwise, its protected from water.  Once the rainy season returns for May and June (like it always does), the bus will be road-capable.

That's it for today.  I spent Saturday watching C play in 3 lacrosse games, starting the Spring sports season.  We hoped to hit Mt. Hood on Sunday, but it was raining up there, trashing those hopes.  I'm starting to believe that the Ski Bowl season is about over, between that rain and today's warm temperatures.  I've heard it will hit the mid 70's through next weekend.  So, after an unimpressive snow season, our Spring conditions appear to be disappearing.  Time to plan camping season instead!  Thanks for following along-

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Thinking while Dinking

I unexpectedly had Sunday available to putter on the bus.  Boo was supposed to work, but suddenly didn't have a shift.  So, after a visit to the gym (I really need to do that more), I opened the garage door, turned on some tunes and pondered the bus.  Sometimes, you need to just be with your project to have an epiphany.  I had a flash of brilliance that (hopefully) could solve the wet-weather challenges for good.

Cutting Cards
I decided that a free afternoon shouldn't count in my build versus buy math since the afternoon was free.  So, I pulled out the Dremel and cut another door card.  Okay, back up.  First, I took the first door card I did and started trying to hang it on the passenger door.  I found little things that needed to get adjusted.  The grab handle holes weren't big enough.  Then the inner latch surround thing didn't fit.  Last, I realized that the holes for the door clips weren't there.  That was kinda fun, actually.  I took the ratty old door card and laid it on top of the new one.  I set those on top of a fresh piece of MDF.  Once lined up, I grabbed my drill with a 3/8" bit and bored straight through the door clip holes in the ratty door card into the new one and the MDF underneath.  Perfect.  I pulled the ratty card off the stack and traced the other holes and around the edge.  30 minutes with the Dremel later, I had a duplicate of the new card.

I still need to do a little sanding around the edges to make it a really nice fit.  The holes line up well and the grab handle, window winder and inner latch all mount correctly now.  Its just a little 100%-ing around the edges.

Hanging the Plastic Curtain
Originally, the early VW's had a "vapor barrier" between the door card and the steel door.  This was because no matter how good your seals were, water would seep inside the door, and could slowly rot the MDF/cardboard cards.  Most VW's have had these plastic sheets ripped out by stereo installers or confused mechanics, and their door cards have accordingly suffered.  I have tried a few different things over the years to get a plastic sheet to stay in place, but spray adhesives, contact cement and gorilla glue don't work.  Or they work too well.  Ultimately, I've just driven around without door cards while waiting for the answer to appear.  I found a posting on a website where a guy used that blue poster tack stuff (called BlueTac), and said it worked great.  I'll be trying it myself: a thin line of that sticky stuff all along the edge, taking care to avoid the door card mounting holes.  It occurred to me that this might be the solution I've been looking for with the belly pan too.

The belly pan, if you don't remember, is really a mechanical protection against rocks and such.  I've been trying to also use it as a splash-guard to keep the pedal electronics dry.  I'm going to try using the BlueTac solution with a sheet of plastic.  Figure, if I can protect a door card, I should be able to protect the electronics the same way: simple sheet of plastic held in-place with BlueTac.  I should also be able to cover the uppers, making the small sub-floor water-safe.  Neat.

That's it for today.  I bought some 3M-verson of BlueTac at Office Depot yesterday so I'll try the plastic thing this week.  Until then, here's another picture from the door card development effort.
3/8" drill bit fits perfectly in the mounting holes