Do You Care Enough!?

The following article by Lois Grace, “Volkswoman,”
appeared in VW Trends magazine.


Volkswagens are unusual creatures. They are very easy to work on, parts are relatively inexpensive, and if given the best of care they don’t ask for much. But when a prospective VW buyers asked me recently if I thought VWs were ‘low maintenance,’ I had to say no. Aircooled VWs are a lot of things: fun, reliable, cool, retro, cuddly. But they are not low maintenance. Those of us in this hobby already know the nuances of good VW care; doing regular tuneups and valve adjustments, frequent oil changes and a few other assorted things keeps them happy. To the new VW hobbyist, the ‘simple’ aircooled VWs might seem like an easy way to have fun while driving an older car. Nothing could be further from the truth, because nothing is less fun than finding yourself in a dead VW alongside some highway, which is what will happen to you if you think your VW can run forever with no attention! I know firsthand about vintage VW ownership and care because I learned the hard way.

My first big VW-care blunder happened many years ago when I drove my ‘59 Single Cabriolet home without a spare fan belt. The look on my Dad’s face when he heard what I’d done is still with me, 25 years later! He immediately opened up the car’s engine lid and stuck his head inside. When the belt had broken, I’d only been about a half mile from home and all I could think of was what Dad would say if I walked home and he had to go back and tow the car. I figured it was better to get the car home any way I could. Lesson to learn here: if your fan belt breaks, anywhere, do not keep driving! Walk 50 miles if you have to, but don’t drive! I know I did, but I was young and senseless and besides, I know better now.

My second big screw-up happened when my ‘69 Beetle Bogart was inexplicably getting 36 mpg. For months, whenever I accelerated, I’d get a puff of white smoke out the back. I noticed that a tank of gas lasted forever and my mileage went up and up and up. Of course who is going to complain about great mileage? I happily drove the poor Bug for months like this, bragging about my great mileage. The only thing that bothered me was that Bogie’s engine really stunk sometimes, it smelled like something burning. Even that didn’t wake me up. I had driven the poor car like that for nearly a year, when the alarm went off late one Sunday afternoon as my husband and I were driving the car home from the Sacramento Bug-O-Rama. Halfway up the steep incline of Altamont Pass, Bogie suddenly said ‘Pop!’ very loudly on the left side. Accompanying the pop was a burst of smoke and a very sudden loss of power. I pulled to the side and a quick test proved what we had been too dumb to worry about: a burned piston. We were 45 miles from home, on a steep grade and it was getting dark. There was nothing I could do but drive the car home on the remaining three cylinders. I sure felt stupid when I realized that I could have avoided this little exercise completely if I’d just checked and adjusted my valves regularly (not to mention taking a peek at the timing and carburetor adjustment!). One valve job and a partial rebuild later, I was a much wiser VW owner.

I think the thing that annoys me the most are the folks who abuse VWs and then gripe and complain when they break down! More than once I have had people tell me they’ve had a VW or two, and they go on to say, “It was the worst car I ever owned. I couldn’t wait to get rid of it.” Why do they blame the car for their own lack of care? If someone asks me what it’s like to take care of a VW, I always tell them the truth: you’d better like adjusting things, because older Volkswagens require frequent attention to detail in order to run their best. Learn to take care of your VW today, and it will take care of you tomorrow.

While an older VW can run seemingly forever at less than peak performance, don’t begrudge your Bug the care or service it deserves -- your kindness will be repaid 100 times over by reliable, faithful service.


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