The Fan

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The following topics related to the VW fan are discussed in this article -

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General Description of the Fan
and Related Components

Paraphrased from John Muir* -

The Volkswagen engine is air-cooled, which means that the heat of combustion in the cylinders and heads is carried away by the flow of air. The cylinders and heads are cast with fins to aid in the removal of heat. A centrifugal blower (usually referred to as a fan) is provided to force air down through the spaces between the fins to carry the heat to the atmosphere. The entire engine is shrouded by sheet metal (usually called the engine tin) to hold the flowing air to the most efficient path. The fan is attached to the front (front) of the generator or alternator and is driven (along with the generator or alternator) by a belt from the crankshaft pulley. The fan is encased in a fan housing (often referred to as the fan shroud) which is attached to the engine tin to make an air-tight assembly.

The cooling air is drawn from the outside through slots in the car's body under the rear window (and, in later models, through slots in the engine lid) by the suction of the fan in the front (front) of the fan shroud. From there the air is blown primarily down through the cylinders but also (in cold weather) through nozzles on the sides of the fan shroud, through the heater boxes and to the front of the car to provide warmth in the winter.

Also in the fan housing, bolted to the top of the crankcase with appropriate seals, is an oil cooler which stands up in the stream of air like a radiator and cools the oil which is pumped through it. In later models the oil cooler is located just forward of the main body of the fan housing, with the housing tin molded around it. The fan housing for such models is referred to as a doghouse housing.

*How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive -- A Manual of Step-by-Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot, 1976 Edition, page 14.

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Note: Air flow for the non-doghouse 1300/1500/1600cc engines is 20 cubic feet per second at 4000 rpm. The doghouse cooling fan is wider and blows around 25cf/sec @ 4000rpm, which is why cars with this cooling set-up NEED a slotted engine lid - the slots under the rear window are simply not large enough to provide the doghouse fan running with enough air at higher speeds.

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The Fan as Part of the Cooling System

Again, don't lose sight of the fact that your Bug is AIRCOOLED. The fan is the prime mover in the car's cooling system, as described above.

We received a question regarding fan size vis-a-vis the dognouse oil cooler (and the capacity of the system as a function of fan size -

Could an earlier non doghouse fan cause an engine to run hotter when installed in a later doghouse shroud? The earlier fan is 32mm and the later fan is 35mm.

Here's Rob's response -

The short answer is yes. The narrow (non-doghouse) fan will leak air all over the place when inside the doghouse shroud as it will have too big a gap around the edge of the fan opening in the shroud.

The fan produces a positive pressure of about 5psi inside the shroud, so any excessive gap at the edge of the fan means the air inside the shroud will leak out the gap, and straight back into the fan, rather than forcing it all down through the engine cooling fins.

And since the oil cooler air supply comes off the fan right at that same edge of the fan opening (a narrow slot on the opposite side to the doghouse with a duct under the fan opening to take the air across to the doghouse), almost no air will be getting to the doghouse and the oil cooler, so the oil (and therefore engine) temperature will be higher than it should be.

In summary -

  1. Less air than it needs altogether (22cf/sec vs 25cf/sec for the proper doghouse fan).
  2. Very little cooling air going to the oil cooler.
  3. A lot of leaking/recirculating cooling air due to the wide gap (about 4mm instead of 1mm) between fan and shroud at the lip of the fan shroud opening.

Regarding the gap between the rim of the fan and the shroud, Rob wrote -

Put your hand into the fan opening in the front of the fan shroud (engine OFF please!), and see if there is a gap between the rim of the fan, and the shroud. It should be no problem feeling over the top of the shroud above the alternator and feeling the opening lip of the shroud and the fan rim just inside it. There should be only a tiny gap between the two if the fan and alternator attachment plate are correct.

If the fan is the older type there would be a bigger gap as it is 5mm narrower than the later type. I doubt this is the problem with the alternator clearance, but since it's a one-minute job it's certainly worth checking. If you have the wrong fan you would be loosing cooling air.

When you remove the engine, looking at the fan will show instantly if it's the right one and correctly mounted. It should completely fill the fan shroud opening, with almost no gap all the way around between fan rim and shroud (2-3mm) - enough to get a fingernail between, but not much more than that. A gap of 5mm or more and I'd suspect that the fan was the wrong one (though I think this is highly unlikely).

Dave reported - I checked the clearance between the fan and the housing -- it is indeed five mm. Obviously the PO installed the fan designed for use with the alternator in the '71 housing.

Rob responded - If the gap is that big my fear is that you have the thinner non-doghouse fan inside the doghouse shroud. It's obviously working, as you've taken the car on a couple of long trips, but if I am correct, then it may run a little short on cooling in hot weather when under load. The later wider fan pumps out roughly 10% extra air to allow for dumping the oil cooler air overboard, whilst still maintaining the same or better airflow and pressure to the heads/cylinders. Since the oil cooler air channels in the shroud are at the front of the shroud (closest to the main air inlet), the oil cooler may be getting a little less air than it would like.

The older thinner fan and the newer wider one are completely interchanagable on the shaft, but each has its own width of shroud to suit the width of the fan. The doghouse fan probably would not fit in the older shrouds without binding, but the old fan will certainly fit in the newer doghouse shroud, but with a leaky gap around it (and less air volume too, of course).

Using a smaller fan may not cause any real problems -- the doghouse fan is enough to cool two-liter Type 4 engines installed in Beetles, so the smaller fan must have a slight over capacity for it's usual engines too.

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Fan Removal

We received a question about the best way to remove the fan from the alternator -- that is, to loosen the big nut on the forward end of the alternator shaft. Some say an impact wrench is necessary; others say you can put the pulley in a vise (padded with an old drive belt) and then remove the nut with a 1-13/16" socket.

John Connolly (Aircooled.Net) responded - You need an impact driver. Those guys that use a vice are also the ones that have gone throgh five fans in three years. If you don't have an impact driver, take a 6-pack to the local garage. It's a 3-minute job (don't forget a 10mm socket and ratchet to get the backing plates off).

Dave found that the following method worked well -

Take a big block of wood and drill a shallow hole in it just larger than the pulley nut, then place the alternator/fan assembly down on the block, pulley end down, nut in the hole, so that it's resting on the pulley rather than the nut. Then, go after the fan nut on the other end with the impact driver. As long as the pulley is on tight and the shaft is upright so the pressure is even around the rim, you won't damage the pulley. It certainly is easier to strike downwards rather than sideways, and at the same time prevent marking the end of the alternator shaft on a concrete floor.

Regarding re-installation. When putting the fan nut back on it will be possible to hold the alternator shaft with a wrench on the pulley nut. The torque specification for the fan nut is 40 ft-lbs -- not excessively tight. You have to use the impact driver to remove the nut simply because it's difficult to keep the shaft from turning when trying to remove the nut (counterclockwise). And then too, the nut would tend to freeze over time anyway, so it may take a bigger whack to loosen than the bare 40 ft-lbs.

Anyway, holding the pulley nut with a 19-mm wrench while tightening the fan nut will torque both nuts to 40 ft-lb. Then, of course, once the whole assembly is reinstalled in the car, the pulley nut must be removed to get the fan belt on. (See our Fanbelt Replacement Procedure.

Rob provided some further insight - I haven't needed to do this job, but I think "loading" the pulley end of the shaft by gripping it in a vice would not do it any good at all when the other end is torqued to 40 ft-lbs. I suppose that with an impact driver you'd only need to get someone strong to wrap a towel round the pulley and hold it, whilst the second person gives the impact driver a good whack or two. Inertia of the fan and alternator should make it easy enough to loosen.

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Fan Cleaning

Dave recorded the following experience regarding fan cleaning - I successfully took my fan/alternator assembly apart, thanks to my new handy-dandy impact driver. Piece of cake. It had obviously never been taken apart before -- it was FILTHY in there! I took the fan assembly all apart and gave all the parts a thorough cleaning, then a fresh coat of paint. Then I installed the fan and associated bits on the beautiful new alternator.

 

Cleaned and Painted Fan

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Fan Replacement

Regarding recommendations that Dave replace the fan, Rob wrote - I'm a little puzzled about the need to replace the fan. It spins to a max of about 8500rpm (4800 engine rpm), and I guess it could be damaged on a stock engine by overrevving the engine, but unless it's causing vibration, I would think it's still okay. Mine's done 248,000 miles without any problems at all. At Rob's suggestion Dave did not replace the fan, and has had no troubles (after initial problems).

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Alternator Vent

There is a vent on the alternator backing plate that attaches to the fan housing. This vent is used to cool the alternator/generator -- it sucks air through the alternator into the fan. So the main cooling fan does the alternator cooling job without the need for those little fans found on the outside of most alternators. On your alternator you'll see some slots just behind the pulley -- this is where the air enters.

High pressure air enters that heat and runs through the alternator or generator to cool it. The vent, which is on the edge of the backing plate, MUST GO DOWN to cool the alternator. You can point this feature out to anyone that has their unit mounted 90 degrees off (there are a lot of them).

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Fan Shroud Alignment

Dave wrote - Regarding the engine tin that sticks up around the base of the fan housing on either side: Not remembering whether the housing goes inside or outside of this vertical tin, I did a little research in the Haynes Manual and found a picture that clearly shows the vertical engine tin on the outside of the fan housing.

While putting on the fan belt I discovered that the fan is rubbing slightly on the inside of the fan housing. It definitely was not rubbing while the assembly was on the workbench -- I don't know why its decided to do so now.

Rob responded - Rubbing on the front or rear of the fan? Are there supposed to be any spacers between fan and alt backing plate or something? Tension on the fan belt pulling the alternator shaft slightly rearwards perhaps? Slightly possible that you put the belt on too tightly. Remotely possible that you didn't center the outer fan cover exactly right, though there isn't much play there -- those holes act as positioning holes for the fan/alternator. One possibility -- you might be able to lift or push the shroud down just a tiny amount on the two outer fixing screws, leaving the fan backing plate firmly bolted. The shroud might be "bending" fractionally, enough to rub.

Dave reported - I took off the piece-of-junk alternator strap I got from XYZ (broken already) and just lifted up a bit on the alternator -- end of the rubbing fan. When held down tightly to the stand, however, it does rub. Strange. I wonder if there is something under the fan housing that is keeping it from seating all the way down, because the alternator won't fit snugly down on the stand -- a "high shroud" problem. And that's exactly what it turned out to be. I just loosened the two side bolts on the shroud and pushed it down firmly, then strapped the alternator in place, tightened up the bolts, and it spins freely!

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Cooling Vane Connecting rod

When reinstalling the fan shroud Dave had trouble with the cooling vane connecting rod -- it wouldn't clear the doghouse oil cooler. Rob wrote that it was designed that way. The connecting rod has appropriate jigs and jogs in it to get around the oil cooler and things. It all has to go together in the proper sequence, but it all fits together very nicely.

 

Cooling Vane Connecting rod Attached to the Cooling Vanes

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Alternator Pedestal

When Dave's son bought his '73 Super Beetle, there was a circumferential crack all the way around the alternator pedestal, through which oil would pour whenever oil was added to the crankcase. Dave went through two "pot-metal" pedestals before resolving this problem. Dave's mechanic said the he had "never heard of a failure like this...never." Rob's mechanic told him that the cheap ones don't last very long. Dave was delighted to find an original VW alternator stand at Russ' Recycling in Duarte, California, and he has had no trouble since.

For further discussion regarding the alternator pedestal, see our article devoted entirely to the Alternator Pedestal.

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Pulley Spacing

Dave encountered a very strange problem with the forward half of the alternator pulley rubbing against the alternator. He found that a spacer of some sort is needed between the front pulley half and the alternator, otherwise the pulley will rub against the alternator as it rotates. Rob was skeptical and said that such a spacer really shouldn't be needed. If it IS needed, the question is why? Incorrect pulley wheel (using a 6-volt one perhaps), or is the pulley distorted? It should be close to, but not rubbing, on the alternator. The various VW catalogues, which have quite clear pictures, do not show any washer between alternator/generator and front pulley half. The pulleys aren't expensive, and perhaps a new one will fix the problem in a flash.

And indeed it did. Dave discovered that not all alternator pulleys are created equal! He went through three, all ostensibly designed for Dave's situation -- but only one had a lip shallow enough to miss the rear part of the alternator while spinning. See our article on the Alternator Pulley.

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Pulley Nut

Dave wrote - Dave had a little trouble with the pulley nut. He tried putting the extra shims under the nut, but then he couldn't get the nut on. Rob reported that he has usually found it a bit difficult to start the nut, as the slack belt tends to fall into the center of the pulley halves. But once the nut is started and tightened a few turns, Rob turns the pulley by using a screw driver in the slots in the front half, and the belt climbs out of the valley to it's proper place so the nut can be tightened. An alternate method would be to just keep turning the nut so it tightens a bit, then pulls the engine around to the next compression (has to be in neutral of course), and the belt climbs higher at the same time, then the nut tightens some more, and so forth. Once the nut is snug, use the screw driver in the slot to hold the pulley while the nut is fully tightened. It's a bit of a fiddle, but not really difficult.

Make sure that the fat pressure washer is immediately under the nut. The genuine article is about 1/8" thick "plain" washer with a slight dish in the middle and flat rim, so the nut presses on the raised dish and applies pressure to the rim of the shim stack. I think it also has a "flat" in the hole so it won't rotate.

Dave had a split washer on his alternator shaft, and he had a very difficult time getting the nut started with the washer on. He could hardly get it started with the washer OFF! Apparently a PO had put in the extra split washer. Such a washer is definitely not needed -- the design of the thrust washer prevents the nut from undoing, and the direction of spin tends to do it up anyway.

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Fan Belt Size/Tightness

Someone wrote wondering whether it is possible to over tighten the fan belt. He said that his deflects less than half an inch, with all the shims inside. The guy couldn't seem to find a belt that fits just right --either too loose or too tight.

Rob responded - Yes, you can have a belt too tight, and this puts extra strain on the generator bearing nearest the fan belt. You can use either 900mm or 905mm belts, but they must be the correct narrow type of belt -- one that is too fat will not ride in the pulleys correctly.

Someone wrote that he doesn't ANY shims between the two pulley halves, as the belt is just right without them. Rob said that seems a little short. It should have at least 3-4 shims for a 905mm belt, and maybe 5-6 for a 900mm belt. Shims are removed from between the pulley halves to tighten the belt as it wears. The Beetle normally comes with about 10 shims altogether, and of course ALL shims should be on the generator axle, either between the pulley halves or under the nut, so the stack remains the same depth and the lock washer and nut fit correctly.

Dave said that the replacement belt he had (and most likely the one that was on the car as well) was 920mm in length. Rob said it would be much better to find a 905mm belt -- with the longer belt you have to make it climb right up to the top of the pulley to get it tight.

"Speedy" Jim wrote to ask - Are you aware that the alternator belt is different from the generator belt? The alternator fan belt is supposed to be 912mm, versus 905mm for the generator. This is because the 912mm alternator belt is 11.3mm wide whereas the 905 generator belt is 10mm wide.

Rob elaborated - That means the longer wider belt will ride in the same place in the alternator pulley (with an extra shim or two) as the shorter thinner belt, but it will be stronger for the bigger doghouse fan and the higher output alternator.

The fan belt works quite hard for such a thin one and it's been the same from '49 to '72. The 36hp engine had 24 blades on the fan and 160 watt generator. The 40hp and 1300/1500/1600cc single-port engines had 28 blades and during that time the generator output rose from 160 watts to 360 watts. The difference between DIN and SAE hp ratings indicates roughly 4hp on the fan belt on early engines to about 5hp on the 1500/1600cc single-port engines. The doghouse fan is about 10% bigger (it's 5mm wider) so will absorb maybe 5.5hp ('71 and '72). Then add 1/3 hp for the extra alternator output (220 watts extra) ('73 up) and you have close to 6hp driven by the belt.

VW found that the thinner belt was breaking more often or wearing too fast on the doghouse/generator models ('71, '72) and so when they introduced the alternator they thought they'd better have a bigger belt. The 912mm belt is about 10% bigger than the old one, and the longer fatter belt would also result in a greater side area to the belt - it's the sides which grab the pulleys. So the bottom line -- the shorter, thinner belt on an alternator will work OK, but it probably won't last as long as otherwise.

Regarding belt tension adjustment -- more shims inside for a shorter (newer) belt, and less shims for a longer (worn) belt. Dave was surprised to find six shims between the pulley halves, which he thought perhaps could be making the gap between the pulley halves too wide and the belt too loose and perhaps slipping. Certainly a loose belt will slip a little - it runs about 5hp through it at high rpm to drive the fan, and that's a lot of load on a small belt, so it needs to be just tight enough, but not so tight it stresses the alternator/generator bearing.

The 905mm belt can't be had for love nor money in Australia - Bosch and the others only supply a 900 x 9.5mm belt, which I have found buries itself so far into the pulleys it almost touches the shims in the generator pulley. The 900mm belt works okay - it just doesn't look quite right. I'm sure I used to be able to buy the 905 x 10mm belts which would sit a little higher in the grooves, but none of the belt distributors or VW shops know of them.

Rob asked John Connolly (Aircooled.Net) - I have a generator Beetle which uses the 900mm or 905mm belt. In Australia, only the 9.5 x 900mm belt is available, but this belt sits VERY low inside the pulleys, almost touching the adjusting shims in my '71 dual-port engine. It just doesn't LOOK right (though it seems to work OK). I note that you have both 900 and 905s, and if I can't find the 905s here in Australia, I think I'll get some from you.

Question - can you confirm that the 10 x 905mm belt is likely to ride a little higher in the pulley grooves than the 9.5 x 900mm belt? And a further question - will the 11.3 x 912mmm alternator belt fit on the generator models too, or is the alternator engine pulley wider to take the wider belt? I've heard both sides - yes it fits; and no it needs the alternator engine pulley. My thought was that if the alternator belt fits the generator models, I'd use the wider stronger belt on my two generator VWs.

John Connolly responded - Yes, run the 11.3 X 912mm instead, it's just the ticket for you.

Rob responded - So there is no difference in the engine pulleys (generator, alternator models), then. I'm pleased to hear it -- I always thought that the thin/short belt was working very hard. It's a wonder it lasts as long as it does.

What John is essentially saying, if we're understanding correctly, is that the 11.3 x 912mm belt is applicable to virtually all Bugs. But one VW place in Australia said the alternator Bug engine pulley had a wider groove. Yet 11.3 x 912mm belts are unobtainable in Australia, so the presumption is that they are using the 9.5 x 900mm belts on all Bugs - which would mean a shorter life on a alternator Bug with it's bigger fan and alternator.

Dave installed a new 11.3 x 912mm fan belt on his '73 Super Beetle. With five shims between the pulley halves the belt was just a little tight. Rob recommended adding another. You can go up to 8 -- that's usually how many are in the stack.

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Spare Belt

The only absolutely essential spare you need to carry in any VW (besides the spare tyre and the means to change it) is a spare fan belt. Rob replaces the belt as soon as he sees it starting to crack -- usually about 50,000 miles -- and then keeps that one as the spare, (throwing out the previous used spare which has then been sitting in the front of the car for 3-4 years). He's only needed to use a spare once, but even that once is enough to make keeping it worthwhile. Even a cracked spare is better than no belt!

 

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