A Breath of Fresh Air

It sits ignored inside your engine compartment. Your air cleaner is the lungs for the heart of your engine. Like all of the parts of your car, it needs maintenance, too.

Paper air filterForemost, your air cleaner filters the air entering your carburetor. This function is to prevent dirt and debris from clogging the fuel inside the carburetor.  When early model air cleaners are removed for service, it’s important not to tip or shake due to oil located in the lower section of the cleaner. I have found no reproduction of these cleaners available. So if you feel like keeping your VW old school many air cleaners are available from most VW used parts sellers.

VWs have two different types of air cleaners. The first is the original air cleaner that Volkswagen installed when your VW was built and the second is a after market cleaner.

Volkswagen made two types of air cleaners installed originally in your vehicle. One was an oil bath type cleaner and the second type takes a paper air filter.

Oil bath air cleanerCleaning a oil bath air cleaner will take you about an hour and you’ll only need to do a few steps.

Please note: I’m assuming that most of you do not have the thermostat control flap connected inside your engine so I have not included the disconnect in these directions.

  1. Remove the hose connected to the oil fill and if in good condition place to the side. If the hose need replaced just take it to any parts store to obtain a replacement. I prefer the rubber incased in a braided overcast to replace this hose. Also disconnect any warm air hoses if they apply to your setup.
  2. Loosen the large clamp located at the bottom of the cleaner at the top of the carburetor. Be sure to loosen these clamp as much as you can, the looser the better for removal.
  3. Gently lift the cleaner straight up off the carburetor. REMEMBER there is oil inside you don’t want to slope around.
  4. Set the cleaner bottom down on a table or clean shop towel.
  5. Using your fingers unclasp the fasteners located around the middle of the cleaner. This unfastens the top of the cleaner holding the air filter and bottom with the oil. Set the top of the cleaner aside it doesn’t need cleaning on the inside.
  6. Drain the used oil into a oil pan or a washed out milk jug. Used oil should ALWAYS be taken to a certified disposal location like Checker Auto Parts or County run land fill. NEVER dump any oil into your drains or on the ground.
  7. If the inside of the cleaner is not very dirty just wipe out with a clean lint free rag or paper towel to remove any debris and used oil. If the inside is really dirty (and most are) I use a little gas about a cup full to clean the inside. As with used oil do not dump the used gas onto the ground. You can just pour the used gas into the same container as the oil. Pour the gas into the bottom of the cleaner and using a paper towel or rag rub it around the inside then dispose of the gas. Once the gas is removed use clean water to rinse out cleaner ( this dirty water is OK to dump on the ground just not on plants or near pets).
  8. Refill the cleaner with a matching oil grade that’s matches the type in your engine.  Fill with oil to the red mark inside the cleaner.
  9. Reinstall the top of the cleaner to the bottom making sure to that you refasten the clamps around the middle of the cleaner.
  10. Wipe the outside you the cleaner with a clean rag or paper towel.
  11. Reverse steps 1 through 3.
  12. You’re done!

For a paper filter air cleaner you do not need to remove the cleaner from the car.

If you have an after market cleaner just remove the screw or clamp at the top of the cleaner and replace the filter and refasten. For original VW paper filter cleaners, just undo the clamps, remove the old filter, install the new one, and reclamp. Depending on the year of your VW, the size varies, so please consult your VW mechanic or parts supplier.

If you don’t feel comfortable servicing your own cleaner don’t hesitate to ask your VW mechanic to do it as part of a oil change or tune up service. The cost will give you peace of mind. Depending on how much you drive your VW these service should be performed one or twice a year.

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What Not To Do: Driving/Towing on Flat Tires

You’re stuck somewhere with a flat tire, you don’t have a spare – if you’re an old VW owner, it has happened at some point – and don’t feel like calling for an overpriced towing service. We understand.

Do it anyway. Or at least, if you tow it with its tires on the ground, know that you’re going to have to buy new rims in addition to the tires. No vehicle likes doing this, but old VW rims just aren’t made to take that kind of punishment. Case in point: we took a few photos of what a VW rim looks like after twenty miles of driving on a flat.

After photo of a rim that was driven on

Well, we took a photo of what was left. Remember, this was a whole rim before the towing. We’d need to take a photo of the highway to show you the rest…

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Checking Your Wires

The little clips that hold all of your vehicle’s wires together aren’t perfect – far from it. They do get loose sometimes, and you should inspect the car at the first sign of trouble. The good news is that it’s usually pretty easy to plug it back in again.

One customer we had had their choke wire come off without their knowing. The choke is a plate the covers the air intake in your carburetor when you first start the car. It gives your engine a big bunch of gas to start the car, then eases off for a normal running mixture of air and gas.

Our customer kept pumping the gas, since the car was running rough, which flooded the engine with too much gas. Eventually, so much gas was in their engine, it leaked into the oil system, ruined the oil, and fouled up the spark plugs.

Once the problem was discovered it took three oil changes to remove all the gas from the engine and two sets of sparks plugs before the bug ran correctly.

Close-up of the choke wire on a VW
Click for a more detailed image.

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Fuel Filter Follies

How often do you think about your fuel filter? At oil change time? At tune-up time? Never? Well unfortunately, most VW owners never think twice about one of the most important maintenance items inside their engine compartment.

First question most ask is what does a fuel filter do. It does exactly what the name states: it filters the fuel. The gas you pump into your tank runs through lines under your VW into the fuel pump. The fuel pump then pumps the gas through the fuel filter, which cleans most of the impurities out before the gas reaches the carburetor.Metal fuel filter

The fuel filter can only do its job if it is changed often. The dirtier the filter, the fewer impurities it catches. The impure gas passes through the dirty filter, then clogs the carburetor, which in turn can causes the carb to fail, and your VW can’t start, idol, or run properly.

Small, plastic fuel filterThere are three types of filters available on the market. The first is a glass cased filter. I don’t recommend these because if the glass is broken it can cause a fire hazard. The second is a metal cased filter. These have a washable filter, but I find these are no good by the side of the highway when you find it clogged. The third is a plastic cased filter with a paper element. I use this type of filter in my shop and find it’s the easiest to maintain. These cost under $2.00 each, and I recommend that you keep at least two in your VW tool box or glove box.

If you find your filter clogged or really dirty you can change it under 5 minutes.

  1. Grab a filter and your Phillips screwdriver (most fuel line hose clamps are Phillips head but yours may vary). You’ll need to loosen the clamps at the top and bottom of the filter.
  2. If you have trouble removing the hoses, use your needle nose pliers to pull the hoses off the filter; just be careful not to damage the hose. Some fuel will still be in the line, so please point the hoses AWAY from your face.
  3. Take the new filter and place it with the arrow pointing up towards the carburetor. Make sure your hose clamps are on the hoses when you install the new filter, or you’ll have to remove it and install the hose clamps on the line.
  4. With the filter pointing the right direction, install the top of the filter into the hose (as far as it will go), coming from the carb. Tighten the hose clamp and be careful not to tighten it too much as you might break the filter.
  5. Now install the bottom of the filter into the hose coming from the fuel pump. Tighten the clamp.

If your filter dirties quickly, has brownish dirt colored fuel, or has small debris in it, have your gas tank and fuel lines checked as soon as possible as you may have a problem with your lines or tank.

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What Not To Do: Fixing important bits with Bondo

This customer had broken hinges on his deck lid. His solution: Bondo and wire.

Bondo and wire fixing a deck hinge.

Bondo’s great for fixing up body panels and such, but not so much for things that move. Especially this thing: as soon as it gives out, you’re going to launch a 3-foot-wide chunk of metal at whoever’s behind you.

Please just replace it, or talk to us. Seriously.

Bondo and wire fixing a deck hinge.

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