Friday, December 22, 2006

VW - TULZ Part Four

TULZ – Part Four

Soldering and On-board Spares


To maintain your Volkswagen you need to know how to solder. Get yourself an inexpensive soldering iron (30W to 40W), some rosin-core electrical solder, some wire and have at it. As with all of the manual arts, soldering involves sensokinetic skills – muscle memory – as in riding a bicycle or touch-typing. It is a skill which can be learned but which can not be taught in the usual sense of the word. In effect, you must teach yourself. With rare exception this applies to all of the manual arts.

You need to know how to solder and desolder in order to repair your starter solenoid, replace starter brushes and repair certain types of alternators. But your most common use of soldering will be to replace aging connectors.

The Volkswagen was an inexpensive car. They used the cheapest type of brass connectors. Over time, these connectors age-harden and break. (Better quality connectors are plated with tin, the best ones with gold.)

In a production environment such connectors are crimped onto the wires using a tool that generates several tons of force in order to produce a gas-tight junction. The enormous pressure virtually welds the wire to the connector, insuring the junction will not corrode. When using the typical hand-crimper even the strongest man generates no more than a few hundred pounds of force. The interface between the connector & wire tends to corrode since the joint is not gas tight and the connector will come loose in time. There are better tools for this task, aviation stuff that allows you make a suitable repair in the field, but they cost hundreds of dollars and you need a different set of jaws for each size of fitting.

For automotive work the solution is to use a crimped and soldered connection. Herez how to do it. You solder the lead, trim it to length, crimp it into the fitting THEN solder the tinned lead to the fitting. This sequence insures the strongest possible mechanical joint (ie, crimping to the soldered lead) yet needs only minimum heat to solder the already tinned lead to the connector.

The result is a connection that is gas tight and has adequate mechanical strength. Unfortunately, soldered connections tend to fracture when subjected to vibration. To make them survive in an automotive environment you must provide some means of strain relief at the soldered connection.

A suitable strain relief can be formed using two pieces of heat-shrink tubing, one about three-quarters of an inch long, the other about an inch and a quarter in length. You slide both pieces of tubing onto the wire BEFORE you install the connector. Slide the long piece on first, then the short piece, then crimp & solder the connector. Now slide the short piece over the soldered junction, shrink it into place, allow it too cool then slide the long piece over the long piece.

Most spade type connectors sold for automotive repair come with a ridiculous little plastic collar. Remove the plastic before using the connector. (The easy way to do this is to heat the connector while holding it with a pair of needle-nose pliers. The plastic sleeve may be twisted off when hot.) You can buy high quality spade-type connectors without the plastic collar from electrical distributors (Mouser, etc) and from the better automotive electrical shops.



Your static timing light is nothing more than an automotive lamp (ie, the 'bulb') to which you've soldered a pair of leads fitted with alligator clips (crocodile clips for the Brits). The tricky part of this soldering job is how do you hold the bulb. Try using modeling clay. (If you do much head work you'll have a lump of modeling clay around the shop.) If you don't have clay, try using candle wax.

Once the leads are soldered to the lamp, insulate the thing with vinyl tape. You might also give the bulb a wrap of tape so as to protect it from breaking as it knocks about in your tool bag.

The Muir manual suggests using a replacement light socket & bulb as your timing light and keeping it in a folksy Bull Durham bag. You'll find such sockets bubble-packed in the electrical section of most franchise- type auto-parts stores. But John shows the timing light with only one lead, which greatly limits the utility of the lamp. Replacement sockets with two leads are available. Of course, if you drive an old bus you already have such a device onboard. It is your license plate lamp & socket.

Your timing light also makes a handy trouble light. And a voltage indicator(!).



Your electrical kit should include an assortment of test leads of various lengths two of which should be long enough to reach from the front of the vehicle to the rear. Among the shorter leads you should make up some only an inch or so in length with a spade-connector on one end and an alligator clip on the other. Make a pair of such leads, using both male & female spade-connectors. These are actually adapters but the object here is to give you some soldering practice so I've lumped them together with your test leads.

Other adapters you'll find useful are 'gender benders,' in which you have the same 'sex' connector on each end, and 'Y' adapters, in which two leads are soldered to the same connector on one end (ie, the base of the 'Y') but the 'arms' of the 'Y' are fitted with M-M, M-F or F-F connectors. These are very useful when you need to borrow a bit of power from a circuit or which to monitor the state of a circuit while debugging a problem. If you'll examine the in-line connectors used by Volkswagen you'll see why a lead fitted with an alligator clip can not be used on certain circuits.



Your second-most common need for soldering skills is in splicing wires, a woefully frequent chore with any older vehicle but one carried to extremes with Volkswagens, many of which have enjoyed the inexpert attentions of as many as twenty (!) different owners over the years. (Does your State's department of motor vehicles offer registration history? Most do. For a fee, they will provide you with the name & address of a vehicle's past owners.)

To make a splice you strip back the insulation for about an inch and a half on each wire. Slide two pieces of heat-shrink tubing onto one of the wires. One piece should be about an inch long, the other about two inches long. You want the short piece closest to the splice. (You put the heat-shrink onto the wire because the piece you are splicing in usually has the connector already installed.)

Inspect the stripped wire carefully for corrosion or contamination. If the wire is corroded, cut it back another inch and try again. On some Volkswagens, aging of the plastic insulation produces an acid that causes the wires to corrode. In those cases you need to replace the entire wire. As the years roll by this problem has become increasingly common. Eventually, you'll be forced to rewire the entire vehicle. (This is why replacement wiring harnesses are so widely available.)

To make a soldered connection you want clean, bright copper. If that's what you've got, go ahead and twist each wire into a tight pigtail. Herez how: About half an inch from the insulation, bend each wire at a right angle. Hook the angles together so the leads are pointing in opposite directions. Holding the hooked area, twist (ie, 'wrap') one of the leads about the other wire, making three turns. Now do the same with the other lead. You want the wraps to be tight and close together.

When the wires are twisted together, use your dykes or toenail clippers to trim any excess then twist the ends hard down against the wire to make a smoothly tapered wrap in the space between the last of the three turns and the start of the insulation. You don't want any 'sharpies' sticking up to puncture the heat-shrink tubing.

Solder the splice. Keep the iron on one side of the bundle and the solder on the other, allowing the wire to heat fully. Shake off any excess solder, allow the joint to cool then inspect it BY TOUCH. If you can feel any 'sharpies,' deal with them. You can file them off or crush them flat with smooth-jawed pliers but you have to get rid of them.

Slide the SHORT piece of heat-shrink tubing over the COOLED joint, center it over the splice and shrink it in place. Let it cool for a minute then feel it to make sure a 'sharpie' hasn't penetrated the tubing. (If it has, cut off the heat-shrink, deal with the 'sharpie', insulate the splice with ELECTRICAL TAPE and continue.)

Slide the long piece of heat-shrink over the first (or over the tape) and shrink it into place.

You're all done. Tin the tip of your iron, allow it to cool and repack your electrical kit.

Here's a couple of common-sense rules: When making a splice always use the same size of wire. (Don't go by the outer diameter, strip it back and gauge the size of the copper conductor.) Always use the same COLOR of wire as the original. You are just a bead on a string. Others will come after you. Your legacy is to demonstrate to future mechanics and electricians that you were a competent craftsman. (Maybe this is a guy-thing. Or a pride-thing. But most of all it's a common-sense-thing. Wiring is always coded by color. A competent mechanic always maintains that particular vehicle's color-coding when making electrical repairs.)



On-board spares are, logically enough, those spare parts carried onboard the vehicle. They are easily replaced parts, the failure of which, immobilizes the vehicle or renders it unsafe to drive.

Spare fan belt. The value of carrying one (or more) should need no explanation.

Fuses. Volkswagen used an inexpensive Siemans-type fuse having the fuse-metal exposed to the atmosphere, a handy way to start a fire (and which are illegal in some locales). Buss (brand name) manufactures conical-tip fuses in which the fusible element is contained within a glass envelope. They are not only safer in use, they also hold up better knocking around in the door-pocket. Better auto-parts stores carry them.

Spare lamps. If you have two of something – headlights, taillights, etc – you can generally get by without carrying a spare but a lot of older Volkswagens are owned by youngsters, a lot of youngsters attend college and a lot of college-town cops prey upon students, seeing even the most minor infraction as a source of municipal income. You decide. Personally, I carry a full set of lamps, from headlight to license plate.

(Ed.Note: In the six years since this was written LED lighting has become so common-place that the local auto-parts store has reduced the size of their automotive lamp display by half. If you have not converted your running, brake & turn-signals to LED's it might be wise to add those lamps to your on-board spares.)

Throttle wire & clutch cable. Most folks don't bother to carry these. That's a mistake. The availability of air cooled Volkswagen parts is becoming more difficult, with mail-order being the only option for many VW owners. This situation isn't going to get any better. Indeed, those of us who depend on our antique Volkswagens for transportation are forced to maintain a considerable stock of spare spares on hand, either carried onboard the vehicle or kept at home in ready-for-issue condition.

A common mistake is to carrying spare parts but fail to adequately preserve them. The throttle wire should be painted (!) and the cutch cable greased, then wrapped in several layers of heavy plastic sealed with tape.

The reason for painting the throttle wire is because you can't paint it after it's installed and grease alone isn't enough to protect it. So you paint it ahead of time. Just soak a pad with some paint and pull the wire through the pad, then let the paint cure. To lube it, wipe it down with silicon lube rather than grease.

Replacing the clutch cable on the side of the road can be one hell of a chore. So teach yourself how to drive without using the clutch. Find yourself an empty parking lot, push-start your bug or bus, jump in and… Awful, huh? :-) But you can do it. It's just a matter of coordination… and rolling through the stop signs. Being able to drive without using the clutch will allow you to reach a safe refuge where the repair can be done.

To do an emergency replacement of either the throttle wire or clutch cable, roll that side of the vehicle up onto a curb or dig a trench and back over it. You have to work under the vehicle and you NEVER do so using only the jack.



The need to carry certain on-board spares means you must also carry certain tools, the one dictates the other.

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that you need a jack and a lug wrench if you want to change a tire, or a 21mm wrench and a screwdriver if you want to change the fan belt. And a source of light so you can do those things at night. And some form of protection so you do those things in the rain or snow or mud or desert heat… just common sense. I'll leave you to figure out which tools you need. (I drove a '65 bus. The type & amount of stuff I carry wouldn't make much sense to someone with a Ghia or bug.)

Your on-board tool kit is liable to be different than mine but there are a couple of things everyone should carry, such as duct tape. Ditto for bailing wire. (Yeah, I know, nobody uses wire to bale hay any more.) Go down to the hardware store, back where they've got cement and rebar and ask the guy for a roll of 'tie-wire'. He'll sell you a five-pound roll of the stuff for less than the cost of that cute little half-pound roll of 'Repair Wire' they sell to the yuppies.

Your on-board tools are a part of the vehicle, not a part of your regular tool kit. They go where the vehicle goes, all the time, every time. If you don't understand the logic here, re-read this Part until you do.

One of the more useful on-board tools is a piece of canvas about three feet wide by six feet long. I keep it folded & wrapped around the tools, secured with about thirty feet of light rope. I use it to lie on if I have to work under the vehicle but mostly it's to keep the tools clean and things organized. If I lived where it rained I'd also carry a big sheet of heavy plastic. And I mean HEAVY. Five mil stuff. Instead, I carry a roll of plastic garbage bags. (And a throw-away rain suit.)

Wherever I go, there I am. I try to schedule my maintenance so I can do it in a place of my choosing but weather or circumstance may force me to use the next wide spot on the road. And of course, when you breakdown, you don't have a lot of choices; wherever you are becomes your shop for the duration of the repair. So I do what I can to make my roadside shop as comfortable and convenient as possible, knowing the work will go faster for having spent a few minutes to insure my safety, comfort and convenience. Here again, common sense should be your guide. You erect some form of roof to protect you from the sun, rain or snow, and you put down some form of floor to keep you from having to lie on the ground. And you always protect your tools.

Cardboard and plastic makes a good floor – you can discard it and pick up new stuff at the next town. A tarp becomes your 'sky', secured with duct tape and bailing wire, using the corner of a fenced parking lot, a tree, picnic table or what-have-you as the other 'wall.' (In Baja you carry a couple of poles… or travel two-by-two and park the second vehicle so as to support the tarp.) When the work is done and you're ready to move on, you clean up after yourself. I carry a leaf rake, a broom and some trash bags; I leave no sign of my passing. It's not that big a planet.

-Bob Hoover
-14 April 2K