Camp Westfalia

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What’s Your Van Plan for This Year?

The New Year is a great time for a fresh start.

Never mind the resolutions to spend more time at the gym and less time watching cat videos (we both know that’s not gonna happen). The real question is, what are your plans to get your campervan in tip top shape, and enjoy some great traveling this year?

Most vans (and van owners) are inactive this time of year, so now’s your chance to set some goals, make some plans, and resolve to make this year even better than last.

Mechanical

Some aspects of traveling and camping in a decades-old camper van are necessarily mechanical, and require ongoing maintenance. Reliability is of the utmost importance, especially if you want to avoid breakdowns while far from home. Regardless whether you hire out your van’s mechanical work, or turn the wrenches yourself, here are some items to ensure are in top form.

Fuel Lines

The VW Bus and Vanagon Transporters certainly have their quirks, but the fuel system is perhaps the most potentially dangerous and deadly. Too many vans have been lost to fire due to neglected fuel systems. Old and brittle plastic connectors, rusty clamps, and rubber hoses deteriorated by modern ethanol-laced gasoline can all cause leaks. Gasoline injected into a hot engine compartment is a recipe for disaster for you and your family.

So, if you don’t know when these parts were last replaced, inspect and replace them before embarking on summer road trips. Use fuel line rated for use with ethanol fuels, and the correct pressure rating for your electronic fuel injection system, with quality fuel injection clamps. Here’s a good write-up >

The Big List

Most Vanagon owners keep a running to-do list of needed mechanical repairs, fixes, and other maintenance. These often get lost in the heady days of summer when the highway and the forest call, so start working on those procrastinated loose ends now when you have no impending trips.

If you have not been religious in your maintenance, or the van is new to you and of unknown provenance, a good place to start is the 15k, 30k, and 90k-mile maintenance items on the lists found in the back pages of the Bentley manual. Just start at the top and begin working your way down. You won’t get it all done in one day, of course, but in pretty short order you’ll be able to inspect, adjust, or replace everything needed to get your ride ready.

These will include the following, and a whole lot more:

  • Fluids: oil, coolant, brake and clutch, windshield washer
  • Filters: oil, fuel, air
  • Belts & hoses
  • Lights: all interior & exterior
  • Wires: battery, starter, alternator, grounds, etc.
  • Battery: clean, inspect, charge, and test
  • Tires: inspect for wear and cracks, rotate, treat with UV protectant
  • Jack: factory jack or aftermarket, plywood support plate for use on rough ground



Record everything you do in a simple logbook, with date, mileage, and any notes, so that you can look back later for reference. Once you’ve got caught up on all this delayed maintenance, it will be a simple matter to keep up on the recommended intervals.

Outfit for Travel

If you’ll be spending a lot of time driving and living in your campervan, you’ll want to make it as comfortable as possible for you and your companions. Organize the cab, kitchen, and other living areas so you’re always ready to roll!

  • Charging jacks & cords: USB, phone, cameras, etc.
  • Maps, gazetteers, guidebooks
  • Logbook to track fuel & oil usage
  • Beverage bottles & travel mugs
  • Kitchen kit: all pots & pans, plates, utensils, containers
  • Food staples: your favorite non- or semi-perishable pastas, rice, spices, canned goods. Store in hard plastic containers to prevent spoilage and pests.
  • Bedding: sleeping bags, blankets, pillows
  • Heaters (electric or LP), cooling fans
  • Emergency tools & parts, fire extinguisher
  • Vehicle Recovery & Extraction: folding shovel, 12-volt air compressor, traction boards or tire chains, recovery & tow straps

Check & Test all Camping Equipment:


Other Activities

Sometimes the campervan is the means to another end—biking, hiking, paddling, skiing, fishing, etc.. Make sure your other equipment is ready for the season:

  • Roof or trunk racks, cargo boxes
  • Trekking poles
  • Binoculars
  • Gear bags or boxes

Travel Plans

The entire purpose of all this preparation is going places! Now, in the doldrums of winter, is a great time to start thinking about sunnier days and destinations close and far. In fact, poring over maps and planning a getaway is often the only thing that gets me through a dreary winter.

You and your travel mates no doubt already have some destination ideas, what season to go, and what sights and other activities to take in. How long will it take you to get there and back? How long to stay in each place?

One you’ve discussed and have a rough idea, start collecting info to make your goal a reality:

  • Travel guide websites
  • Maps, gazetteers, guidebooks
  • Relevant apps for navigation, finding attractions and sites, camping, etc.

Shakedown Cruises

Once you’ve attended to most of the points above, start taking your campervan on short trips close to home, then progressively longer and longer trips. This will give you opportunities to inspect your work, and to ensure your van is up to all those big miles and long days you have planned.

Traveling and camping in a vintage campervan, whether close to home or far afield, should bring plenty of adventures. But not mechanical misadventures. Once you’re reasonably confident in the reliability and comfort of your ride, hit the road!

Cleaning and Waterproofing your Westfalia Canvas Tent

How to clean and waterproof your Westy canvas tent to keep you warm, dry, and comfortable!

Westfalia Canvas Tent Overview

The canvas tent walls are an integral part of the Volkswagen Westfalia Camper’s popup roof system, keeping out wind, rain, snow, and even bugs. Every part of a three-decades-old camper van will benefit from frequent care and maintenance, but the tent canvas is perhaps the softest and most fragile component. Rain can soak the fibers and allow water to intrude into your cozy abode. Worse, if left untended, this same moisture can rot holes in the canvas fabric, requiring patches or an expensive replacement.

But with a little proper care, you can keep your original Westy canvas supple, dry, and working well for many more years.

The Westfalia Camper tent is made of a medium-weight cotton canvas, which is not inherently waterproof, but which instead relies on the swelling of the natural fibers to create a water-resistant barrier when wetted. The canvas should be periodically cleaned and then treated with a silicone water-repellent product like Kiwi Camp Dry Heavy Duty Water Repellent. This forms a moisture-resistant layer which repels rain but which also allows interior moisture to escape. Such treatments eventually wear out due to simple use, UV from sunlight, dirt, etc.. If using your Camper regularly, you should re-treat your tent every 1-2 years.

NOTE: Always test any product on an unobtrusive part of your tent before proceeding. The following is for the stock original Westfalia canvas tent. Aftermarket replacement tents may require their own cleaning and treating products; see the instructions from the supplier.

Parts & Supplies

Optional

Tools

  • Short ladder or step stool
  • Garden hose
  • Wash bucket
  • Brushes: soft-bristle, long-handled; small firm hand-held
  • Plastic sheeting, magnets or spring clamps

Optional

  • Household clothes iron

Washing the Westfalia Popup Roof Canvas

  1. On a warm, dry day, park your van somewhere out of direct sunlight and raise the popup roof. Close the front and/or side tent windows. Use a garden hose to gently wet the entire canvas tent.
  2. Allow the tent canvas fibers to absorb the water for a few minutes. Meanwhile, mix up about a gallon of water with Woolite Extra Delicates Care gentle liquid detergent. Use a soft long-handled brush to apply the sudsy Woolite to one wall of the canvas tent. Soak a few minutes to allow the detergent to work, then rinse thoroughly with the garden hose.
  3. If stubborn dirty spots or stains remain, use a stiffer handheld brush to apply Woolite full strength to the stains and gently work it into the fabric. Work the brush in a circular pattern over and around the stain to ‘feather’ the detergent into surrounding areas, to avoid leaving an obvious brighter clean spot. Let the detergent work for five minutes, then rinse well with the hose. Repeat this for all four sides of the canvas, rinsing well.
    NOTE: to remove especially stubborn stains, use OxiClean Laundry Stain Remover to pre-treat these problem areas.
  4. If needed, the tent interior can be washed similarly, but using the soft brush for applying both the wash water and rinse water; this may require two rinses to thoroughly remove all traces of detergent. Use large towels to protect the interior from excess water.
  5. Allow the tent to completely air-dry, perhaps even overnight. If possible, open the tent’s window(s) to help dry the canvas.

Repairing the Canvas

Now would be a good opportunity to repair any punctures, tears, or other damage to the canvas or window screen.

  1. Once thoroughly dry, trim the loose edges of any holes or tears. Cut iron-on fabric-repair patches at least an inch larger than the hole, and round the patch corners to prevent peeling. Follow the directions to apply the patches to the canvas tent exterior, using a household clothing iron.
  2. For a firm bond, have a helper stand inside the tent and press a small wooden board wrapped in a towel against the back of the repair, while you firmly iron the patch in place.

Water-Repellent Treatment

  1. As above, treat your Westfalia tent on a warm, dry, calm day out of direct sunlight.
  2. Most suitable canvas waterproof treatments contain silicone, which will leave a slippery mess on the rest of your van. So, cover your paint and other bodywork with plastic sheeting held in place with magnets or spring clamps. I use an old vinyl shower curtain.
  3. Follow the directions on the can of Camp Dry or similar silicone canvas treatment, to spray the entire exterior surface of the tent from 7 to 10 inches away with a light, even coat. Work on one wall of the tent at a time, then proceed to the next. Camp Dry suggests applying a second coat after four hours for maximum protection, and I usually use horizontal strokes for the first cost, and vertical strokes for the second.
  4. Avoid thoroughly soaking the canvas with water repellent, but be sure to fully treat the seams and bottom edges of the tent.
  5. Allow the treatment to completely dry (24-48 hours) before closing the Westfalia roof. You may experience lingering odors from the waterproof treatment on your next few camping trips, but these will fade with time.

Finishing

The detergent will have stripped the protective wax from your bodywork, so give your van a good washing and waxing now, along with a fiberglass wax for the popup roof; apply an anti-UV protectant to all the rubber seals.

Conclusion

With proper care, your Westfalia popup canvas should not require frequent washings as outlined above, but will benefit from a simple rinsing with a garden hose after especially dusty or dirty camping trips. The waterproof treatment can be reapplied every one to two years for maximum protection, and will keep you and your family dry and comfy!

What do you think? Leave a question or comment below, and use the social links to share with friends!

Fire Extinguishers for Your Camper Van

How to Choose (and Hopefully Never Use) a Fire Extinguisher in Your Camper Van


NOTE: SAFETY RECALL

“Kidde Recalls Fire Extinguishers with Plastic Handles Due to Failure to Discharge and Nozzle Detachment”

Hazard: Certain Kidde fire extinguishers can become clogged or require excessive force to discharge and can fail to activate during a fire emergency. In addition, the nozzle can detach with enough force to pose an impact hazard.

Learn how to identify whether your extinguisher is included in this recall, and more, here:

https://www.cpsc.gov/Recalls/2017/kidde-recalls-fire-extinguishers-with-plastic-handles-due-to-failure-to-discharge-and


A few hours into a recent month-long Westfalia road trip, we came upon a nicely restored classic 1960’s sedan pulled over on the side of the road, hood up and smoke rolling from the open engine compartment.

I stopped hard on the shoulder a safe distance back, grabbed our fire extinguisher as I went out the sliding door, and rushed ahead to find the owner peering into the open engine compartment.

“I think I’ve got it …” he announced, having just emptied his economy-sized extinguisher. But a moment later sparks erupted again and the carburetor was engulfed in flames. I quickly handed him my larger, fresh extinguisher and he put it out for good.

I sometimes wonder what would have happened if we had come along just five minutes later, or if our extinguisher was old and expired. And of course it really got me thinking about my own fire-response equipment for my family.

And for my beloved Westfalia, which is in fact like another member of the family …

Overview

Small handheld extinguishers are available in a variety of types and sizes, each designed for a particular purpose, specified by a series of numbers & letter designations. Fortunately, you can use these numbers to choose an extinguisher for your VW Westfalia, camper van, or other small RV.

What do the letters and numbers on the fire extinguisher mean?

Fire extinguishers are marked with at least one of the following classification letters on the label: A, B, C, D, or K; and a number ranging from 1 to 120.

The letters indicate the types of fire the extinguisher is designed for:

  • Class A is designed for fighting fires involving common combustibles like paper, fiberglass, wood, 12-volt wiring and many other items typically found in a home, auto, RV, or boat.
  • Class B is effective for extinguishing fires involving flammable & combustible liquids such as gasoline and diesel fuel, as well as flammable gasses like propane.
  • Class C should be used for fires involving energized 120-volt electrical equipment such as shore power, and including wiring, circuit breakers, machinery and appliances. The only sure way to extinguish a Class C (electrical) fire is to turn the power Off. The C designation indicates that the extinguisher material is non-conductive.
  • Class D is effective in extinguishing fires involving combustible metals like magnesium, sodium, potassium, sodium-potassium alloy uranium and powdered aluminum.
  • Class K is designed for putting out fires involving kitchen and cooking grease.

The numbers on the label represent the area the extinguisher will cover:

  • Class A is measured in cubic feet (where 1A equals 8 cubic feet).
  • Class B is measured in square feet (where 10B equals 10 square feet).
  • Class C has no area measurement.

Generally speaking, a small RV or camper van like a VW Westfalia may experience a fire requiring Classes A, B, C, or K.

Types of Fire Extinguishers

Fire extinguishers best suited for use in RVs use a variety of chemical agents:

ABC Dry Chemical

Perhaps the most common type of extinguisher, the material used in these is Monoammonium Phosphate, which is a toxic Hazardous Material. These extinguishers have limited ability to extinguish Class A fires (common combustibles, paper, fiberglass, wood, 12v wiring and most of the materials used in RVs or boats), so it often requires a larger ABC extinguisher to extinguish a relatively small Class A fire.

This chemical agent becomes very corrosive when heated, and is very difficult to clean up because it adheres to the surfaces it comes in contact with. The aftermath of an interior or engine fire will require immediate and extensive cleanup. In storage, the powder tends to become compacted in the bottom of the cylinder over time (especially when carried in a vehicle), perhaps rendering it useless when needed. They can also can lose their pressure over time, though some can be recharged by a local fire-safety service.

Pros: common; affordable;
Cons: can lose their pressure over time; the powder tends to become compacted in the bottom of the cylinder over time; limited ability to combat Class A fires;

BC Dry Powder

The agent used in this type of extinguisher is non-toxic Sodium Bicarbonate. As the Class designation indicates, this type is suitable for combatting fires involving flammable liquids and gasses, and 120-volt electrical fires.

Pros: common; affordable;
Cons: can lose their pressure over time; the powder tends to become compacted in the bottom of the cylinder over time;

ABC Halotron I Clean Agent Gas

Halotron is a clean, non-conductive gaseous agent suitable for use on Class B and C fires; larger units can also be used on Class A fires. Though much more expensive than dry extinguishers, Halotron extinguishers leave no residue after discharge so there’s no toxic cleanup, the cost of which would easily exceed that of the extinguisher. Unlike powder and dry chemical extinguishers, Halotron does not compact in the cylinder, though they can lose pressure over time and may need to be periodically refilled.

Pros: clean; non-toxic; does not compact;
Cons: can lose pressure over time; more expensive; larger capacity required for Class A use;

ACK Potassium Lactate & Nitrogen Gas Aerosol

This type of compact extinguisher works on household fires including those involving paper, fabric, wood, cooking oils, electrical appliances and equipment.

One brand, First Alert Tundra, claims this type of extinguisher, “… discharges four times longer than regular extinguishers, making it ideal for fighting common household fires and allowing you to ensure the fire is completely out. The nozzle sprays a wide area, giving you greater control to put out a fire faster. … The portable extinguisher spray is ideal for the kitchen, boats, RVs, and travel. The biodegradable formula of this foam fire extinguisher spray wipes away with a damp cloth for easy cleanup.”

Pros: compact; affordable; effective on multiple types of fires including cooking oils; longer discharge time; clean; non-toxic;
Cons: small size may not be sufficient for larger fires;

Size Matters

I will never forget the expression of despair and helplessness of the unfortunate motorist mentioned above whose compact extinguisher petered out with his engine still ablaze. Nor the look of relief and hope when I stepped forward and handed him my larger, fresh extinguisher …

After choosing the correct type of extinguisher, the next most important aspect is sufficient volume. And when it comes to the safety of your family, and your beloved camper van and belongings, well, more is better.

As mentioned above, the rated capacity of an extinguisher is indicated by the number, in square or cubic feet, depending on the Type. The stock extinguisher which came with most Westfalia Campers was a compact 5-B:C, but this may be barely adequate for a medium-sized fire, and a larger unit will provide better protection.

In general, select the largest extinguisher your space and budget allow, weighed against the value you place on your family and vehicle.


Choosing and Packing

For most fires found in a small RV like a camper van, the ABC Halotron I extinguisher is perhaps the most effective, as it will suppress most types of blazes and will not damage your camper’s interior with toxic and corrosive agents. A unit containing 2.5 lbs of agent may be sufficient, though a 5-lb. unit can be had for only a few dollars more.

As a backup, add a couple of compact and affordable ACK Potassium Lactate & Nitrogen Gas Aerosol extinguishers, distributed throughout your van so one is always close at hand. Note that this is the only type specifically rated for cooking oil & grease fires, so keep one near the kitchen or camp stove.

The National Fire Protection Association recommends your primary extinguisher be located within 24 inches of the main exit of an RV, and the stock Westfalia location on the lower part of the B pillar certainly meets this recommendation. Another suitable spot may be beneath the rear bench seat, on the passenger side, though accessing the extinguisher here may be hampered by child seats or other luggage on the seat.

Most medium-sized extinguishers include a mounting bracket of some sort, usually to attach the extinguisher to a wall. If your new extinguisher does not fit in the stock Westfalia bracket, remove it and install the included bracket according to the instructions. Simply set the new bracket in your intended spot, mark the locations of the screws, and drill 2-3 pilot holes for the mounting screws.

When you need a fire extinguisher, you need it fast, so make sure the extinguisher can be quickly and easily removed from the bracket in an emergency. Do not allow your extinguishers to merely roll around loosely in your vehicle; they can become a dangerous projectile in an accident, or can be damaged beyond use by jostling. Keep extinguishers close at hand; if they are buried away beneath bulky luggage or heavy tools, the delay in retrieving it may render it useless.

Just as at home, your first line of defense against a devastating fire is awareness, so install a smoke alarm in your camper van, too.

Using an Extinguisher

Should you ever find yourself in urgent need of a fire extinguisher, you’ll want to make the most of what precious little suppressant you have by deploying it for maximum effectiveness.

 

Firefighting professionals recommend the P.A.S.S. technique for best use of an extinguisher:

P: Pull the pin. The pin prevents accidental discharge, but must be removed to use the extinguisher
A: Aim low at the base of the fire, where the fuel source is.
S: Squeeze the lever above the handle. Release to stop the flow. Note that some extinguishers have a button instead of a lever.
S: Sweep from side to side at the base of the fire, until all flames are extinguished. Watch the area. If the fire re-ignites, repeat steps 2 – 4.

Don’t make the common mistake of aiming the extinguisher directly at the main body of the flames, as this will be far less effective than aiming at the base of the flames.

Engine fires are a particularly dangerous and catastrophic type of blaze, because of the presence of fuel, electrical batteries and wiring, and rubber and plastics. Worse, because the engine is hidden away inside the Bus, Vanagon, or large RV, often in the rear, you may not even notice an engine fire until it is well underway.

First, avoid opening the upper engine cover or lid. Doing so will quickly allow fresh air in to feed the fire, and allow flames to escape and ignite the camper interior.

Instead, keep the engine fire contained to help suffocate the flames, and aim your extinguisher at the lowest flames from beneath the vehicle while maintaining a safe distance. If the fire is not too large and hot, you can even carefully open the license-plate access panel and aim your extinguisher in here, remembering to sweep from side to side at the base of the fire.

Even after the fire is out, keep an eye on the long fuel lines which run the length of the vehicle to the fuel tank, to make sure they are not burning.

You may also consider something like the BlazeCut Automatic Fire Suppression System, which mounts permanently inside your van’s engine compartment to automatically release extinguishing agent in case of an engine fire.

All adults in your camper van should know where the extinguishers are located, and should periodically practice quickly grabbing an extinguisher and preparing to use it. Kids, even if they’re not charged with using extinguishers, should at least know where they are and how to retrieve them for an adult in an emergency. The entire family should exercise how to quickly and smoothly exit the vehicle, staying a safe distance away from the vehicle and surrounding traffic.

Care and Maintenance

Inspect the extinguishers in your camper van twice a year during your Spring and Fall maintenance, and before each long trip:

  • Be sure the extinguisher is accessible, and not blocked by coolers, luggage, or other cargo that could hinder access in an emergency.
  • Check the integrated pressure gauge to ensure it is at the recommended level; the needle should be in the green zone – not too high and not too low.
  • Ensure that the nozzle or other parts are not obstructed by dirt or debris, and that the pin and tamper seal (if it has one) are intact.
  • Check the main body for dents, leaks, rust, chemical deposits and/or other signs of abuse/wear.
  • The active agent in dry powder extinguishers has a tendency to compact in the bottom of the cylinder over time, so this type of extinguisher should be periodically removed from its mounting bracket, inverted, and rapped sharply with a plastic mallet or a heavy block of wood, then shaken up and down, to loosen the compacted powder.
  • Look for any expiration dates on your extinguishers and replace any that are too old. If in doubt, take them to a Fire Extinguisher Service center for inspection or refilling.

Finally …

Knowing how to select and use an appropriate fire extinguisher can protect your family and your prized vehicle from damage, or worse …

Safe travels!

Additional Resources:

“RV fire extinguisher use and maintenance”
https://www.rvrepairclub.com/article/rv-fire-extinguisher-use-maintenance/#

“What kind of fire extinguisher would be most useful in a RV situation?”
http://www.h3rperformance.com/support_faq_4.htm

“Fire Extinguisher Maintenance and Inspection”
https://www.nachi.org/fire-extinguisher-maintenance-inspection.htm

Got any Westfalia fire-safety advice or tips? Leave a suggestion or question below, and use the social links to share with friends!

Winterize Your Westfalia for Storage

How to put your Vanagon Westfalia Camper Van to bed for the winter or off-season

You’ve hopefully just completed a long happy summer of road tripping in your camper van, with all the memories and Facebook moments that come with it.

But if your van resides in the cold northern tier of snow, ice, or perpetually rainy days, and especially if it lives in one of the Rust Belt states which use copious quantities of vehicle-eating road salt, you’ll want to tuck your van safely away until next Spring.

Keep it Clean

Now is a great time to give your Westfalia a good cleaning, though some owners prefer to do it first thing in the Spring (see “Preparing Your Vanagon Westfalia for Summer”).

The onboard water tank should of course be emptied, rinsed, and well drained after each camping outing. But it’s also wise to give it an annual cleaning before or after off-season storage:

  1. Add 1/4 cup of household bleach to one gallon of water, and pour this mixture into the water tank, either through the exterior filler port or through the large cap on the top of the tank.
  2. Continue filling the tank with fresh water, then run the sink faucet until you can smell bleach-water at the faucet to indicate that the entire supply line is primed.
  3. Let it sit for at least 12 hours to fully sanitize the system, then drain the tank and re-fill with fresh water.
  4. Run the faucet again until bleach can no longer be smelled, then drain the tank.

Don’t Freeze Up

If you live in a region which experiences freezing temperatures, water left in your Westfalia’s supply line and sink drain trap can freeze and expand, damaging or cracking these components. To prevent this, use a commercially available Marine & RV Water System Antifreeze
(NOTE: This special RV Antifreeze is a non-toxic, food-grade formula and can safely be used in drinking water systems. Do NOT use standard automotive engine coolant antifreeze, which is poisonous.)

  1. Pour a half-gallon or so of the RV Antifreeze into the supply tank and run the faucet pump until you see the pink Antifreeze running down the drain.
  2. Drain the remaining Antifreeze from the tank (you can catch and save it back into the jug using a funnel).
  3. Leave the Antifreeze in the system all winter to protect your supply line and drain, then rinse thoroughly with fresh water in the Spring before using.

If you didn’t do so after your last camping trip, be sure to close the main shutoff valve on your LP tank.

If parking your camper van for several weeks during the winter, it’s a good idea to prevent fuel problems with a quality fuel stabilizer for your specific type of fuel: gasoline/petrol, or diesel. These additives will prevent corrosion from moisture and the build up of varnish. Diesel additives also help prevent bacteria, fungus and algae. If the formula you choose does not include a component to prevent fuel gelling or freezing, you can also include a fuel-line antifreeze for your specific type of fuel.

After pouring the additive(s) into your fuel tank, start and run the engine for a few minutes to ensure that it’s circulated throughout the fuel tank, lines, filters, and pump, then turn the engine off.

If you haven’t done so recently as part of your regular maintenance schedule, change your Vanagon’s motor oil and filter, to prevent accumulated moisture and acids from harming your engine internals.

Remove any supplies which are perishable or which can be damaged by freezing: canned goods or other food, etc..

Out, Mouse!

Remove anything from your camper van that may attract mice. For whatever reason, Vanagons are notoriously easily infiltrated by these vexing vermin, and you don’t want to invite them. Food, candy, snacks, even paper tissues, napkins, and other tempting nesting materials should be taken out of your Westfalia for the off season. You may even want to deploy mouse traps, or use cotton balls doused with peppermint oil throughout your van to repel them.

Get Charged Up

Seasonal Vanagon Westfalia MaintenanceIf your van will not be driven for more than 2-3 weeks, a trickle or maintenance charger should be used to keep the battery(s) near full charge state while parked, either in the van or indoors. A lead-acid automotive battery will generally discharge about one percent per day, even if not used. Add to this any parasitic battery drain from stereos, clocks, or other devices, and you can quickly ruin even a new battery.

If parking your Vanagon for a couple of months during the winter it’s a good idea to remove the starting (and optional auxiliary) battery from the van each fall and bring them indoors. Use a quality automated maintenance charger to keep them topped up throughout the winter months.

Safety First

Check that your fire extinguisher’s pressure gauge is in the green, and turn it upside-down to give it a few hearty shakes to loosen any compacted agent powder.

Go Undercover

Park your Vanagon in a garage or beneath a carport during the off season, if possible. If not, there are still some things you can do to protect your van.

vanagon-wheel-coversMany Vanagons are used only seasonally or for special trips, so their tires can age/degrade long before they are worn. Protect your Vanagon tires from the UV rays of the sun during the winter and between camping trips with easy-on, easy-off RV wheel covers. You’ll want covers which fit tires from 24-26.5” in overall diameter.

For all the same reasons and more, a quality full-vehicle cover for your Vanagon is important if stored outdoors. A good cover will protect your van’s paint, rubber window seals and plastic trim pieces, and even the interior upholstery from the sun’s harmful UV.

A good cover will help keep rain, snow, and airborne crud off your van while parked, but you should look for a cover made of a breathable fabric, so that moisture is not trapped beneath the cover where it can damage the paintwork.

Van covers range in price and in material, with more expensive covers generally being more durable and breathable, and sometimes including additional features like door access zippers. With or without a cover, you should periodically open your Vanagon’s windows or doors on clear dry days to allow any accumulated humidity or moisture to vent, to prevent mold and mildew.

A special precaution is called for in the northern tier: keeping your van’s roof generally free of snow. It’s not easy to collect enough snow up there to damage the Vanagon or Westfalia roof structure, but accumulated snow and ice can create a cold thermal mass which will cause humidity inside the van to condense on the underside of the roof, just like a cold beer from the fridge. This moisture can lead to the growth of unhealthy and unsightly black mold or mildew inside your van roof, and even deteriorate the Westfalia canvas. So keep the snow off, and occasionally air it out.

Follow these tips to keep your Vanagon in tip-top shape during the off season, and it will be ready for another summer of adventures!

What do you think? How do you winterize your camper van? Leave a question or comment below, and use the social buttons to share with your friends!

Replacing the Westfalia Tent Window Screen

How to replace the torn or tattered window screen in your Volkswagen Westfalia Camper popup tent

After many miles and many years of camping, the insect screen in the popup tent window of your campervan can turn old and brittle. It will eventually start splitting and crumbling apart, allowing pesky bugs into your cozy abode.

Fortunately, for a few dollar’s worth of materials and a bit of time, you can easily replace your old screen with a new one, without special tools or the need to completely remove the tent from the van.

First, you’ll carefully remove the shreds of your tattered old screen, pin a complete section of new screen into the window ‘frame’, then stitch it all into place before trimming the edges.

This can all be done while standing in the van with the top popped, though it may be helpful to do some bits while sitting in the overhead luggage rack.

NOTE: if your old screen is merely torn in a few spots and worth salvaging, you can use a curved sewing needle to ‘suture’ the wounds closed. Use a synthetic thread the same color as your screen to stitch first horizontally then vertically, to ‘weave’ new thread over the tear.

Materials & Tools


Step 1: Remove the old screen

Westfalia-tent-replacement-screen-trim-edges2Raise your popup roof and unzip/open the canvas window to expose the window screen. Roll and tie or clip the canvas window flap out of the way. If working from the interior, unzip the screen and allow it to hang down into the van where you can easily work on it.

Use the scissors to carefully cut the old screening material from the ‘frame’ which fastens it to the zipper, trimming as close to the edge as possible. Carefully do the same along the bottom edge. It may help to start by roughly cutting the entire center section of screen out, then finish by trimming out to the edges.

Once removed, close the screen zipper again.

Step 2: Attach bottom edge of new screen


Cut a section of new screen from the roll, about 42W x 26H”. Use a marker to mark the centers of the top and bottom edges of the screen, to help with alignment during the installation.

Lay the new screen into the window opening, allowing it to hang down into the van. Standing on a short stool or step ladder, peer outside and align the bottom edge of the screen with the bottom edge of the exterior lower seam, for a clean, factory appearance. Pin it firmly into place for stitching.

In general, on this project I simply used the needle to draw the new thread through the existing factory stitches, to avoid adding new needle holes and to utilize the original stitches as a guide for a straight line.

Start by first stitching a simple vertical back stitch at one end of the seam, to reinforce the end of your stitch, then begin stitching along the bottom seam. I used a simple running & basting stitch, with shorter stitches on the inside and double-length stitches on the exterior to help fasten the screen to the canvas. About every tenth stitch, double back on your stitch, then continue, to strengthen the stitch and prevent unraveling.

Continue along the entire bottom edge like this, ensuring the screen remains straight and aligned with the factory seam, then end the stitch using another bar tack.

Step 3: Continue attaching entire screen



The next step is most easily done from outside the van, while sitting in the rooftop luggage rack, though one can improvise and work from the interior.

Grasping the top-center of the canvas window frame, pull the canvas downward, then pull the new screen upward to meet it and draw it taut. Tuck the screen up under the exterior flap which covers the zipper, then back out to the front; use several pins or binder clips to fasten the new screen into the opening.

Working your way from the center to the left or right, repeat, clipping or pinning all the way around the ‘frame’, ensuring as you go that the screen remains taut and smooth.

Once in place, unpin/unclip the upper-right (passenger-side) corner of the screen to allow you to reach through to the outside in order to make your return stitches. You can now continue stitching from outside or from back inside the van.

Starting in the lower-left (driver-side) corner of the window frame, begin stitching the screen to the zipper tape of the window ‘frame’. Again, start with a bar tack reinforcement, then begin a running stitch upward, reaching out through the open corner of the window to grab the needle and run it back through the tape and inside.

You’ll want to keep your stitches as close to the inner edge of the zipper tape as possible, in order to avoid the final trimmed edge of the screen interfering/snagging with the zipper pull later.

When you reach the top-center of the window frame, re-pin/clip the upper-right (passenger-side) section of the screen to the frame and draw it taut. Now that the left/driver’s half of the screen is firmly stitched into place you can unzip the lower-left (drivers-side) portion to allow exterior access for stitching. Continue stitching the rest of the way around the window frame to the lower-right (passenger-side) corner, ending with a final bar tack.

Step 4: Trim excess screen, finish



Once stitched into place, you can remove all pins/clips and re-zip the entire screen to check for tautness.

If all looks well, trim the excess screen to prevent the trimmed edge from interfering with the zipper pull. This is best done from outside, but can also be done from the interior by simply unzipping the entire screen and allowing it to hang down into the van.

In the lower corners where the screen transitions from beneath the zipper flap to the exterior bottom seam, I trimmed the screen at 45-degree angles for a neat appearance.

Test the zipper a few times to make sure it does not snag on the edges of the new screen. Now would also be a good opportunity to clean and lubricate both tent zippers.

This simple repair handily replaces your tattered old Westfalia insect screen, and helps keep your van tent working well for many more years of camping!

Have any questions, tips, or suggestions? Post ’em below, and use the buttons to share with your friends!

Preparing Your Vanagon Westfalia for Summer

How to get your Vanagon Westfalia Camper Van ready for summer road-tripping and camping

“Spring has sprung. The grass is riz. I wonder where dem campers is?”
Paraphrased from Frederic Ogden Nash

If your camper van is anything like mine it probably spends its winters tucked safely away in a big red barn, or maybe in a garage or under a protective cover, or perhaps in the great outdoors (see “Winterize Your Westfalia for Storage”).

But now spring is in the air: the bees are buzzing, the meadowlarks are … larking, and campers are eager to begin a new season of outdoor living. Ironically, storage can be hard on things made to move; batteries can run down, fluids leak, and joints and mechanisms stiffen.

And that’s just the driver!

So before we hit the road, let’s get our Vanagons ready for another summer of safe, comfortable, enjoyable journeys.

A Springtime Checklist

Get Some Fresh Air
Start by opening all the doors or windows, and popping the Westfalia top, to vent the stale months-old air and to allow any humidity or moisture to dissipate. Inspect the underside of the fiberglass popup roof and the canvas for signs of mildew or rot.

Take a Good Look
Visually inspect the van inside and out, looking for evidence of rain leaks and fluid leaks: coolant, motor oil, transaxle oil, brake fluid, etc.. Check the reservoir levels of all these same fluids, and top them up if needed. If you use protective tire covers remove them now; check the tires for proper inflation and inspect them for weather checking, including the spare tire.

Battery-DocGet Charged Up
If your Vanagon was not used much during the winter, you probably brought your batteries indoors in the fall and used a quality automated maintenance charger to keep them topped up throughout the winter months. Reinstall now in the spring.

Shakedown Cruise
Once everything checks out and you’ve installed the batteries, go ahead and fire it up. Watch for any smoke or fluid leaks, and listen for unusual sounds. While warming up, have a partner help you check all the exterior lights (headlights, turn signals, brakes, etc.). Take the van out for a spin and a road test, checking that the steering, brakes, and shifting work properly.

Meguiars Marine_RV Fiberglass Restoration SystemWash, Wax, and Wacuum
On your way home, stop at a self-service car wash offering a high-pressure underbody flush to wash any lingering dirt or road salt. Once home, give your van a thorough hand washing top to bottom with a quality car-wash soap, followed by a hand waxing. This gives you an opportunity to inspect the body and paintwork, and protects your finish from harmful summer UV rays. Use a quality RV or marine polish and wax on your fiberglass Westfalia roof.

If you didn’t vacuum and clean your Vanagon’s interior before parking it for the winter, do it now. Use a carpet deodorizer and a heavy-duty fabric refresher to eliminate odors. Vacuum the upholstery, followed by any other detailing inside and out. Polish and protect the dashboard and other vinyl areas with wipe-on or spray products designed for these surfaces.

Remove any mouse deterrents or traps from the van.

Safety First
Replace the batteries in your smoke- and carbon-monoxide detectors. Check that your fire extinguisher’s pressure gauge is in the green, and turn it upside-down to give it a few hearty shakes to loosen any compacted agent powder.

Everything AND the Kitchen Sink
If your van is a full Westfalia model, test all the camper appliances. Half-fill the onboard water tank and test the kitchen sink faucet. If you used RV Antifreeze in your water-supply system to prevent freeze damage, rinse and flush it out now.

Be sure to open the main valve on the LP tank, then light both burners on the stove to prime the supply lines. The Westfalia refrigerator generally is easier to ignite on LP if it has first been pre-chilled on 120-volt AC house current several hours or overnight. Follow the starting procedure in the owner’s manual to ignite the fridge.

Mr-Heater-Little-BuddyIf you use electric or LP space heaters for camping during the Winter or the shoulder seasons of early Spring and late Fall, test them now to ensure they’ll work when you need them.

Let’s Go!
Restock the van with any camping equipment, automotive supplies & tools, or other provisions you removed in the fall. Once you have your Vanagon recommissioned for duty, all you need is a tank of fuel, a cold six-pack, and an adventurous attitude.

See you on the highway!

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Westfalia Pop-Up Roof Refurbishment

Westfalia RoofWestfalia Camper Roof Overview

Of all the clever German engineering features employed in the Volkswagen Westfalia Camper, the distinctive raised fiberglass roof is perhaps one of its most ingenious. Providing over eight feet of standing headroom, the poptop allows for the comfortable changing of clothes, cooking and other kitchen tasks, and reveals the two-person upper sleeping bunk. The canvas sides and screened front window of the pop-top roof aid in ventilation, and it provides a dry, safe refuge from the elements.

How to clean and waterproof your canvas tent to keep you warm, dry, and comfortable!

Many a time have we pulled into a lakeside rest stop or a wayside during a pouring rainstorm, and quickly popped the top to prepare a hot meal while the rain pelts the roof, all while staying dry and cozy—not an easy option for those touring by pop-up travel trailer or tent. After lunch, the whole thing easily retracts to rack up more road miles.

Refurbishment

If the devious previous owner of your Westy was anything like mine, your Westfalia Camper fiberglass pop-up roof is dingy, dirty, and sun-faded, with leaky seals that allow rain to get in and start rotting your canvas. Fortunately, it is a fairly simple matter to spiff it up again, and even to replace rusty hardware and frayed seals.

Depending on the general condition of your own pop-up, you may or may not need to perform the full refurbishment I outline here, so read ahead to determine whether you indeed require all the parts, tools, and other materials listed. The following procedures involving washing/waxing, spray treatments, etc. are best done out of direct sunlight, to ensure even and uniform drying.


NOTE: the condition of my Westfalia popup roof warranted only a good cleaning and polishing, followed by new seals and hardware. For a good tutorial on a full restoration & repainting, see this topic on The Samba:
http://www.thesamba.com/vw/forum/viewtopic.php?p=6575726#6571508

Replacement Westfalia Roof Parts

Here at Camp Westfalia, we are often asked about replacement fiberglass Westfalia roofs and luggage racks. Unfortunately, as far as I know, there are no such suppliers of new replacement roofs.

Your best bet is to purchase a used Westy roof, and I see them come up on the Samba Classified Ads surprisingly frequently. Like a new roof, shipping costs may be prohibitive, but you may find one near your location. And even with shipping, it may still be a more cost-effective option than an expensive professional repair/rebuilding of your original roof.

1980-1991 Vanagon Westfalia roofs and roof parts may be found here.

1968-1979 Bay Window Bus Westfalia roofs and roof parts may be found here.

You can also set up a custom alert, to receive an email when someone posts a new roof for sale.

Parts

  • Complete set of Rubber Pop-Up Seals: replaces camper pop-up edge seal, luggage rack edge seal, and flat seal on leading edge of popup roof. Also available individually.
  • Stainless Steel Hardware: mounting bolts & nuts for hinged pop-up roof and luggage rack, and footman loops (tiedown cleats) for luggage rack. My original hardware was rusted and poorly repainted, so I opted to replace it entirely with stainless steel. Suitable SAE (1/4-20 x 3/4″) or metric roof mounting bolts may possibly be found at your local hardware store, while the luggage rack mounting bolts and tiedown cleats are available from VW-specific online vendors; mine came from GoWesty; optional
  • Rubber washers, 1″ (25 mm) in diameter with 1/4″ (6 mm) holes (qty: 6), for luggage rack mounting bolts; optional
  • Screen repair patch kit, or a 6×6″ (150×150 mm) sheet of aluminum or stainless steel window screen. Alternatively, screened garden hose washers (qty: 5), for protecting luggage rack drain holes; optional
  • Thick, gel-type cyanoacrylate “superglue” adhesive
  • “Westfalia” decal(s), available from online vendors, vary by year; optional

Tools

How to replace your torn or tattered window tent screen

  • As with most Vanagon repair and maintenance procedures, the Bentley and other manuals will be indispensible.
  • Household pressure/power washer will be helpful for blasting off old crud
  • Electric dual-action or orbital polisher. There is something like 1/500th of an acre of fiberglass on the Vanagon Westy pop-up roof, so power tools will help conserve elbow grease
  • Phillips & Slotted Screwdrivers
  • Assorted Combination wrenches
  • Rubber Mallet, wood block, sidecutters, and knife; for replacing rubber edge seals
  • Old credit card or hotel room key for use as a burnishing tool for applying decals
  • Assorted sandpaper


Materials

Meguiars Marine_RV Fiberglass Restoration System

  • Quick Fix Gelcoat Patch, for filling in small nicks and cracks in the fiberglass roof; optional.
  • Fiberglass Wash, Polish, and Wax: Meguiar’s Fiberglass Restoration System kit includes Boat & RV Wash, Oxidation Remover & Polish, and Pure Wax. These do a great job of cleaning and restoring the popup roof’s original luster and sealing it from future deterioration.

Now that we’ve collected all the necessary stuff, let’s get scrubbin’ …

Refurbishing the Westfalia Luggage Rack

Vanagon Westfalia Luggage Rack

  1. Referring to Page 75.8 of the Bentley Workshop Manual, carefully remove the screws holding the rear edge of the interior headliner of the passenger cab, then the four exterior bolts affixing the factory luggage rack to the vehicle. Also remove the four screws on the sides and front of the luggage rack. Be sure to keep track of all the bolts, nuts, and the rubber washers which provide a weather seal and prevent chafing of the Vanagon’s paint. If the rubber washers appear deteriorated or unduly squished, replace them. The entire luggage rack can now be lifted from the roof.
  2. If your Westy spends much of its time loafing under campground trees, you will likely discover a surprising amount of rotted leaves, pine needles, seed husks, and other detritus lurking beneath your luggage rack. I found a veritable terrarium thriving under my luggage rack, and it took a couple trips to the compost bin to get it all out. There’s a preventative solution for this which we’ll get to later, but for now give the Vanagon roof a good washing and hand-waxing to protect the paint. With any luck, this is the first and last time it will see the light of day since leaving the Westfalia workshops.
  3. Rack3

  4. Place the luggage rack on a workbench or a pair of sawhorses for easier working. If your footman loops are badly rusted, drill out their rivets and remove them; if the rubber edge seal is deteriorated, remove it. Pressure-wash the whole works, and remove stubborn rust stains with very fine abrasive pads and Lime-Away, CLR, or similar product. Inspect for surface cracks or nicks; repair these with Gelcoat Patch.
  5. If replacing the front or side “Westfalia” decals, carefully measure or photograph the locations of the originals. Gently scrape the decals off with a putty knife or razor blade, using acetone to loosen them.
  6. If your fiberglass gelcoat is very dirty or is badly oxidized, clean it now, but do not polish or wax it yet, as your new decals will not adhere to a waxed surface. Once cleaned and de-oxidized, use alcohol or acetone to strip any residual fiberglass cleaner from the areas in which you intend to place the decals. When dry, apply the decals and burnish down with an old credit card.
    NOTE: For those concerned with authenticity, Westfalia-Werkes placed the large “Westfalia” decal on the rear of all Vanagon Westies, and evidently began putting the additional “Westfalia” decal on the front of the vans sometime during the 1985 model year. As far as I know, the small ‘prancing horse’ Westfalia decals were never used on the Vanagons, and were applied only to the pre-1980 Busses.
  7. Vanagon Westfalia Luggage Rack Seal

  8. Follow the package directions of the Meguiar’s or similar fiberglass products to polish and wax the luggage rack, being especially careful not to damage the new decals.
  9. Install the new footman loops and carefully hammer on the new edge seal. This is not intended to be a watertight seal, but only to protect the edge of the fiberglass and prevent it from chafing the paint from the steel Vanagon roof. If your new seal has a round ‘bulb’ portion, either remove it from the edge seal or be sure to cut a couple sections of it away on the corners of the luggage rack after installing, to allow rain water to properly drain.
  10. Vanagon-westfalia-poup-roof-seals

  11. Starting at one end, press the new seal onto the edge of the fiberglass and work your way around to the other end, tapping the seal firmly into place with a rubber mallet. Trim the excess.
    NOTE: Both the luggage rack seals and the main roof edge seals tend to shrink and shorten over the years, leaving small gaps at the ends where they abut the wide upper seal. To compensate for this, you may consider trimming both edge seals about .5″ (12 mm) too long, and distributing the slack along their lengths near the ends so that as they shrink, no gap will form.
  12. Westfalia-Luggage-Rack-Drain-ScreenWestfalia-Luggage-Rack-Drain-Screens

  13. To prevent leaves and other debris from collecting beneath your luggage rack, you can add small screens to the five drain holes. Cut the aluminum or stainless steel window screen into sections of about 1.5 x 1.5″ (35 x 35 mm). Turn the luggage rack upside down and use sandpaper to roughen the surface immediately surrounding the underside of each drain hole, then clean with acetone or alcohol. Glue the screens over the holes with the gel superglue, being careful the glue doesn’t plug the drain holes. Use sections of waxed paper and small weights to hold the screens in place while the glue sets.
    Because the mesh on these screens is so fine, they sometimes plug-up with debris before all the water has drained out; if necessary, periodically blast them with a garden hose or gently clean them with an old toothbrush to keep the water flowing through.
  14. Vanagon Westfalia Luggage Rack Mounts

  15. Loosely re-install the luggage rack, being sure to replace the rubber washers on the roof brackets and bolts. Wiggle the whole thing around a bit to settle it properly, then give all the bolts a final tightening. It is probably a good idea to check them again after you’ve driven 20 miles or so at highway speeds.

 


Refurbishing the Westfalia Popup Roof

  1. As on the luggage rack, if the old seals on the main popup roof are deteriorated, remove them. If the interior metal clips molded into the edge seal have lost their grip and the seal is loose, try slipping a section of it off and re-crimping the clip with pliers, then reinstall. Pressure wash the entire roof to remove old grime and mold.
  2. If the large “Westfalia” decals are in good condition and you intend to save them, be careful to avoid damaging them with the pressure washer or scrub brushes. If replacing, remove the old decals using the pressure washer or a citrus-based cleanser and a mild abrasive pad. Deoxidize the gelcoat on the entire popup roof, rinse, then replace the decal. Polish and wax the entire popup roof.
  3. Replace the rubber seals, starting with the upper leading edge seal, followed by the main popup roof edge seal.
    NOTE: See note regarding seal shrinkage Step 6 above.
  4. If your roof mounting hardware is rusted, consider replacing with stainless steel hardware. It’s perhaps best to replace only one or two bolts at a time to avoid any major alignment issues along the way. This is also a good opportunity to clean the pivot points on the two rear hinge mechanisms; clean with WD-40 and lubricate with light oil or a silicone spray lubricant. Do the same for the front latch mechanism.

Vanagon-Westfalia-sunsetPeriodically applying a fresh polish and wax will preserve the essential oils in the fiberglass gelcoat and prevent oxidation, and also help dirt and grime easily rinse off. New stainless steel hardware will avoid rust stains, and new rubber seals assure that your tent canvas will remain dry and intact. In fact, now may be a good time to wash and seal your popup canvas.

With ongoing care, your Westfalia popup will continue to serve as the proverbial roof over your head while camping and roadtripping for many years to come.

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