Camp Westfalia

Archive for Maintenance & Repair – Page 2

Vanagon Clutch Slave Cylinder Replacement

Related Topics:

Hydraulic Clutch System Overview
Clutch Master Cylinder Replacement
Bleeding the Clutch Hydraulic System

Vanagon Clutch Slave Cylinder

  1. Back in the left-forward corner of the engine compartment, just ahead of the edge of the deck-lid opening, you will find the clutch slave cylinder mounted to the clutch housing. Start by using some WD-40 and a shop rag to clean loose crud from the area, especially around the union nut on the steel high-pressure line entering the front of the slave cylinder. The introduction of dirt or other crud into your hydraulic system here or anywhere else will soon mean trouble. When clean, loosen but do not completely remove the union nut.
  2. Loosen the two retaining bolts attaching the slave cylinder to its mounting bracket. If yours are rusted and seized, and the penetrating oil hasn’t worked, you may need to use the propane torch to carefully apply some heat to them. NOTE: be very careful to not damage nearby wires or coolant hoses.
    Use an open-end wrench to hold the bolt heads from beneath the bracket, while using a socket and ratchet to loosen the nuts from above. Alternatively, you may find you have better access while lying beneath the van.
    Completely detach the high-pressure line from the slave cylinder, and withdraw the entire slave cylinder from its bracket.
  3. If your old mounting bolts are rusty and corroded, replace them with new M8x25 bolts and nuts. Before dropping the new slave cylinder into place, you’ll want to be sure the rearmost (closest to you) mounting bolt is safely installed in its hole, as it will be impossible to get it in once the slave cylinder is in place. If necessary, prevent the bolt from falling out by temporarily threading its nut onto it.
  4. Vanagon Clutch Slave Cylinder

  5. Put a dab of general-purpose grease into the small cup at the end of the slave cylinder actuator, to lubricate the ball on the clutch-engagement lever to which it will connect. Set the slave cylinder into place, making sure the cup engages the ball (it doesn’t need to ‘snap’ into place, but simply engage), and slip the slave cylinder over its mounting bolts (having previously removed the temporary nut from the rearmost mounting bolt). Loosely thread the nuts onto the mounting bolts but do not tighten yet.
  6. Start threading the pressure fitting into the slave cylinder by hand, then finish by wrench-tightening to 12 ft./lbs.. Tighten the mounting nuts to to 18 ft./lbs..


Once everything is satisfactorily reconnected, proceed to Bleeding the Vanagon Clutch Hydraulic System.

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Essential Vanagon Tools

“Usually, the only tool you need is the one you don’t have.”
Andrew A. Libby, Samba member

Basic Tools

The VW Vanagon will require few special tools, and most work can be performed with conventional tools available to the average home mechanic. The following is by no means a complete listing, but should give any home mechanic a strong start on repairing and maintaining a vintage van.

Optional Tools

I have also found the following tools helpful in certain instances:

  • Metric ratchet wrenches: same sizes as above, allow wrenching in tight spots
  • Brake flare wrenches
  • Metric hex bit sockets: similar to Allen wrenches but can be affixed to socket wrench
  • Complete metric crowsfoot wrenches: same sizes as above, allow wrenching in tight spots. NOTE: when used with a torque wrench, torque values must be re-calculated according to specs included with the crowsfoot wrenches
  • Vise-Grips: listed last here due to its frequent overruse, a brand name of some of the best locking pliers available, allowing astronomical clamping forces on hardware and other parts. I’ve seen old Type-2 Buses sailing down the highway with certain crucial engine parts held in place by such pliers, a technique not endorsed by Camp Westfalia.

Depending on your available space, mechanical abilities, and how far you typically venture from home, you may want to carry some or all of these tools aboard your Vanagon.

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Recommended Vanagon Workshop Manuals

“If money is your hope for independence you will never have it. The only real security that a man will have in this world is a reserve of knowledge, experience, and ability.”
Henry Ford (1863-1947)

Personally, I can never have enough manuals, and throughout my years of VW ownership I have accumulated a small collection of workshop books which even remotely pertain to my van. Often, where one manual leaves you wondering, another will provide a ‘eureka’-inspiring photo or description.

Bentley-Vanagon“The Bentley”

First and foremost is the Official Factory Repair Manual, published by Robert Bentley, and rightfully considered “the bible” for Vanagon repair.

This was the manual used by the wrenchers at your local VW dealership, but now that most VW technicians have lain neither eyes nor hands on a Vanagon, the Bentley is used only by the occasional independent shop and by shade-tree diehards like you and me. It remains the final authority in accuracy and precision, providing the proper sequences, torque values, and tolerances for most repairs. Repairs are well organized by topic and sub-topic.

Get the Vanagon Bentley manual here

Haynes-Vanagon“The Haynes”

As its title implies, the Bentley often presumes I am an “Official VW Repair” technician, surrounded by a staff of equally seasoned wrenchers with years of collective experience with whom I can confer. By contrast, the Haynes manual assumes I’m just a lonely guy with a good socket set and a sloppy balljoint, and gives me what I need to fix it. Step-by-step instructions, accompanied by concise photos where needed, walk me right through most repairs.

There are two Haynes manuals covering the Vanagon (known as the Transporter everywhere except North America):

Get the 1980-83 Air-Cooled Haynes manual here

Get the 1982-90 Water-Cooled Haynes manual here

Q: Bentley or Haynes?
A: Both

If there is anything for which the Bentley can be faulted, it is perhaps its brevity. It often omits the most basic and preliminary steps of a given procedure, sometimes leaving one standing beneath the proverbial shadetree, scratching one’s proverbial head.

For example, for replacing your clutch master & slave cylinders, the Bentley offers perhaps 20 words and an exploded view. The Haynes, by comparison, devotes several hundred words and a couple of photos to the same procedure. For someone doing his first hydraulic clutch job, these sequential steps, while perhaps redundant for an ace mechanic, can inspire a rookie to proceed with some confidence.

If each manual has its strengths, I’d say go to the Bentley for accuracy; go to the Haynes for thoroughness. I always consult the Bentley first, especially for any sort of tolerance, torque, dimension, etc., and although I’ve never found a blatant inaccuracy in the Haynes, I will always defer to the Bentley in a case of conflicting data.

“Auto Repair for Dummies”

If you’ve owned as many crummy cars as I have, you are probably already a graduate of the Automotive Institute of Bloody Knuckles, and you may well know your way around a 30-year-old Vanagon.

But if you’re new to the whole wrenching thing (and everybody was, at some point), you might want to start with the basics.

“Auto Repair for Dummies” by Deanna Sclar is perhaps the next best thing to having a knowledgable, helpful, encouraging mentor standing at your elbow offering advice and handing you tools.

Like most books in the “Dummies” series, this one unpacks the seemingly complex structure of a car into its various simple systems and how they fit together, followed by more detailed overviews of each sub-system. Safe working practices, troubleshooting, preventative maintenance and repair, emergencies, and step-by-step illustrated instructions that even a newbie can groove on.

Though few modern cars on the road today are as easy to work on as the Vanagon, the knowledge you’ll gain from “Auto Repair for Dummies” will help you maintain all your other cars too, or at least be a more informed consumer when taking them to a local shop.

“Auto Repair for Dummies” will not only help you be a better partner to your Vanagon, but also to reclaim the lost art of self-reliance and independence.

Get Auto Repair for Dummies here

Other Helpful Vanagon and Diesel Workshop Manuals

In addition to dedicated Vanagon manuals, I keep a few other helpful workshop manuals in my diesel Westy library, in order of pertinence:

Peter Russek Pocket Mechanic Volkswagen Transporter
Sort of a compromise between the abovementioned books: explanatory text like that in the Haynes, plus itchy-and-scratchy drawings evidently traced from the Bentley. Written by Britons for Britons, so you’d better know your spanner from your dynamo …

Haynes 77-84 Diesel Rabbit, Jetta, Pickup
Extensively covers the 1.6L diesel engine. Other chapters offer insight into parts and procedures common to most VW vehicles: brakes, suspension, etc..

Chilton’s Volkswagen 74-89 Front Wheel Drive #(8663) 70400 ISBN 0-8019-8663-X
Covers Volkswagen gasoline and diesel engines of this era. No Vanagon-specific info.

Haynes 81-85 Scirocco/Jetta/Rabbit
Mainly covers gasoline engines, but includes many notes on the 1.6L diesel. No Vanagon-specific info.

Chilton’s VW Front Wheel Drive 74-83
Only covers gasoline-engined cars, but the 1.6L diesel engine is based very closely on these gasoline engines, and in fact shares many parts with them.

Bentley Volkswagen Service Manual: Jetta, Golf, GTI: 1993-1999; Cabrio: 1995-2002
I replaced the original 1.6L diesel engine in my Vanagon with a new engine intended for a 93-99 Golf, so this manual is helpful when working on my new engine. If your Vanagon has a similar engine transplant from another VW model, or a Subaru or Ford Zetec conversion, the appropriate workshop manuals will be invaluable when doing your own wrenching.

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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.


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:


  • 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


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


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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Bleeding the Vanagon Clutch Hydraulic System

Related Topics:

Hydraulic Clutch System Overview
Clutch Master Cylinder Replacement
Clutch Slave Cylinder Replacement

Vacuum bleeder pumpAfter replacing any clutch hydraulic components, air will have been introduced into the system, and this will prevent proper functioning of the clutch mechanism, so it must be bled. Start by carefully topping-up the fluid reservoir in the dash with fresh fluid. Unlike the brake hydraulic system, the clutch evidently cannot be bled simply by pumping the pedal; the air bubbles will only compress and expand instead of being forced out, so Volkswagen specifies that a vacuum-pump-actuated bleeder be used. The Haynes manual states one CAN use the usual bleeding techniques, so who knows? I’m also told that one can simply leave the rear of the van raised and the bleeder screw left open overnight, allowing air bubbles to work themselves out, but I have not tried this method, and remain dubious.

I purchased a vacuum bleeder pump kit which can be used for both clutch & brake hydraulic systems, as well as testing vacuum hoses.

  1. Atop the slave cylinder is a bleeder screw, protected by the rubber dust cap. Remove the cap, loosen the screw 1/2 turn, and attach the hose of the vacuum bleeder, according to the bleeder kit’s instructions.
  2. Actuate the bleeder pump several times, until fluid begins to flow through the tubing and into the bleeding reservoir. NOTE: If the hydraulic fluid has not been changed in recent years, it will be dark or nearly black, indicating contamination by dirt and water; this is perhaps what caused your components to fail in the first place. Volkswagen (and most other auto manufacturers, for that matter) recommends brake/clutch fluid be replaced every two years, as outlined here.
  3. Continue drawing fluid until it is clear of dirt, moisture, and air bubbles, periodically pausing to check the level in the dash reservoir and adding fresh fluid if necessary. Do not allow this level to fall below the ‘MIN’ indicator, or air will again be introduced into the system, and you will have to start bleeding all over again.
    Remember, you’ve got about 10 feet of 3-4mm line to bleed, so this may take a full 12 oz. bottle or more.
  4. When satisfied all the air has been bled from the system, tighten the slave cylinder bleeder and replace the dust cap. Fire up the engine and see if you can engage/disengage the transmission. If the gears clash or refuse to engage, you probably still have air in the line; re-bleed and try again. If all seems well, drive down off the ramps and take her out on the road to run through all the gears. You may find that within a couple hundred miles of driving over the next few weeks, the gears will begin to complain. This probably means you still have some air bubbles lurking in your line, so bleed again until it works right.

Check with your local municipality regarding the proper disposal of your used brake fluid. Mine requested that I add it right to my used motor oil and recycle it all together. Others may prefer that you keep the brake fluid separate from other automotive fluids and dispose of it as a hazardous material.

Even if you have failed during this process to keep the fluid level in the reservoir topped-up, as long as you haven’t depressed the brake pedal air should not have been introduced into the braking system, so the brakes will not need to be bled. However, if the fluid is more than two years old, and since you’ve already gotten your tools dirty and probably stained your pants, now would be a good time to bleed your brakes.

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Vanagon Clutch Master Cylinder Replacement

Related Topics:

Hydraulic Clutch System Overview
Clutch Slave Cylinder Replacement
Bleeding the Clutch Hydraulic System

Vanagon Clutch Master & Slave CylindersBefore getting started, check out the “Vanagon Hydraulic Clutch System Overview”

  1. Start with some vigorous stretching exercises and calisthenics as taught by your junior high school Phys. Ed. coach; the clutch master cylinder in particular is very well tucked away beneath the dash and there is no comfortable way to work on it without assuming a variety of contorted postures and compromising positions.
  2. I suggest you use ramps or jackstands to raise the rear of the Vanagon. This will later encourage the inevitable air bubbles in the hydraulic line to migrate back to the slave cylinder, where they can easily be bled out. Set the parking brake and engage the transmission in reverse or first gear.
  3. Remove the shroud covering the instrument cluster, to gain access to the hydraulic fluid reservoir. Also remove the lower steering-column cover by removing the two screws and carefully working it loose.
  4. Vanagon Clutch Pedal

  5. Lay down your plastic sheeting and tape it snugly around the base of the steering column. Hydraulic fluid will infiltrate carpeting and dissolve paint, so do all you can to prevent it getting on painted bodywork. Use cold water or rubbing alcohol to clean any spills.
  6. The hydraulic reservoir contains several ounces of fluid, and if you simply disconnect the braided rubber supply hose leading to the clutch master cylinder, about half of this fluid will drain out and onto the floor, so have a catch can ready. Or either use a turkey baster to remove enough fluid so that the level falls below the supply hose outlet, or use hose-clamping tool to gently pinch off the supply hose. Then carefully wriggle the hose loose from its plastic nipple on the master cylinder.
  7. From your new or old slave cylinder, borrow the rubber dust cap for the bleeder screw and keep it handy. Begin loosening the pressure fitting on the metal high-pressure line exiting the back of the master cylinder, then remove the two retaining bolts which hold the master cylinder to its bracket.
  8. Vanagon Clutch Master Cylinder

  9. Completely remove the metal line from the master cylinder. To prevent several ounces of hydraulic fluid from dribbling onto the floor, temporarily slip that rubber dust cap over the end of the line. By pinching off the rubber supply hose, and plugging the end of the metal line, you should have no more than a tablespoonful or so of hydraulic fluid to clean up. NOTE: Vanagons built prior to 1987 utilize a union-nut pressure fitting for this application, while later models use a bolt-through banjo fitting with two copper washers. If yours uses the latter style, be sure to replace these washers when re-installing.
  10. Carefully lower the master cylinder from its place, being mindful of the pedal-actuated rod which will slip from the rubber boot atop the master cylinder.
  11. Installation of your shiny new master cylinder is pretty much the reverse of removal, starting by carefully slipping the actuator rod into the master cylinder’s rubber boot. After removing the rubber dust cap from the end of the metal line, you may find it easier to start threading the high-pressure union into the master cylinder if you do so before mounting the master cylinder. Tighten the master cylinder’s mounting bolts to 18 ft./lbs, and the high-pressure line fitting to 12 ft./lbs..

Once everything is satisfactorily reconnected, you can either proceed to “Vanagon Clutch Slave Cylinder Replacement” or, if not doing so, skip ahead to Bleeding the Vanagon Clutch Hydraulic System.

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Vanagon Hydraulic Clutch System Overview

Related Topics:

Clutch Master Cylinder Replacement
Clutch Slave Cylinder Replacement
Bleeding the Clutch Hydraulic System

The Vanagon’s hydraulic clutch system is fairly straightforward and clearly depicted in the Bentley manual, Page 30.2.

Vanagon Clutch and Brake ReservoirEssentially, the clutch pedal actuates a hydraulic piston-and-cylinder assembly—usually referred to as the “master cylinder”—tucked away just above the base of the steering column. This master cylinder pushes hydraulic fluid through a 10-foot-long pipe running to the engine compartment, where it is connected to a similar piston-and-cylinder assembly known as the “slave cylinder”. This slave cylinder in turn actuates a lever on the side of the clutch bellhousing to engage & disengage the clutch.

Hydraulic fluid for the entire system is supplied by the same reservoir as supplies the brake system; this reservoir is hidden behind the instrument cluster on the dash, and is accessed by removing the instrument-cluster cover.

Vanagon Clutch Fluid LeakTypically, the first sign of trouble in the clutch system is hydraulic fluid dripping from the master cylinder onto your shoe, carpet, steering column, etc.. Or perhaps a leak surrounding the slave cylinder back in the engine compartment, accompanied by an increasing consumption of fluid.

Failure of either will cause the inability to use the clutch to disengage the transmission, making it difficult or impossible to shift. Insistent pumping of the clutch pedal will result only in the loss of your precious brake/clutch fluid.

Popular Vanagon lore suggests that failure and replacement of either the clutch master or slave cylinder will soon be followed by failure of the other, the theory being that the original cylinders wear out at about the same rate—neither being stronger than the other—so they continue to function together for quite some time. But a new, strong master cylinder will easily overpower the worn seals in a tired old slave cylinder, subsequently blowing it out. On a purely speculative note, I suppose the opposite could be equally true: a new slave could be too much for an old master to handle, causing an imminent failure of the master cylinder.

Some dispute this as mere Teutonic superstition, and I don’t know for certain.

If your Vanagon racks up most of her miles on roadtrips and camping forays, then by definition any mechanical failures will occur far from home. If you prefer to perform this task in the relative comfort of your own driveway rather than a lonely interstate or a distant logging trail in the woods, just replace both cylinders at the same time and be done with it for a good long while.


  • Suitable Clutch Master Cylinder
  • Suitable Clutch Slave Cylinder
  • DOT-4 Brake Fluid, about a quart


  • Assorted Metric Combination Wrenches
  • Assorted Metric Sockets and Ratchet Wrench, with extensions
  • Torque Wrench: 0 to 25 ft./lbs
  • Phillips Screwdriver
  • Vaccuum-pump brake-bleeding kit
  • 3-foot-square piece of plastic sheeting and some ever-helpful duct tape: lay this down on your carpeting to catch the inevitable spills
  • A small inspection mirror and flashlight may help in seeing what you’re doing in the tight confines above the steering column
  • Penetrating oil: squirt some PB Blaster, Marvel Mystery Oil, or similar on exterior nuts, bolts, and bleeder screws a few days before tackling this job, to ease their subsequent removal. Even so, I needed to resort to the judicious application of a …
  • Small propane torch, to carefully heat stubborn threaded fasteners.
  • Hose clamping tool to prevent fluid loss.

DIY Hydraulic Hose Clamping ToolHere’s a simple homemade alternative to a store-bought hose-clamping tool. Cut a 1″-long section from a 3/8″- or 1/2″-diameter wooden dowel, then split it down the middle to form two half-round pieces. Tape these to the jaws of your locking pliers and use this to carefully pinch off rubber hoses while you work on related components. Not too hard though, or you’ll damage the rubber.

Proceed to “Vanagon Clutch Master Cylinder Replacement”

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