Camp Westfalia

Archive for Modifications

Replacing the Vanagon Engine Cover Insulation

Remove the old rotted and crumbling insulation beneath your engine cover and replace with this slick modern upgrade.

The Vanagon’s engine, as you undoubtedly know, is located in the rear of the vehicle, and is accessed via a large opening in the rear deck, covered by a lid. The underside of this lid is covered with a sound-deadening heat insulation. The older metal deck lids use a synthetic batting, while the later fiberglass lids utilize a foam rubber.

Regardless the type, after 30-40 years the insulation has usually disintegrated, and absorbed dirt and oil, no longer providing sound-damping, and creating a potential fire hazard.

I replaced mine with two 1/2″ layers of EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) foam, intended as flooring in home fitness rooms. EVA is resistant to chemical, oil, and fuel spills, and provides thermal insulation and acoustical damping properties.

Easy to cut and shape, this modern lightweight, closed-cell foam comes in 24 x 24″ (60 x 60 cm) interlocking tiles, is affordable, easy to apply, and should last for many years.

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We’ll start by removing the original sagging insulation, cleaning the engine lid, then apply the new foam!


Optional Materials:

  • rigid polystyrene foam insulation scraps, 2 x 3′
  • acetone
  • silicone sealant
  • FatMat, a self-adhesive acoustical insulation, 8 square feet


Optional Tools:

  • pressure washer
  • green abrasive scouring pad

Step 1: Remove the old insulation

Lay the engine deck lid upside-down on a workbench or sawhorses. Take some photos or measurements of any depressions molded into the original foam; these provide clearance for various engine components and you’ll want to include these in your new insulation later.

Begin working loose the old foam using a utility knife and a sharp 1.5″-wide putty knife or paint scraper. An even narrower scraper may be helpful in removing the foam from the corners and recesses of the lid.

On certain model years of the Vanagon, this foam insulation is embedded with a chicken-wire-like mesh; remove this as well.

Remove as much of the old foam bits as possible, to ensure a good clean bonding surface. A home pressure washer is effective for stripping and cleaning the engine cover. Pay particular attention to the raised areas of the corrugations, as this is where the new foam will be glued.

If necessary, scrub the surface with an abrasive scouring pad dipped in acetone or other solvent to remove as much of the old adhesive as possible.

NOTE: Two layers of 1/2″ foam will be 1″ thick, of course, and this may be somewhat thicker than your original foam. In addition, I had recently installed a different engine which was a little taller than the original power plant, necessitating different clearance areas in the new deck lid insulation.

Just to keep it all straight, I rigged up some scraps of rigid polystyrene foam insulation at exactly the same final depth of the new deck lid insulation, so that I could visualize where I needed to cut relief areas (cardboard will work too). I then used these scraps as a pattern to make matching relief cutouts on the new foam. Remember to label the Top and Bottom sides of your template to avoid errors!

Step 2: Cut new foam to size

Starting in one corner, measure for your first section of the new foam. There are two lateral reinforcing ribs running across the decklid, which you’ll need to work around.

The EVA foam tiles feature interlocking ‘jigsaw’ edges, so snap a couple of tiles together into one piece before cutting. Focus your attention only on the first layer for the moment; you can use this as a pattern for the second layer.

The foam is easily cut with a utility knife and a metal straightedge. Cut a piece to fit the main center area first, then the narrower sections at top and bottom. Remember to provide clearance areas for the latch mechanisms. From your scraps, cut smaller pieces to fit any remaining bits.

Repeat to make the second layer, staggering the jigsaw seam with the first layer, and adding any relief areas.

Step 3: Glue foam into place

My first attempt to glue the foam tiles into position using a spray adhesive did not work well, and soon came loose. I’ve had good long term results using a good contact adhesive instead.

Following the maker’s directions, use a brush or small roller to apply contact adhesive first to the raised corrugations on the deck lid, then across the entire porous underside of the first foam layer. Allow both to dry about 15 minutes, then carefully fit the foam and press into place.

NOTE: this dry-fit method provides a much stronger bond, but allows NO time for repositioning your work pieces, so you must get it right on your first try.

Repeat for the smaller areas, then for the entire second layer.

Consider using silicone sealant or other caulk to seal the ‘jigsaw’ seams.

The outer groove running around the perimeter of the deck lid should be likewise sealed using 3/4″-wide closed-cell foam weatherstripping.


For additional sound-damping, you may consider adding a final layer of FatMat, a self-adhesive acoustical insulation, over the EVA foam.

Finally …

Test-fit your deck lid to check for any clearance issues, then apply some Armor-All or other protectant to help keep it clean.

This new foam is fuel-, oil-, and heat-resistant, and will provide effective sound and heat insulation for many years to come.

What do you think? Leave a question or comment below!

Diesel Vanagon Coolant Expansion Tank Bracket

The mounting bracket for the stock coolant expansion tank on a 1983 diesel Vanagon is prone to forming stress cracks and leaks in the plastic tank, due to the way it attaches to the bulkhead just forward of the battery platform.

During the course of an engine replacement, I upgraded to a complete set of silicone coolant hoses. These new hose diameters necessitate using a coolant expansion tank for the 1983-85 gasoline Vanagons. While these tanks are of a better design and more readily available, they will not fit into the stock 1983 diesel mounting bracket.

So I took the opportunity to further improve things using a tank mounting bracket from Van Cafe/Rocky Mountain Westy. This design provides better support for the tank, eliminating the stress cracks.

Unfortunately, the original tank mounting flanges on the bulkhead interfere with the surface mounting of the new bracket. I suppose one could simply bend and hammer these flanges flat, but I generally avoid such permanent modifications and molestations to original bodywork.

So I fabricated a short standoff to fit between the flanges on the bulkhead, and to extend the mounting surface. I made a few extras, so if you’re making this upgrade to your diesel Vanagon, this will help.

Install the bracket with standoff, mount your new coolant expansion tank in the bracket, and connect your hoses!

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Got a comment or question? Post ’em up below!

Replace the Vanagon Cigarette Lighter with a USB Port

Update your loose lighter socket (and optional DIN socket) with modern 12-volt power and USB ports

Many early-1980s Vanagon dashboard cigarette lighter sockets are slightly larger than North American plugs, making for a sloppy fit when using modern 12-volt phone chargers, lights, dashboard fans and other accessories.

In addition, some Vanagons are also equipped with a DIN receptacle, a small enigmatic electrical ‘silver socket’ similarly mounted to the dashboard near the glovebox, and commonly used in Europe for 12-volt accessories. Sadly, accessories which can utilize this DIN plug are nearly impossible to find in North America, so the socket typically goes unused here.

Fortunately, both these power sockets can be rather easily updated with better fitting and more useful modern sockets; I opted for one standard cigarette-lighter socket, plus a modern dual-USB port for charging digital devices. Both sockets are close enough to the glovebox that charging cords can easily be routed to your electronic toys even when safely tucked away inside the glovebox.

We’ll start by removing the original sockets, enlarging the mounting holes in the dashboard, adding new connectors to the existing wiring, then finish by mounting the new sockets.



  • flat-bladed screwdriver, very small
  • electrical wire cutter/stripper/crimper

Optional Tools:

Such power sockets can see heavy usage in a Camper, requiring extra durability, so I selected a matched pair of heavy-duty marine outlets designed for use in boats. These outlets included optional heavy-duty mounting plates and snap-in water-resistant rubber covers, both of which I found to be unnecessary.

Step 1: Remove old cigarette lighter socket

As always, when working on a vehicle’s electrical system, disconnect the battery to prevent shorts and shocks. If your Vanagon is equipped with a second (auxiliary) battery, disconnect this, too.

It will be helpful to completely remove the glovebox from the van, so empty it out and unclip the two plastic retaining straps located in the front corners; pivot the glovebox completely downward until it can be disengaged from the hinge bracket and removed.

Reach up beneath the dashboard and wriggle loose the plastic wiring connector from the back of the cigarette-lighter socket.

To remove the original cigarette lighter from the dashboard, insert a very small screwdriver into the socket and carefully pry loose the two metal tabs locking the metal inner portion of the socket to the plastic outer surround. The metal socket must be removed first, allowing the plastic ring to follow.

Step 2: Enlarge mounting hole

Try fitting the new cigarette-lighter socket into the mounting hole; if it fits, you’re good to proceed. Mine was too large so I needed to enlarge the hole in my dash using a small handheld Dremel motor tool and a grinding bit. I recommend covering the seats and floor with plastic sheeting to catch the inevitable metal chips while grinding or drilling.

Step 3: Connect wires to new power socket

Fish the wiring connector out through the mounting hole and carefully cut the connector from the wires.

Depending on the model year of your Vanagon, you may have a variety of wiring configurations; in general, there should be two Brown ground wires, one or two Red Positive wires, and possibly a Blue wire for the optional green illuminated surround.

When rewiring the new cigarette-lighter socket, keep the Brown ground wires together, and utilize the same Red wire(s) for the power supply. If your new socket includes an illumination feature, utilize the Blue wire for this; if not, be sure to securely cap off this wire with a wire nut or electrical tape.

Strip the wire ends, insert them in their respective fully-insulated female spade connectors, and crimp securely.

Step 4: Mount new power socket

Prepare to mount the new socket by reaching within the dash and slipping the locking retaining ring over all the power wires.

Draw the wires back out through the mounting hole and connect all the wires to their respective spade terminals on the back of the new socket: Red to (+) Positive, Brown grounds to (-) Negative, and Blue to optional illumination terminal.

Insert the new socket into the mounting hole, be sure it is oriented straight, then thread the retaining ring onto the back of the socket from behind the dash; tighten securely.

If only replacing the cigarette-lighter socket, reconnect the vehicle batteries and test the new power socket.

Your van may also have an unused European DIN socket, or you may simply wish to install an additional power or USB socket; leave the batteries disconnected and continue below:

Step 5: Replace DIN power socket

The European DIN socket utilizes its own independent power supply, but replacing it is nearly identical to the cigarette-lighter socket above except for a few notable differences:

a. The DIN socket is mounted to the dash using a retaining nut which must be removed using a 22mm deep socket from behind the dash
b. The DIN socket’s mounting hole is only about .75″ (19mm), so you’ll need to enlarge the mounting hole quite a bit to fit a new socket.
c. Originally, the DIN socket is grounded via the metal dash structure, so you will find only a single (+) Positive power supply wire. When replacing it with a new power socket, I suggest improving this by running a dedicated ground wire to one of the crown-shaped grounding points mounted to the vehicle chassis, located behind the dash near the driver’s left knee.

As mentioned above, this space can accept a second conventional cigarette-lighter socket, or a modern USB port; I chose a slick double-USB port for maximum charging capabilities.

I used a step bit designed for neatly drilling large holes in sheet metal, which worked quite well. First, measure the outside diameter of the shank of your new USB socket (in my case, approx. 1.125″ or 29-30mm), then find the corresponding ‘step’ on the drill bit. Wrap a section of tape around the bit to mark the proper depth to avoid drilling too deep/wide. When done drilling, smooth the hole edges using the Dremel grinding bit or emery cloth.

Install the second new socket as outlined above, utilizing the original wiring, then reconnect the vehicle batteries and test the new power sockets.

After a few camping trips with our new power sockets, we couldn’t be happier. Cigarette-lighter-type power plugs now remain firmly connected and no longer rattle loose, and the double USB power socket keeps all our electronic devices powered up while travelling.

This simple, affordable project is an easy way to modernize the ill-fitting or outdated power sockets of your classic Vanagon!

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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!

Using a Vanagon Engine Heater

WestySnowHere in the Great White North, we know a thing or two about operating cars in cold weather.

In fact, my Wisconsin hometown (just one or two tankfuls from Canada) suffers January average temperatures several degrees colder than that of Hannover, Germany, birthplace of our beloved VW Vanagons.

As a child, riding in a car with air conditioning was a novelty for me, but every kid recognized the black electrical plug of an engine block heater dangling from the front grill of most cars around here.

An engine heater is an electrical accessory installed in an engine, with a heating element intended to pre-heat the engine before starting in very cold weather.

All engines have difficulty starting when very cold, as lubricating oils are thick and viscous, and tolerances between parts are tight. Cold starts are hard on engines, causing extra wear on poorly lubricated parts and stressing seals and gaskets.

Diesel engines in particular, with their much higher compression ratios, can be notoriously difficult or impossible to start in cold temperatures, and can suffer significant internal wear and damage. Diesel trucks and other equipment working on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline of the far north are often left to run 24/7 in the winter months, rather than risk the difficulty and damage that can result from re-starting in extremely cold conditions.

Additionally, besides easier starting and greater longevity, pre-heating an engine means you’ll have heated cabin air much sooner; nice on a cold winter’s morn. So, all engines can benefit from any means to pre-heat them before starting in very cold weather.

There are four primary types of engine heaters that run on standard 120-volt AC power, and contain a 250-600-watt heating element. Some are better suited for your Vanagon engine than others:

Block Heaters

Block heater installed in VW diesel engine

Block heater installed in VW diesel engine

These typically install directly into a port in the engine block itself, usually replacing a core plug (sometimes erroneously called a freeze plug, or frost plug). Core openings are left in the engine block during the sand-casting manufacturing process, usually opening to the internal water jackets; plugs are installed at the factory. Such a plug can be removed from the block and replaced with a heating-element block heater (see instructions below), to pre-heat the coolant for a few hours prior to cold-weather starts.
VW inline-four engines, including the diesels, work best with such block heaters.

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Inline Coolant Heaters

Inline hose coolant heater

Inline hose coolant heater

The waterboxer engines most commonly found in Vanagons lack core plugs, so require a heater which can be installed in a coolant hose. Essentially, a short section of coolant hose is removed and the heater installed in its place. Ideally, the heater is located low to facilitate upward convection of heated coolant, while cold coolant flows downward to be heated.

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dipstick-heaterThese temporarily replace the engine oil dipstick with a long heating element to pre-heat the oil where it rests in the pan. They are, of course, removed before starting the vehicle. I have no experience with this type, and have heard reports of early failures.

Other Options

Lacking such heaters, an engine can also be pre-heated by placing a halogen work light beneath the oil pan or engine block for a few hours before starting, or even a high-wattage incandescent lamp. In a pinch, a campstove or a can of Sterno fuel can be carefully burned beneath an engine to warm it. These methods will be helped by tucking a blanket over the engine to retain any heat while warming.

Installation of a Block Heater

For the diesel engine used in some VW Vanagons, or if another inline gasoline engine (Jetta, etc.) has been installed, the best choice is a core-plug block heater. For the most uniform heating, the heater should be installed in the center core opening. This job is perhaps best done in conjunction with a bi-annual coolant change, since it requires draining and replacement of the coolant.

  1. Start by disconnecting a lower coolant line to drain the cooling system.
  2. remove freeze plug

  3. Clean the area around the core plugs, located on the side of the engine block, just below the exhaust manifold. Use a hammer and a narrow chisel or an old screwdriver (not a good one, for heaven’s sake) to punch a slot into one of the core plugs, then pry the plug out of the block.
  4. Alternatively, I’ve seen the core plugs removed from other makes of engines by simply using a hammer and a blunt drift. As shown in this video, a hearty whack is applied to the outer edge of the plug to pivot it within the opening, then the plug is grasped with a large pliers and pulled out. Be careful to avoid knocking the plug clear into the water jacket. On my 1Y (and probably the AAZ) 1.9-liter VW diesels, there is a small internal lip running across the back of the core openings, located at the bottom of the opening, perhaps to prevent exactly this problem. So, be sure to knock the TOP of the plug in order to pivot it, should you attempt this method. Once the plug is removed from the block, clean the edges of the opening.
  5. insert-engine block heater

  6. Remove the power supply cord from the heating element and apply a bit of silicone grease to the O-ring seal. Fit the heating element into the opening, ensuring that the bottom ‘loop’ of the copper element is oriented downward, toward the bottom of the engine block. Begin tightening the center screw in the element to expand the wings on the internal “butterfly” retainer, occasionally wiggling the entire element to ensure that it’s properly seated in the opening. Continue tightening until snug, but avoid overtightening or stripping the screw.
  7. install engine block heater

  8. Connect the power supply cord to the heating element and carefully route the cord along the vehicle chassis or engine-carrier bars to a spot convenient for connecting an external extension cord to the plug end. One handy spot is just inside the rear license-plate access door. Securely fasten the supply cord along its length with cable ties, being careful not to allow the cord to entangle on any moving engine or suspension components.
  9. Reconnect the coolant hoses and refill and bleed the cooling system as usual. Look for coolant leaks around the newly-installed block heater.

NOTE: the wise Westy traveler will carry a spare block heater or spare standard core (freeze) plug on the road, in case of the urgent need to replace a lost or leaking block heater.

Using a Block Heater

Depending on the condition of your engine, and its cold-starting abilities, you may want to use a block heater before starting at any temperatures below freezing. It can take 3-4 hours to thoroughly pre-heat a 300-400-lb cast iron engine block in cold weather, so I suggest you connect the heater to a breaker-protected power supply through a programmable timer, capable of handling the 250-600-watt draw. In this way, the heater will start pre-heating your engine a few hours in advance, and will be ready when you are.

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Cabinet Lid Support

The Westfalia center kitchen cabinet with the two top-entry compartments is convenient for storing canned and packaged foods and other groceries. Our only complaint was that these lids refused to stay open while we rummaged around inside for the cowboy beans or a tiny tin of sardines in mustard sauce.

Vanagon-Westfalia-kitchen-lid-supportThe solution, fortunately, lay at the opposite end of the main kitchen galley cabinet, beneath the lid. The wizards of Westfalia-Werke saw fit to install a convenient cabinet lid support here, but neglected to include something similar for the smaller cabinet lids. No worries, for a handy Westy owner can easily install such a folding support there, perhaps even two!

Just as in the kitchen galley cabinet, folding lid supports (also sometimes called ‘support hinges’) mount out of sight beneath the lid of a cabinet, chest, or enclosed desk. Once opened and raised, the support holds the lid in a locked and upright position during use for easy rummaging, then is unlocked and folded down for storage.

For installation in the Westy center cabinet lids, you’ll want a support hinge about 8-10″ in length, and either left- or right-hand-mounted, depending on preference. They are often available in a variety of finishes: brass, chrome, painted, etc..

Vanagon-Westfalia-cabinet-support-hingeVanagon-Westfalia-cabinet-support-hinge2Follow the directions included with the supports to determine the proper locations of the mounting screws in the two ends. Like me, you may have to add a small wooden block or plate to make a suitable mounting spot for the lower end. I also added a small tab to this block to which I adhered a block of foam, to prevent a persistent rattling when the lid is closed.

Also depending on your personal preference, such supports can be mounted so that when folded, the knee joint folds either toward or away from you.

With only a few minutes work, you can make your own Westy kitchen all that much easier to enjoy!

Cabinet Lid Supports available here:
Lid Support Hinge 10″ Left
Lid Support Hinge 10″ Right

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