Camp Westfalia

Archive for Safety

Making the Most of Stay-at-Home Orders, for Van-Campers

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have chosen to self-quarantine in our homes for the next several weeks. Cancelled trip plans, indefinite isolation, travel restrictions, Spring fever, and information overload can all be a recipe for anxiety and boredom.

We are van-campers, damn it! We are not homebodies, and we crave the hills, forests, seashores, and deserts!

Still, few are perhaps as well suited to such home confinement as those of us who travel and live for weeks on end in a rectangular steel box barely larger than the Eagle lunar lander. We can do this!

Here are a few ideas to help you maintain and improve yourself, your home, and your Vanagon!

First, Protect Yourself

Just as the airline flight attendants explain, in case of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, first don your OWN oxygen mask, before attempting to assist others with theirs. Making sure you’ve got oxygen first is crucial if you want to be alert enough to help others.

The same is true while living under the COVID-19 health crisis; keep yourself healthy and sane so you can assist those around you.

Care for Family & Neighbors

Current health protocols suggest that, unless a member of your household is exhibiting early symptoms, or you have reason to believe someone has recently introduced the virus into your home, you can live your life as usual while under Stay-at-Home orders. So, you don’t need to practice ‘safe-distancing’ with healthy household members.

Feed and clothe your kids, enjoy meals with your partner, watch movies and play games with the whole fam together.

But beyond that, check in with neighbors or relatives near and far, especially the elderly or those who live alone (from a safe distance, of course). Ask if they need anything: food, medications, their dog walked, the trash bins taken out to the street, etc..

Use phone, email, or neighbor-to-neighbor online communities to communicate and coordinate with others to ensure that everyone in your area is getting the support they need.

Care for Your Home

A lot of people are using time confined at home to … take care of the home!

Clean the basement or garage, rake the lawn, weed the garden, clean the gutters (well, maybe that one can be procrastinated a little longer). But do be extra careful when doing these neglected household projects: an urgent-care physician friend recently reminded me that slicing your foot open with the lawn mower is always bad; but doing so now, when ER staff are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, is an especially dumb idea. They don’t want you now, and you don’t want to be there!

You might also consider preparing a room in your home in case someone does get sick. Ideally, plan to set aside a separate room with a bed or couch, preferably with it’s own attached bathroom, where a household member could rest and recuperate in isolation from other family.

In advance, collect some supplies to help care for any ill family members:

  • Extra bedsheets & blankets
  • Gatorade, juices, or other fluids for proper hydration
  • Acetaminophen fever reducers
  • Over-the-counter medicines may help with other symptoms
  • Digital thermometer to monitor fever
  • Room humidifier to help ease a sore throat and cough

More information on caring for a sick household member:
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/care-for-someone.html

Use the Internet

Unlike previous epidemics requiring social isolation, we now have far more ways to keep in contact.

Phone calling & text messaging, social media, email, video chat, and a plethora of apps now allow us to easily communicate with friends and strangers around the globe. Please use them, to take care of loved ones near and far, to educate and entertain yourself, and to share your thoughts and plans.

We’re all stronger when we stick together, even when we’re apart.

Preserve Our Economy

The other crucial front on which we must fight this threat is the broader economy.

For better or worse, most every citizen of the world is an active participant in some way of the wider financial world, and this pandemic has thrown it right off the rails. To put it back on track will require the efforts of everyone doing what they can.

To the extent that you can, support local small businesses, especially those most impacted by this pandemic:

  • restaurants, bars & pubs
  • brick-and-mortar retailers
  • providers of goods or services with elastic demand that are not seen as necessities

Consider ‘buying it forward’ by purchasing online gift cards from those businesses that you care about and want to help preserve. Think of it as an investment in a vibrant and thriving future economy, populated by the kind of businesses you believe benefit your community.

Of particular interest to those of us who love old Vanagons & Transporters, please consider ordering parts and supplies from your favorite Vanagon vendors, local or distant. Most of these are surprisingly small businesses, serving a narrow specialty niche that can be especially hard hit by larger economic contractions. Help keep them afloat by ordering Vanagon parts for your next big project, or just stock up on consumables you know you’ll be needing in the future anyway: filters, belts, brake shoes & pads, etc.. Your support now may help determine whether they are still able to serve you tomorrow.

Organize Your Stuff

A bit of down time at home is a good opportunity to clean and organize your camping gear, tools and parts, workshop area, etc.

But don’t stop there; if you continue cleaning out the garage of all that old scrap wood, leaky garden hoses, and that treadmill you never use anymore, you just might be able to fit the car or van in there again!

Start Planning Your Road Trips

Eventually, we’ll be able to ‘flatten the curve,’ travel restrictions will be eased, and we’ll all head screaming for the wide open spaces. Start working out some possible destinations and time frames, camping spots, and sights to see along the way.

Planning a Road Trip
https://campwestfalia.com/planning-road-trip-part-1-go/

Or, get inspired, get educated, and get handy with a good travel or Vanagon book:
https://campwestfalia.com/camp-westfalia-book-shelf/

Your Van Plan

As the weather improves, take the time to start working out any big mechanical repairs or upgrades you’ve been putting off. Organize your work space, collect the tools and parts, and start getting your van ready to go!

What’s Your Van Plan?
https://campwestfalia.com/whats-your-van-plan-for-this-year/

Get Cooking

Now, while you’re stuck at home all day and eating in, is a great time to try out some new camping recipes.

Experimentation is always best done on familiar ground, like your home kitchen, where you have a pantry full of backup options. So, find some new recipes (or create your own) that might be easily made in the campervan and practice them at home.

Get Out

If conditions and local health officials allow, get outside.

Rake the lawn, trim the hedge, walk the dog, ride the bike, work on the van, but go outside. The sunshine, the fresh air, the wave from your neighbor, all contribute to a healthier and happier you.

We Can Do This

Together, we can “flatten the curve” and begin to resume our lives.

Remember to reach out to friends and family for help and support when needed, and make the most of your time at home.

Watch for an upcoming article on proper and safe hygiene while traveling and camping. And stay in touch with Camp Westfalia on Facebook, or get Crosswinds, the free newsletter!

Resources

World Health Organization, Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19)
https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Coronavirus (COVID-19)
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

Government of Canada, Public Health, Coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/coronavirus-disease-covid-19.html

Product Review: TOPDC 100PSI Double-Cylinder Portable Air Compressor

A lightweight, compact 12-volt air compressor for refilling tires and other inflatable equipment


DISCLOSURE
Camp Westfalia was provided with a product sample at no cost in return for an authentic review of this product. All thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of Camp Westfalia, and are not otherwise influenced by the manufacturer or its affiliates.


Integrated 0-150 PSI Gauge

Specifications

  • Operating Voltage: DC 12V
  • Max Power: 250W-300W
  • Air Flow: 60L/min
  • Maximum Pressure: 100 PSI
  • Size: Approx. 9.6 x 3.75 x 6.25″ (24.5 x 9.5 x 16cm)
  • Weight: 6.4 lbs, 2.8kg-3kg

Vanagon and other van-travellers tend to wander off the beaten path, often finding themselves far from major highways, and perhaps beyond reliable phone reception. A flat or leaking tire on the interstate is a big inconvenience, but the same flat tire on a remote byway can be downright dangerous for you and your family. Self-reliance is crucial, and a portable compressor like this can be a real trip saver.

This portable automotive air compressor is lightweight and surprisingly compact. But can it get the job done?

First Impressions

When I first unboxed the TOPDC Double-Cylinder Air Compressor, I was a bit surprised by it’s small size and light weight. It seemed solid enough, but I wondered if such a diminutive device could properly inflate the larger, light-truck tires used on most Vanagons.

Still, its cast alloy cylinder heads, main motor housing, and reinforced case all seemed to make for a pretty durable little unit.

A folding top handle makes it easy to carry, and to lift in and out of the Vanagon bench seat. There’s an LED work light integrated into one end of the case, controlled by a dedicated switch, to shed some light on nighttime flats or other breakdowns.

Unlike most other compressors of this size and price, this TOPDC Air Compressor model features twin cylinders, which evidently makes for higher pressures, faster inflation times, lower noise, and less vibration.

The primary power cord plugs into a cigarette-lighter socket. Also included is an adaptor to run the compressor directly off your main starting or auxiliary battery, a 10-foot coiled extension air hose, and three nozzle adaptors for inflating air mattresses, soccer balls, pool toys, etc..

Everything tucks neatly away inside the included zipper bag, to keep all the loose bits clean, undamaged, and organized.

Get the TOPDC Double-Cylinder Air Compressor here

On The Road or In Camp

To simulate a flat tire, I pounded a 2-inch roofing nail through the sidewall of a low-miles Hankook. Just kidding. Actually, I just unthreaded the valve stem of my Vanagon spare and allowed it to completely deflate while I ate lunch.

For maximum power during my test, I connected the TOPDC Double-Cylinder Air Compressor directly to my starting battery using the included clips. Both the primary air hose and the coiled extension use screw-on connections, so you don’t need to hold the hose onto the tire’s valve stem; just flip the switch and stand by.

Small compressors like this are generally able to provide high pressure but at low volume, so they tend to be slow. While the little unit chugged away, I wondered how long it would take to completely fill the rather large Vanagon tire:

  • At 2 minutes, it had inflated the tire to 25 PSI.
  • At 4 minutes, it had inflated the tire to 35 PSI.
  • At 6 minutes, it had inflated the tire to 48 PSI

All in all, pretty speedy.

NOTE: flat tires should always be inflated while bearing NO VEHICLE WEIGHT, to ensure the tire bead is securely seated on the rim, and so that the compressor is not over-working to lift the vehicle. Either jack the vehicle up so that the wheel is clear of the ground, or remove the wheel from the van entirely. Tires that are only a bit underinflated can be topped up while mounted.

Built-in LED Work Light

Using the 8-foot power cord and extension hose, all four Vanagon wheels are easily reached from the dashboard power socket.

The included instructions warn users to allow the compressor to cool off after 10-15 minute’s use, but after completely filling my tire, I found the cylinder heads and motor casing only very warm to the touch. If inflating something larger like an air mattress, do it in 10-minute intervals to prevent overheating.

When compared to my shop-grade handheld pressure gauge, the compressor’s built-in gauge was accurate to within 1 PSI.

Finally …

Considering its compact size, weight, and versatility for other tasks, there’s no reason not to carry one of these as part of your emergency tool kit. The TOPDC Double-Cylinder Air Compressor fits neatly in the storage space beneath the Vanagon bench seat, and gives us the assurance and peace of mind when travelling in the backcountry

Hits: quality construction, compact & lightweight design, fast inflation, long cord and hose for extended reach, included carrying bag & accessories
Misses: slightly more spendy than lesser portable automotive compressors

Get the TOPDC Double-Cylinder Air Compressor here

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

Vanagon Westfalia Stove Instructions

NOTE: the following text and photos are excerpted from the 1983 Camper “Supplement to Volkswagen Vanagon Owner’s Manual.” For more info on operating the stove see, “Using the Westfalia Stove.”

Downloads
1980-1985 Vanagon Westfalia Campers: “Supplement to Volkswagen Vanagon Owner’s Manual”
1986-1990 Vanagon Westfalia Campers: “Supplement to Volkswagen Vanagon Owner’s Manual”


Gas Stove

PRACTICE SAFETY AT ALL TIMES!

  • DO NOT USE THE GAS RANGE WHILE DRIVING!
  • Keep combustible materials clear of the lighted burners.
  • The burner orifices have been set by the factory for safe operation. DO NOT CHANGE THEIR SIZE!
  • Keep a lighted match ready when turning on the burners.
  • Keep windows or door open when cooking. Gas flames consume oxygen.
  • Never light the burners to heat the interior of your Camper.
  • Make sure the propane tank is securely fastened in place.
  • Check tank and lines from time to time to be sure they are tight. When testing for leaks, use soapy water. DO NOT USE MATCHES!
  • Do not put the sink cabinet cover over an open flame. Wait til the burners and the cooking rack are cold.
  • After cleaning the stove, make sure to anchor the cooking rack securely in the slots provided.

IN CASE OF FIRE!

The dry chemical fire extinguisher is located behind the passenger seat.

  • Release fire extinguisher from holding bracket.
  • Remove the tape over the white discharge button.
  • Hold the fire extinguisher upright and press the button all the way down.

Aim the spray at the base of the flame. Do not test the fire extinguisher. Partial discharge may cause the contents to leak.

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:

“Fire extinguisher education for RVers”
http://www.macthefireguy.com/fire-extinguisher-education-for-rvers

“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!

Your Emergency On-Board Vanagon Tool Kit

How to put together a complete emergency tool kit for your Vanagon, Transporter, or Bus

Every tool is a hammer, except for a screwdriver, which is a chisel.
Perales, Samba member

You’ve spent the better part of the spring (and no small amount of cash) repairing, maintaining, and restoring your Vanagon or Bus, preparing it for The Big Summer Road Trip.

Now, here you sit on the gravel shoulder or in a remote campsite, with a squealing V-belt. Or a water pump that’s no longer pumping water. Or an alternator that’s no longer pumping electrons …

Ultimately, preventative maintenance is really the best tool. So, ideally you will never need to turn a wrench while traveling. But, as we all know, things happen.

So, it’s good to have some tools at hand to perform such emergency repairs, adjustments, or other tweaks your Vanagon may need while on the road. Or to fix other camping gear while traveling.

How many tools, and what kinds?

Some carefree souls venture forth with only a cell phone, a AAA card, and groovy vibes. Other Nervous Nellies pack their vans with a complete workshop of tools and spare parts, like an overloaded covered wagon on the Oregon Trail, to prepare for every possible contingency.

Much of your decision will be determined by your situation, of course. If your Vanagon is used primarily as a daily driver around town, you’re probably seldom more than 5-10 miles from home, so you can carry little more than a spare tire and a lug wrench. If, on the other hand, you’re driving to the ends of the earth, you’ll probably pack your van to bursting with parts and tools, with little room left for a spare pair of socks.

If you find yourself somewhere in between, mainly driving thousand-mile road trips in adjacent states, this will inform your choice of onboard supplies. You’ll need to decide for yourself how much risk you can comfortably bear.

Generally, my main objective is to have 90% of the tools needed for 90% of the repairs I’m likely to encounter while traveling.

Many of these tools you may already have at home, so you’ll need to decide whether to move them to your van for each big trip, or buy duplicates.

Below is my personal list, based on many years of road tripping in a succession of old vehicles, and a certain Teutonic penchant for thoroughness. Some may wonder, “Where do you put all that stuff?” while others will chide, “I can’t believe you forgot the  < insert one more thing here > !”

The Whole Package

I carry these tools in a variety of packs. The socket set is neatly contained in the included compact plastic carry case. A tool roll conveniently keeps all my wrenches in order; and a heavy duty fabric tool bag holds almost everything else and expands & contracts as needed. Only a few large and heavy tools ride loosely under the bench seat: the factory jack, RV levelers, jumper cables, and breaker bars.

Except as noted, all tools are metric, of course.


The Tools

The Bentley Manual

It should go without saying that you should never wander too far from home without this Holy Book of Vanagon repair and maintenance. Even if you’ve already memorized all 724 pages, this mighty tome also functions as a wheel chock.

For good measure, I also carry a tattered copy of the classic “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” to remind me of the more metaphysical aspects of mechanicking, and as a mild sleep aid when loafing in the hammock.

Sockets & Ratchets


Wrenches

Screwdrivers

 

 

Pliers

Electrical

Miscellaneous Small Tools

  • Latex work gloves
  • GoJo hand cleaner wipes, small packet
  • LED headlamp
  • Magnetic work light
  • Sharpie marker
  • Utility knife
  • Small inspection mirror
  • Butane lighter
  • Small tape measure
  • Leatherman-type multi-tool
  • Hacksaw
  • Ball-peen hammer
  • Assorted sandpaper & emery cloth

Vanagon-Specific Tools

If you are not capable of performing a particular emergency repair and have to take your van to an independent mechanic’s garage, a freeway truck stop, or Ye Olde Tyme Blacksmith’s Shoppe, they may not have some of these unusual tools. But if you can provide them, they can get you on the road sooner.


A Few Homemade Custom Tools

Over the years I’ve fabricated a few small tools which have come in handy for routine maintenance or emergencies.

Mini Jumper-Cables

Before discarding that next old, frayed six-foot extension cord, snip the plugs off both ends and add two pairs of Red and Black alligator clips (be sure to keep the correct polarity on both ends).

No, these are not suitable for jumping your Vanagon’s dead starting battery. But they’re great for testing & bypassing various automotive circuits, rigging up test lights, and any number of other electrical tasks. A common use is simple hands-free connection of your voltmeter to the circuit you’re testing.

I was once caught in a torrential rainstorm, and found my windshield wipers suddenly inoperative. I parked under the shelter of a gas station awning and used these mini jumpers to bypass the faulty stalk switch and instead operate my wipers using the steering wheel’s horn button.

CV Joint Alignment Tool

Whether at home or abroad, if you’ve ever replaced a CV joint or axle, you know how difficult it can be to hold the axle in place while you install the first bolt. Get an M8x48 bolt from the hardware store (or just use an old CV bolt) and cut the head off, then cut a slot into the same end of the bolt so you can insert a flat screwdriver. Thread this ‘alignment tool’ into the uppermost hole in the drive flange of the transaxle or wheel hub, then slip the axle’s CV joint over the protruding tool. The axle will hang in position while you install the proper bolts; use a screwdriver to remove the tool, then install the final bolt.

The same tool also works in similar fashion for installing Vanagon diesel V-belt pulley sheaves.

Brake Spoon

Vanagon rear brakes rely on an internal ‘star wheel’ ratchet mechanism for proper adjustment, but this adjustor can be difficult to reach using common brake spoon tools. But, you can fashion one from an old paint can opener.

First, use a large pliers to bend the tip of the opener’s blade flat, like a screwdriver. Then clamp the tool in a vise or a large pair of channel-lock pliers and use another pliers to bend an angle of about 80 degrees in the tool, just above the blade portion.

To use the tool, simply grasp the handle in the palm of your hand and reach in behind the rear wheel. Insert the tip of the tool in the access hole in the brake backing plate and find the teeth on the ratchet ‘star’ wheel. Pressing firmly, use the tool to dial the star wheel up or down as needed.

With practice (ask me how I know), you can pull over and easily make this adjustment within seconds, then hit the road for further brake testing until you get it right. Oh, what an enjoyable way to spend one’s first day of cross-country vacation after a recent brake job …

Bonus: many such paint can openers feature an integrated bottle opener in the handle, so you can enjoy an adult beverage while admiring your work.

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With a good onboard tool kit, and a little know-how, you’ll be ready for just about anything the Road to Adventure can throw at you!

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