“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.
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.
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):
Q: Bentley or Haynes?
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.
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.
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.