Guest blog: Keeping your VW bus alive on an epic adventure

Posted on December 12 2017

Way-Out Westie - Cool Flo

Planning a road trip in 2018? In his second guest blog for Cool Flo, Michael from Way-Out Westie shares his top tips on how to avoid breakdowns.

Only people that drive an old Volkswagen know that every journey is an adventure. Whether it’s heading to a local show, a trip to the coast or that little bit further there are many problems that can arise. We like nothing better than packing up our bus and heading off on a road trip. There’s just something about travelling in our rolling home with everything we need, often not knowing exactly where we will sleep or who we will meet.

Although we love to wild camp and the freedom of sometimes not booking a campsite we do plan every trip meticulously when it comes to the mechanical condition of our camper Rocky.

Prevention is better than cure
It’s impossible to predict a breakdown however there is a great deal you can do to help prevent one. A high number of breakdowns or issues we have come across in other people’s vehicles could have been prevented with regular maintenance and checks. It’s great if you can do the work yourself, youtube, VZI and TheSamba are great resources and cover so many topics. I keep a journal noting down all maintenance and issues against mileage, this not only helps me keep track of service intervals it has on more than one occasion helped me predict potential parts fails and breakdowns.

If you can’t do the work yourself don’t scrimp on paying a good aircooled mechanic to regularly check over and service your vehicle, trust me it will make for more enjoyable adventures! Even if you get someone to maintain your pride and joy there is no excuse in not having a little knowledge on how it runs, knowing service intervals, how to change a clutch and throttle cable as well as how to adjust points, set valves and know how to check if your engine is receiving a spark and fuel.

Way-Out Westie - Cool Flo

Where to start
When we started planning our adventure (10,000 miles across the USA), we started by buying the right vehicle for our needs. A dry import that was regularly maintained, regularly used and was structurally sound.

We checked our camper over thoroughly and picked up on a few issues, knowing that we would be driving sometimes 1000s of miles in a week and living, eating and sleeping in a 50 year old vehicle we needed to be as sure as possible that we would make it in one piece.

We undertook the following to ensure we didn’t experience any problems on the road:

  • A complete brake overhaul, new shoes, adjusters, drums, flexi and hardlines and cylinders where required. Fully bled system with new fluid.
  • Refurbished steering box and coupler, new ball joints and suspension, draglink, damper, idler pin and grease up.
  • New front and rear bearings and seals and new rear hub assembly.
  • Master cylinder pin seal, pedal floor seals, cab rubber mats, rewired horn, sourced replacement sun visor, recovered drivers seat, replaced wipers.
  • Replaced the fuel lines and filter, clutch, release bearing, gearbox oil, inspected cv joints, full engine check and service including timing, valve adjustment , compression check etc. Added all original tin where missing. Tidied and renewed engine bay wiring where required, added missing center main heater pipe and attached heater cables.
  • New front seatbelts, boxed in propex heater and installed permanent heat outlet and controller. Adjusted and greased sliding door, cavity waxed all arears after adding sound proofing and insulation. Wax oiled arches and exposed areas, added elastic nets everywhere, put in copper gas lines from heater and hob to area that gas bottles are kept.

An Epic Adventure
Knowing we had done everything we could to avoid breakdowns our next thoughts turned to the terrain and mileage our bus would be experiencing. Due to the service intervals of 3000 mile oil changes, regular brake adjustments, cable adjustments and grease-ups we knew that we’d have to carry the necessary service items. We fitted two hard cases on our roof rack to keep dirty items such as oil, funnels, waste oil containers and spare fuel out of our clean eating and sleeping area.

Spare parts
We found that carrying the right spare parts enabled us to have limited delays in our journey. Things break and need to be replaced once in a while so we carried the most common service items and hard to get parts.

We carried all cables, brake lines, brake cylinders and small parts, all ignition parts, lug nuts and hub nuts, spare bearings and hub seals, carb rebuild and linkage spares, fuel and oil pipe, fuel pump, rocker assembly parts, service items, bulbs, fuses, wiring kit, a variety of nuts and bolts and clips, full engine gasket set, JB weld, duct tape, fanbelt, rocker gaskets, oil, grease, carb cleaner, WD40, a ball joint, brake fluid, cable ties and many more items we picked up through experience, circlips, split pins, washer, nuts, bolts, cable ties and hose clamps, spare distributor, sump plug and washer

Full spanner and socket set, breaker bar, small and large torque wrenches, torque multiplier, spark plug socket, large sockets for hub and drop arm, grease gun, allen keys, special 13mm spanner, Foot pump, multiple fire extinguishers, mustimeter, feeler gauges, hex tool for cv joints, wire cutters and crimp tools, socket converters, timing light, flywheel locking tool, pump puller, ball joint splitter

Stay calm – what breakdowns we had
Expect the unexpected, know there will be breakdowns and embrace them. If you fully expect them to happen, are as prepared as you can be, then when they do happen you can be cool and calm. Not only that you will make new friends!

There were lots of little bits that needed repairing, from a broken fusebox to a leaky pushrod tube seal and a snapped throttle cable when pulling on to the freeway somewhere in Pittsburgh. We had a spare so fitted a new one within 5 minutes and carried on our journey.

Way-Out Westie - Cool Flo

We did have a bigger breakdown though. When we checked over Rocky we did a compression check on his 1641 engine. The engine itself was in good rebuilt condition but was from an unknown source with unknown mileage. After 8500 tough miles in to our trip, multiple mountain passes up to 11000ft, long dirt tracks over rocky terrain and long drives through the desert we found ourselves in Oregon.  In the most beautiful spot, on the wild Pacific coast, with green pine trees meeting the deep blue ocean, whilst watching sea lions play in the waves with a small lighthouse shining through a thin mist covering the cove our engine died with an impressive bang . We had no phone signal, but we quickly made friends with a passer-by who enabled us to get Rocky towed to Portland. We stayed with friends and within a week we got a new engine shipped up from California and fitted it ourselves over Christmas.  We carried on our adventures with a larger 2110cc engine which certainly helped with the hills!

Be prepared and expect the unexpected and you can go anywhere. If we can do it anyone can!

For more tips on keeping your pride and joy in tip top condition visit