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Article: Resuscitating and
Mummifying a Beetle
Last updated: 10/27/01
Symptom- You are "putting away" your
trusty Beetle for some indeterminate amount of time and you want to do
the right thing. OR You are "waking up" a sleeping Beetle and trying
to get it road ready, and you want to do the right thing.
Just wanted to be clear on that.
Anyway, inherent in the Beetle hobby is the fact that many of these cars will "sit" for long periods of time. This could be because they are being stored, their "resto" is taking along time, or their resto has simply not started. And unfortunately, many times, the owner really doesn't intend for the car to sit for a long time, but it ends up doing so and without certain precautions, often unnecessarily costs time and money to rectify. So this article will offer some suggestions on resuscitating and mummifying a Beetle. Many of them are inverses of the other, but I will start with resuscitating, then discuss mummifying.
And lastly, I just thought of something cool
to do with this text. Everywhere I mention the possible use or need of
a part or supply, I will use this dark red
color. So you can scan through this article and get all your stuff ready
prior to resuscitating or mummifying your old Beetle. I will be doing this
with any new articles I write.
Before I start, let me say that a bit of this "resuscitating" stuff is covered in the "Ok, I bought a Beetle, now what?" article. But it doesn't presume that the car was necessarily dug up after years of storage. You might want to read it nonetheless for another perspective, there is lots of "get it ready for the road" stuff there. The text below is really aimed at the "barn" or "field" Beetle. The one where you can't find anyone alive who remembers driving it. Use common sense in any case.
Ok, lets make some assumptions here. You have a Beetle that has just been brought out of mothballs/dusty barn/towed from a weedy backyard and you want to "get it going". Probably 90% of the Resusitation/Mummify issues around Beetles (and cars in general for that matter) involve fluids. There is a "quiz" in the "Ok, I bought a Beetle, now what?" article; name all the fluids needed by a Beetle.
When gas gets "old", it breaks down chemically and turns into a brownish, gummy substance that many people refer to as "varnish" or "shellac" and has a very strong smell. It smells, well "old". Acetone or Carb Cleaner will dissolve this stuff. New, fresh gas won't. Varnish is not good for the fuel system. The entire system should be cleaned out and inspected. I know that you have heard the stories of finding an old VW in a barn, tossing in a battery and some fresh gas and "she sputtered and started right up!" (or you saw Woody Allen's "Sleeper") but don't do this. You could make things much worse by flowing chunks of varnish into the carb and gumming things up even worse.
I have a comprehensive article on the whole fuel system called "The Fuel Path: Tank to Carb". It has a lot of details on how to troubleshoot and "resto" the fuel system that I won't go into here. I'll just say that I strongly recommend that you do this. In short:
Just like gas, never try to start up a crusty, sleeping Beetle without changing the oil. First, warm the engine case and drain the oil. You can use a small "space" heater, a heat gun or even a hairdryer underneath (but not touching) the case. Leave it for an hour or so until the whole engine feels warm, then drain the oil. After that, pull off the sump plate and thoroughly clean the strainer. Replace it and the plate, using new gaskets. Then put 2 quarts of new oil in the case. Once you get the engine running, run it at a reasonably fast idle for 2-3 minutes, then dump the oil, remove the sump plate, clean the strainer, re-install (you can use the same gaskets) and add another 2 quarts of oil. Then, after you run the engine again (maybe drive the car) and it is fully warmed up, dump the oil again and add yet another 2 quarts of oil. This may sound extreme, but a lot of crud in the engine can break free when it is started up again and 4 quarts of oil is a small price to pay. In fact, change the oil after another 500 miles if you drive the car.
Pretty much the same as the engine oil. Heat up the tranny (even MORE important with tranny oil), drain it and re-fill with 2 quarts of a quality 80 or 90 weight gear oil. While you are under there, check out the axle boots (swing axles, '68 and older), and replace them if necessary. Yeah, go ahead and buy these ahead of time, it is very unlikely that after years the old ones will be any good.
Brake fluid is a funny thing. As long as you are using it, it will last for a long time. But let it sit, and it goes bad. I just got my '57 chassis out from under tarps after about two and a half years. I had just put new brake lines/hoses/everything on it before putting it away (and fresh fluid). Anyway, when I pumped it, it was dark and foamy. Brake fluid is made to resist the absorption of water, but eventually it does, and water is bad. So take from this that all of the brake lines on your resuscitation project must be fully flushed out with fresh brake fluid. See "Resuscitating Beetle- Brakes" below.
Resuscitating Beetle- Brakes
Next on the list of stuff that "crusts over" is the brakes; the mechanical part. There is probably no better opportunity to practice you metal conquering (and swearing) techniques than to bust open all the drums on a generations-old Beetle that has been untouched for almost as many years. My rule of thumb is to never plan on re-using any internal brake hardware. Corrosion, even surface rust, makes brake components unsafe. Plan on replacing shoes, wheel cylinders, hardware (springs and such) and possibly drums. The backing plates usually survive neglect OK though. You will want to basically "resto" each of the 4 hubs. Start with the fronts, they are usually easiest. I'm not gonna tell you how, you should already have the Muir book and/or the Robert Bentley manual (www.rb.com) to tell you "how". The only two tips that I would add here is to spray WD-40 or penetrating oil in the lug not holes a day or two before (only because you will be replacing everything inside) and make sure you back the adjusting stars off all the way (see Muir) before taking the drums off. You may need a hammer and large screwdriver to do this. Take everything off and inspect the drums. My rule of thumb is that if there is a ridge worn near the inner lip greater than a dime's thickness, they are trash an should be replaced.
The back hubs are where the real fun comes
in, for two reasons. One is the infamous rear axle nut, the other is the
fact that cars are often mistakenly stored with the emergency brake on.
As for the axle nut, see my "Tool techniques" article.
The preferred method is a 3/4" breaker bar with
"cheater" pipe, a 36mm or 1 7/16" 3/4" drive socket, a torch and penetrating
oil. Do this only while the car is on the ground, wheels on
and chocked. That not available, a very large adjustable
"crescent" wrench may be used. The alternate method is to use
the slug wrench as seen on my "Altar
of Manhood" page (scroll down). This is less preferred because some
schools indicate that you can do bearing and tranny damage using them.
I have used the slug wrench on occasion but personally have never experienced
this damage. Make sure you release the emergency brake handle and adjust
the shoes all the way out before attempting to remove the drums. And a
word of caution, at the time of this writing, '57 and earlier rear
drums were pretty damn hard to find. Don't trash yours until you are sure
they are unusable and you have something else.
Resuscitating Beetle- Other Stuff
I'm not going to try and tell you how to
start an engine that has not been run in 10 years. But I would say to use
common sense, ie. if you do get it to run, don't expect it to effortlessly
scoot you around for another 100k miles. But if it is otherwise trash,
and you do get it to run, by all means, let it live out its useful life.
There are many a marvelous story about "Barn Beetle" engines coming back
to life and living again for many years. Just do all the maintenance (ignition
stuff, valve adjust, oil, etc.) about 2-3 times as often as you usually
would for the first year.
Here's a quick summary "Checklist" for Resuscitating
|Checklist for Resuscitating a Beetle|
....Ancient Egyptian prayer for the dead
[Special thanks to Bob Hoover for some additional tips on mummifying, added since the first publication of this article.]
If you didn't read the "Resuscitation" stuff above, go do it. At a minimum, it will paint a picture of you of stuff you don't want to have to deal with as a result of your own actions. This section will follow a similar format than the one above, why? Because if you do all this stuff, you won't have to do all that stuff later! Also, Page 22 of the '57 restoration series contains some details and pictures on how I store my '57 for the winter. You might want to check that out also.
Very often, with the best of intentions, we park a Beetle thinking "This summer I'm gonna get this thing done". This is very often the case after another vehicle is purchased or maybe after a change in life like a new house or a marriage. But as I said in the "Ok, I bought a Beetle, now what?" article,
Mummifying a Beetle- First things first
WASH the car and clean it out thoroughly.
Mummifying a Beetle- Fluids, again
Two approaches to gas; all or nothing.
Remove the rubber fuel lines from the rear
of the car and blow out the main metal line that runs through the tunnel
line. Blow out the fuel pump, from the inlet side, with LOW pressure air
(5 psi or less). If the car runs, start it at this point and let it run
until it stalls. As it starts to sputter, open the throttle all the way.
This will remove most all of the gas from the carb. Lastly, make some rubber
caps by cutting about a 1" piece of fuel line and squeezing a little bit
of silicone rubber into one end. Once
the silicone is dry, place these caps on both ends of the main metal line,
on the input and output points of the fuel pump and on the carb input.
Brake fluid. Hmmmm. I have tried to stay away from a table that says "if less than one year do this, up to 3 years, do this, etc. etc." But for brake fluid, you almost have to. Understand that brake fluid, especially unused, absorbs moisture, and as we all know, moisture causes rust. The "DOT" grades of fluid, by the way, have nothing to do with moisture absorption. It specifies the boiling point of the fluid. Silicone fluids do not absorb moisture, but are very expensive and to "convert" a system from Glycol to Silicone requires the whole brake system be rebuilt, not just flushed out. I recommend a Glycol DOT4 or better fluid for Beetles. Silicone would be a good choice for a brand new, not-to-be-driven-much resto if the whole brake system is re-done
So here are some storage time dependent recommendations
for dealing with the brake fluid system:
|1 year or less||Flush and replace fluid prior to storing and again when put back in use.|
|2-4 years year or less||Flush and replace fluid each year, or drain lines and remove master and wheel cylinders.|
|4 years or more||Drain lines and remove master and wheel cylinders.|
These are guidelines. Take from this that once fluid is installed in a car, it will require some maintenance or deterioration, possibly damage will occur. For very long term storage, the master and wheel cylinders should be removed and store in a sealed, dry place. As with any metal, the environment (humidity) will eventually cause deterioration of exposed metal surfaces. If you remove the cylinders, "cap" the ends of the drained lines using the method described above for fuel lines.
Always completely seal up the system prior to storage. This means tightly cap the brake fluid reservoir. Some reservoir caps are vented and should be screwed down with a few thickness of plastic wrap under them to prevent absorption of moisture.
For the transaxle oil, best to change it, but at a minimum, make sure the oil is fresh and topped off. There is a part of me that would recommend over filling it, but that is a bit hard to do and you'd have to make sure remembered to drain some off when you took the wraps off. Also make sure that the axle boots are in top shape and don't leak, at all.
For the engine oil, I recommend draining
it and putting 4 fresh quarts in. Obviously you have to make sure that
you drain off 2 when you start it. You should do this for a couple reasons.
One, it will keep most of your inner valve train immersed in oil and two,
it will allow your "periodic spinning" (see "Maintenance of your mummy"
below) to be most effective.
Mummifying a Beetle- Brakes (mechanical part)
Release the emergency brake and go around
and back the adjusting stars off all the way on each hub. You do not want
your shoes contacting the drums at all, or even real close. This
will keep the surface rust and corrosion that will inevitably form inside
the drums from ruining the shoes. It will also help insure that your car
will roll when you need it to. Many people forget this step and
are sorry they did later.
Mummifying a Beetle- Suspension, wheels
Do not store you Beetle resting on its wheels. Wheels are best stored off of the car (see below), BUT you want the suspension to be loaded. Huh!? If the suspension is fully unloaded, the ball joints or king/link pins will be resting in a position that they aren't normally in and may not want to go back when the car is put back on the road. Additionally, when the suspension is fully unloaded, the shock absorber shafts are fully exposed outside of the shock and they may get corroded or surface rusty making them difficult to re-compress. Some people cringe at this suggestion, but I would store Beetle resting on its drums. Use some blocks of wood under them, with smaller block nailed on to them front and back to "chock" the drums and keep them from rolling off. Short blocks will allow the car to rest much lower than it normally sits on tires and may make other storage space available. You can also build a pair of rolling dollies out of wood that the drums can sit on and will allow you to move the car around.
Another way to do this is to support the car by the bottom shock mounts, front and back. In the back, they are part of the axletube/torsion arm ends, up front the lower torsion arm. This can be a bit of a trick as the shock mounts are pretty close to the brake backing plates. I have done this using blocks of railroad tie. Make sure the front wheels are pointing straight ahead and do not turn the steering wheel when the front is supported by blocks under the shock mounts. It will easily fall to the floor!
Page 22 of the '57 restoration series shows how I made dollies to do this and keep the wheels on the car.
Wheels are best stored with the air
and valve stems removed, laying on their sides, and covered. Ideally, they
should not be stacked, but storage space may prevent this. I stack mine
4 high with cardboard in between, and
cover them with a plastic garbage bag.
Ultraviolet light, even from artificial lamps, can accelerate cracking
of the rubber.
Mummifying a Beetle- Seals
"Crush" type rubber seals will loose their effectiveness if stored crushed. The best example of this are the door seals. Ideally, you should remove them, and possibly the hood and decklid seals, and store them in a dark, cool place. If this is not practical, store the car with the doors slightly ajar. But unless the doors are completely open, the forward portion of the seals will be crushed. You can prop the hood and decklid open slightly and do them some good.
And while they are not exactly seals,
they are rubber, so we will talk about the windshield wiper blades. You
don't want to store the car with them pressed against the windshield. Get
little blocks of wood or something
similar to place between the midpoint of the arm and the windshield. Just
wide enough to keep the rubber off the glass slightly. Do not bend them
out all the way if they are the kind that you can do that to. This severely
stresses the spring and if left that way for along time, will weaken it.
If you don't want to scare up little blocks of wood, just remove the whole
Mummifying a Beetle- Engine
Aside from an engine oil "overfill" above, seal off you carb throat. An easy way is to remove the air cleaner, use some plastic wrap and a rubber band to seal the carb throat. Remove the oil from an oil bath cleaner and wipe it out. You can place it back on the sealed carb, but make sure you remember to remove the plastic before starting it up again, else the plastic can actually get sucked in and ingested by the engine (place a note to yourself on the dash!). I don't trust my self to remember and just wrap the cleaner in a plastic bag and lay it in the engine bay on one side. Loosen the spark plugs about 1/2 turn but leave them in. This will help prevent them from seizing into the heads.
Remove the distributor cap and rotate the engine until the points are closed. This relieves pressure on the spring and preserves the lubrication as much as possible. Make sure you do this each time you "spin" the engine (see "Maintenance of your mummy" below).
If the car (or just the engine) will be stored
for along time (more than a whole year) you want to completely seal up
the engine case else moisture will collect inside as the temperature changes
and the engine "breathes". Water will quickly corrode the alloy case
from the inside!
Mummifying a Beetle- Battery
Simple, remove it from the car. Do not leave
it on a cement floor. Not sure why, but I was told that this was bad. I
keep mine on my workbench. Kind of keeps it there in front of me and influences
me to use it every now and then to test light bulbs and stuff. Even better
to take it in the house, especially if you live where it gets very cold.
If you get a "trickle" charger, make
sure it is a floating circuit type, designed to be left connected to the
battery. Many cheaper ones, labeled "trickle chargers" are not this type.
Mummifying a Beetle- Pest Controls
Really. I have a little field mouse that shares my garage with me. At least I think he is still around. He used to hang out by the sink and eat the soap off the bar; I saw little teeth marks and he considerately left little (soapy) turds. A couple years ago, I rescued him, nearly drowned from the sink drain. He was saved from a ride to the sewage treatment plant by a small "X" grate a bit below the drain opening in my plastic "laundry" sink. But last year, I snipped that grate out for some reason, then a month or two later, the sink started draining really slow. So I worked it with a plunger a bit and suddenly it broke free. Wonder if I'll see little Hermie this winter.....
You only have to teardown one "Barn
Beetle" to realize the there are animals that love Beetles as much as we
do. Recently at the newsgroup, there have been stories of people starting
up years-dormant Beetles and shooting singed, dazed mice out of the tailpipes,
no lie. So I thought I'd offer some very valuable tips that came out of
Various species of Rodentus Annoyus love to find dark crannies in Beetles to nest in. But there feces and urine will damage metal by fostering rust and corrosion. Additionally, in their search for soft, loose nest "bedding" they may damage upholstery, paddings, linings, and other non-metal components. They particularly seem to like the grey padding that is used behind the headliner near the back window. So best to keep them out.
Mummifying a Beetle- Protecting from the elements
The two worst enemies of a car in storage are water and sunlight. We all know what water does, sunlight attacks finishes and rubber seals. On my list, after those two dangers, comes kids bikes. Namely handlebars without grips. You get the idea. If the car is stored, long term, in a garage that is often used, cover it and protect it. Page 22 of the '57 restoration series shows how my '57 is stored for the winters. I built a hinged, plywood "wall" to protect it from the other inhabitants of the house. As for car covers, if it is indoors, nothing fancy is needed. Old blankets and/or bedspreads are fine. Soft cotton is best for a fine painted finish. Also, a moisture barrier for a cement floor is a good idea. A lot of moisture can "breath" up out of a cement floor. Before rolling your car into its resting position, place one of those inexpensive blue poly tarps down on the floor.
Then there is outside. As much as
we would all like to have a BIG garage or barn many of our treasured cars
are relegated to storage
But storing any Beetle outside is better than sending it off to the crusher. I am of the opinion that there is no car cover that will "preserve" Beetle outside, long term (but many claim to). In fact, in many cases, a VW may be best stored uncovered. The problem comes in when a cover is in contact with a car body. Invariably, moisture will be trapped and the car's finish will suffer. On the other hand, remember that you are trying to protect the car from water (major moisture) and UV (sunlight). Given this, there are some cases when covering a Beetle is best. If the painted body surface is somewhat sacrificial (like you are going to strip it and paint it "one day" anyway) a poly tarp may offer the best protection.
If you are covering a car for storage outside:
If you are storing a car outside uncovered:
Mummifying a Beetle- Maintenance of your mummy
Now, about that "engine spinning". The idea is to keep a thin film of oil on the metal surfaces inside your engine, just like when it is running. Having 4 quarts of oil in there helps that. My technique is:
Depending on your drill's power, you may get enough speed to actually extinguish the oil pressure idiot light. Of course if you car is mothballed and the battery is removed, you wouldn't know, but you may want to try this before doing all else. You remove the spark plugs to make the engine easy to turn. Especially if you pulled off the rockers and all the valves are closed (try turning that by hand). And if you try this with battery in and ignition on make sure the plugs are removed else that engine may start and that drill go a-flyin' (been there, done that). There will be a lot of air expelled and sucked into the spark plug holes, that is why you want the area around them to be very clean (don't want anything sucked in there).
If the car is stored outside, uncovered,
remember to wash and wax it at least twice a year. And keep the kids bikes
away from it. And if you did not drain the brake fluid, I would flush and
re-fill it every year.
Mummifying a Beetle- Write it all down!!
Write down EVERYTHING you do in the storage process, tape a copy to the steering wheel!!! It is so easy to forget when it comes time to resuscitate the car. Make it impossible for you (or anyone else) to not know what was done prior to storing the car. If you do this annually, take the time on your computer to make a little checklist with "Done" and "Undone" columns that you can use each fall and spring.
Here's a quick summary "Checklist" for Mummifying
|Checklist for Mummifying a Beetle|
[Will you REALLY remember to re-tighten the spark plugs all by yourself? Hmm??]
That is all I can think of right now. Bottom line is that you have to have respect for the damage that neglected fluids can do. Next you have to preserve the rubber parts on the car. A lot of the other stuff is very simple and can make owning and storing a Beetle much less painful. Collectively, it may seem like a lot, but in contrast to the effort that many of us put into our cars to get them on the road in the first place, it is a small price to pay. Feel free to e-mail me if you have any other tips or ideas that I might be able to add to this article, or to the "Reader Contributed" page.