Spare parts and you

This is a kind of rambling one, I wasn't sure where to put it so I hope I put it in the right place...

How many spare parts do you carry in your VW? If you're a beginning VW enthusiast or just use your VW for transportation, you probably don't have that many. Maybe...just don't have enough. OK, don't try to hit me, I'm not saying that your car is a junker. Maybe it is (in which case you need some parts...) maybe it isn't. How many times have you broken down? Are you prepared for a minor break down?

When I was driving my '74 beetle, I carried a lot of spare parts. Probably a few more than I needed, and I imagine I was missing a couple of things as well. People laughed when I told them I had two spare carburetors sitting in the trunk, clean and ready to run, but I knew something they didn't: my '74 had a fondness for clogging up carburetors. Even if I changed the fuel filter every now and then, eventually it would clog up a carb. Three times this has happened. The first time, very shortly after I began driving the car daily, I was unprepared. I was stranded at the side of the road, at the time a low-traffic road called Lower Fayetteville, kind of the "back way" to get to Newnan from Peachtree City. Luckily a friend of mine was driving on the same road and saw me, gave me a lift. We towed the car to a mechanic. They put a new carburetor on it (muttering how the old carb was worn out, well, it probably was), adjusted it, handed me a bill for $240. Wow. After that, I kept a spare carb in the car and the other two times just switched out carbs and kept driving, cleaning the old one up when I got home and reinstalling it.

As you probably know, there is a vast difference between $240 and "free". There is also the matter of convenience -- maybe five minutes to switch out a carb on the side of the road, versus up to a week or more at an auto shop plus you're probably going to be stranded somewhere a while and you have to pay for towing. The carb was not free (it was the old "worn out" carb), you might say I paid $240 for it. But I got my money back the first time I broke down, and have since "earned" another $240 just because of the carburetor alone. So for spare parts we are talking about convenience and money at the same time. Of course, you can always sell your VW and get a newer car -- but here I am assuming this is the last thing on your mind, as that's how I feel. Now take into consideration one other thing: how spare parts affect your reliability.

If you buy a VW and drive it, something is going to break if you give it long enough, which means that if you're on your way to a job interview or a date or whatever, something on the car might "go" without regard to the importance of getting you where you want to be. Even if you super-diligently maintain everything on the car it's going to happen at least once or twice a year (in my experience). Maybe I'm not the best mechanic in the world but I'm good enough. I replace bad parts and fix problems as soon as I come across them. I keep a toolbox in my car all the time (while out of the local area I take three) as well as my collection of parts. You should be equipped for at least the following things:

That about covers it for basic spares. Some people will want to be more equipped but anything much more than above indicates serious problems that should have been taken care of before you left. Perhaps even more important than all these tools and parts is a good maintenance program. I do an oil change and once-over every 1500 miles and do a real good check-and-replace-if-needed on the whole top end of the engine every 3000 miles. I set the valve clearances, clean or replace the points and gap them correctly and check out the other distributor parts, set the timing, adjust the idle on the carb if necessary, change the oil, check the fan belt deflection, grease the front end, and just look over everything. In that order. I also crawl under the car and check for leaks, torn CV joint boots (on the '74 which had them), just check for bad stuff going on, you know? Check the tire pressure every oil change, or if the weather has changed, or if the car has started to "pull" to the right or left. Always alert to problems while driving, I try to take care of them before they threaten the car's reliability, usually a balancing act between my budget and the car.

I'm really overshooting my initial idea, which was the importance of spares in the car, but maybe that's better so you see a bigger picture of driving a VW all the time. In no way is this a complete picture of maintaining a VW, I do more when it is necessary. I'm just trying to give you an idea that if you expect a 25 year old or more Volkswagen (and the "newer" fuel injected beasties up to 1979) to get you where you want to go, you have to give it some attention. This isn't a new car with electronic ignition and sophisticated, computer controlled fuel injection (post 1975 people ignore me about the latter), it's a vehicle based largely on "the best of 1935 technology". You're driving this antique vehicle here near the twenty-first century. It's not going to be like your neighbor's Mitsubishi Eclipse.

Andrew W. 1/28/99

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