Story by Lois Grace

Being of sound mind and fertile (or was that futile?) imagination, I had the thought recently that every VW owner could benefit by a short discussion of how the VW actually works.  After all, how many of us really know how our trusty Bug or Bus or Ghia gets us around?  In all reality, it is amazing to me that it works at all, because even though very simply in design, like the human body, things in a VW happen in a mysterious and marvelous way. I'd like to take a few moments to attempt to explain the VW process, if I may, from a Blonde's Eye point of view. It never hurts to refresh your memory, and if it does hurt after this, I apologize.

To really understand how and why your VW works the way it does, you must understand the various systems that work together in perfect harmony to create that lovable and familiar tickety-tickety-tick that we know so well.  Of course, not all cars are designed and put together like a VW, and even in the Volkswagen alone, there are many different changes and technical 'advancements' that make simplifying my explanation somewhat difficult.  Therefore, I shall stick to what I know best, the early air-cooled models, and leave the later and more sophisticated models to someone who enjoys such torture.  How does the perfect harmony of all these various components take us from Point A to Point B?  Take your VW apart (figuratively, of course, I don't have room here for the reassembly process), piece-by-piece, and this whole wonderful process becomes just a bit more understandable, especially if I'm not explaining it. But still, I might be able to make things seem a bit clearer.  Read on.

The logical place to begin, I think, is with the fuel system, since without fuel, the engine can't run.  If you have ever run out of gas, you can testify to this fact.  The fuel goes from the tank to the engine via the 'fuel line'.  Once back in the engine, the gasoline is run through something called a 'fuel pump', whose sole mission in life is to pump the gas up a short tube to the carburetor.  Sounds fairly dull, doesn't it?  But do not underestimate the fuel pump's job - like I did - nor take it for granted - like I did - because if you treat the fuel pump as if it were merely a little roundy unimportant gray thingy bolted onto something back there, it will get you back for this neglectful and demeaning treatment at a very inconvenient place at a terrible time - like mine did.  That's another story but treat the fuel pump with the respect it deserves.  Anyway, without the fuel pump your VW will perform in a very predictable manner by ceasing to function at all and causing you to believe you are merely out of gas, while all the while the fuel pump is sitting back there, laughing and snickering to itself.  To continue, the fuel pump pumps fuel to the 'carburetor', unless you have a 'fuel injected' model Volkswagen, in which case you can do away with the carburetor entirely.  This clever and incredibly simple-minded system does just what it says - it injects the gasoline directly into the engine via the manifold, which isn't much different than what the carburetor does, except that with fuel injection there is no carburetor.  Just WHY you need a carb at all is beyond me and I don't truly really CARE, since the only fuel injected car we have is a Saab anyway and VW logic doesn't apply to Saabs.  Come to think of it, not much logic does apply to Saabs.  But in the early days anyway, VW rejected the idea of fuel injection as far too simple to ever be any good and supplied all its cars with carburetors.  Hence the 28 PCI, the 30 PICT 2, the 32 PICT 3, and the 123 SPIT carburetor models were born.  Any questions??

But to press onward here, the carb is really nothing more than a little (little on a VW anyway, since these suckers can get HUGE and tend to multiply on larger cars) round thingamajig that is used to spray gasoline into a fine mist that will be delivered to the engine in a manageable form.  Or something like that. Anyway, gas comes out the fuel line, after being pumped upwards by the fuel pump, to be squirted delicately into the carb, after which a valve or float or some sort of flappy metal deeleebobber leaps around in there, getting the gas to the engine.  Understand?  Good.  To continue - yes, there are a series of tubes and such in the carb, sticking out here and there at various odd angles and making it impossible when rebuilding one of these things to remember WHICH tube when where.  Lord help you if you screw the wrong tube into the wrong home - like I did - because each of these tubes has a small homing device located on the end, and will not accept its new home with grace.  Matter of fact, most will neatly break in two if you try to plant it somewhere other than its own hole.  So, a word to the wise here.  I have no idea of these tubes' purpose in there - other than to annoy and frustrate you - but VW put them there so that's a good enough reason for me.  Anyway, the gas next goes down the throat of the 'intake manifold', so called because it 'takes in' fuel, and I don't have a clue as to what the manifold part is supposed to mean.  But at any rate, the engine sits there, hungrily awaiting the fuel and hoping it might be in the form of a cheeseburger or a taco or at least a chocolate shake, but no, it's only GASOLINE - until the manifold splits itself into four tubes, via some sort of nuclear fission or something.  But for whatever reason, these four tubes each go to one 'cylinder', as a way of delivering the fuel to that cylinder.  Are you with me so far?  Excellent.  OK, once the fuel is in the cylinder it must be both compressed and ignited to cause and explosion, which will force the 'piston' inside up and down.  What's a piston, you are asking?  Well, I'm glad you asked that, because the piston is really nothing more than a big overgrown plug of sorts, which fits tightly into the cylinder.  I think it was meant as a way of blocking off the cylinder, sort of, so that when the gas went in, it would explode and not escape.  But, try as they might, the Powers That Be just couldn't get that dang piston to fit tightly enough to seal the top of the cylinder, so that's why 'piston rings' were invented. 

These rings are fitted into the top of each piston and seal the piston to the cylinder.  Most piston rings are perfectly well behaved creatures, and are known as Good rings.  If your rings are Good Rings you won't know it - which is good - because they will be doing their thing in there and happily ringing along.  But, if you rings are Bad Rings, you will almost certainly know it by the loss of power and compression you will experience, and the dense blue cloud of smoke that will be following you around.  This cloud indicates that the Bad Rings are allowing oil to be burned inside the cylinder, something Good Rings NEVER do because each cylinder has a tiny sign reading 'gasoline only' on it and the Rings are supposed to keep everything else out.  But Bad Rings get a kick out of letting any old thing into the cylinder to be burned up in there like gasoline, hence the blue cloud.  Most folks with Bad Rings seem embarrassed to admit they even have Bad Rings, since they manage to drive the car around for several hundred thousand miles in this condition, emitting this blue cloud and seemingly ignoring the fact that they have Rude Rings.  Do not be one of these people, since it dirties the air and also will dirty the looks that others throw your way.  Driven long enough in this manner, your poor VW will certainly sooner or later cease all semblance of forward motion, given the fact that the pistons, rings, and cylinders (and anything else in the near vicinity at the time) will all become melted together in one giant chunk of useless garbage.  I speak from experience here, ask me, I KNOW.  This can happen to one cylinder at a time, of any combination of the four, or all four at once, Heaven forbid.  It may take many years, or could happen in a very short time.  So, it is best to make sure your rings are Good Rings right off the bat, or you might be paying for this folly later on in the form of your trusty friend leaving you thoughtfully beside some stretch of deserted highway.  In the rain. At night. On a holiday weekend.  WHY do rings go bad?  Well, there are several theories, one being that you didn't put them in right when you installed them, but the most popular notion is that they simply grew up in a broken home and were ignored as children.  Poor things.

OK, we were saying we needed an explosion to cause the compression of the fuel, and for this explosion we needed a spark.  But wait!!  Don't get out your Bic lighter just yet, that ignition doesn't come from a flame! Hahahaha, you crack me up!  This is where Mr. Spark Plug comes in.  Mr. S. Plug is screwed into the end of each cylinder (4 in all, in a Volkswagen), and when the gas goes in and gets compressed by the piston, Mr. Plug sparks, the fuel explodes and the piston gets pushed.  More or less.  Simple, huh?  Don't you wish YOU'D thought of all this?  You'd be a millionaire by now.  But to return to our subject, HOW this explosion causes forward (or backward) motion is a job for Mr. Transmission to answer.  Mr. Tranny, in conjunction with Mr. Crankshaft and Mr. Camshaft, are the ones that take care of getting the power (such as it is) from the engine to the rear wheels.  Now, although I know a great deal about the VW engine (and maybe I lied about most of that) I know next to nothing about Mr. Camshaft and Mr. Crankshaft, and Mr. Tranny isn't talking.  It has something to do with Mr. Crankshaft turning and Mr. Camshaft riding the turns while the pistons move back and forth in there.  I've been afraid to ask either one of these guys, because, frankly, Mr. Crankshaft is, well, a tad CRANKY.  But your transmission, from what I can gather, is a very large, very heavy and very cumbersome device located somewhere near the back and underneath your car.  Its function is to take the turns of the engine - known as 'revolutions' and in no way to be confused with any sort of military takeover - and turn them into something the wheels can understand.  All of this is accomplished by a series of gears and bearings, possibly an odd kitchen appliance or two, and several hundred pounds of a thick black grease. 

Somewhere in the tyranny all this 'torque' is converted into a rotating motion that turns the wheels and give you the forward movement.  TAH-DAH!!  Clever, huh?  At least I THINK it works like this.  And, exactly how this is accomplished is still unclear, even to experts, since there are no reliable reference books on the subject.  If you look in any VW shop manual under 'Transmission', you will see several blank pages, with the words HAHAHAHAHA written at the end.  However, in the early days VW did things a little differently and in the 1959 shop manual I have for Vernon, there actually is a short chapter on the transmission.  There is a rather nicely done exploded drawing, complete with hieroglyphics, of something called 'reduction gears', which were invented by Grandpa VW to transfer the power of a Type II to the rear wheels.  Apparently one could not just hook up the transmission of one of these beasts directly to the engine (as on a sedan) because of the tremendous horsepower issuing forth.  Something was needed to slow all that power down, so VW added reduction gears.  At any rate, the Reduction Gear Family, 10 in all, live in two small boxes on the inside of each rear axle on a Type II.  Sort of.  Each gear is a different size, and VW cleverly designed this small box, known and the Reduction Gear Housing (and not to be confused with Public Housing) to leak huge amounts of a gooey oily substance known as 'gear oil'.  The Reduction Gear Housing has a small bolt-like apparatus on top, to allow the frequent addition of ever more and more gear oil (provided you are wearing grubby clothes and can even REACH the thing), which one must do at regular 5-mile intervals to keep the R. Gear Family happy.  Due to my crummy attitude about the R. Gear Family and my lack of suitably grubby clothes, and given the fact that I get quite HOSTILE when DISCUSSING them, this will be all I have to say on the subject.  SO THERE.  Not that I have a leak or anything.

Reduction gears are dandy when climbing steep hills, carrying heavy loads, or towing something.  Other than that, they are totally useless and should be removed at once if you notice them becoming larger or inflamed.  HAHAHA again, just kidding.  Vernon, in fact, has his reduction gears intact, and they work just fine unless you really MIND crawling along in first gear at every stoplight, or dealing with any pesky leaks.  You can always take the dang things out and substitute some sort of hybrid setup back there.  But hey, if VW put them there, then they must have had a reason, no matter how hare-brained it was.  And, mine serve to connect the rear wheels to the axle rather nicely. So, I've been rather chicken to disturb this setup. Besides, I don't know anything about it anyway.

Now that you have a pretty good idea of how your VW works, you should be able to fix most problems that arise yourself.  The VW is known the world over for its reliability and ease of repair.  With your new-found knowledge still fresh, the next time you hear that strange clunking or odd clanking, do what I do:  pull over and check the cigarette lighter.  If you happen to drive a VW that is not equipped with a cigarette lighter, then pull over and check the radio.  Failing that as the cause of your troubles, then I advise the following:  get yourself to the nearest VW Repair Person, and take out your checkbook.  This fixes most problems, and is all you'll ever need to know.   Any questions???


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