2023.04.02 Van Update

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If you can see the image above: Glorious, isn't it?

Well, no, but it certainly seems that way in regards to its core mission: adventure give-few-fucks van. The manual transmission driving experience and nicely german steering feel blow every other cheap van we tested completely out of the water. The chonky tires look badass, even as they give it a bouncier but better-isolated ride. The epic bike rack speaks directly to the core bike-shuttle function of the machine. Getting the passenger side mirror replaced also makes piloting it less difficult while looking less sketchy than the glued-together mostly non-functional previous mirror.

Zora dog in particular has taken to loving riding in the van, as it generally means some adventure where she gets to be with the kids. And the kids, who have distinctly giraffe-like aspects, relish the vast passenger volume they get to ride in.

Plus, it has to be said: the 5-cylinder motor makes delightful sounds that tickle my nostalgia of my 80's Audi coupé and it's inline-5.

BUT - and this is a big but - there are some serious concerns remaining and emerging. There has long been a metallic jingling sound coming from the RHF quadrant during engine load - first guess is a loose heat shield. Now, however, there is a distinct reduction in power available. First guess is fouled fuel filter, questionable air filter, and unknown spark plug condition. And a distinct smell - sometime clutch-like, other times burn oil seeming.

Fortunately, we have an appointment at a mechanic for a comprehensive inspection and to perform any work necessary to make it reliable. And, if they don't blow my van budget, maybe they can help us with nuisance elements, like the unreliable power windows, lame headlights, and the stubborn rearview mirror mount.


Well, it turns out the loss of power was actually a clogged catalytic converter. Which is funny, because the van was up on stands on the road in front of the house without getting that semi-precious catalytic converter stolen. Unfortunately, it's also a part they needs to be ordered, so we're going to be a week without the van at least.

Additionally, several hose clamps were missing on fuel lines, which were causing some gasoline to drip in a dangerous manner. One of those was dripping onto the distributor - which apparently is held together with hot glue and zip ties. And, for bonus fun, those distributors are essentially (to quote the fellows at Trafton's) "unobtanium".

We've been reassured that our sketchy distributor is working, but we ordered a cheap aftermarket knockoff anyway - even though we've been warned that they are often problematic. We'll see how that goes.

In the meantime, we're also getting a timing belt and water pump replacement, a transmission service, and a general filter and fluid replacement.

Here's to having a reliable crappy van once we get Aknot back.


AKNOT is back! VrooM VrooM! So much goodness rowing the slow van through its gears and making 1/2 V-10 noises. And Zora gets super-excited to jump into the van for adventures, plus the kids love riding with her and having functionally infinite legroom.

On the downside, we are reminded of two impossible-to-find parts that are in not-excellent condition:

  • distributor - noticed earlier being held together with a zip-tie. An aftermarket POS ordered but unknown delivery, and might ask Trafton's to install.
  • harmonic balancer - a rubberized timing pulley wheel. It's cracking, and we're looking for a possible "racing" upgrade to also get installed.

Hilarity itself - the distributor broke.

Except there isn't a "distributor broke" warning light or anything, the van just stopped running right. So had it towed back to Trafton's. And, to make matter hilarious, didn't exhibit the problem at all. For days.

So I asked them, just for fun, to fit the aftermarket POS distributor put in - just in case. And, it turns out, it doesn't fit because of tolerance issues. Bah. They just put the busted-ass one back in, and I went to go pick up Aknot. Fortunately, the van started acting up again (maybe I'm a rougher driver?) as I was driving away and was able to limp it back and demonstrate the problem.

They reached out through the shadowy network of Old VW Magicks to find a secret source of possible distributor. Fingers are crossed.