Thursday, May 08, 2008

Impractical Auto Advice

For a while in high school I had one of the most distinctive cars in the student lot. My dad had bought himself a 1973 VW SuperBeetle (the major distinguishing feature that made it Super seemed to be a slightly rounded windshield rather than a flat windscreen). Since he carpooled to work, the car became my de facto school commuter. When people saw the Orange Pumpkin in the lot, they knew I was near. While I don't have any contemporary pictures of that fine automobile, this one from the web is an identical twin, except for the lack of dented fenders.

As a junior, I didn't have the right to park in the paved lot, but instead had to park in the wooded area down by the football stadium. Over the months the flared fenders kept scraping trees and becoming slightly banged up, much to my dad's annoyance. There was as least one fender I had no idea when or how the dent happened. The worst was when I backed into a tree and wrinkled the rather flimsy bumper.

SuperBeetles have some well-known drawbacks. The engine is lightly powered and the heater is laughable. For suburban driving in Florida where the streets are flat, the speed limits all 40 or under and the weather never went below 30, all these problems were moot. Perhaps the only down side to this nearly indestructible car was that the gas gauge didn't work. As a part time employee at SquareBurgerChain, my paychecks were mostly in the $20 to $30 range, meaning a full tank of gas AND a movie ticket were budget busters.

I would lose track of the last time I put gas in and how much, which resulted in the occasional roadside flame out. I became quite adept at getting the fuel system filled and primed again. Now as a nearly useless public service I share that advice:

How To Restart A 1973 Pumpkin Orange VW SuperBeetle That Has Run Out Of Gas Because Of A Faulty Gas Gauge And Negligence On The Part Of A Broke High School Student.
  1. Beg a ride to a gas station from a classmate or family member. (Remember, cell phones did not exist in 1981.) Buy one gallon of gasoline and dispense into portable slightly rusted gas can.
  2. Return to shoulder of road where VW has been left. Fill tank with one-half gallon of gas from portable container.
  3. Gas must make its way to the engine.
    1. Wait eight hours for gas to siphon through fuel system.
    2. OR
    3. Have fellow student or family member crank starter while liberally splashing gasoline into carburetor. Step back once engine has started.
  4. Pour remaining gasoline into fuel tank while engine idles.
  5. Proceed to gas station. Pump five dollars or five gallons of gas, whichever is greater, into car.
  6. Note odometer reading. Make mental note to buy an additional five dollars of gas within 100 miles.
Bonus advice: Occupancy of a VW Beetle by six or more people for any distance further than the student parking lot to the nearest fast food restaurant is not recommended.

This is a time-tested proven-effective method perfected over a good half dozen incidents. Fortunately most occurred near the driveway or on local roads with wide shoulders. Eventually my dad sold the bug for a 1972 Pontiac LeMans Grand Prix station wagon for its boat-towing capability, a feature no Beetle I know of had. The station wagon was a sadly faded puke-pea green with peeling faux-wood paneling trim. It was much more practical but far less distinctive.

To this day, when I see an orange classic VW puttering down the road, I sigh nostalgically and hope that somewhere that Bug I drove is still coughing to a start and running out of gas.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: What sort of impractical auto advice can you offer?

Photo Credit: Found the doppleganger to my Bug, as well as many others, here.


Anonymous said...

The best advice I can offer (unfortunately it's kind of practical) is that if you're going to get yourself a POS-Mobile, use it as an opportunity to learn some basic repair and maintenance.

Mine was a 1969 Dodge Dart Swinger (looked a lot like this) which, as a result of many trips to the junkyard, was mostly a 1973 model by the time I gave it up.

I swear when I first got it and drove it home, I heard it saying "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can".

With the help of my trusty Chilton manual, I'd replaced entire pieces of engine, the heater core (take note, I was in NY and not doing without heat), the entire brake system, and had rewired the entire dashboard, which entailed driving for almost two weeks without it. Not only did I have no idea how much gas I had, I didn't know how fast I was going or much of anything else. All I had was the speedometer cable spinning in my face. I think the only repair on that thing I didn't do myself was the muffler.

I miss that car.

Anonymous said...

I had an orange '72 Super Beetle, yellojkt. (the last with the flat windshields and the smaller tail lights).

I have volumes of impractical auto mechanical advice to offer, but I'll stay classic-bug specific for now:

Buy a fire extinguisher and throw it under the hood (we didn't call them "fire Bugs" for nothing) instead of replacing the rubber fuel lines in the engine comprtment.

Keep some 60-lb test fishing line under the hood, too. This is easier than replacing throttle cable before it breaks (usually near the pedal). Then use the line to operate the throttle by hand by running it through the back seat and up to the driver's compartment.

If the clutch cable breaks, no problem. I can drive without that.


yellojkt said...

Great advice, claude. My son got handed down my 1998 Toyota Camry and there isn't a lot of user serviceable stuff on it. I've taught him topping off the fluids, but that's about it.

My HOA frowns pretty heavily on most shadetree car maintenance, which is a shame.

I bow to your awesome knowledge. My blog is too humble to merit your excellent advice. Fortunately, nothing ever caught fire on my bug.

Read/Think/Live said...

The worst car I ever had, and almost the only non-Toyota I've owned, was an Oldmobile Firenza, something like this:

I spent $100 to fix the window crank mechanism and it broke again within a month. So after that I kept a pair of pliers and a rubber door stopper in the car.

To raise the window, use the pliers to raise it far enough to get hold of, then pull it up manually to the level you want. Wedge the door stopper by the bottom of the window to hold it in place.

There you go, your Totally Impractical Auto Tip of the Day.


yellojkt said...

Very impractical, kb. I like it. A good pair of vice-grip pliers is a valuable automotive accessory.

Ed & Jeanne said...

I also had an orange beetle. It was a 1971 and I had it 13 years and it had 270,000 miles on it. In fact, so much had happened to me with that damn VW that I think I'm going to use it as a post myself. I'll give you credit for sparking those thoughts.

Let me just say this as a preview: You can shift with a screw driver in the event that your stick shift breaks while you are driving...

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

You're absolutely right about the sucky heaters. My brother had a bug with some kind of auxiliary propane heater installed INSIDE the cab that you could smell when it was on. It's a miracle we didn't die from carbon monoxide poisoning or in a fiery crash.

cathouse teri said...

I have no doubt that SOMEONE will find this information useful. :)

Yeah, I remember never having heat in any of my friends' VWs.

I also remember that every time I was at a stop light and heard a noise that made me think my car was falling apart, it was just a VW pulling up next to me.

The only VW I will own is a Karmann Ghia. Convertible.

Anonymous said...

Keep the Both Thumbs Up!
Auto Repair Advice