Apparently Water Is Not Very Good for Cars

So if you read the earlier in-the-moment post, the camper fell down and it couldn’t get up. I stopped to check the map and the camper wouldn’t start. And it wouldn’t start. And it wouldn’t start. And it wouldn’t start. And then I moved it a little, and it wouldn’t start. And it wouldn’t start and it wouldn’t start.

I asked the Google Map to find “Volkswagen.” It told me to call a local dealer. I called. The receptionist asked “How may I direct your call?”

“Uh, service?”

“What kind of car do you have?”

“An 85 Vanagon.”

“What? Who MAKES that?”


“Hold please, I’ll transfer you.”

This is not a good start. I know better than to call a dealer, for, well, anything, really, but what was I to do?


“Good morning. I have a 1985 Vanagon. Do you . . . work on those?”

“Can you hold?”

. . .

“We can look at it, but we can’t really promise that we can . . . fix it.”

“I’m traveling. Can you look at it today?”

“I’m scheduling now for next Tuesday.” (It’s Wednesday, so this is nearly a week’s wait.)

“Do you know someon who works on these cars?”

“Can you hold?”

. . .

“You can try Jay’s Imports. Would you like for me to give you the number?”

She gave me the number, twice, but I was unable to find a pen or to write it down, but the Google found it. I called.

“This is Jay.”

“Hi. I have a 1985 Vanagon. It’s been running fine, but now it won’t start. I’m not sure if it’s not getting gas, or not getting a spark. I had some trouble yesterday, but it went away.”

“It sounds like a fuel pump. Are you any good with cars?”

“Well, I had a 1972 bus, but I haven’t done anything in 25 years.”

“You might try giving the fuel pump a few love taps.”

“OK, If that doesn’t work, if I get the thing towed to you, can you look at it today? I’m travelling and on the way to Florida.”

“Well, I’m a one-man shop, but I might be able to work you in.”

I looked for the fuel pump where he seemed to say it was. I couldn’t find it. I remembered that I have the shop manual. I looked in it under “fuel.” There was a picture. I found the fuel pump. I hit it with a hammer a few times. I cranked. No joy. More hitting. Still no joy. I called my good friends at AAA, where I have the extra-special 100 mile towing plan. I arranged to be towed to Jay. After they check to see that I’m somewhere safe, they say someone will be there within an hour.

I frantically post about my plight. It occurs to me now that most humans would just as soon read the stuff after I have had time to write cogently about it.

The tow truck driver is apparently contractually obligated to try to start the car. He asked whether Thor will bite. I say “no.” He shoves his fist in Thor’s face. Thor, not impressed with this behavior, or the guy’s reflective clothing snaps in his general direction. He didn’t actually touch the guy, but he made it clear that it would be in everyone’s best interest for the guy to stay away from Thor. And his house.

The van won’t start. The camper is put onto a flatbed truck. I ride in the cab with the tow truck guys. Thor stays in the camper.

We get to what seems like the address for Jay’s Imports. I see someone and say “Are you Jay?” though I was sure that he was not.

“He’s next door,” he said, motioning in the proper direction.

I walk in next door. I see a woman at a desk. “I called earlier. I have a 85 Vanagon. . . ”

“Jay,” she said. I was in the shop for at least an hour. It was the only word I heard her say.

A forty-something ponytailed guy comes up. I explain who I am. He negotiates with the tow truck guys to deliver the camper into the shop. I am hopeful.

He starts troubleshooting. “You’re going to be a key mechanic.”

He gets some wires and asks me to turn the key. I do as told.

He pokes the wire thing into where one of the spark plug wires comes out of the distributor. I turn the key.

“So we have spark, and we see that spark is getting out of the distributor, right?” trying my best to remember what I knew about engines from the last time I owned a VW bus.

Perhaps I should spare you the details of debugging an engine, but the fuel pump was turning on, but it sounded funny. I was still thinking he’d be replacing it.

He contrived to have the fuel pump pump fuel into a plastic bottle. It doesn’t look much like gas. It was almost all water. We ended up pumping out about three gallons of gas before it started to look like, well, gas. He rigged up another fuel pump to suck the fuel out of the return. I asked lots of questions, like why we have a return at all and he explained patiently, wait, not patiently–that would imply that it was some work to put up with my most basic of questions–it was more just matter of fact, that the pump pumped more fuel than the injectors could use and generates lots of pressure, so what they don’t need just circles back to the tank.

So after the appeared that what was in the gas tank was, in fact, gas. He put his tools away, fixed a badly crimped connector that I’d done when I wired up my new electric panel, and was done. I asked him what I owed him “Sixty dollars.”

“Sixty dollars?! Are you sure?” He was. “How about some Girl Scout Cookies?”

“I’d been eying those.”

He took a box of Tagalongs, gave me directions to somewhere to buy some gas treatment to get the remaining water out of the tank, and we were again on our way.

If you live in or near Montgomery and have a VW, Jaguar, BMW, or pretty much anything else, I highly recommend Jay’s Imports, 934 Riverside Road Montgomery, AL 36117-6406, (334) 279-9644. He does not seem to have a web presence.

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2 Responses to Apparently Water Is Not Very Good for Cars

  1. Steven says:

    to the joy of owning an old vehicle! Where did the water come from?

  2. pfaffman says:

    Jay looked at the seal on the gas cap. It looked good to both of us, and he said that if it had been linking there would be signs of water at the filler tube.

    I hope that it was just a fluke and not some endemic problem

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