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How to troubleshoot a Vanagon that won't start

August 6, 2014 139 Comments Ask Ken, Engine, Fuel system, Ignition, Wiring Ken Wilford

Help my 2.1l Vanagon has fallen on it’s face and it can’t get up!

A Vanagon Stalls and Won’t Start.

I have had people email me with this problem about a million times so I finally decided to do a web page about the proper proceedure to get your van up and running again.


First of all, do you have gas in the tank? Please, you don’t know how many times people call me, I ask them this question and they get really quiet for a minute. Don’t overlook the obvious!

If you know you have gas in the tank the next thing you want to do is to start to troubleshoot the reasons for the engine not starting. You are looking at six possible causes.

  1. Lack of Spark
  2. Lack of Fuel
  3. Lack of Compression
  4. Lack of Fresh Air (Intake Blocked)
  5. Lack of Exhaust flow (Exhaust Blocked)
  6. Improper Timing

If your van was running just a short time ago, and died suddenly, you can almost certainly rule out number 6. Really that is only a possibility if you have just disturbed the timing in some way. If you haven’t please DON’T TOUCH the distributor and change the timing. If you do you will be sorry! Now you have just “muxed up” (technical term for bollocks) something else that you will have to fix before the engine will start.

Also lack of compression (3) is a very rare thing to happen without plenty of other bad things happening before the van will no longer start. Again this is something you should investigate as a last resort after you have checked everything else.

1. Lack of spark:

Let’s start then with Lack of Spark as the normal, number one culprit to vans stalling and not restarting. This can be caused by a number of reasons however we first want to confirm that this is what is happening and then we can looking into why. Remove all of your spark plugs and visually inspect them. Do they look damaged or really sooty? Is the center electrode worn down to the same level as the edge of the threaded part? If so you should either clean or replace your plugs and see what happens. Your plugs can become fouled by a rich running condition or oil filled oil (don’t do this either!) and the van will never start. If your plugs look good, then move on to the next step which is to test for spark.

You can check your spark by unplugging all of the fuel injector plugs and then removing a spark plug, grounding this plug to the engine while the wire is attached and cranking the engine over. This will allow you to test spark without the injectors spraying. You want to see a bright white spark several times in a row. If you have spark then you can test the injectors by grounding the center coil wire to the engine and plugging all of the fuel injector plugs back in. Remove the small 10mm bolts between the injectors and they will lift out of the intake. Put a small pan under them and either have someone crank over the engine or use a remote starter but be sure that your ignition key is in the “on” position or the injectors will not spray. You want to see a cone shaped pattern. If you aren’t seeing any spray remove the bolt that closes up the test port on the fuel lines (by the distributor on the center of the top of the engine). Clamp a hose to this test port and put one end of the hose into a jar that way you are safe from gas spills.Now just turn the key and see if you get gas out of here.

2. Lack of Fuel

If you aren’t getting any gas then you need to check your fuel pump and filter.

Causes for no spark:


Hall Effect Generator (in distributor)


Of the three I have ranked them in their order of most failures to least.

If you aren’t getting any spray at the injectors but you do have fuel pressure then it could be:


Hall Effect Generator

Injectors clogged.

Again in order.

If your fuel pump isn’t working it could be:

Hall Effect Generator

Fuel Pump

Relay for Fuel pump

Ignition switch

Wiring to pump.

4. and 5. Lack of Intake or Exhaust flow

If you are getting spark and fuel and everything seems fine that way, check your cataytic convertor. I have seen these become so clogged that they will not allow any exhaust to leave the engine and thereby not let the engine run. You can have someone crank the engine over and put your hand by the tail pipe to see if you feel any air coming out while the engine is cranking. If not remove the three bolts between the cat and the connector pipe and try to start the van that way. If it starts then remove and replace the cat with a new one. Overfilling on oil or bad rings can cause this problem. Also check your intake by inspecting your air filter. There is a cardboard (you heard me right) tube that comes down from the plastic vent that is in the upper rear corner of the van on the same level with the rear window. This tube can collapse and block the intake air. Unhook the air box from it if you think it might be the culprit and if the van starts up then you know this is bad. You can either remove it or replace it with some drier hose from Home Depot (aluminum not card board please!).

3. Lack of compression.

I know this is number 3 and now it is the last to be considered but it is not common for you to lose compression and the engine to not start at all. Usually you will lose one cylinder and the engine will still start but run roughly. However it is possible so if all else fails, do a compression test on your engine You can buy a compression tester from Advance Auto or Auto Zone for not much money. Now disable the spark and unplug the injectors as we have already discussed. Screw the compression tester into a spark plug hole. Get someone to crank the engine over for 10 seconds while you watch the gauge. Draw a square on a piece of paper. That represents your engine. Now write down the compression numbers on the area of the square that corresponds to the cylinder you are testing.

The lower limit of compression in a Waterboxer is around 119 psi. However I have seen good running engines with around 95 psi so if you are getting a low reading don’t jump to the conclusion that this is your problem. If compression is the culprit you will see zero compression. That is the cylinder or cylinders that is causing the problem, investigate further.

This troubleshooting guide should help you narrow down the problem until you get down to just one or two choices of what the problem could be. Many times you can narrow down the problem to either the ECU or the Hall Effect Generator and it is difficult to figure out which one of these two is the culprit. I know that Bentley has a proceedure for the Hall Effect but I have never been able to get an accurate Pass or Fail out of this test. My normal test when I am confronted with these two choices is to swap in a known good ECU and see what happens. Many times it is the ECU that has failed and needs to be replaced. Any ECU from 86-91 will work in any other 2.1l Vanagon so if you have a friend nearby that is willing to let you borrow his ECU this is the best way to test. If you have to guess I would say that most of the time it is the ECU. However if the plug is broken off of the side of the distributor, I would lean more toward the Hall Effect generator as this is the failure mode for that part.

I have rebuilt ECUs on the shelf for $250 plus $100 core charge. I also have new Hall Effect Senders for $125 or rebuilt Bosch Distributors with new cap and rotor included for $259 plus a $77 core charge.

If you really appreciate this troubleshooting guide please make an effort to support Van-Again with your parts purchases. Nothing says “Thank You” like buying your parts from us! We sincerely appreciate your support.


Ken Wilford November 14, 2017

Jeff, my recommendation is to begin by buying a Bentley Manual and an ohm meter/volt meter and doing all of the tests for the fuel injection that are outlined in the manual. It will take about 30 mins and you will most likely find the problem. If I had to guess what was going on, I would guess that there is a sensor or wiring problem that has reared it's ugly head in the fuel injection. Doing the tests in the Bentley are the fastest and most efficient way to figure out what is going to without throwing parts at it and hoping for the best (which hasn't been working out too great so far). Let me know if I can help you further. Ken

jeffrey hill November 12, 2017

hey Ken, ive got an 84 1.9l (my 2nd). about 5 months ago she was running beautifully. Flying down the highway confidently doing 85-90 without so much as a stitch or a hiccup!unheard of compared to my old 83! anyway, then one day, with a car full of buddies coming home from a river excursion, she starts bucking real hard and losing all power. we were on some back roads and barely chuffing up hills in 1st gear with the pedal to the floor. finally, it bucked so hard it coughed up (what i believe to be) a little vacuum hose from over my the AFM and stalled out. finally we found that vacuum hose, reconnected it, and were able to (slowly) keep chuffing along. took it to the shop the next day and it has been there since. other pertinent details: i know it has a leak at the seam in the gas tank. i work on a farm, with dirt roads, so thinking im probably sucking up some dirt and moisture, ordered a new tank (not installed yet) but also new fuel pump and filter. new Temp II sensor. Mechanic was able to find some leaks in the air intake, so new Idle Air Control Valve (old one had literally exploded) new manifolds, both sides, and 4 new sleeves. Also, fuel pressure regulator was rusted through, so got a new one. (it was strange how everything was in such poor condition (FPR, IACV, Manifold were "leaking like a siv") all at once as i was setting the pace on 95s two days earlier!) mechanic started fiddling with the afm, and saw minor results until he maxed out both adjustments.. so, new one. nothing. now its running so rich that the plugs are getting wet and often wont restart unless you clean them off. finally, he puts some new plugs in. hes had it 5 months and is done scratching his head so i go to pick it up, starts strong and bucking is gone (at least in neutral, revving it) for the first time. but, i need gas, so i pull up to the pump and kill the engine.. sure enough, wont start. any thoughts where to start? my instincts are (im not a mechanic) fuel injectors? maybe one or more are fouled/clogged ? ECU issue somewhere?

Ken Wilford October 21, 2017

The injectors could still be clogged for some reason. I would remove them and take them to a shop for cleaning and checking first. You can see if your fuel pump is delivering enough fuel. Bentley has a volume test you can do using a gallon jug and a fuel line hooked to the "T" that is in the engine bay down on top of the engine right about the center line between the alternator and the crank case vent tower. Remove the 7mm bolt there, install a 7mm fuel line into the jug, disable your spark by removing the center electrode on the distributor and grounding it, and then have someone crank the engine over. The fuel pump should deliver so many liters (quarts) per minute. If a bunch is coming out and filling up the gallon jug in short order then the pump is working fine. If just a small trickle is coming out then the pump is bad. Ken

Andrew October 20, 2017

Hey Ken, me again. So for some reason my meter was faulty but used a friends. I have 12 v at all the injector plugs from the ECU and have a resistance of 16.4 or so from the injectors themselves. So I'm starting to think that the fuel pump isn't getting enough pressure and is on its way out. What are your thoughts? I put a new tank and filter not long ago and have regularly used seafoam off and on.

Ken Wilford October 20, 2017

It could be a problem with your temp II sensor or the wiring for that. You would want to test this sensor cold, and then when the van is fully warmed up. You would also want to test it at the sensor, and also at the ECU plug as it could be a problem with the wiring or ground for the sensor as well. When the van is fully warm, the temp sensor how to lean out the mixture. If it doesn't then the van will flood, run rich, stall, and not want to restart because it is flooded now. After time goes by and the van cools down, it will start and run fine. This is where I would start on this one. It could also be something else, but I would start with that. Let me know what you find. Ken

jean-françois October 19, 2017

Hi there, my mechanic has reached its waterloo with my westfalia 1989... cannot find the issue i'm experiencing. Here is the issue: after long drives (say 60 milesish, the van stalls at redlights or full stops, i have to put on neutral to resart it with pushing gas pedal pretty deep... sometimes i will not succeed to restart it. I tow the van home or garage and when cold, it will start and run like no problem. Mechanic checked throttle body, throttle position switch, the idle control unit and everything seems to operate the way it should. When at garage, the van never reproduced the problem, so the mechanic is a little at lost. He told me two air intake hoses were blocked, replaced them but told me he could not guarantee this will fix the issue. I'm a little nervous taking the van anywhere now as i'm running low on my free towing card... any advice ? thx much

Ken Wilford October 4, 2017

The injectors aren't supposed to stay on. They are pulsed one and off very rapidly by the ECU. You may have fried them doing this. I would send them out to be tested and cleaned. You might be able to get this done locally at a NAPA with an injector cleaning service, or you can mail them to At least then you will know if the injectors are still good, unclogged, and you can start looking at other things that might be the cause. Ken

Ken Wilford October 4, 2017

Are you doing the resistance check at the injectors or at the ECU plug. If at the injectors then I would suspect something is wrong with your meter. Be sure you are getting a good reading when you touch to the two leads of the meter together (should be very low resistance to zero that way). Be sure you have the ohm meter turned to ohms and not volts or something. You should be seeing resistance of some sort or another. If it is an open at the ECU plug then you probably have a broken wire. Ken

Andrew September 30, 2017

Just did a resistance check on all the injectors.They all give me a big ol fat 0 unfortunately. What would have caused this do you think?

Andrew September 30, 2017

Hey there Ken, seems like you are the patron saint of Vanagons, really appreciate all the info. I have a 83.5 1.9L Wasserboxer, i have fuel right up to the injectors but nothing spraying out of them. So i tried spraying some brake cleaner down the injectors while having power connected. I got as much as a little dribble coming out. I also noticed that the body of the injector was getting quite hot. Does this mean i need new injectors? It's occurring on all 4 which is a little odd to me. This is also after the van has been sitting for 4 months, but was running fine before i parked it. Any help would be grand. Thanks

Francesco September 14, 2017

Thanks Ken, I checked on the ECU directly but the signal is correct too. I've been lucky this time because my mechanic fixed the problem: he said that all signals are ok but he found a low pressure into the fuel circuit, from injectors's side. He said the problem was on the pressure regulator. Now the van goes very well, as before! Thank you so much for your help, with your advices I learnt a lot of useful tips for the future!

Ken Wilford September 9, 2017

Test the temp II sensor at the ECU plug. I have had bad grounds or bad wires to the ECU cause problems with the computer actually seeing the correct value from a good Temp II. I still think that is where the problem lies. Ken

Francesco September 8, 2017

Yes, the petrol system uses the stock fuel injection, the LPG part has its own dedicated injectors. I checked the temp II sensor and it seems ok (according to the ohm value taken from the original table). With my mechanic we measured the pressure coming from the both injector flutes and it seems about zero (the measure point was where the two hoses go into the pressure regulator). Considering that the fuel pump is ok, could something obstruct the way of the fuel? Thanks Francesco.

Francesco September 8, 2017

Yes, the petrol system uses the stock fuel injection, the LPG part has its own dedicated injectors. I checked the temp II sensor and it seems ok (according to the ohm value taken from the original table). With my mechanic we measured the pressure coming from the both injector flutes and it seems about zero (the measure point was where the two hoses go into the pressure regulator). Considering that the fuel pump is ok, could something obstruct the way of the fuel? Thanks Francesco.

Ken Wilford September 6, 2017

So does the petrol system use the stock fuel injection? The LPG part is probably a carburettor. It sounds like a problem with the temp II sensor for the warm up if it uses the stock fuel injection. Let me know.

Francesco September 3, 2017

Hello Ken. Thank you for the article, I've found on it a lot of informations about my trouble but actually I don't fix it at all. I have a 1987 Vanagon with 2.1 DJ engine with LPG but it starts with petrol. It was running perfect but 2 weeks ago it started to have a bad functionality at petrol: it goes well for about 2 minutes until it starts to go bad and few seconds later it dies. It behaves like if there's no petrol, no changes is coming when I move the pedal up and down. In this situation, I have to switch to LPG and the van recovers and goes perfectly (no igniton troubles). To restart the engine (only with petrol) I have to unscrew the 7mm bolt on the T piece on the top of the engine, run the pump 2-3 times (turnin the key on igniton) and then crank the engine. I already replaced the fuel pump, all the petrol in the fuel tank, the fuel filter and all hoses. What do you think about that? Can I do some other tests? Thanks.

Randy August 4, 2017

Thank you for the quick reply. Checked that connector, cleaned it, looks good. Still no start. Fuel pump powers up when I jump the relay. If I'm reading the wiring diagram correctly, the ground thru the ECU also pulses the injectors? Randy

Ken Wilford August 4, 2017

It could be the computer. I would also check to see that the wiring to the fuel pump is good. There is a connection at the firewall right behind where the air filter housing is that should be a double connector that is giving power to the fuel pump and also supplying ground. That can get corroded sometimes and cause issues. If that is fine, try a good used ECU. Ken

Randy August 4, 2017

Ken, great information. I have an 85 Vanagon, stock engine, it would start, then not start, had a bad alternator draining the battery, replaced that, and the coil, because it looked corroded. It ran fine for a few days, now it won't start, fuel pump is new, but isn't getting power, if I ground the relay the pump runs, but it won' start. Have spark, fuel when the pump is running. I'm told it's the ECU, (it started once when a friend tapped the computer). This sound logical? Thanks for any information. Randy

Ken Wilford June 13, 2017

Dan, it could be something you bumped while doing the oil change. It sounds like the fuel pump solenoid isn't working so you have no fuel to your injector pump. Have some one turn the key to the on position while you hold you hand on the top of this switch. It is on top of the injector pump with the single wire going to it. If it isn't clicking then something is loose or broken. Let me know what you find out. Ken

Dan June 12, 2017

Also I emptied coolant as I'm changing radiator.

Dan June 12, 2017

Hi Ken. Great forum. So I've got a T25 1988 diesel. Was running fine, I did an oil change and refilled it with 4,8litres and now the dip stick says it's low, I started it up yesterday no problems. Tried today and it won't start. The starter turns but there's nothing else. Regards

Ken Wilford June 10, 2017

David, did any of the work you did require you to remove the push rods? I am wondering if the rods are not centered in the lifters, that will cause this problem. Let me know. Ken

David Macleod June 10, 2017

I have a 1982 vanagon, air cooled, I had it running perfect, it was stripped down from tins etc, I put all the tins back on it, etc cleaned it al up, put it back together and nothing, lots of spark , compression , fuel , etc, I tried everything, so I converted it to Carb , and its doing the same thing . the valve lash should not have changed or anything , its realy baffling , any ideas what to try before I pull it out and put it on a bench and go over everything , to testy ?

JD June 4, 2017

Hi Ken, thanks so much for getting back to me. Spent a few hours this afternoon trying all of your suggestions, and didn't have any luck. The battery has power and the connections are clean. I unplugged the red wire on the starter a few times and nothing happened. I also made sure the van was in park and just to verify I moved the shifter a little bit when attempting to start. Anyways, thanks for the help and whenever you have a few moments to let me know what to try next, I'd appreciate it a lot! Cheers.

Ken Wilford May 31, 2017

JD, Check the electrical connections on the battery, make sure they are clean and secure. Then go to the starter and check the connections there. There is a small red wire that plugs onto the starter. Unplug it and plug it back on a few times. Also your Automatic has a neutral safety switch that will not allow it to try to start if the transmission isn't in park or neutral. Check to see if it is out of gear, and if it is in gear, wiggle the shifter back and forth a little while you try to start it. If that switch gets a little worn it can cause problems when starting and nothing will happen as you describe. Let me know what you figure out. Ken

JD May 28, 2017

Hi Ken, thanks so much for taking the time to share your extensive knowledge and help so many people out. I purchased a 1984 1.9 L Automatic Vanagon in early 2016. It ran great all summer and I never had any problems with it whatsoever. One day in September (4-5 months after purchase) I had to have an inspection done for insurance purposes in a new province. I fired it up, as per usual had no issues of any sort, and then turned it off after it passed the inspection. Later that same day, I went out to start it and nothing happened when I turned the key. No sounds, no struggling of the engine - it literally just did nothing. I tested the battery and everything checked out fine. I couldnt get it to start again before the snow fell last November. I let it sit all winter and plan on fixing it ASAP now that summer has arrived. All the electronic/battery powered functions (signals, lights, radio, still work - battery still has power and clean connections). Again, the only sound after turning the key is an extremely quiet/brief "hum or buzz" and then nothing at all. I find it odd that everything was working perfectly fine for months, the day of inspection it ran perfectly as expected for 5-10 mins without moving, and then immediately afterwards the same day it just never started again . At least I had it parked at home and wasn't stranded! Anyways, if you could help me out with any suggestions + knowledge, I would tremendously appreciate it!!

Ken Wilford May 10, 2017

It sounds like the temp II isn't telling the fuel injection to enrichen the mixture for the cold temperature. It is only $18 so not a big investment to see if it will fix the problem. It is worth a shot. Ken

Keith Patterson May 9, 2017

Hi Ken, this sounds a lot like my issue. I have a 90 Westy. I had the ignition on, but not started, for a few hours until my battery died. I had to jump it to get it started. The next day, I started having a problem where I try and start it, it starts but then dies. If I start it again, it cranks for about 10 seconds, catches, and if keep my foot on the gas a little for about 40 seconds it will run fine and start right up each time the rest of the day. Then next morning, the same problem. I don't really live in a cold climate (So Cal), but was out in the mountains this weekend were it was below freezing and it wouldn't start at all. I ran the battery down trying to start it, got a jump, and after a lot of cranking it finally started up. Ran fine all day after that and started up each time. I'm thinking your Temp II sensor might be the problem. What do you say? Thanks!! Keith Patterson

Ken Wilford April 6, 2017

Since it is an emergency situation, you could have him call me directly and we can talk about it on the phone. Stalling and not turning over is usually the starter. Stalling and not being able to start even with a push start is a starter and possibly that the engine was flooded. Now that time has passed, he could go back and it might start right up and drive away. He could bring a jumper box to help and see if that will allow the starter to work, then get the charging system checked to be sure the battery and alternator are working properly. My phone number is on the contact page of this site if he needs to call me. Ken

Henry Janulewicz April 6, 2017

Hi Ken, I drove to the hospital 190 miles with no problems. Since i was to spend the next 10 days my co-pilot drove away. only to stall.result no cranking ,he tried kick starting (manuel) starter rebuilt, lights work Left it on the side off the highway Help me out Please Henry

Ken Wilford February 16, 2017

Jerry, welcome to the forum. What you describe sounds like a faulty temp II sensor or the wiring to the computer is faulty for the temp II. The Temp II on the 83-85 Vanagon is located in the thermostat housing which is located above the water pump. It has a blue 2 pin fuel injector style plug on it. Check the grounds that are on the driver's side head as well, and use an ohm meter to check the resistance value at the sensor, then test the resistance of the ground wire that goes to the head, then test the wire that is going to the ECU. The ECU on your van is actually located behind the tail light on the driver's side. You can see it from the engine compartment and unplug it from there. The pin for the Temp II is pin 2. You want to see the same resistance reading at the ECU that you are seeing at the sensor. If the sensor or the wiring is messed up, the computer thinks the van is really cold and will flood the fuel injection to the point where the van will not start once warmed up. Seen this many times. Let me know what you find out and I can help you further. Ken

jerry prewitt February 14, 2017

1984 vanagon starts and runs great. once warmed up, will not start. Doesn't seem to be flooding. I put an aftermarket fuel pump in it a year ago but that wasn't the problem back them so I put the original Bosch back in 1st. no change. Replaced starter - no change. replaced coil - no change. I haven't determined whether the cooling fan is working, doesn't seem to be that hot. The temp. switch was new a couple years back. VW mechanics worth anything in mid Missouri have all died off. As you can tell, I'm not one of them...I've thrown new parts at it but I'm about out of ideas. I do have a new heat sensor I ordered from go westy by mistake when I got the temp. switch. I'll try to find its location on engine tomorrow and replace. After that, assuming it doesn't fix the issue, I may need the ecu...did I read that its under the back seat? I guess there is no test except for trying a known good one. But, I don't know of another. If you have a suggestion for me I'd really appreciate it. I haven't found a "starts and runs great till warm" question. It doesn't die, but if shut off, its done for quite a while...which, now that I say it, kinda sounds like a temperature problem. My temp gauge isn't working (along with gas gauge) so I could be dangerously wrong about the overheating. Will keep searching and if/when I solve it I'll comment.

jerry prewitt February 14, 2017

Great info! where you been all my life? I've had vanagons off and on for about 33 years...ashamed I'm not a better mechanic. I do have a question that I haven't found an answer to exactly. I certainly will donate to your work and will likely also be purchasing parts...thanks for what you do.

Ken Wilford January 19, 2017

Has it ever started since you put in the "reconditioned" motor? If not then it could be the push rods are not centered in the lifters. Do a compression test and also take a flash light and remove the valve covers and look down the push rod tubes. You should see the push rod centered in the lifter. If it is off center (usually falls down to the bottom) loosen the rocker arm and pry it gently until the push rod pops back into the center of the lifter. That should fix it. Let me know what you find. Ken

Lucas January 14, 2017

Hey Ken. I have a 84 vanagon that blew a head gasket recently. Have replaced whole engine with an "reconditioned" 89 vanagon, We have spark, fuel and on several occasions we have had the van turn over but instantly die out. Next job is to test compression and remove the catalytic convertor. Im at a lost and missing my van more then ever! Any Idea's on what could be wrong?

Ken Wilford January 11, 2017

Dave, we can ship to the UK, no problem. It would probably be around $45 for Priority Mail which is usually 10 days. The only Digijet ECUs we can get at the moment are good used for 1.9l Vanagon. I usually sell those for $200 with no core. Let me know if you want to go that way. Ken

Dave January 11, 2017

Hi Ken thanks that's what we are thinking have had it tested but they so cant find anything wrong but that doesn't mean it is faulty and we cant get hold of another ecu the same here in the uk. How would we go about getting one from you and can you ship to UK ok? Thanks Dave

Burney Lek January 5, 2017

Hey ken. The car repair store told me was the battery problem. They said the battery was bad and they couldn't recharge battery. And they told me to replace the starter. But I didn't believe them. So I towed the car back and ask somebody to test the battery again and checked the battery again. It wasn't the battery problem. The battery can be recharged. I think it's probably the alternator's problem. But I'm not sure. The car started working again so I will check the battery for next few days and try find if is the alternator problem. Thank you ken!

Ken Wilford January 5, 2017

Have you tried swapping in a known good ECU? It sounds like the ECU isn't pulsing the injectors like it is supposed to. The only time I have seen this myself is with a defective ECU. The only way to really test for that is to swap in a known good unit. I should have a good used unit for $200 if you find yourself in need of one. Ken

Dave January 5, 2017

Hi ken We have a 1984 2.1 Digijet Vw T25 in with non start issues, originally getting no fuel but new pump and relay resolved that but it now floods to the extent of dripping fuel from the exhaust, the injectors are staying live when fuel pump is live, any ideas??

Ken Wilford December 29, 2016

Check your battery terminal connections. Sometimes it is just a loose connection there. Is the van an automatic? Some times you can just wiggle the shifter while trying to start and that would allow the starter to work. Check the battery voltage with a meter because if your alternator isn't working for some reason, you could have a dead battery even though it is new. Changing the oil should not have had any effect on the van actually cranking over. Let me know what you find out. Ken

Burney Lek December 28, 2016

Hey ken, I just got a 81 vanagon from Seattle and I drove around 14 hours from Seattle to Sacramento. I stoped 5 times on the freeway. But during the last stop in Redding gas station, the oil pressure light was turned on. And after the engine warmed up a little bit, the light was turned off. When I drove back to Sacramento, the light was turned on a few times. So when I came back to Sacramento, I checked the oil level was too dirty so I changed the engine oil and oil filter today. But right now it won't start over. The battery is new one and I tried to clutch it so I can see if it can start work. But after several times the can didn't started. So can you help me to fix it? Appreciated it!

Ken Wilford December 16, 2016

Juan, I think the oil is leaking from the engine oil cooler into the coolant. You can unhook the two hoses going to that and use a short piece of plastic or metal pipe and junction the two hoses together bypassing the cooler. Now run the van and see if any oil comes out of the nipples on the oil cooler. If it does then the cooler is bad and should be replaced. We have them available on our site if you find yourself in need. Here is the link: Ken

Juan fernandez December 13, 2016

Hi Ken, I have a 91 vanagon, I haven't driven more that 1000 miles this year, now the expansion tank look like have oil on it, I though that was trans.fluid, so I check the atf cooler looks ok, but I noticed a crack on the tank , near the cooler level sensor, could the tank be the problem, or somehow is mixing oil with the cooler, I will order a tank from you if that's a problem, thank you.

Ken Wilford November 10, 2016

How long did you crank it over? I mean did you crank it and crank it until the battery went dead? I kind of need to know these details so I can try to help you out. Ken

zgerzon November 2, 2016

Hey Ken, It cranked over at first, then after it did not.

Ken Wilford November 2, 2016

So it was cranking over and would not start or it would not crank over? Ken

zgerzon November 2, 2016

Howdy, Love that I found this site, feel like it will be a great resource for me ! I bought a 85 Vanagon in Denver, drove it up to the rockies where I live. Had replaced the battery in Denver because mechanics said it was weak. After it sat overnight once I got it home, it wouldnt start the next day. Not fun considering I bought it three days ago. An hour or two came back and tried it again, pumped the gas aggressively and it finally started up. I've read it could be something with Fuel, alternator or battery. I'm not sure where to start..Any leads would be very helpful, thanks in advance!

johan October 8, 2016

I now changed the Hall sender and now it starts perfekt :) Thanks for the help. cheers

Ken Wilford September 25, 2016

Wow, vapor lock? That is a new one on me. This was a common problem back in the day with the air cooled VWs because of the level of heat that you were seeing and the fact that the fuel system is only seeing a couple of psi because it is carburetor. However when they went to the Fuel Injection and then the water cooling this problem went away because you have a way cooler engine compartment and the fuel is pressurized to around 40 psi which raises the boiling point. So I have never even heard of a late model Vanagon having this issue, and I really don't think it is possible. I think they are having some type of fuel system problem. Maybe a bad fuel pump or gas tank, and somehow they just randomly came across a jimmy rig that works around it. I have seen these kind of fixes many times of the years, to get around a problem that could have been easily diagnosed by following the tests in the Bentley Manual and then repaired properly. So if you are going to buy this van, I would recommend getting a Bentley Manual and just going through the Fuel Injection tests and you should find the problem. We sell those here: This manual will save you so much time and money over the course of your Van ownership, it will pay for itself over and over again. Let me know if I can help you further. Ken

Lori September 20, 2016

Hi Ken! I just found this site and I'm finding it really informative. I'm in the process of buying my first Vanagon. It's a 1990 2.1L stock engine. The ad said that it had started to vapor lock and the owner decided he didn't want to put any more money into it. I test drove it and loved it. It wouldn't start on the first try but the guy showed me where he installed a small bleed valve on the fuel line. He opened this valve and his buddy turned the key about 3 times and the vapor released. He closed the valve and the van started right up. It hasn't stalled yet. He said he'd recently replaced the oil cooler, the distributor cap, rotor button, and the oil seal on the cooler. I'm going to take it to my local mechanic next week but I wanted your opinion on what we should check out. Is vapor lock common with the 90 vanagons? Any insight? Thanks so much.

Ken Wilford September 17, 2016

OK, the immobilizer needs to see that you have the key so lock and unlock the front doors with the key. Try the driver's side first and if that doesn't fix it try the passenger door. The immobilizer is connected to the front door locks and is looking for an input from them. Let me know how you make out. Ken

Ken Wilford September 17, 2016

Check the battery terminals as they need to be clean and tight. Also check the ground strap that is on the transmission to the frame and if you see any green (corrosion) replace the wires with new, large diameter ones. Most likely it is a ground problem or a bad supply wire. Is the van an automatic?

Ken Wilford September 17, 2016

It could be the hall sender. That impulse is what tells the fuel pump to come in for that first momentary couple of seconds. I would try a good used distributor or just buy a rebuilt one if yours is old. We have them available here:

Johan Thunborg September 17, 2016

Hi again! Thank you for your answer. The coil seem to fit ignition wires good. I changed the wires ends from the coil as well. Still the same. Most of the time it won't start. But yesterday it started fine and run on idle for about 3 minuts as most.Then it died again. This happened many times in a row. Started and died. What do you think about distributor/ hall sender? Whats your thoughts? Thank you from Sweden!

Paul September 15, 2016

Hi Ken 1995 Vanagon petrol van come in for brake service car would not start after found no spark replaced coil pack now have spark but still won't start as if it is immobilised starts 1 second stops any ideas to why this has happened 2 keys checked they are fine thanks Paul.

Ron Kompelien September 14, 2016

I have a 1982 VW vanagon, Starts great when its cold. After warming it up it is hard to start or not at all. VERY slow to turn over. Acts like a weak battery. I replaced the starter but still the same problem. If I wait for it to cool down it will start up with NO problem. Battery is good (or I think so) What else can I check for?

buncis September 12, 2016

Hello Ken, My 1986 Vanagon was running fine until all of a sudden it won't start.. There is no spark at the distributor and the fuel pump doesn't run when the ignition is on. Could a bad hall sender cause both issues?

Ken Wilford September 2, 2016

Jake, it sounds like the starter solenoid is sticking. You can try cleaning up electrical connections, but usually if I van is having this problem after sitting for a while the only real way to fix it is to replace the starter with a rebuilt one. We have these available here as a Bosch rebuild that has a 2 year warranty. Let me know if we can help you further.

Jake G August 31, 2016

Hello Ken Just purchased a 1986 Vanagon GL Syncro at an estate auction. It was advertised as in running/operation condition but upon inspection would not start. When the key is turned, the fuel pump runs but that is it, no clicking, or turning over. The battery tests fine. We did get it to start and run by bump starting it. I suspect ignition switch or solenoid but would appreciate expert advice. Thank you in advance.

Ken Wilford August 17, 2016

The 87 is getting the pulse for the injectors from the Hall Sender unit in the distributor. I would unplug that and plug it back in to be sure it has a good connection. Then that signal goes to the ECU under the rear seat and the ECU actually pulses the ground for the injectors. So if you are having this problem it is usually a problem with the distributor or the ECU. Maybe something got fried when you were doing the engine work. I have had folks have issues like this because they didn't unhook the battery before they started working on the engine. Most common culprit is the ECU with the distributor coming in a distant second. If the distributor plug is broken and hanging by the wires or has been tie wrapped in place it needs to be replaced. Usually I would troubleshoot this by swapping in a known good ECU or distributor I have sitting here at the shop. I have rebuilt distributors and ECUs available if you can figure out which it needs. The only bad part is that I can't take either of them back if you install them and find out that isn't the problem so choose wisely my friend :-) Let me know if I can help you further.

Steven A August 16, 2016

It's a 1987 vanagon 2.1 gl

Ken Wilford August 16, 2016

Steve, what year is it? It sounds like something isn't plugged in just right. Tell me the year and I can tell you where to look. Ken

Ken Wilford August 16, 2016

I would check for fuel pressure with a gauge to be sure you have that. If you do then pull the injectors to see if they are actually spraying. If they are not then they could be plugged or blocked. The new gas that has ethanol in it is notorious for clogging injectors with just sitting for six months to a year! If you have to park the van buy some STabil fuel additive and run that in the van for a day before shutting it down for the winter. Let me know what you find. Ken

Steven a August 15, 2016

Hey Ken, I have a bit of an issue. So I took my engine out to do a reseal. New rear main (was leaking) changed fuel lines and injector o rings and now that everything is back in she doesn't want To start. It's got no injector pulse I put a noid light on the harness. I'm at a bit of a loss. The only thing I changed was the engine to body ground strap. Because the bolt broke from original location

Josh August 15, 2016

Hi all, My Vanagon has been sitting for a little while, whilst i was overseas. The culprit is lack of fuel. However my fuel pump is fine and my fuel filters have all just been replaced. I am thinking that rust in the tank perhaps maybe blocking the fuel from pumping. However it isn't particularly practical for me to check at the moment, due to lack of space. Any other possible issues to check before i drop the tank?

Jeff August 11, 2016

Thanks for the suggestion Ken, I eagerly revisited the AFM hoping to find a loose plug. Seemed ok, removed the plug and checked the connection, replugged and started her up. Same thing, bogs down from idle to 2,000 rpm. Pulled the AFM and popped off the meter lid. I see a worn path from the wiper, though I don't know if it is excessive. I suppose I would need a meter to check the voltage. Seems unlikely that it would be worn in a way to work fine exactly when the sweep hits 2000 rpm. Also unplugged the throttle switch as a test on a recommendation, but that didn't change how the engine revs up. Not giving up, Jeff

Ken Wilford August 11, 2016

Jeff, it reminds me of when I forget to plug the Air Flow Meter in. The van will start and idle fine but then bog down as you rev. If you are super nice to it, you can get above a certain RPM and it will rev the rest of the way up. Make sure your AFM is plugged in and let me know what you find. Ken

Jeff August 10, 2016

Hi Ken, I’ve just completed an engine swap, the rebuilt engine started right up but has a specific problem that may have a straight forward solution. Starts easily, idles fine, major flat spot up to 2,000 rpms, at 2,000 rpms and up engine is responsive and runs fine. Very difficult to get to 2,000 rpms, engine bogs (seems/smells rich) light throttle work gets it up to 2,000 rpms then it takes off. No black smoke at any time. 1985 1.9 Digijet, Rebuilt engine New plugs, wires, cap / rotor Rebuilt distributor New oxygen sensor (tried unplugging it too) Rebuilt fuel injectors Timing set at 35 degrees advance @ 3,000 rpm All the electronics worked fine before the swap. Any ideas where to start? Thank you

Munro Antony August 6, 2016

Hi it's in the For Sale section of the website,I just had to search and hope someone was selling is a link to it. Also here is a link for a company that refurbish and sells them I'm sorry I can't be of more help Tony

Ken Wilford August 5, 2016

Johan, check the coil you have and the ignition wires you bought. Some of the coils have a pin connector where the ignition wire snaps in the center, and other ones have a bushing. If you have the ignition wire that requires the pin and you have the bushing it can prevent the wire from snapping into the end of the coil and that can lead to a bad connection there with all sorts of problems. I would also check the wire ends at the coil as they are known to fail and look fine but actually be bad with age. It would be a good idea to replace them all with new ends and see if this could be the source of the problem as well. Let me know if I can help you further. Ken

Ken Wilford August 5, 2016

Tony, thanks for letting me know. Do you think Brickwerks has another one? I have a customer in Ireland that could probably use one as well.

Munro Antony August 5, 2016

Hi thanks it was the ECU thanks for your thoughts and suggestions. i didn't want to get one and find out it wasn't that,but after you and everyone else pointing in that direction I took the plunge and bought a secondhand one from a website called Brickwerks here in the UK for £120.00 anyway thanks again for your help Tony

Johan Thunborg August 1, 2016

Hello Ken! Im in sweden and need Help with an 1987 2.1 DJ. At first it was a bit difficult to start so changed all spark plugs, ignition cables,distributor cap and rotor. then it started just fine. But i had bought an new coil so i decided to change it to. It started fine but after 30sec on idling it died. After that i didn’t get any spark. Changed back to the old coil same thing. Had no time to try to fix it so towed it to a mechanic. When they started it it was fine! The day after i picked it up and it was running fine. Changed the oil and the next day it didn’t start. Checked all ground and cleaned it up. Fixed a cable that almost was falling apart from the coil. The spark is better now but it feels like it comes and goes… Normally when i try to start it dies right away. Sometimes it can run on idle for a minut before it dies. What i can see i get no gas to the injectors (I got gas to the testport though)But aperentlly sometimes i do otherwise it wouldn’t run for sometimes a minut. I changed the ECU( a friends) didn’t help. What do you think ? Any ideas? Thanks in advance /Johan

Ken Wilford July 30, 2016

I really think it is the ECU. Do you have another person that has a DJ engine Vanagon that you can borrow their ECU for testing purposes? Then you are going to have to find a rebuilt or good used unit. Let me know because I have a customer in Ireland that also needs an ECU for that engine.

Kathleen Murphy July 29, 2016

Thanks Ken... I just saw your are fast..I will have Randy call...he said he put a brand new battery in it and it still won't start...

Munro Antony July 28, 2016

Sorry I neglected to mention but I'm in London England,yes it is a 2.1dj. I disconnected the air flow meter/temperature sensor/ignition module/hall sensor/idle speed control unit/idle stableilizer,and yet the fuel pump/injectors still stay on

Ken Wilford July 26, 2016

On a normal 87 2.1l with the Digifant injection system, I have seen this problem before and it is that the ECU has failed. Are you sure your engine is a DJ (European only) instead of a DH? It is probably still the ECU as that controls the ground for the injectors and pulses that to control how much fuel is sprayed inside the cylinders. Usually, replacing the ECU fixes this problem. I have rebuilt 2.1l ECUs in stock for $250 plus $100 core charge, but I am not sure where you would get a DJ ECU as that uses the Digijet system and is not the same as the 83.5-85 Digijet that was sold here in the USA. Let me know what engine you have for sure and I am try to help you out. Ken

Munro Antony July 25, 2016

Hi I have a 87 2.1 dj vanagon it was running fine and suddenly it failed so costed to the side of the road now fuel is blowing by ALL the fuel injectors, as soon as the key is turned. The way the fuel system on the system works is, when the key is first turned one. the fuel pump starts for 2 seconds to pressurize the system. Now, even for those 2 seconds before cranking fuel blows past the injectors, and continues once you start cranking the engine. Whenever the fuel pump is running now, all the cylinders are getting gas, so essentially there is a continuous spray of gas into the cylinder. Any ideas please

Ken Wilford July 12, 2016

Kathleen, I need more information. Probably best if your mechanic calls or emails me directly so we can try to figure out what is going on. Buy a battery charger, charge the battery and then get it back to the mechanic and tell him to give me a call. Ken

Kathleen Murphy July 11, 2016

I have an 87 Vanagon, water cooled weekender...I bought it new. It sat for about ten years. We, my mechanic and I have put around $1700 into it including parts and labor. It was starting and running, the gas cap doesn't work BUT NOW it won't start. The battery went dead and even with a new battery, it won't turns over but won't start.. not sure what parts he replaced, but I do know a new fuel injector, battery and other hoses and stuff underneath...I am giving him the article you wrote on the van won't start and how to trouble shoot...I am going to ask him to buy any parts I need for it from you...I just can't by understand why it started and ran and now won't. He said maybe we didn't keep it running enough..say most of winter. He got it started finally last September but didn't give it back to me until May. He said it was running fine when he brought it over. I didn't try starting it for about a month, I wanted to wait to put new tires in it, and now battery dead after sitting a month.

Sam July 2, 2016

Aloha Ken Thanx for your help. I had nice bright white spark with slight blueish outline at coil wire and spark plug. The gas starts leaking out of one out the joints in the exhaust system when I keep cranking it. If it's the ecu do these just fail or is there another problem that will cause the new one to fail also. I removed the ground wires at coil and trans sanded and replaced them I tryed the paper clip At the thermostat sensor but now I'm thinking about it,it was probably flooded already. I noticed the injectors spray as soon as I put the key on not to cranking but just on is this normal? Mahalo Sam

Ken Wilford June 30, 2016

Have you tried bleeding the cooling system from the bleeder screw on the top of the radiator? Many shops don't know about this and don't bleed the system properly or at all. If there is an air lock in the system then the coolant doesn't circulate and the hot coolant stays in the back and never cools down through the radiator. Then it boils and makes the air lock worse. I would jack up the front of the van, remove the upper grill and bleed the radiator until straight fluid comes out. Do this with the engine running, filling up the coolant tank as needed. Once the coolant is bled, your heater will work so I usually leave that on while bleeding to confirm that the air is out of the system and the coolant is circulating. Let me know what you find out and I will try to help you further.

Ken Wilford June 30, 2016

Sam, sometimes it seems like it has spark because you crank it over and there is one or two yellow or orange sparks but actually there isn't a consistent spark and that is the issue. Check to see if your spark is rapid and a white or blue color. If not then you are possibly having a spark problem which is most likely either the ECU, the distributor (Hall Sender), or coil. If the coil has brown stuff leaking out of it then the coil is dying and should be replaced first. Most of the time a sudden shut off and no restart like this is caused by the ECU failing. The only way to test for that would be to borrow an ECU from an 86-91 Vanagon, install it, and see if your van starts back up. If you have a friend with a van that is nice you can test it this way and we have rebuilt units here on the shelf for $250. The distributor can also be the source of the problem as they are failing more and more with age. If the plug on the side is broken free from the distributor then that is in failure mode. Either get a rebuilt distributor or a new Hall Sender. Let me know what you find and I will be glad to help you further.

Sam June 28, 2016

Aloha Ken I have an 87 vanagon with the 2.1 engine. I was driving home and it died out and hasn't started since I got spark and fuel. The injectors spray fine and them stream before shutting off is this normal. Mahalo Sam

Ken Wilford June 21, 2016

John, it could be the coil and since you already bought one I would try that out first. It just takes a few minutes to replace it. Hopefully the aftermarket one is better than the old worn out one you are replacing. I don't have any experience with them, they could be fine or not I just don't know. It could also be the ignition module and if that looks original that would be the next thing I would try as it is very easy to replace. If it is neither of those then it pretty much has to be the distributor itself. I have the hall sender units here for $75 if you want to try to rebuild it yourself or I can have yours rebuilt but that takes a couple of weeks usually and costs $225. Let me know what you find with the coil replacement and we can go from there. Ken

John Collins June 19, 2016

Hello, Ken, I am in Florida with 84 stock 1.9 Westy. Need to drive back to California next week. Ran fine on the way here, with one instance of bucking and spitting in Texas. Tired wiggling wires, cleaning connectors, etc. Has new old stock AFM, new T2 sensor, new dist rotor, dist cap looks good, plugs look fine. Never found cause, but it cleared up. Suspected bad gas. Ran fine for rest of the way here. Now have intermittent "hiccup". Coil feels very hot. Bought new cheap "no-name" coil but have not installed it. Suspects: hall sender, ignition module, coil??? Have made appointment with mechanic here who is supposed to be good. Suggestions? Thanks, John Collins

Ken Wilford June 14, 2016

Wade, I need to have more information, like what year and what engine would be a good start :-)

Wade June 10, 2016

Hello. I've had issues with starting. At first if it wouldn't start I would floor the gas pedal and crank till it starts. It's gotten worse now. I have to turn the ignition key on and off without cranking 3 to 4 times then floor the pedal and it starts. Cold or hot I have the same problem. I can hear the fuel pump on when I switch on the ignition, and have replaced the fuel filter no change. Do you think the fuel pump could be failing? Or?

Ken Wilford June 7, 2016

The only way to know horsepower is to go to a "dyno day" at a local place that has a dyno tester (race track, speed shop, etc) and get it tested that way. That would be kind of a pain and expensive for what you want to know which is the health of your engine. A much easiest way to determine engine health would be to do a compression test on the engine. This should have been done before you purchased the van as part of an inspection, but if it hasn't you can do it by buying, renting, borrowing, etc. a compression tester and either a remote starter or a friend to crank the engine over. There are many videos on Youtube detailing how to do such a test and it only take about 30 mins. Then you will know what kind of shape your motor is in and can make decisions based on that. Your 1.9l engine is rated at 85hp, however if you have low compression, it can be much lower than that. Part of the bad reputation that the Vanagon has gotten over the years is because many folks are driving around with tired engines that may even be missing on one cylinder (one cylinder extremely low or even completely dead). It is better to know than to wonder.

Ken Wilford June 7, 2016

Michael, congrats on your new van purchase and welcome to the Vanagon world! Usually when a good running van stops working immediately after I do some work on it, I pretty much know that I just unplugged something or messed up something that was fine until I touched it. So I would trace and look over everything that you did. You will usually find the culprit that way. It could also be something that came unplugged when you lowered the transmission. It reminds me of when I forget to plug the Air Flow Meter back in after doing a repair. It is easy for the plug for this to fall down under the air box, you put the air box back in place and then forget to plug it back in because the plug is out of sight, out of mind. Check things over and let me know what you find.

Michael Tuttle May 30, 2016

Ken, another question. How do I determine my engines horsepower? I have a 1985 weekender with the automatic transmission and I'm sure the engine has been replaced and repaired several times.

Michael Tuttle May 30, 2016

Ken, I've just finished reading the questions and responses with interest. I have recently purchased an 85 weekender, automatic that looks, I suspect was taken to Burning Man due to fine white dust covering everything outside, and including the engine compartment. The van was running fine until I replaced the oil cooler with a westy external cooler. During the removal and installation I had to lower the transmission to remove the mount and oil cooler. Now the problem, when I crank the engine it fires and starts to run then " gasps " several times and stalls. If I floor the gas pedal release and turn the key the engine turns over and revs up on it's own,.. then stalls. could I have air in the gas lines or loose connections? I'm new at diagnosing, so your instructions seem pretty clear. an email when you have some time will be appreciated.

Ken Wilford April 19, 2016

John, you want to be sure you are at TDC on cylinder 1 for your timing. You rotate the engine while watching your valves open and close. Cylinder 1 is the one that is on the passenger side (right) that is closest to the front of the van. Remove the valve cover so you can see the valve operation. As you turn engine engine by hand you will see the intake valve (one toward the center) open and then close and the timing mark on the pulley will come around and line up with the case halves. Remove the spark plug on that cylinder and confirm that the piston is all the way at the top by placing a screwdriver down in the spark plug hole and resting the tip against the top of the piston. As you turn the engine you will see the screwdriver coming up out of the hole and the intake valve will close, the mark on the pulley (rounded mark) will line up with case halves on the top. Now look at the distributor. Pull the cap off and look at where the rotor is pointing. It should be pointing to the tower location for cylinder number 1 which is at aproximately 5 oclock position when looking from above. There should be a line inscribed in the body of the distributor as well that it should be pointing to. Sometimes this line is covered by a plastic dust cover you can remove and then feel with rim of the distributor body where the cap sits until your fingernail hits with scribed mark. Now turn the distributor body until the rotor points to this mark and your timing should be lined up enough for the van to start and run well. If the rotor is pointing in the opposite direction, then someone in the past has installed the distributor drive gear 180 degrees off. Seen this many times. You can rearrange the plug wires to get it to run 180 out just to test it. The only way to fix this issue correctly would be to pull the drive gear and install it at the correct orientation. Let me know what you find out or if you need more help.

Ken Wilford April 19, 2016

Fernando, check for loose connections or unplugged plugs in the area where you just did your work. I usually always find that I have bumped something loose while doing work, if the van will not start afterwards. Ken

Ken Wilford April 19, 2016

Jeff, I would check for spark. If you have good fuel, then most likely something in the ignition system has died. Usually I pull a spark plug and then rest the end against the engine block. Unplug the plugs going to the injectors as you don't want them to be spraying gas while you are doing this test. Now have a helper crank the engine over. You want to see a white spark and it needs to happen rapidly over and over while cranking. If you get one or two yellow sparks, then you have an ignition problem. It could be the coil (look for black tar dripping out of this), the distributor or the ECU. The only way I know of to test the ECU or the distributor is by swapping in known good ones. If you have a local person who also owns a Vanagon from 86-91, you can use their ECU as a test unit.

Jeff February 25, 2016

Hi Ken, I have a 88 westy with a stock 2.1. One morning I started it up, it ran for maybe 30 seconds than died. Now when I turn the key she fires for about a second than nothing. I can hear the fuel pump priming when the key is turned to on, lots of fuel in the tank. It has new plugs, wires, cap, rotor, o2 sensor. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks Jeff

Fernando Hernandez February 21, 2016

Ken, I wanted to put in a new engine ground wire. Received from rock auto and tried replacing and now I'm not getting spark at all in the engine bay. So I put the old ground back on and now still nothing. All my electrical is still working with in the van but the engine is not turning over at all. I turn the key and nothing. Any ideas?

John Palmer February 21, 2016

Ken, This is a great post and has helped me tremendously. I got an 85 Vanagon 1.9L that was left to the weeds. What's worse is somebody went through and butchered the electrical by trying to "fix it" themselves. Horrid!! After over a year of tracing wires on the schematic with an Ohmsmeter and replacing every bad wire, connection, ground, or other trouble, I finally have both spark and fuel. There are no blockages for either intake or exhaust. Compression is on the low side, but consistent all around at just under 100psi (96 - 99). Unfortunately, the previous owner did 'the dirty' and removed the distributor without marking the last known good timing point. I have spent hours starting at the baseline, according to the Bentley Manual, moving it a sliver at a time backwards and forwards almost covering the full 180 degrees between the two adjacent wires on the distributor and have not gotten it to start. It is giving me a lot of pops, hiss, and the occasional mild backfire. Please tell me there is some method to try and find the sweet spot?!! She wants to run so desperately, and so do I!!

Ken Wilford February 13, 2016

Rick, some things that folks can miss are the grounds on the engine and the ground strap that goes from the engine (driver's side head to the firewall). You want to check the grounds with a meter and if they look sketchy at all they should be cleaned up, and the ends replaced. If the grounds are fine, then it could be the wiring to the temp II sensor from the ECU. You can test this by checking the temp II readings at the ECU plug itself. The Bentley manual has a chart with the pin numbers to test with a meter and see if the resistance reading you are getting at the ECU plug is the same one you get if you test at the Temp II sensor itself. If it is not then there is a wiring problem somewhere and you can track it down. As these vans age, the wiring harness ages as well and it can't last forever. I have been replacing them more and more or at least repairing the old harness wiring because they are starting to fail. Let me know how you make out. PS I love your email address! Me too!

Rick Barsby February 9, 2016

Hi Ken, I have an 88 westy that has the original engine in it. It recently on a road trip became difficult to start, found the engine flooding itself out. Eventually it became almost impossible to start. We assumed the temp senor2 was the issue and we replaced it, we also replaced the o2 sensor and the cap rotor and plugs. Still floods itself out, we have swapped the ecm and the air meter with used ones with no change. We have checked the air flow meter with ohm meter it seems to have a fairly steady swipe reading. We performed a compression test 3 of the 4 were good number 3 was a tad low. At this point I'm not sure what else to do. Am I missing something?

Ken Wilford February 4, 2016

Jeff, so it originally had points, but it has the pertronix system installed new correct? The pertronix is a great system but it needs to be set up properly. Be sure the space between the pickup and the black plastic rotator piece is correct. Not sure why you were adjusting the timing in the first place, so maybe there is a secondary problem that is actually the problem, that is just now aggrevated by messing with the timing. What I have found in 3rd world countries is that fuel contamination is a big issue, especially water and then rust in the fuel system in tropical areas. Why did you original adjust the timing? Was the van misfiring? Maybe you should check your fuel to be sure that it is good. Let me know if you can help me out with some more info.

Ken Wilford February 4, 2016

It sounds like the temp II sensor is not working properly. This sensor will richen up the mixture when the van is cold and act as a cold start. Once the van is warmed up it stops enriching the mixture, so if it wasn't working properly it could effect things when the van is cold and would act as you describe. You can test the temp II with an ohm meter and a chart that is in the Bentley manual or you can just replace it. We have them available in our store. I believe the part number is 025906041a and I would also order a new o-ring to go with it just to be safe as old ones tend to get hard over time. Let me know how you make out.

Dan January 30, 2016

Hi Ken, like others here....thank you for all your help you are giving people!! My questions is...I have a 2.1 Digijet 1988 Westy. For the last few months she will only start if I give her some throttle. Otherwise the the revs just drop off and she stalls. Once I have held the throttle down until she is up to temperature then she runs fine, and will restart (as long as she is warm) I can hear the Idle Stabilisation Control Unit (ISCU) maintaining the revs once warm....just not cold. I have bypassed the ISCU (by joining the plugs together and discconnecting the little plug running to the coil), but this has no effect. Idle Stabilisation Valve vibrates and does it's thing. Dizzy and Rotor arm are new. Temp 2 sensor is new also. I'm loosing the will to live so any help would be gratefully received. Thank you!!

Jeff January 30, 2016

Hi. 82 aircooled federal edition with pertronix ignition. I was playing with the distributor. I advanced the timing. The engine was running fine but it was off the 7.5 mark. After advancing the timing the van would buckle and jerk. I can't seem to get the timing back to where it was because the van doesnt stay running at that timing (around 4) Currently broke down in Costa Rica

Ken Wilford January 19, 2016

Steve, if you feel comfortable replacing the Hall Effect unit, then go with that. My experience has been that most of the failures are due to the ECU, (probably 90%) with the other 10% being the Hall unit, followed by other sundry things that it could be. The ECUs had cold solder joints from the factory and with age, all of the original ones are suspect as far as I am concerned. A good rebuilt unit, like the one we sell, addresses all of the original failure points, and replaces some of the failure prone resistors, etc. The ones we sell are also tested in a Vanagon before they are shipped to ensure that they all function properly right out of the box (no crazy tach or DOA units as some rebuilders have supplied me with in the past). The Hall Units may start to experience a higher failure rate since they are mostly original and can't last forever, but I haven't really seen an uptick in sales of those, while the sales of ECUs have help pretty steady with us for years and years. Hope this helps, Ken

Steve January 18, 2016

Hi, I'm finding these posts quite informative as I have just purchased a 1990 Vanagon Carat that won't start... I'm 95% sure it's the Hall Effect unit, but after reading the many posts, I will also be checking the fuel filters. My question is this, would replacing the Hall Effect sensor before the ECU make more sense as it is less expensive? Thanks

Ken Wilford November 18, 2015

It could be the temp sensor for the fuel injection system. It may be bad and not telling the system that it is cold. Once it warms up it is fine. Pumping the pedal would do nothing since the van is fuel injected. The other thing it could be is the cold start valve (only used on Air Cooled Vanagons and late Bus). If this valve isn't spraying then it would be hard to start initially but then start better the rest of the day. Check these two things out and let me know what you find. There are tests for both of them in the Bentley Manual. If you don't have one, I would recommend purchasing one from our store as they will come in handy many times over the life of the van.

dave November 16, 2015

This is a great post. Appreciate all the replies you're doing for people. Hoping you have good advice for me. I have an 82 aircooled vanagon that suddenly started having trouble starting when cold (is every morning) but subsequent starts in the day are fine. It just stalls out on me. If I pump the pedal that doesn't seem to have any effect nor if I keep the pedal slightly depressed while starting. I just have to try starting it like 8 times then it finally stays on for a second then I have to feather it to stay on. Just kind of happened one day. Since then I've changed the fuel filter and pump to no noticeable effect. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated. Cheers Dave

Ken Wilford November 10, 2015

I would start with replacing the ignition switch as that sounds bad. You should not have to jiggle it to get it to work properly. Next you want to have someone crank the engine over while you look for spark. Remove a spark plug and install it in the plug wire. Hold the plug against a metal part of the engine block. Unplug all of the injectors. Now have someone crank the engine over and see if you are getting a consistent spark, spark, spark, spark in rapid succession. If you get one weak spark at the beginning of cranking and nothing else then you aren't getting good spark for some reason. Usually suspects are the ECU (ignition control unit is built in), Hall sensor in distributor, and coil in that order of usually failure likeliness. If you have a local person who has an 86-91 Vanagon that you can borrow an ECU from that would be a great place to start. We have rebuilt units for $250 but once they are installed they can't be returned. So just swapping in parts and hoping for the best is an expensive way to troubleshoot this problem. The ECUs had cold solder joints from the factory and failure rate at this stage of the game is high, so usually that is the culprit. However since the van is almost 30 years old, it could be anything. Let me know if I can help you further.

Jax November 7, 2015

My 87 Westy (stock 2.1) started stalling and then died. It cranks and I smell gas but won't start. Sometimes I have had to jiggle the key in the ignition to get it to turn. Van kind of backfires quietly. Replaced the sensor because it was running hot in idle. Checked filter, plugs and distributor. Not sure what else to check. Any thoughts? Thanks

Ken Wilford September 11, 2015

Steve, I usually don't mess with the distributor timing when adjusting idle. There is an idle screw on the throttle body for that. I would check the wiring that goes to the distributor and you are going to need a wiring diagram so you can trace the wiring and test it with a meter. It is possible that one of the wires got pinched and shorted out or burned out and needs to be repaired, or you fried the distributor hall sensor somehow and that needs to be replaced. Take a look and let me know what you find.

Ken Wilford September 11, 2015

Elizabeth, most of the time this problem is due to the starter solenoid getting sticky with age. If the van sits the inside of the solenoid cylinder gets rusty and causes the solenoid to stick. This is what keeps the starter from activating. So worst case scenerio you need a rebuilt starter. However it could also be a battery that isn't charging properly or holding a good charge as well so have the charging system tested first (Autozone or Advance Auto will do this for free) and then check the ground and straps at the battery to be sure they are making good contact and are clean. If all of these are fine and you are still having this problem then I would recommend replacing the starter with a rebuilt one. We have them available here:

steve September 10, 2015

Hi my 91vanagon won't start.a guy loosened the distributer cap to adjust the idle, then we smelled a burnt wire. Now it won't start at all. Any ideas on how to fix it?

Elizabeth September 10, 2015

Hi there Ken We bought an 87' syncro from the original owners about this time last year. Granny driven full service records. Amazing! Love her. But recently she started randomly not starting. Sometimes she goes for days with no problems then when we least expect it ( and really need her to go) she just won't start. No clicking solonoid not cranking starter, just a buzzing that I'm assuming is the fuel pump. Most of the time if we just leave her alone she will fire right up again as if nothing is wrong, and the run for days with no issue, but I'm afraid that what ever it is will eventually leave us stranded somewhere. Hoping you will know what the solution is. Thanks Elizabeth.

Ken Wilford August 21, 2015

If it is losing ignition then there are a few things it can be: 1. Wiring- check for corroded or loose wires to the coil, distributor, ignition module (unit on firewall with heatsink) and idle stabilizer unit (plastic unit on firewall next to coil). If the wiring is deteriorated or plugs loose this will cause you to lose ignition. 2. Ignition module failure- unit on firewall with heatsink (the only way to test to to replace with a new or known good used one). 3. Idle stabilizer control unit failure- unit next to coil with plastic body and two round plugs going into the bottom of it. You can test to see if this is causing the problem by bypassing the unit. Just unplug it and plug the two plugs into each other. If the problem goes away then this unit is bad. Check these things out and let me know. This is for the 1.9l Vanagon with digijet fuel injection. Ken

Edwin August 19, 2015

Haha sorry man, ya its an 84.

Ken Wilford August 18, 2015

Edwin, is it a diesel because that is the only watercooled engine put in the van in 82? I assume you mean an 83-85 1.9l waterboxer? Just want to be sure we are talking about the same thing. Ken

Edwin August 18, 2015

Oh ya forgot the important info. Its an 82 watercooled with the stock engine. It struggles and shakes when started.

Ken Wilford August 18, 2015

Edwin, I need a little more information like what year the van is and if it has the stock engine? It sounds like you are talking about a waterboxer. Let me know and I will take you through some steps to see what is causing the no spark condition.

Edwin August 17, 2015

My dads vanagon out of nowhere doesnt want to stay on. It struggles and dies. Put the spark tester on there and you can see its loseing the spark right before the engine dies. Changed temp 2, coil, tested the afm, checked wire on ecu still no luck

Patrick August 8, 2015

it was my dads. original owner. I vaguely remember he had a new engine put in but forgot I think it was early nineties. thanks, I will be testing this weekend and let you know. Appreciate the help!

Ken Wilford August 7, 2015

Yes. You didn't know you have an engine conversion? Have you had the van long?

Patrick August 6, 2015

Well, I actually didn't know that about the tico engine. Is that good? ok, back to the Troubleshooting, I remove that plug and test like you said before?

Ken Wilford August 6, 2015

You forgot to mention the small detail that your van has a Tiico Engine conversion instead of the stock waterboxer. Just a slight difference :-) There is a blocked off nipple on your fuel pressure regulator that you can use to test for fuel flow and pressure. See picture: Tiico Engine Picture

Patrick August 6, 2015

Hi Ken, Can you point out where the 7mm bolt is? Click for bigger (195 kb)

Ken Wilford August 5, 2015

OK, here is what I would recommend. You want to see if fuel is actually getting to the fuel rail. There is a small 7mm bolt that is on a metal T that is on top of the engine around the center. Crack this bolt and you will see some gas come out. Remove this bolt completely. Install a 7mm hose that is long enough to reach into a plastic container like a dixie cup. Disable the spark by removing the center plug wire on the distributor and grounding it. Have a fire extinguisher handy. Now just turn the key and gas should come out of the hose. You may have to turn the key a few times. If no gas comes out then there is either a blockage between the pump and the engine (defective fuel filter?), or the pump isn't pumping even though it is making noise. Investigate that. If fuel comes out then put the bolt back in and keep the ignition disabled. Pull one side of the injectors by removing the 10mm bolt between the two injectors. Put a piece of paper under the injector tips. Now have someone crank the engine over. Does and fuel come out? If not then there is a fuel injection system problem like a bad ECU, plugged injectors, or bad distributor. Let me know what you find and I will talk you through the next step. Ken

Patrick August 4, 2015

ok, thanks, the fuel pump humms when I turn the key and when it cranks, stops a few seconds after I stop trying to turn it over.

Ken Wilford July 30, 2015

Is the fuel pump coming in when the engine is cranking over? If the fuel tank and filters were contaminated with rust it is possible that the fuel pump is locked up. Try cranking over the engine while someone puts their hand on the fuel pump to see if it is vibrating. If it doesn't vibrate then it isn't coming on. Check to see if it is getting power with a test light. If not then trace the wiring to find out why. If it is check the ground to be sure that is good, and if it is then the pump is bad and needs to be replaced. Let me know what you find out. Ken

Patrick July 30, 2015

Thanks for the checklist. I had issues with my van starting (86 westy) and ended up replacing a gas filter as a first step, when doing this I noticed rust colored gas coming out which led me to replace the gas tank and fuel lines, as well as the first and second filters. the gas tank was extremely rusted and the outlet was clogged. The fuel lines were extremely brittle. Hoping that this would work I found it still wont start. I can spray some starting fluid and she will turn over but as soon as that's gone she dries up and dies. I am assuming I am not getting gas to the engine. Is there a way to test this? any thoughts on troubleshooting additionally. Going on 2 months now and I'm almost ready to give up and tow it to the shop, but I'd hate to do that if I could fix it myself.... Thanks again for your wisdom.

Ken Wilford May 23, 2015

What year van do you have? The power to the coil is coming from the ignition switch in the front of the van. There may be a couple of connectors behind the fuse panel that are also needed but the prime suspect is the ignition switch itself.

fuga_mundi May 22, 2015

Hi, I'm having problem with power getting to my coil. In order to start it, I run hot wire from the battery to the coil itself. Please advise.

Ken Wilford April 3, 2015

Either way you need to at least pull that side head off and see what kind of damage that is done. You are going to need to pull the head to do the repair so it doesn't really make sense to try to figure out what it is without pulling the head off. Once you have the head off, inspect the head, and the piston and cylinder. You want to inspect the cylinder for scoring and if the head is cracked I usually just junk it and get a new one. So the bare minimum you should expect is a cracked or damaged head and new head gasket set. If it really got hot the piston walls are scored and you have damaged or stuck rings as well. Overheating can kill a good Vanagon engine in just a few minutes. Let me know if you need any more advice or parts.

reddy March 31, 2015

Over heated vanagon Engine, van stalled. Now Engine rolls when cranked. It wont start. Zero compression in one cylinder. Now is it the head gasket problem?. OR a valve got stuck? Please help me solve the problem. Reddy, 408 833 4664

Ken Wilford February 6, 2015

Mick, it could be related to your temp II sensor. This is the blue colored sensor that is in the thermostat housing (see picture). This sensor can go bad and cause the engine to think that it is fully warmed up even though it is cold. This will make you have to keep your foot on the pedal until the van warms up but after that it should run/idle well. If the van is stalling even after it is warmed up then it could be a problem with the idle stabilizer part of the system. See my article about the idle problems that Vanagons have and the ways to troubleshoot those. Let me know what you find.

Mick February 5, 2015

Hi Ken, Thanks for all the useful Vanagon information! My '87 recently began having issues starting. It seems to happen most when it is very cold. The engine turns over but it feels as though it is not getting gasoline back at the engine despite me pumping the pedal and/or sometimes having to put the pedal to the floor. Usually after several minutes of cranking, it will start but once it took so many tries during a blizzard that my battery drained! I'm going to try your trouble shooting method this weekend but do you know if cold temps can create starting issues in Vanagons? Thanks! Mick

Ken Wilford January 7, 2015

Usually this is caused by a problem with the Temp II sensor or the computer getting a bad signal from this sensor. The computer things the van is still cold when it is actually warmed up, so when you try to start it when it is warm, it floods out and you have to wait a few minutes for the van to cool down before it will start. I would begin by replacing the Temp II sensor (blue sensor screwed into the thermostat housing) and if that doesn't fix it then you will have to have someone test the grounds and wiring to the sensor. A bad ground can throw off the reading or a bad wiring connection between the sensor and the computer. Some times it is just as simple as unplugging the sensor and plugging it back in if there is some corrosion on the pins inside the connector at the sensor. We have the temp II sensors for the 1.9l Vanagon in stock for $30 if you need one. Here is a link to it in the store.

Maxine January 7, 2015

Hi! My 84 Vanagon doesn't stall, but frequently when I turn it off it won't restart. I wait a 2-10 minutes and then it starts right up. Would the same trouble-shooting steps apply? Thanks, Maxine

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