The Vanagon Heaters:
The water cooled Vanagon has two awesome heaters that, if working properly, will fry you out of the van. They are what I want to discuss today.
Your front heater is a critical safety device. I know you probably think of it as a comfort device but think back to a day when the outside temperature suddenly changes due to a rain storm. The inside of your windshield starts to fog up and you can’t see a thing. You reach to turn on your windshield defroster and it doesn’t work! Now you have to either pull over (safe) or keep someone wiping the windshield down with a towel while you drive (not as safe). It would be so much better if you just adjust the defroster lever, turn the blower fan on and everything works the way it should.
Front Blower Fan.
One key to the front heater working properly is the front blower fan. These can seize up over time. In a normal car everything that you would do, heat or A/C, would involve this fan. In the Vanagon, the A/C is not in the dash so you only use the blower fan mostly in the winter. This lets the shaft rust. The best way to prevent this is to use the fan frequently, even in the summer. Just turn it on, once a week, even if it is at the lowest speed, to keep it going. If your front fan is stopped and blowing the fuse it is probably the fan itself that has seized up. If it isn’t blowing the fuse you can try the switch in the dash as they can go bad and they don’t cost very much. You can also check your ground connections over above the fuse panel. They are a “star” connector that has multiple grounds coming into it. If the motor isn’t getting grounded then it won’t work. Clean the grounds and be sure that the ends of the spade connectors are making good contact (they can loose their crimp tension over time). If the fan works but only on the highest speed then your resistor inside the air box is bad (very rare).
Inside the box.
If you have determined that your blower fan is bad. Then you are going need a new fan and also a set of 10 blower fan clips. The plastic air box is actually sealed together by melted plastic tabs. When you open the box you have to break these tabs. However VW has provided places around the edge of the box for you to use metal clips to put the box back together. Be sure to order these whenever you are ordering a new blower fan as you will need them to get the job done. I always notify customers about this when they are ordering the fans.
Cleaning and seal repair.
While you could just pull the whole dash apart, change the fan and put everything back together, it is kind of a shame to not make things happy while you have everything apart. I always clean the inside of the plastic air box out and also wipe down the inside of the dash. A damp rag and some soapy water will work no problem. You can even spray down the inside of the dash with some scented disinfectant if you want that “new car” smell. The seals can be replaced easily. I use some air conditioning filter material (foam) that you can get from Home Depot. Just cut it to the size and shape of the old one, snap the plastic fastners apart clean out the old foam, put the new foam in place and snap it back together. It is that easy.
Front Heater Core.
Front Heater Cores are very robust and will last over 20 years. However everything has a lifespan and I am sure that most of these cores are reaching theirs. It would be the best PM to just replace this as well if you can afford it. If it is bad you will have to replace it. Smell it. Does it smell like antifreeze? Does it have crusty stuff around the edge? It is bad and must be replaced. The OE cores have been discontinued but we have custom made cores available if you find you need one.
The rear heater core is is much more prone to leaking. Usually you will smell a coolant smell when you turn it on. The good news is that the rear heater fans and resistors are usually bulletproof. So it is super rare to have a rear heater fan or resistor to actually be bad (I have never sold either of these in ten years).
Rear Heater Cover Removal
On Westies you can just loosen a couple of screws and the wooden cover comes right off. On 83-85 Vanagons without rear seat/beds are also easy. If you have an 86-91 Vanagon weekender with a rear bed it can be more tricky. The frame that goes around the front vent of the blower housing goes under it. In order to remove the housing cover you can either remove the rear seat (a real pain) or you can just cut the lower frame away from the blower housing. I use a blade from a hacksaw. Saw down on either side of the blower vent. It should only take a little cutting on each side to cut through the plastic. Once you do this and remove all of the screws you should be able to pull the cover straight up and off. Inspect the rear core in the same way you inspected the front one. If it is suspect replace it.
Rear Heater Valve
Sometimes the core is good but the valve is leaky. You should always replace the o-ring that seals the valve to the rear core. If the valve is bad it should be replaced as well. Sometimes the rear bleeder valve on the core can be leaky but a new one comes with the new rear core.
If you follow these guidelines you should have warm heat, with no smell and no leaks. Also fixing your seals in the front box it will help everything to work better as well. As always any parts or advice you might need feel free to email me.
Copyright Van-Again 2015
Want to join the discussion? Feel free to contribute!