Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Top 5 Tools and Spares that a VW Owner Should Not Leave Home Without

Though we all like to hope that our beloved, classic vehicles won’t let us down, the reality of owning an aircooled Volkswagen, or any classic car for that matter, is that from time to time you may find yourself at the side of the road with the boot lid open waiting to be recovered to the nearest garage. Whilst the occasional recovery may be an inevitability, there are many things you can do to keep this to a minimum. This begins with regular servicing and maintenance of your vehicle, which will be covered in later blogs, but for this blog we are going to look at what tools and spares you should take with you when you set off down the motorway to go to a VW show, or for that long awaited road trip.
I spoke to Jez Dyke, Owner and Head Mechanic at Dubtricks and Rob Newman, from campervan hire company, Dubtrips., who say that good preparation can be the difference between making it to a show on time, and spending the night sleeping in a lay-by! 

Between us we have compiled a list of the top five tools and spares that that the wise VW owner should not leave home without. If you’re going to pack yourself a toolbox, this is a good place to start:

1. Spare Parts
Even if you can’t fix the fault yourself, it’s better to let the AA man fix your vehicle at the side or the road than have him tow you home. Recovery services rarely carry the correct spares for a classic car, so make sure you are prepared by carrying a selection of service parts and the parts that are most likely to fail. Rob suggests:

  • A fan belt 
  • Fuses 
  • A set of spark plugs 
  • Points, distributor, rotor arm and dizzy cap (can be purchased as a kit) 
  • Plug leads

Needless to say, you should check that you have the correct spares for your vehicle, for example, trial fit the fan belt to make absolutely sure it fits before removing it and storing it in your toolbox.

Rob also wisely recommends that you carry a copy or the correct Haynes Manual for your vehicle. Not only will this give you something to read whilst you wait for the AA man to arrive, but it will also help him diagnose the problem. As Rob points out, most recovery drivers will have little or no experience of working on aircooled engines.

If you know how to replace these parts yourself, then great, but if in doubt, call the recovery service, as you could do more harm than good by improvising. We will be providing information on basic vehicle maintenance and repairs in future blogs.

2. Some means of changing a wheel/repairing a puncture.
If you carry a spare wheel, some people recommend that you carry a wheel brace to undo the wheel nuts/bolts at the roadside, but Jez says he prefers to carry long breaker bar, pointing out that this gives you much more leverage and is easier to use. If it’s been a while since you had your wheels off, chances are they will be difficult to undo. You will also need impact sockets in the correct size for you wheel bolts/nuts. These are usually 17 or 19mm (and we have seen many that have a mixture of different sizes), check which sizes you have before you pack your tool box, or even better, pack a full set. If you have locking wheel nuts, don’t forget to carry the key!

You will also need a jack with a suitable rating to take the weight of your vehicle. (a 1 ton jack will be enough to jack up one corner of your vehicle). If you can afford one and have space to store one, a lightweight aluminum trolley jack is ideal, but if not a small bottle jack should do the job provided you are careful where you place it.  

Jez carries one of these as it's small, light and reasonably easy to store in a campervan (not so easy in a Beetle!):
Torin T815005L 1.5 Ton Aluminum Racing Jack 
Owners of severely lowered campervans may find that you require additional leverage to free your rear wheel from behind the wheel arch. Jez suggests a small jack from a Ford KA to do this job, which you should be able to pick up from a scrap yard or on ebay. 

Note: you may need to undo your bottom shocker mount too, so carry at least a 17 and 19mm spanner too.
Admittedly, all this sounds like a massive inconvenience, expense and loss of storage space, but happily there is an alternative:

Tyre Weld 
I love this stuff! If you don’t have space for a spare wheel, or don’t fancy trying to fit one at the side of the road, then carry a tin of tyre weld. Quick, easy and clean to use, this little tin will repair a small or slow puncture and get you home without any problems, although it will not work for a full-on blow out! I actually ran my van for over a year with a tyre repaired using tyre weld, and it was still working when I finally got around to replacing the tyre. Whilst I would in no way recommend that anyone tries this, it just goes to show that this stuff is good! You can pick it up from most petrol or service stations, or from you local auto parts or hardware store, or of course on line.

3. Replacement Fluids
As any experienced VW owner will tell you, there is a tendency for VWs to take a sudden dislike to their own oil and decide to dump it all over the road or your engine bay. If this happens, it need not mean the end of your trip provided you have remembered to carry a spare can of oil and a funnel to allow you to top it up. In addition, running your engine when the oil pressure is low is never advisable as it could do untold damage to your engine. Always use your dipstick to check your oil levels before you set off on a long journey, and stop to top up if your fuel pressure drops low. 

It is also recommended to carry some disposable gloves and some rags or baby wipes; any engine related jobs tend to be messy and you don’t want to get oil all over that lovely interior (or yourself).

On an old vehicle, you can never be 100% sure that your gauges are reading accurately, so don’t get caught out, carry a jerry can of fuel just in case, but make sure it is tightly fastened and won’t leak even when jolted.

It is not advisable to store anything other than your battery in your engine bay area, but particularly not things like rags which can easily get sucked up into the engine and cause blockages (we have seen this many times before!) Always keep oil, fuel and rags safely and securely stowed somewhere inside your vehicle.

4. Jump leads and/or a battery pack
You’re a VW owner, sometimes you go to shows and park in a field for the weekend with your stereo blaring, if you have a camper you inevitably use your fridge and lights and other electrical appliances for that little bit longer than you know you should, and there is always that mysterious flashing light on your dashboard that doesn’t seem to do anything but has a lot of wires coming out the back and appears to be draining your battery; lets face it, at some point you are going to need a jump start!
If you carry your own set of jump leads, all you need to do is find another vehicle with a working battery. Even better, if you carry a battery pack with you, then you don’t even need to find another vehicle (and you can use it to charge your mobile phone whilst you’re camping!)
Jump-N-Carry JNC300XL 900 Peak Amp Ultraportable 12V Jump Starter with Light 

Also, in case of battery failure and loss of lights, and indeed for general safety when travelling at night, Jez urges you to always carry a torch or hand lamp.
5. If all else fails.......

Never underestimate the value of carrying a good old towrope! It’s light, it doesn’t take up much space, and is endlessly useful. Whether you just need to be towed to a safe location to wait for the recovery service, or you find yourself stuck in a boggy field, a tow rope is invaluable and you will usually find that a friendly tractor of 4x4 drive is never far away!
This list is by no means exhaustive, but if you carry the essentials listed above, you will be able to get yourself out of most sticky situations.
Footnote: for European trips, remember that many countries require you to carry a warning triangle, high vis vest and first aid kit in case of a breakdown, and even though it is not a requirement in this country, it is still a pretty good idea. Consult your breakdown service provider for a full list of European driving requirements.

Thanks to Jez at www.dubtricks.co.uk and Rob at www.dubtrips.co.uk


  1. Great blog - some really handy tips there...

    There are a few things that I don't carry that I should so I will be heading out shopping asap to get them!