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VW Beetle Repair: washer system

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One of the things that never worked about the car was the washer system. When I bought it, if you pulled the wiper lever toward you, you could hear liquid running, but nothing came out and hit the windshield. If you pulled it and held it for several seconds, eventually washer fluid would start running out the water drain from underneath the car. I even bought a couple of new washer squirter nozzle things thinking that the nozzles were blocked or something. The car remained like this for a year and a half.

During the long forced convolescence while I was fixing the brakes, I also did some work on th wiring up behind the dash board. This involved getting the fresh air box out of the way. One time when I was working there, I spotted the culprit: It appears that the hose that goes to the washer nozzle has been severed: This is why washer fluid goes somewhere but not where it's supposed to. It also means that when I was trying to use it, washer fluid was draining out on the floor of the luggage compartment right under where all the wiring is. Oops!

A quick refresher in the anatomy of the beetle washer system. The force to move the washer fluid is provided by the air in the spare tire. The spare tire pressurizes the washer fluid reservoir. The outlet tube from the reservoir goes up through the luggage compartment, through the bottom of the dash board and out into the passenger compartment where it hooks to the washer fluid valve on the bottom of the steering column. The valve is there so that it can be actuated by the wiper/washer lever. Another tube then goes from the steering column through another hole in the lower part of the dash board up past the wiper motor assembly and to the one squirter nozzle in the center of the hood (the one little doo-hickey has two nozzles).

So what had happened before I bought the car is that the tube from the steering column to the washer nozzles had been severed, most likely by the wiper assembly at some point. It was a simple thing to run the hose from the steering column back to the nozzles. Repair iteration ONE.

Then it only remained to fill the spare tire with air and hook up the pressure line to the washer fluid reservoir, and bask in the sound of hissing air knowing that this repair was done. This was on the second successful test drive for the brakes, so I was just driving around town. A little more than 10 minutes later, I'm most of the way home, and I hear loud hissing and my feet and legs are wet all of a sudden. I pulled over and blocked the hose which is squirting washer fluid all over me. What had apparently happened was this: The design of the washer system is as simple as possible, so there's no regulator on the incoming pressure line, and so the entire supply side of the washer fluid system is pressurized at the pressure of the spare tire (40 psi). That means the washer fluid reservoir, the hose coming through the luggage compartment, all the way up and including the input side of the valve on the steering column, are all at that same full pressure. (You can tell this by squeezing the hose. It's pretty stiff against compression.) As it turned out, the way the hose was secured to the input side of the steering column valve was not sufficient to stand up to 40 psi, so the hose worked its way off and released the pressure, along with half a gallon of washer fluid. Upon getting home, I lashed that sucker on there with two cable ties. It was NOT coming off again. Repair iteration TWO.

That lasted over a day. A couple of days later, I came out to the garage to discover this: A lake of washer fluid running out from under the car, and the brake fluid reservoir empty. Fortunately this time, the leak was somewhere with good drain holes in the car, so it wasn't a clean-up issue. I finally found the break. The hose itself had ruptured, which meant that the whole hose needed to be replace, since it apparely can't stand up to that amount of pressure. *sigh* I went back to the parts store and bought two sections of 5/32 rubber tubing for vacuum lines and washer fluid. The boxes were six feet long each, which isn't enough to reach, so I bought two boxes and hose hardware to be able to join the lines together.

One slightly odd thing was the new hose has much thicker walls than the original. Here is the seal nut on the bottom of the washer fluid reservoir. The new (fatter walled) hose fits fine over the outlet of the tank, but it won't fit through the hole in the center of the nut. A problem that's easily enough solved with a file, reaming out the hole in the nut.

So repair THREE consists of new hose, modifying the seal nut on the reservoir outlet, new routing of the supply-side hose: a hose union in the middle to join the two pieces together: and cable ties on the steering column to make sure that the sucker doesn't come off again.

I hooked the system back up yesterday and it seems to work. As of this writing (June 12, 2008), it hasn't leaked yet, so hopefully we won't get any more iterations. This is an excellent illustration of the sorts of things that happen all the time with vintage cars, and that you need to be able to cope with to own one. These sorts of things WILL happen, and I can't imagine taking these sorts of problems to someone else to try to fix.


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