Sunday, May 3, 2009

Finding an ACVW repair shop

One of the first things I did after buying Wilson in 2006 was to start my search for a local air-cooled Volkswagen shop. This turned out to be a harder task than I expected. Growing up, my family was friends with two very experienced air-cooled mechanics. One died years ago and the other retired and moved down south. In the 90’s, as I browsed through the ads for VW buses, one of them warned me that no one knew how to work on them any longer, especially not the dealerships. I guess I did not take that warning serious. Surely, they were exaggerating.

I had no luck finding a shop on my own. After calling shops around the area without success, I turned to the discussion forums on The Samba for a referral. I received one lead about a shop about an hour from me. They did not have any firsthand experience with the mechanic, but they were told by others that the person was a 30+ year expert on air-cooled VWs, especially working on the Type IV engine my bus had. I quickly called and set up an appointment to bring Wilson in for some maintenance and initial repairs.

The next weekend I pulled up to the shop on a Saturday morning and eagerly went inside. It was small, very dark place with obvious references to air cooled vehicles around the waiting area. Behind the counter, I saw about 30+ years of clutter and greasy residue, obviously focused on function and not beauty. The owner came out from around a corner to greet me. He was a very nice, chatty guy. We talked a bit and then I turned my keys, and Wilson, over to his care.

About a week later, I called to check on Wilson. I spoke to the owner of the shop, but he said they were busy and did not have a chance to work on my bus yet. He told me to call him back in a few days to make sure he was working on the bus. Another week passes and I call back. Again, I am told they have not been able to get to my bus yet. At this point, he said it is the only vehicle he has not worked on yet, but that did not make me feel any better. I wait another week and call again to check on their progress. We are now three weeks after I originally dropped Wilson off, but they still have not even looked at him yet. I am tempted to give up and take my bus back, but I did not have any other shops to turn to. The owner assures me that my bus will be next, so I patiently wait.

I call by midweek for a progress update, about 25 days after leaving Wilson behind, but now they have finally had a chance to work up a quote. Here’s a list of the recommended work:

  • Tune-up
  • Oil change
  • Replace left heater box (used)
  • Weld muffler
  • Replace tail pipe
  • Replace rear brake shoes
  • Replace wheel cylinders
  • Resurface brake drums
  • New gas cap
I authorized the work and the owner said the bus should be ready in about a week. Considering it took them over three weeks to look it, I honestly I did not really expect them to finish the actual work in a week. To my surprise, when I called back in a few days I was told the work was done and I could come by any time. I arranged to pick Wilson up that weekend.

Early Saturday morning I drove up to the shop to be there as soon as they opened. The shop owner took a good amount of time to talk to me about the work he did. I appreciated the information, but I was still disappointed about how long it took them to even look at my bus. I expected to have it back within a week or two. We were now at the four-week point. I do not take it personal; it was just obvious there was no sense of urgency with this guy. Things get done, when they get done. His shop was full of other vintage VWs, so his customers must just accept it or tolerate it. I do not want to wait a month each time I need something done. I realize I must learn how to take care of Wilson myself. I would use his services again, but only if it was something I could not do on my own. I leave the repair shop $914.37 lighter than I arrived.

After driving away with Wilson, my first stop is a tire shop down the road from my house. I have the mechanical work done, but I still have to get the old passenger tires off the bus. I found the only place near my house that sells the Hankook RA08 195R14 tires, and had them in stock. I replaced all four tires and the spare. While I am there, I have them give Wilson an alignment. This all sets me back another $500, but it had to be done. I am out of the tire shop about two or three hours later.

I drive home to pick up my wife so we can take a quick trip to western Illinois for the rest of the weekend. This was my first real road trip in Wilson and it felt great. It was nice slow ride for two hours down the highway to visit relatives. Everything went well and we had a great time enjoying ourselves. On Sunday, we took the trip back home and I retired Wilson for the winter.

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