I have a Bug - no, not the Delhi-belly sort or the thing with six
legs - an old Beetle, of the Volkswagen variety.
I didn't buy it, it wouldn't be my first choice of vehicle, I inherited
it off my late uncle.
As such I'm kinda stuck with it - despite the fact that it's slow,
uncomfortable, uneconomical and sometimes even downright dangerous
(drum brakes all round, plus an engine in the rear makes cornering
in the wet a truly fairground experience).
But, it does have a certain style - it's one of those cars that
stands out from the crowd and seems to inspire people to come over
and chat to you. It's perhaps a little disconcerting to note that
practically all the people that have accosted me with regard to
the Beetle have been ex-owners, which leaves the impression
that the Beetle is a car that people drive... and then go out and
buy something a tad less scary. Hmmmm.
But what has this to do with the workshop, I hear you cry!
Well, the reason I'm in this trade in the first place is that I'm
an inveterate 'fixer-upper' of things. I just can't resist the challenge
of a broken 'thingy'. It's not so much a 'mend and make do' philosophy,
it's simply about the personal satisfaction that comes from restoring
new purpose into something assumed to be defunct and worthless.
If I could stand the gooey red and grey bits I'm sure I'd have made
a pretty decent surgeon.
Besides, the Beetle gets me to and from the workshop - so it counts.
Anyway... said Beetle was due for its annual MOT. Here in the UK
vehicles over three years old have to be examined each year to see
if they're in a state of roadworthiness. All right and proper, naturally
- and if your vehicle is in otherwise good condition the most that
you need to do before an MOT test is tidy up on the small points...
such as checking all the lights work, inspecting the wiper blades
for wear and replacing the in-car air freshener (I made that last
I had one niggling problem with my Beetle - the horn had developed
a very curious fault.
If you drove in a straight line, the horn would work - but no sooner
had you turned the wheel a few degrees than the horn ceased to function.
This is something of a liability in a rural area - where the chances
that you'll meet a tractor round the next bend are very high indeed.
So it needed fixing.
Nonetheless, I put up with this fault for some time (the temporary
solution being to go round corners extreeeeeeeemely slowly, and
yell out of the window) until the horn ceased to work altogether.
It was time for action, if only because my MOT was due in a couple
The fact that it was an intermittent fault pointed to a wiring
problem - so the first port of call was the steering wheel. I whipped
it off and tested the contacts - no problems there. I examined the
wiring from the fusebox and the ignition switch - again no problem.
Being somewhat at a loss I turned to the computer. Just as we woodwind
aficionados have our own newsgroups, so do certain vehicles - and
a quick search of the Usenet archives revealed a solution to my
problem courtesy of a VW newsgroup.
It turns out that the steering column is separated from the rest
of the steering gear by a substantial rubber disc - which effectively
insulates the column from the rest of the vehicle. In order for
the horn to work a connection has to be made across this disc -
which is done with a bit of wire...which I found to be broken.
A quick soldering job later and all was well. I pressed the horn
button and got.... nothing. It must be the horn itself that's now
So I removed the horn to test it. Sure enough, it was completely
dead...and yet there was just the faintest little 'pop' when power
was supplied. So I jiggled it about a bit, squirted some WD40 in
it, jiggled it a bit more - but still no joy.....and eventually
settled for bashing it a bit with a soft mallet (a surprisingly
effective solution to a number of life's problems, though not recommended
for use on humans or animals) which did the trick.
It squawked a bit, mind, so I fiddled with the little adjusting
screw on the rear until it emitted that characteristic Ealing Comedy
'parp'. Old cars aren't blessed with authoritative, stentorian horns
that go 'BLAARRGHHH' and make you spill your tea/coke/beer...or
drop your mobile phone - they have little twee horns that go 'Proooot'.
I reconnected it and tested it...fine, job done.
I drove home that night with the satisfaction of a job well done
- whilst completely ignoring the fact that it would have been far
more cost effective to have let the garage fix the problem whilst
I got on with doing my own job. I always ignore that part of the
equation, it spoils my fun.
On my way into work the next morning I noticed what looked for
all the world to be a VW Beetle horn lying in the road. I pulled
up alongside it....and just out of interest I gave the horn button
a bit of a push. Nothing. A quick inspection later reveals that
it's my horn in the road...I forgot to bolt the bloody thing back
on, it had only been dangling by its wires...
I hadn't heard it fall off - but then I had the radio on (and in
a Beetle it has to be loud or you won't hear it). Well, I rescued
it - but not before a number of vehicles had driven over it, including
myself on the way home the previous evening in all likelihood.
The protruding ally resonating disc was flattened into the body,
the body was somewhat crushed in - and the whole thing was distinctly
flatter than before. With an MOT due tomorrow and no time to nip
out and buy a new horn I decided to see if it would still work.
So I prised the ally disc up, unbent the terminals and connected
it to a battery. It whined, faintly. A couple of minutes later,
after having bent up the ally disc a bit more and backed off the
adjuster screw (and hitting it with the hide mallet again, just
for luck) I now had a horn that worked wonderfully again. OK, it's
no longer giving out the old Ealing Comedy 'parp'.....in fact it's
now more of a Hammer Horror 'shriek'.
Now that's what I call German engineering!