Stephen Howard Woodwind - Repairs, reviews, advice, tips and tales...
Haynes woodwind maintenance manuals
Notes from a small workshop - anecdotes & musings from the workbench
Haynes woodwind maintenance manuals

It's a bug's life

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 bit up).

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 of days.

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 at fault.

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' fact it's now more of a Hammer Horror 'shriek'.
Now that's what I call German engineering!


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