World Trip HomeOur Van

Our Van - Engine & Body


Driving a Vanagon is a unique experience. You are up high so you can see very easily. This is nice because you are usually traveling fairly slowly and it is good to be able to look around. Our van is much smaller than a normal motor home, has more clearance than most SUVs, and can do U-turns in very tight spaces. Therefore, we can go just about anywhere from highways to logging roads. Because you are practically sitting on the front bumper, parallel parking is a breeze. Finally, the two captain's chairs in the front have nice armrests and you can drive for hours without getting cramped. All of these benefits come at a price however...


The engine of our Vanagon fits in a fairly narrow space so unfortunately it can't be a big powerful V-8. All Vanagons have 4 cylinder engines. My vehicle has a 1.9-liter water-cooled engine that puts out about 85 horsepower. Considering that the vehicle weighs several tons and has a 3 speed automatic transmission, it's amazing it moves at all. Driving a Vanagon requires one to be very patient. We have crossed mountain passes at 20 miles per hour with the gas pedal floored. This infuriated California drivers but most of the rest of the country seems to understand. Karen wants to get a sticker for the back that says "Too Slow? Too Bad!", or "0 to 60 in 15 minutes". Our van had a used engine put in at about 90K miles after the original one blew a rod (probably going over a pass). These cars aren't Hondas. You need to maintain the engine and drive it gently and it will be good to you. However, if you need to drive fast, don't like working on cars, or paying others to do so you shouldn't buy a Vanagon. The lack of power is my number one complaint for this vehicle. They also tend to blow head gaskets but that is another story.

A/C RemovalA/C Removal

Our van came equipped with air conditioning. We never used it because 1) we live in Seattle where it is cool, 2) we can't imagine doing anything to drain more precious horsepower, 3) it never worked, and 4) people with AC that did work reported that it never gets that cold. Therefore, prior to our trip, and knowing that we would need as much space as possible, I ripped the sucker out. I removed every part of the system I could find; from the blower above the rear bed to the compressor in the engine compartment to the hoses and wires under the vehicle to the radiator up front. When I was done, many hours later, I had a nice storage space above the rear seat. I made the door for it myself. As this photo shows, this compartment is perfect sized for large books, our frying pan, a colander, and our hats. The leftover parts were given away to other Vanagon owners.

Rear Heater RemovalRear Heater Removal

Feeling empowered after taking out the AC system in the van, I turned my attention to the storage under the rear seat. Taking up significant space was the rear heater (which worked using engine coolant and therefore was only good while the car was running). Because we wanted as much space as possible, and because we never used this heater (and because according to others they tend to leak), I ripped it out as well. After removing the heater, I pulled the hoses back into the engine compartment, put bolts in the hoses secured with hose clamps so they wouldn't leak, and wire-tied them out of the way. Now, as this photo shows, the area under the rear seat is completely devoted to storage. Someday I may install a propane-powered heater here, but for now I am just glad for the space.

Shady Boy AwningShady Boy Awning

Before we left, Karen did a comprehensive search for a good awning for the van. Most awnings rolled out and seemed fairly heavy and complex. The Shady Boy awning was different. Lightweight, easy to set up, free standing, and good looking, it was clear that this was the awing for us. The case for the awning is fairly narrow and attaches either directly to the van (by drilling 6 holes), or to the rain gutters using optional brackets. It sets up like a tent using fiberglass poles and has cords that attach to the van to stabilize it in high winds. We have two chairs we carry in the cargo holder. In the heat of the desert it was heaven to sit in our chairs in the shade, read, and wait for the sun to sink behind the mountains.

Next: Electronical System

Copyright 2000
Scott & Karen Semyan