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The Pick Up Story


Richard Sison
Suisun City,CA


I used my '81 VW LX Diesel Pickup as my commuter truck until it overheated on my way home from work during a hot '96 summer day in California. I am not a mechanic but I enjoy tinkering with cars so I decided to embark on a quest to fix whatever problems resulted from the overheat. In the beginning, I thought I would only have to replace the head gasket. After removing the head, I took it to a local machine shop and found out that the cylinder head was warped very badly. I needed a rebuilt head so I called around for pricing and availability. I found out that a rebuilt VW Diesel head was hard to find and very expensive. So I surfed the Internet and found the VW Diesel Web Page. With their very reasonable prices, I order a remanufactured 11mm cylinder head.

I installed the rebuilt cylinder head successfully and with the help of a VW Diesel Technician, I was able to get my truck started. The truck had sat for over 6 months and the whole fuel system had dried up. VW Diesel's tip on priming the fuel filter and the injection pump with transmission fluid did the trick in getting the truck started. The truck ran fine but there was oil present in the coolant expansion tank. I flushed the cooling system several times but the oil kept finding its way back to the expansion tank. I even removed and replaced the head gasket thinking I may have installed it incorrectly but oil was still present in the expansion tank. The feared the worst and I knew I had to replace the block. I ordered a short block from VW Diesel and I was on my way in tackling the most challenging work I have ever committed myself to working with my VW Diesel Truck.

Project engine remove and replace:

Armed with Robert Bentley's VW Diesel Service Manual, Haynes VW Diesel Manual and the knowledge that an expert VW Diesel Technician (Jack Ewald) was there to help, I was ready to start on my project. First, I read the manuals numerous times to acquaint myself with the whole engine removal and replacement procedures. After I gained a good understanding of the whole process, I began following the steps outlined in the Bentley VW Diesel Service Manual.

Since I have 2 VW diesels and I knew this would not be the last time I would remove the engines, I decided to purchase my own engine hoist and engine stand. I also ended up purchasing a clutch centering tool to assist me in installing the clutch. After removing the front hood and draining the engine oil, gear oil and coolant, I began disconnecting and removing parts as specified in the manual. I made sure every nut and bolt was bagged and tagged and I labeled every wire that I disconnected. I spent a day bagging and tagging and another day to lift the engine and transmission out of the truck. I removed the engine and transmission as a whole unit out of the truck with the engine hoist. I spent a lot of time cleaning every part that I removed from the old engine before installing it to the rebuilt engine. Since the transmission was already out, I decided to remove and replace the clutch pressure plate, clutch release plate and the clutch drive plate. I replaced all four engine mounts to ensure engine vibration was minimized. I also replaced the exhaust donut gasket as recommended by the service manual.

Putting the engine together was easier than I thought. The engine stand that I bought was very handy in putting the engine together. I spent a day installing the all the attached parts to the engine including the cylinder head, timing belt and transmission. The most difficult part was making sure everything was lined-up properly (TDC). Once I was confident everything was aligned correctly, I installed the remaining accessories. I needed an extra hand in dropping the engine back in the engine compartment for the installation. I spent the rest of the day reconnecting all the electrical wires and fluids (engine oil, gear oil, and coolant).

After I had everything installed, I replaced the fuel filter and filled it up with automatic transmission fluid. I then primed the injections pump with transmission fluid (a tip I got from Jack Ewald, VW Diesel). I double checked my work for the last time and then I proceeded to start the engine. It took me 3 tries before the engine fired-up. But the sound of the engine running felt very rewarding. There was a lot of smoke during the first few minutes but the smoke eventually went away. After I adjusted my clutch pedal, I took the truck for a spin. The engine performed perfectly!

Every minute I spent on the project was worth it. Besides all the money I saved in doing the work myself, I gained a lot of experience and confidence.
I look forward to putting a lot of miles in my truck in the years to come.


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