Andrew Clink

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Eurovan TDI Conversion: The Story Begins

15 September 2015

Crunch is not a sound you want to hear thousands of miles away from home. So when I first heard it while pulling off yet another offramp for gas somewhere in Oklahoma, I honestly just kind of pretended it hadn't happened. Maybe we just hit a bump, and did I really hear a noise? Transmission problems can't often be dealt with on the side of the road, no matter how many tools one chooses to bring, so I didn't see the harm in pretending.

We had been driving for about 14 hours straight at this point. We left Phoenix around 9pm on a Thursday night, making it to Albequerque around sunrise. Our two-year old woke up just as we were pulling off to take a nap. It quickly became apparent that he was ready to go. So we went.

After the small crunch in Oklahoma, the whining became slowly louder. Like frogs slowly boiling, we didn't realize how much louder it'd gotten until we finally stopped rolling and the relative silence hit us.

We made it the rest of the way to Michigan in something like 36 hours, including a 4-hour rest at a truck stop somewhere in Illinois. It was great to be able to pop the top and have a nice breezy bed. 

The crunch wasn't thought about again until 11pm in Colorado on the trip back. Afterall, I'd decided that it hadn't really happened. This time, though, it was unmistakable. It felt like we ran over something; the whole van jumped. I pulled over to look, but again, what could be done inside the closed case?

I absolutely babied it, without cruise, from i-70 just outside of Denver, through Utah, and south into Arizona. My theory was that one of the shaft bearings had let go and that we could keep moving if the shafts stayed in place, whatever their lash actually was. So I tried to keep the transmission loaded, even on the long downhills. This worked fairly well for a while.

We lost fifth gear in Flagstaff. 

Similar to (but larger than) what happened outside of Denver, there was a massive crunch as the van jerked forward. I slammed in the clutch and we coasted for a moment. Either whatever went through the gears had passed on or fifth gear had become unusable. With 120 more miles to go, though, I wasn't about to find out. From that point on we roared along at 4000 rpm in 4th, down the mountain range. The tension was palpable.

We had another crunch a few miles from home and downshifted to 3rd. We pulled into the driveway very, very relieved. 

So we need a new transmission, but they're not exactly plentiful in the states. Because the Bus (as my two-year-old calls it) is the only vehicle we have capable of collecting a transmission from somewhere else, we'd probably have to ship anything we could find. I found we could import a rebuilt 02B EWB from Europe for about the same total cost as a used (120k+ mi) transmission in the states. The EWB is geared quite a bit taller (78 mph at 3000 rpm vs the gasser's CHP at around 60 mph), and I wasn't going to go through all the trouble of pulling the drivetrain just to put a gasser back in. So now we wait excitedly for the rest of the parts to arrive.