Changing the Cambelt

[This post, relating to changing the cambelt is compiled from a thread I originally posted here on the Brickyard Forum. Therefore the wording might not be up to my usual incredible literary standards, as it’s cobbled together from various bits and some stuff will be taken a bit out of context]


Well, I started the preliminary work on this on Sunday evening, so there’s no going back now!  Didnae get that much done before ‘bad light stopped play’ —just the header tank, fan cowling and fan ducts off, prior to removing the radiator, as apparently this makes the job a lot easier.

One interesting thing though: I rung VW this morning to order some parts for the job, including the water pump and the guy said that the water pump has been “obsoleted about 12 months ago”, so looks like that will put a bit of a spanner in the works [pun intended] for anyone embarking on a cambelt change from now on. I did consider looking around for a non-OEM water pump but, given that there’s nothing [visibly] wrong with mine and the bad experiences I’ve had in the past with 3rd-party parts, I think I’ll just leave the original VW pump on there.

On the up side, the new-found obsolescence of the water pump has knocked about £40-£50 off my expenses for the job.


Here’s my nice stash of luvverly new parts, picked up from VW this morning: cam-belt, injector pump belt, handbrake cable and sump gasket. Rear diff gasket on order too, but hadnae come in yet.

Anyway, on with the mission and falling almost at the first fence… 

How did you chaps who’ve done this get the plastic radiator fan off? Mine’s held on with a hefty allen bolt and trying to undo it is just turning over the engine. I risked trying the old “jam a screwdriver in the flywheel” trick for this one, seeing as the fan bolt is [presumably!] not torqued to anywhere near the hernia-inducing tightness of the vibration damper pulley behind it, but I couldnae get it to jam up, as the direction the engine turns when trying to undo this bolt is away from the corner of the flywheel inspection hole, where you can actually get a good wedge in with a screwdriver.

I’m also getting pretty close to rounding off the damned allen bolt, as every time my wedged screwdriver in the flywheel moves, the drain key I’m using in lieu of an allen key tends to suddenly slip too.

The fan. Anyone know what the weird plastic clip across the front is all about?
The fan. Anyone know what the weird plastic clip across the front is all about?
Allen bolt... in danger of being rounded off, if I cannae get the fecker out soon!
Allen bolt... in danger of being rounded off, if I cannae get the fecker out soon!

Have retired to the pavilion to muse upon this one for a bit. Damned shame too. It’s a lovely sunny day here with clear blue skies. Ideal for working on the motor… if I hadnae been baulked within about half an hour of starting!


Phew! –what a battle and a half I’ve had today… and I’ve not even started on the bloody crank bolt yet!

I spent over two hours wrestling with that goddamned allen bolt in the middle of the fan housing this afternoon. I heaved it, drenched it in Plusgas, heated it with a blow torch, twatted it with a lump hammer and the bugger just refused to move at all. All I succeeded in doing was rounding off the allen bolt head more and more with each futile attempt to budge it.   Even a brief detour into removing the radiator so I could have better access didnae help.

All I seemed to be doing was incrementally rounding off the bolt head, with each attempt to loosen it. Either that or the screwdriver jammed in the flywheel would suddenly rattle loose, just as I applied pressure to the bolt. It was driving me fecking mad!

After the aforementioned two plus hours, I was ready to throw in the towel and give up, but I thought I’d have one last go.

Bolt head fecked and rounded
Bolt head fecked and rounded
 

With the bolt head now rounded to buggery, there was no point even trying any more to shift things with an 8mm drive, so I got a 9mm drain key and battered it into the head of the bolt with a lump hammer, Stuck my 1 metre breaker bar and socket over the body of the drain key and –after a couple of false starts with the screwdriver moving in the flywheel again– the bolt suddenly came free with so little effort that I thought the drain key had just rounded out again.

The cause of all my woes!
The cause of all my woes!
Bloody fan off, at last!
Bloody fan off, at last!

Once the fan was off, the four bolts behind it were a piece of piss.

Another detour here, as I loosened off the alternator and removed its drive belt from the vibration damper, then another infuriating hour or so wasted trying to loosen off the power steering pump so I could do likewise with its drive belt. The bottom bracket on the power steering belt was no problem, but the top bracket, which acts as a hinge on which the pump swings in or out was another feckin’ allen bolt. This time not exceptionally tight, but with so little wiggle room around it that I just couldnae get an allen key on it at an angle where I could get any purchase to undo it. Cue another marathon swearing session, until finally I managed to undo it with the aid of a Heath Robinson contraption, constructed from a socket wrench, 38 - 8mm adaptor and a 6mm hex bit screwdriver head. I was finally able to undo the bolt and rotate the power steering pump in and loosen the belt.

Bottom power steering pump bolts. These were the friendly ones!
Bottom power steering pump bolts. These were the friendly ones!

At this point, the long tiring struggle combined with a misunderstanding of the various threads I’d read on here regarding the cambelt change got the better of me and I had a 20 minute period of confusion. Thinking that the vibration damper was the next bit to remove, before reaching the crank bolt, I spent that much time wedging a screwdriver behind it… tappity-tapping a bit… rotating the damper a bit… rinse then repeat… and wondering why the damper refused to come off.  After a bit of head scratching, I had a bit of a “duh!” moment, when I realised the vibration damper is actually in two parts and it’s the front of it that comes off next.

Confusion sets in. Trying to prise the vibration damper off, after removing the allen bolts
Confusion sets in. Trying to prise the vibration damper off, after removing the allen bolts

I could really have done with a bearing puller for that next chore but by soaking the seams of the front facing with Plusgas [once I worked out where the join was!] and working my way round wiggling and prising with a screwdriver, the vibration damper front plate eventually popped off

Hurrah! - eventually thicky madra realises his error, manages to find the join and gets the front face of the vibration damper removed
Hurrah! - eventually thicky madra realises his error, manages to find the join and gets the front face of the vibration damper removed
And so we [finally!] get to see the small piece of steel that makes grown men quake in terror, the 450NM torqued and loctited crank bolt!
And so we [finally!] get to see the small piece of steel that makes grown men quake in terror, the 450NM torqued and loctited crank bolt!

And this is where today’s proceeding’s drew to a close as the missus called me in for dinner and, after I’d finished stuffing my fat fizzer, darkness had fallen. Next challenge, which will probably have to wait ‘til next weekend, as I’ve got work during the week, is to fabricate a special tool to hold the vibration damper while I take on the crank bolt. I’ve already found a nice flat bar about a cm thick, which I’m planning to use for that. 

Putative vibration damper holding tool
Putative vibration damper holding tool

After the trials and tribulations of that goddamned fan cowling bolt, I’m actually quite looking forward to tackling ‘the big one’ now. At least it’s a proper bolt, not a shitty head-made-of-cheese allen bolt, I’ve got a nice impact socket just the right size to fit it and a metre long breaker bar that laughs at my wheel nuts [which, IIRC are tightened to 250NM]

Roll on next weekend!


Last thoughts for today:

I’m hoping that the crankshaft is made pretty tough. Against my better judgement, I had to use the nasty screwdriver jammed in the flywheel trick to lock up the engine while trying to get the fan cowling allen bolt undone… and I also had to twat that 9mm drain key pretty hard to embed it into the bolt head, after it rounded off.

Fingers crossed the crankshaft will have forgiven me for the necessary use of mindless violence. At least now I’ve got in ‘properly’ to the crank bolt, I can lock the crank up the right way –from the front end–instead of subjecting it to any more abuse.


Ended up spending the entire afternoon fabricating my crank holding tool.  Here was what I started with -an old piece of steel bar that’s been lying in one of my junk cupboards for so long, I cannae even remember where it came from. It’s about 40-50cm long and not far off a cm thick:

The plan was to bolt it onto the front of the vibration damper and have it lock against the engine block near were the alternator bolts on. Since said part of engine lies a bit behind the level of the front of the vibration damper, the first job was to bend the top half of the bar backwards.

Cue a good blasting with the blowtorch and some gentle persuasion with a lump hammer
Cue a good blasting with the blowtorch and some gentle persuasion with a lump hammer

After ensuring that I’d bent it back far enough, the next job was to drill a couple of holes for the bolt to pass through and, annoyingly, I realised I’d also have to take a notch out of the side of the bar, to accommodate my 27mm socket, which is a hefty bugger.

I measured up using the front plate of the vibration damper as a template
I measured up using the front plate of the vibration damper as a template

Drilling the steel was a bit of an arse. It was pretty tough, so i had to drill the holes for the bolts by starting small and then incrementally redrilling with a slightly bigger bit, until I got them the right size. For the nick out of the side, I drilled a line of small holes and then used my mini angle grinder to snip through the perforated bit.

At this point I suffered yet another setback. On trying to fix my gadget in place, i realised that I’d drilled the two holes for the bolts slightly off, so that they didn’t line up properly with two holes in the vibration damper. I had to widen one of the holes to allow for this, which I did by drilling another hole beside it, as close as I could get and then painstakingly filing away the metal in between, to make an elongated hole that the bolt could move from side to side in, so it could be moved to line up with its hole better. Filing that bloody hole and also filing the rough edges of the nick in the side of the bar ended up taking me ‘til teatime, so that was pretty much another whole day gone.


Off out to bloody Hellfords this morning to score a couple of 8mm bolts, as I didnae have a single one in my toolbox and the 8mm bolts I took out of the vibration damper faceplate were not long enough to pass through my home-made tool and reach their holes. This annoyance was made doubly teeth-grinding by the fact that, after cycling about 2-3 miles to Hellfords  [Herman is my only motor], I realised I’d forgotten to bring my wallet and had to go home and do the whole trek again!

Anyway, back at the ranch and armed with my longer bolts, it was finally time to try out madra’s patented VW tool no.XPQ7521. Here it is bolted into position. Note the cut-out on the side to accommodate my socket and the elongated bolt hole at the bottom to make for easier fixing in place:

The finished device
The finished device

And here it is, seen from above, resting against the engine block, just by the alternator. I was a bit worried it might try to slip off because, as you can see, the facing slopes forward here:

With the crank locked, I attacked the four 6mm Allen bolts which surround  the big crank bolt and –would you effing believe it!– found that one of them was rounded off and refused to budge. Shades of the Allen bolt which gave me so much gyp on the radiator fan earlier. [If i ever meet the twat who designed those bloody fasteners, I’m going to round off his hole with a bleeding croquet mallet!].

Leaving that bastard Allen bolt for now, I thought I might as well have a go at the “Big Guy” himself. Seeing the amount of gyp i’ve been having with piddling tiny bolts, before even getting near the crank bolt, I had kind of half been expecting that it would turn out to be a piece of cake, just to rub salt in the wound.

And so it turned out to be. 27mm socket on. 34” drive 1 metre long breaker bar attached and I gave a mighty heave…. and that ol’ crank bolt came loose easy as pie. There was no way it was torqued to anywhere near 450NM. I did my wheel lugs a couple of weeks back, which are torqued to 250NM and the crank bolt was probably not even as tight as them. Not that I’m  complaining mind you. I just think it’s quite ironic that the “terror of the cambelt changers” came off without a fight, when a couple of pissy wee Allen bolts have held me up for hours.

The 'Big Guy'. Out and proud. Looked like he had been Loctited before, but it seemed to have gone pretty crumbly in places
The 'Big Guy'. Out and proud. Looked like he had been Loctited before, but it seemed to have gone pretty crumbly in places

By this stage, with the halfway line in my sights I couldnae be arsed wasting any more time on a feckin’ Allen bolt, so I just drilled that mo’ fo’s head off and damned his eyes to Putney Bridge!

Bloody buggery bastard Allen bolt
Bloody buggery bastard Allen bolt

Then, mindful of all the warnings that the vibration damper was ridiculously heavy, I took a deep breath and gingerly eased it off, bracing myself to be crushed under its mighty mass. All I can say is some of you guys must be neglecting your Weetabix! Whilst it wasnae any lightweight and I wouldnae fancy dropping it on my foot, I found it was pretty much just about as heavy as you’d expect it to be –probably about 2 or 3 kilos.

Vibration damper removed. It's heavy, but it's not that heavy
Vibration damper removed. It's heavy, but it's not that heavy

With vibration damper removed, at long last, I could see the Holy Grail, the crank pulley. You can see the remains of the decapitated Allen bolt sticking out of the pulley

Surely we must be in the home straight now. Next task was to remove the bottom half of the metal cambelt protective cover. Two 10mm bolts, if I remember correctly and, at long last, there was the cambelt exposed and ready for replacing

And, dear reader, just as we got to this cliff-hanger moment, the missus called me in for my dinner….!


After dinner, i got tore in again and [after marking the positions of camshaft pulley and crank pulley] attacked the cambelt. This involves loosening the 3 x 13mm bolts which hold the water pump in place and swinging the pump down to slacken off the cambelt. It turned out to be a bit of a ball-ache, coz I couldnae get enough slack by just loosening the swinging bolts, so had to actually remove them completely.

Loosening the water pump. in the end I had to remove these swing bolts completely to get enough slack:

Also, once you loosen the water pump, all the coolant left in the engine block starts pissing out all over whatever you’ve left lying under the van. It was a surprising amount of water too, given that I’d already drained and removed the radiator.

My leaning board, tools and drill getting an unexpected shower
My leaning board, tools and drill getting an unexpected shower

Once I’d finally got the water pump swivelled in enough, it was time for one last check that everything that might move was marked up and then off came the old cambelt.

Off with the old...
Off with the old...
Old and new cambelts, side-by-side. the old one was actually in fairly good nick. No cracking or fraying and the teeth looked pretty undamaged. It might well have been good for another 60000 miles!
Old and new cambelts, side-by-side. the old one was actually in fairly good nick. No cracking or fraying and the teeth looked pretty undamaged. It might well have been good for another 60000 miles!

Putting the new cambelt on was a bit of a hassle, as it seemed tighter than the one I took off. Presumably they do stretch a wee bit over the years but, eventually I managed to get it in place and sighed a sigh of relief, as i confirmed that all my alignment marks were still good and nothing had moved.

Just as I thought my luck was finally changing though, fate gave me another kick in the knackers. after tightening everything up again and preparing to refit the bottom cambelt protective cover, i noticed that there was still water drip-drip-dripping from the bottom of the water pump. I realised that, in moving it, I’d obviously broken its watertight seal. So, with darkness beginning to fall, and swearing like a bastard, I had to loosen everything off again and remove the newly fitted cambelt, so I could have a look at the water pump gasket.

It was then that I hit another of those “what the fuck were they thinking of?” barriers [of which there have been a few –mainly involving Allen bolts– on this job!]. The metal backing plate for the cambelt housing passes in front of the water pump, preventing it from being removed, but behind the camshaft pulley. So that in order to remove the water pump you’d have to remove the camshaft pully, then the backing plate. Complete and utter idiotic design!

Anyway, it’d been another very long day, so I thought “Sod that!”. The backing plate metal was pretty thin, so I removed the bolts that held it in place around the water pump and just bent the fecker forwards, so I could lift the pump out.

Not a 'Volkswagen Approved' procedure
Not a 'Volkswagen Approved' procedure

As luck would have it, I unearthed a tube of Loctite liquid gasket in the back of the van and, after giving the water pump and its facing a good clean, I slapped a good bead of liquid gasket round the waterpump and stuck it all back together again.

Sorry. a bit out of focus. Water pump, with a layer of liquid gasket
Sorry. a bit out of focus. Water pump, with a layer of liquid gasket

And, finally, working by the light of my torch, I got the pump back in place, refitted the new cambelt again, tightened everything up, bent the rear plate back into shape [thankfully it went back pretty easily] and refitted the bottom cambelt protector plate again. So here we have the current state of play. Fingers, toes and everything else crossed, the liquid gasket will have sorted the water pump out. It wasnae leaking before, so I’m hoping it will be rightly again, now that I’ve made an effort to reseal it properly. The new cambelt is on and next weekend begins the slow process of retracing my steps, putting everything back together again –and hoping the damned thing still works!

Well met by moonlight... well, torchlight actually. The state of play, as another long weekend draws to a close
Well met by moonlight... well, torchlight actually. The state of play, as another long weekend draws to a close

Still raining . Still dreaming…

So, in lieu of actually being able to get outside so far today [bloody rain!], here’s the next installment from yesterday, of this thrilling adventure…

First off, I spent a good 20 mins or so, armed with an old dentist’s pick, getting all the old locknut sealant and assorted crud out of the “Big Guy’s” threads and the threads in the socket on the crankshaft. Then gave the bolt a good scrub with a wire brush. Next a good lathering with loctite…

My patented madrawagen© crank wedging tool also worked well in the tightening up again direction. Something I’d been wondering about, as unlike with undoing, there was nothing obvious to wedge it against. In the end it wedged in on the opposite side of the alternator bracket. I had to be a bit more careful this time, while tightening it into position, as it was touching on the vanes on the front of the alternator, so I was a bit worried about crushing them, but it turned out OK in the end.

Patented crank-wedging tool back in operation
Patented crank-wedging tool back in operation

Time to get the “Big Guy” back in, remembering to loop the power steering belt over the vibration damper, before putting it back on.

I set my torque wrench to 450NM and started heaving away. I can confirm that 450NM is pretty damned tight but, just as I was about rupture myself and tumble from the cab, clutching my nether regions and shouting for medical assistance, the wrench gave a welcome click. So at least this time I know the crankbolt is now tightened to the official torque.

Vibration damper back on and tightened, it was time to manually turn over the engine and check it turned freely. I had a heart-stopping moment at this point: As I was turning the engine over with a socket on the crankbolt, it suddenly stopped dead and I heard a what seemed like a horrible crunching sound. I gingerly wound the engine backwards, praying to an assortment of deities and voodoo spirits and tried again. The same thing happened!

Turning over the engine by hand
Turning over the engine by hand

“How can this be?” I thought. I was so careful to check everything was aligned and nothing had moved at several points in the procedure. How the feck had I managed to bugger things up?…

Then, I suddenly remembered that I always leave Herman in gear and sure enough it was so. I put him in neutral and tried again and the engine turned over smoothly. Phew! what a relief! The horrendous crunching sound I’d heard was actually that big plastic gearbox cover underneath the van, which I’d previously taken off, because I’m planning to top up the gearbox oil. It was lying back against the back axle so, when I was trying to turn the engine over, not realising I’d left it in gear, the axle was nudging forward slightly and causing the gearbox cover to scrape along the ground, making a noise almost completely like the paranoid home mechanic would imagine the sound of crushing valve stems to be like.

Talk about a brown trousers moment!

Anyway, after that and when my heartbeat returned to normal, it was time to refit the centre of the vibration damper and then my bēte noire, the plastic fan. I replaced the chewed up Allen bolt I had so much fun with during the dismantling stage with a ‘proper’ bolt you can get a socket on. If I’ve still got Herman in another 60000 miles time, I must remember to thank myself for that one!

Replaced fan –with a proper bolt
Replaced fan –with a proper bolt

Next up, was the task of putting radiator [and assorted cowlings and ducts back in]. No rivetting photos of that lot, as I needed to rope in an extra pair of hands as it was, in the form of the missus to help me manouevre the radiator back into position. So I’d have had to operate the camera with my teeth to record the event.

And that’s where I’m up to at the moment. Maybe it’s wishful thinking but, while I’ve been writing this, the rain seems to have been easing off a bit. maybe I’ll get “out to play” yet, today!


The rain hasnae stopped all day but, around lunchtime, it did let up enough to make me venture outside to try and get this damned job finished.

Got all the fan cowlings back on again –so much easier when you can actually see what you’re doing, even if I did spend a lot of time lying in puddles, getting rained on!

Next I connected up all the various tubes from the header tank and reinstalled that again. Then poured what was left of the salvaged coolant from draining the system back into the header tank [I’d filled up most of the cooling system by pouring several litres back into the radiator, after fitting it yesterday].

The moment of truth!

One last double-check that I hadnae left any spanners or oily rags in the engine bay and I turned the key…

[insert suspense!]

…and Herman roared into life on the first turn, just like he’d never been away!

I kept an eye on the header tank and kept topping that up as the water drained away, but that was about it. Or nearly it. You know I can never get away with anything going too straightforwardly!

As I was listening to Herman idling, I detected that there was something a bit different sounding about the engine. Under his dieselly rattle I could faintly detect a kind of ‘whoosh.. whoosh” sound, almost like air being pumped out of something. I wondered if the brake servo might be deciding to play up, but then had a more worrying thought –maybe the cambelt was too tight, or was not on properly. So I took off the top cover and had a look and found this…

The cambelt [at the top] was sitting right back against the backplate of the cambelt cover and seemingy rubbing against it as the camshaft turned. I stopped the engine and had a look. It turned out that it was the cambelt backplate cover itself that was touching against the back of the toothed camshaft wheel. Obviously it had got a bit bent out of shape when I bent it up to get the water pump out and hadn’t quite gone back into it’s proper position. Cue another ten or fifteen minutes, gingerly working along the edge of it, with a pair of pliers, just easing it back slightly, so it no longer touched the back of the toothed wheel. Back on with the cambelt cover, fired Herman up again and I was back to hearing that comforting tractor-esque rattle of his old diesel engine again, without any accompanying ‘strange noises’.

So there we have it. Cambelt done and [fingers crossed] everything seems to be tickety-boo, although I’ve not been for a drive yet, as I want to leave the seats out for a bit, while I do a few other jobs. But I left him idling for about 20-30 mins, while I tidied up and there was no overheating, no leaking water and no leaking oil [apart from the customary bit of ‘marking his territory’ he always does when I switch the engine off].

Phew! –Now for the small list of jobs that are actually part of getting Herman through his MOT. But at least I’ve got the big one out of the way, though I’m not looking forward to the filth-fest that changing the sump gasket [next challenge!] will doubtless entail. The irony is, of course, that the cambelt change wasn’t even really an MOT job. Just something that was long overdue being done.


Well, hopefully this thread will prove useful to anyone else contemplating doing the cambelt. I got a lot of help from various folks and various threads here, where other people had talked about doing it [thanks all!] –but I’ve tried to photograph as much of the whole process from beginning to end as possible, to try and gather all the info in one place. And I’m not claiming this to be any kind of definitive ‘right way’ to do it. It was just me muddling along and working things out as I got there. But hopefully it will give any other ‘LT cambelt virgins’ out there an idea of what the job entails. After all, if an eejit like me can do it [my first one!] then it shouldnae be that hard for the rest of you.

Although it’s taken me a couple of weekends to finish the job, I reckon I could probably do it in a day next time, knowing in advance what tools and replacement parts I’m likely to need and what the trickiest bits of the job are going to be.

And one final tip from “madra’s Half-Witted Guide to Motor Mechanics” –always make plenty of notes as you’re going along, disconnecting stuff. That way, at least you’ll be able to retrace your steps when trying to remember where the hell everything goes, when it comes time to put it all back together again!

Make plenty of notes, kids!
Make plenty of notes, kids!