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    Thread: Life in a Rabbit

    1. Junior Member
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      09-17-2014 11:36 PM #1
      Hi! I'm new here -- this is my first post. I keep coming across this forum on my searches for information so I thought I'd join for the full experience.

      I bought my Rabbit on September 9 2014, a 1981 diesel 4-door. I had actually been looking for a van. I live in Portland but in a month or two I plan to hit the road for at least 6-12 months, living in a vehicle and traveling around. Usually van-dwelling is done in... a van. But then I realized, why not live in a micro-van and get 50mpg? I don't need much space. I spent 3 months this year backpacking the southern half of the PCT (1334 miles), so I know I can survive with only the possessions I can carry on my back. Any car is big enough to be my house! I always thought Rabbits were pretty cool, so more or less on a whim, I decided to do it.
      In this thread I'll keep track of my progress as I'm outfitting my microvan for living.

      I'm still not sure if I got a good deal on the car or not. It said 204k miles but the odometer was broken when I got it. There was just 1 owner before me. I paid $3000 for it. The body is straight and never wrecked, engine seems to work well (though occasionally hard to start), not much rust because it's an Oregon car and we don't use salt on the roads here. I've fixed a couple of simple problems that improved the driving experience dramatically so I'm feeling pretty optimistic about it now. There are definitely more dings and knicks in the paint that you can't see in the photos, but overall I think it's holding up pretty well for being 33 years old.












      List of maintenance items:

      Repair/maintenance needed
      -Regular windshield wiper speed setting is broken
      -Rear-defrost connection needs repair
      -Front passenger window became disconnected from whatever slides it up and down
      -Windshield fluid line needs to be replaced
      -Ceiling needs a headliner or other insulative layer

      What I've done so far
      -Fixed shift linkage problem
      -Took out rear bench and passenger seat
      -Adjusted the clutch cable
      -Fixed throttle cable housing
      -Replaced door posts
      -Replaced fuel filter
      -Replaced glow plugs
      -New windshield wipers
      -New tires
      -Got a passenger side mirror
      -Cleaned out the door latch mechanisms
      -Changed transmission fluid
      -New struts
      -New tie rods
      -New horn
      -Changed the oil and filter
      -Fixed the odometer
      -Got a copy of the key
      -Temporary (permanent?) fix for steering column rattle
      -Installed a decent stereo/receiver that I got for cheap on craigslist
      -Wired in some decent sounding Polk bookshelf speakers
      -Made a plywood platform to serve as a floor/bed, w/ a hinged part in front to access storage underneath
      -Had the windows tinted
      -Made some cool blackout curtains with magnets sewn into the edges and snakeskin print on the inside
      -Installed new clutch
      -Got a new driver's side sun visor
      -New rear brakes
      -Installed auxiliary battery; powers the stereo, 12V charger
      -New master cylinder
      -Replaced the plywood platform with a custom sheet metal one, for extra headroom
      -Replaced the snakeprint curtains with more functional fabric curtains
      -Installed 100W solar panel on roof
      -Installed small ventilation fan, also powered by the aux battery
      -Removed carpet and insulation, used Al's HNR as an insulative layer
      -Coated the whole bottom of the car interior with truck bed liner for a durable surface
      -Built a shelf in the back for clothes storage and to hold my speakers in place


      I really appreciate and value the knowledge you all have... I'm coming into this project with no VW experience and no mechanical experience other than changing oil and spark plugs. So please let me know of any suggestions you have for me -- especially important things I should check when buying a well-used Rabbit... Thanks!
      Last edited by namasphere; 09-30-2016 at 02:58 PM. Reason: Updated list of work

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    3. Member Blade3562's Avatar
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      09-17-2014 11:59 PM #2
      Really really clean car!

    4. Member
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      09-18-2014 01:02 AM #3
      Looks great! I am interested to see what you do for speakers, I have also been kicking around the idea of installing a set of computer speakers.

    5. Member allgetout's Avatar
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      09-18-2014 01:11 AM #4
      Keep the updates coming! I have been known to sleep in the bed of my caddy with a camper shell for a week at a time sometimes.
      What do you call a line of rabbits in reverse?
      A receding hare line, of course!

    6. Junior Member
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      09-18-2014 01:42 AM #5
      Thanks!

      It will be interesting to see what you all think, because my priorities are probably a bit different than most of yours. I definitely care a lot more about function than form and I'm not going to be spending time sanding, painting, welding, etc. (I actually want it to look like a relatively plain car on the outside so it doesn't attract attention when I'm sleeping in it). I'm not super interested in being a recreational mechanic and doing a ton of work on it either. I mostly want to learn the important things to keep it running. I also prioritize fuel economy over power.

      Since there are already so many threads full of beautiful builds and impressive work being done, I'll focus more on the interior and what I'm doing to make it a cozy little living space!

    7. Member -camber's Avatar
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      09-18-2014 02:23 AM #6
      Good luck with the build and travels!

      I'm sure this space will help you along your adventure
      bang reggae music

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      09-18-2014 01:15 PM #7
      Many years ago my wife and I used to go camping in the back of my 1976 Rabbit.

      http://www.watsondiy.com/rabbit.htm

      I took the back seat out and cut some 4" foam to fit the back of the car. Then I covered that with fabric. I also made a small platform out of 2x6's that fit in the rear footwell behind the front seats. It was the same height as the back of the car and had the same 4" foam and fabric. I set the platform in the back when we were driving, then we would simply lean the front seats forward and set the platform in the footwell for sleeping. It was actually quite comfortable, at least for a couple of skinny 20 somethings.

      I think we took a couple of one week camping trips driving around Washington state in my Rabbit.

      We didn't have much in the way of privacy, but I always thought about making some simple cloth curtains that could be held in place with magnets (sewn into the edges of the curtain).

      I'm too old and picky to do that sort of thing these days, but it brings back lots of fond memories.

    9. Member Rockerchick's Avatar
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      09-18-2014 01:15 PM #8
      Looks like a clean car!

      As far as your cold start issue, I'd make sure there is no air getting into the fuel lines first and foremost. If there isn't, then check out your glow plug system - make sure the plugs are good, relay is good, fuse is good, etc. These cars use the glow plugs all year round and do need them in pretty much all temps on a cold start. Have you tried cycling the key twice to aid in the cold start?

      Another thing I'd add to your maintenance list is a timing belt, unless its been done recently.
      Quote Originally Posted by TM87 View Post
      VW-making mechanics out of owners since 1957.
      The Long Term Resident - '84 Jetta 1.6TD
      The Project/Future Wheelbarrow - '82 Rabbit Pickup, Supercharged ABA
      Hers - '03 BMP 20thAE GTI
      His - '15 Audi A3 2.0T Quattro

    10. Junior Member
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      09-18-2014 02:09 PM #9
      Quote Originally Posted by awatson View Post
      Many years ago my wife and I used to go camping in the back of my 1976 Rabbit.

      http://www.watsondiy.com/rabbit.htm

      I took the back seat out and cut some 4" foam to fit the back of the car. Then I covered that with fabric. I also made a small platform out of 2x6's that fit in the rear footwell behind the front seats. It was the same height as the back of the car and had the same 4" foam and fabric. I set the platform in the back when we were driving, then we would simply lean the front seats forward and set the platform in the footwell for sleeping. It was actually quite comfortable, at least for a couple of skinny 20 somethings.

      I think we took a couple of one week camping trips driving around Washington state in my Rabbit.

      We didn't have much in the way of privacy, but I always thought about making some simple cloth curtains that could be held in place with magnets (sewn into the edges of the curtain).

      I'm too old and picky to do that sort of thing these days, but it brings back lots of fond memories.
      Thanks for the stories and the link to your website. Fun that you would camp in your rabbit. Since I'm going alone and space is at a premium, I'm going to put in a platform that runs along the passenger side of the car for my bed, removing the passenger seat. Foam covered w/ fabric or a blanket, that's what I'm doing too. Cloth curtains with magnets sewn in -- that's my plan exactly! Should be simple and effective.

      Quote Originally Posted by Rockerchick View Post
      Looks like a clean car!

      As far as your cold start issue, I'd make sure there is no air getting into the fuel lines first and foremost. If there isn't, then check out your glow plug system - make sure the plugs are good, relay is good, fuse is good, etc. These cars use the glow plugs all year round and do need them in pretty much all temps on a cold start. Have you tried cycling the key twice to aid in the cold start?

      Another thing I'd add to your maintenance list is a timing belt, unless its been done recently.
      Thanks for the recommendations!
      Last edited by namasphere; 09-18-2014 at 02:50 PM.

    11. Member rabbitnothopper's Avatar
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      RIP81. 78 VW Rabbit 1.5L EH 4speed 020 GC->GP, 82 Rabbit Pickup 1.6D
      09-18-2014 06:46 PM #10
      nice 81
      looks like mine did when i bought it!


      you mention 50mpg...you have a diesel?


      otherwise guaranteed your CIS is only going to get 25-30mpg

    12. Member -camber's Avatar
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      09-18-2014 07:51 PM #11
      Quote Originally Posted by rabbitnothopper View Post

      you mention 50mpg...you have a diesel?
      It's in the third line of his post...
      bang reggae music

    13. Junior Member
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      09-19-2014 02:55 AM #12
      Yes, it's a diesel
      The odometer / trip meter is broken, so I used google maps to estimate the distance I drove on a road trip from Portland to the Oregon Coast with a fill-up at either end, and I got about 49mpg.
      Although I'm curious to see what happens now, because for most of that trip, my throttle cable was messed up and I wasn't giving it much fuel. So I wonder if that made it more or less efficient.

    14. 09-19-2014 04:02 AM #13
      Oh Boy,

      Just had a good chuckle reading your post. I lived in my 2door 82' rabbit for about 3 years during college down in Berkeley! Went through a couple iterations figuring out the best layout. Settled on sleeping diagonally with my head at the rear left and my feet at front right. Made 2 triangle cabinets one on the back right and the other just behind the drivers seat. Was able to have enough length to keep the passenger seat.

      its going to be exciting to see how you work it out.

    15. 09-19-2014 01:23 PM #14
      for a fellow Portlander.

      where is homebase? Id like to check it out in person once youre done, if that isn't weird...

    16. Junior Member
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      09-19-2014 05:59 PM #15
      I cleaned out the back as well as I could with a rag and water... just wanted to get the worst of the grime off. It's going to be covered up so it doesn't matter much but I wanted it to feel a bit cleaner.

      Some more pics. The driver seat is kind of torn up, passenger seat and rear bench are nice though. Some rust and maybe bondo on the metal surface in the back. The interior is that nice baby-diarrhea brown that is sure to ward off intruders.











      Quote Originally Posted by almondgarfield View Post
      Oh Boy,

      Just had a good chuckle reading your post. I lived in my 2door 82' rabbit for about 3 years during college down in Berkeley! Went through a couple iterations figuring out the best layout. Settled on sleeping diagonally with my head at the rear left and my feet at front right. Made 2 triangle cabinets one on the back right and the other just behind the drivers seat. Was able to have enough length to keep the passenger seat.

      its going to be exciting to see how you work it out.
      Awesome! Interesting idea -- I tried stretching out back there to see if I could keep the passenger seat... it seems possible, but I'd either be a bit cramped, or I'd have to push the seat most of the way toward the front. It helps not being super tall (5'9") but I'm not super short either.
      I think I'm still going to end up taking out the passenger seat... it might be a bummer sometimes not being able to drive people around, but it's hard for me to justify keeping something so big in the car just for OTHER people when I am trying to focus on creating the most efficient use of my own personal living space. Maybe I'll change my mind though, I'm definitely not going to throw the seat away.

      Quote Originally Posted by cesvilmal View Post
      for a fellow Portlander.

      where is homebase? Id like to check it out in person once youre done, if that isn't weird...
      I'm in the West Linn area! You're definitely welcome to check it out when it's done, and if you're mechanically inclined I'd love to meet up right now and look at some of the things that might fail first.

    17. Member rabbitnothopper's Avatar
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      09-20-2014 10:47 AM #16
      going to admit this freely

      i lived in my 88 oldsmobile for almost a year
      everything was in the trunk and i slept in the back seat (2 door)

      i would have continued if the radiator wasnt junk and blew the headgasket 3 times

      after that i had bought an 88 isuzu impulse and the rear seat folded down
      lived with my cat in the car for about 3 months through the summer

      the best part of this was that the rear windows were pop out and i could get some air in there
      the cat enjoyed it, she had her own litterbox in the passenger floor.

      now for the rabbits
      i have slept in the front seats with and without feet out the window
      slept in the rear seat of a 4 door
      but never lived in it....

      rear seat removed with poster board covering the tail lights for protection


      i am 6ft tall, i have no problem sleeping in small areas!

    18. Member -camber's Avatar
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      09-21-2014 01:36 AM #17
      Quote Originally Posted by namasphere View Post
      The interior is that nice baby-diarrhea brown that is sure to ward off intruders.
      .



      If you're going to be spending THAT much time in there, Peanut Butter brown is probably a better way to think of it!
      bang reggae music

    19. Junior Member
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      09-25-2014 07:38 PM #18
      Quote Originally Posted by rabbitnothopper View Post
      i lived in my 88 oldsmobile for almost a year
      Cool

      Quote Originally Posted by -camber View Post
      If you're going to be spending THAT much time in there, Peanut Butter brown is probably a better way to think of it!
      Good point!



      OK so I have a real question for you all!
      My Rabbit had a pretty hard time starting up today.

      I knew it was my first time starting it in nearly 24 hours, so I let the glow plugs run twice before I tried to start it. When I tried to start it, the engine was turning... so it seems to be no problem with the battery or starter. But it was just sitting there turning and turning without any kind of ignition. I gave it some gas, actually I was tapping the gas pedal a lot, flooring it, nothing seemed to make a difference... eventually it did start to catch, and sputtered to life. Once started, I had to keep giving it a good amount of gas (diesel...) for probably 10 seconds, otherwise when I took my foot off the pedal it would have died again. Possibly unrelated, but there is usually a cloud of blue smoke when I cold-start this car. It never has an issue starting when warm.

      Rockerchick's recommendations make a lot of sense. Check the fuel lines (maybe there's no ignition because there's no fuel), check the glow plugs (maybe there's no ignition because it's not hot enough). I'm leaning toward it being the fuel lines, because it doesn't seem to have so much to do with temperature (it starts fine if it was run 8 hours previously), rather how long it's been sitting since the last time the fuel lines were flowing.

      Do you have any links to a guide to checking glow plugs and fuel lines? How can I tell if air is getting in? I bought the Bentley guide but I ordered it for gasoline models by accident
      Thanks!!
      Last edited by namasphere; 09-25-2014 at 07:42 PM.

    20. Member ducatipaso's Avatar
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      09-25-2014 07:45 PM #19
      check and make sure your pump's front seal isn't leaking. if the system is draining when not running, it'll be hard to start because you'll have air in the system every morning.
      i would start with glow plugs. make sure you're getting 12v on the rail when you key on cold.

    21. Member deepgrooves74's Avatar
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      09-26-2014 07:07 AM #20
      Quote Originally Posted by ducatipaso View Post
      check and make sure your pump's front seal isn't leaking. if the system is draining when not running, it'll be hard to start because you'll have air in the system every morning.
      i would start with glow plugs. make sure you're getting 12v on the rail when you key on cold.
      X2... Also there is a good website that I like:

      http://vincewaldon.com/index.php?opt...d=14&Itemid=28

      Great how-to section... Also has great idea for cheap redo of the glow plug circuit! Did it on my car...
      Someday I will drive this... Always something else to fix or upgrade!

      https://forums.vwvortex.com/showthrea...t-TD-SVO-Build

    22. Junior Member
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      10-07-2014 01:13 AM #21
      This problem got really bad, to the point where it wouldn't start at all one time when I was trying to leave from a dentist appointment.
      (side note, she's a pretty awesome dentist, she does the work out of a converted motorhome on their property. With 4 dogs sitting on your lap in the chair. Will take 3 hours with a patient to thoroughly explain everything that is going on. When my car wouldn't start, her husband tried a few things to try to get it to start, and when that didn't work he used his AAA to send me home and they fed us dinner in their home in the meantime. Not your average trip to the dentist...)
      Anyway, the engine was just spinning and spinning again with no ignition.

      Today I finally had time to try some things. I called my uncle who has been a Rabbit enthusiast for decades. He suspected the fuel filter and said to try disconnecting the fuel line from the fuel filter, and putting it in a jar of diesel instead (basically bypass the fuel filter). Apparently my fuel pump/lines were pretty empty because it only started firing up after it sucked in probably 10 ounces of fuel. But it did fire up! I changed the fuel filter, oops, that was a mess, but once I got all the air out of the system it's running great again.

      1) Is there a better way to get the air out of the fuel lines than just trying to start it for several minutes until it stops coughing?
      2) How hot are the glow plugs supposed to get... and how do you access them? I took out the right-most glow plug to test if it was working -- it got hot, but it wasn't glowing red or anything like that. The other ones seem nearly impossible to access. Remove the entire fuel pump assembly?

      For now I'll see how it runs and if it still has problems starting I'll know to check the glow plugs, and make sure the fuel lines aren't leaking...
      Thanks!

    23. Member Rockerchick's Avatar
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      10-07-2014 10:15 AM #22
      Get yourself a mity-vac. Best way to get air out of the system. One is kept in our car all the time.
      Quote Originally Posted by TM87 View Post
      VW-making mechanics out of owners since 1957.
      The Long Term Resident - '84 Jetta 1.6TD
      The Project/Future Wheelbarrow - '82 Rabbit Pickup, Supercharged ABA
      Hers - '03 BMP 20thAE GTI
      His - '15 Audi A3 2.0T Quattro

    24. Member VWaddict01's Avatar
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      10-07-2014 10:29 AM #23
      Did you consider getting a roof rack and a box to hold more gear? I would also add a Solar panel to one side of your roof and have it hooked up to an aux. battery and an inverter to power anything you need. (laptops,charge phones, ect.) without depleting your main car batt. And it could also be used to jump start your car too if needed. I've got that set up in my vanagon and it's awesome. But yeah sounds like a cool adventure. Make sure to get AAA too, plus carry spare parts and tools. Keep us posted on your build with pics!

    25. Junior Member
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      10-08-2014 03:22 PM #24
      Quote Originally Posted by Rockerchick View Post
      Get yourself a mity-vac. Best way to get air out of the system. One is kept in our car all the time.
      That makes sense. Thanks.

      Quote Originally Posted by VWaddict01 View Post
      Did you consider getting a roof rack and a box to hold more gear? I would also add a Solar panel to one side of your roof and have it hooked up to an aux. battery and an inverter to power anything you need. (laptops,charge phones, ect.) without depleting your main car batt. And it could also be used to jump start your car too if needed. I've got that set up in my vanagon and it's awesome. But yeah sounds like a cool adventure. Make sure to get AAA too, plus carry spare parts and tools. Keep us posted on your build with pics!
      The roof rack/box is something to consider, but I don't actually think it will be necessary... we'll see!
      I do have a small solar panel that I bought several years ago and I plan to set it up with an extra deep cycle battery and an inverter. It seems like there might be space for an extra battery up in the very front passenger side corner, under the hood? I'm also going to figure out a minimal set of tools to bring, that I can use to fix the most likely problems I'll encounter on the road. I opted for Geico's roadside assistance program which will hopefully be comparable to AAA...

      Today I'm working on window coverings and changing the transmission fluid. I got some pretty fun fabric to use for the window coverings.

    26. Junior Member
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      10-09-2014 05:02 AM #25
      Quote Originally Posted by Rockerchick View Post
      Get yourself a mity-vac. Best way to get air out of the system. One is kept in our car all the time.
      At first when I read this I was like "keep a vacuum cleaner in my car at all times? good joke"
      Now that I've googled what a mityvac is, i understand what you mean

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