In this month of November 2019, we found our combi Volkswagen T3 Westfalia aka “Popo” after a short stay in France to see our families. Leaving Oregon, USA, we left him at German Transaxle of America to redo the gearbox, a specialist in the field. This was starting to make a a little disturbing noise from Alaska. Being an element that we cannot repair ourselves as usual, we took advantage of our month in France to make them do the work on the van.
On our return, it is a Popo with a completely redone box that we found and especially with a small improvement which was not the only one to come.
Back on improvements and preparation made on our dear house on wheels. #vanlife #offroad #combi #T3
Even if it means opening the gearbox to redo it, we had German Transaxle installed a Péloquin differential. Made in the USA, this piece of goldsmith allows, to simplify, the two drive wheels to turn together in the same direction when one wheel has less grip than the other. It brings a lot more traction in particular, in off-road, outside the paved roads but also on the sand, the snow, the mud,… To take a really extreme concrete example, in normal times, when one of the driving wheels is in the air, the other does not allow to move forward. With this system the differential "locks" and drives the wheels at the same time. We are less limited on very rough paths (bumps, holes, large stones…) and the wheels slip much less on difficult paths. Our T3 is not a 4 × 4 and this new equipment allows us to go even further, we now have “two real driving wheels”!
To install it, you must necessarily go through the disassembly box. If you feel like it, it will therefore have to be installed by a professional who has the right Volkswagen tools and in the process have your transmission overhauled. Even if it means opening everything to go there!
A week before returning to the United States, we ordered from GoWesty new suspensions: higher springs and Fox reinforced shocks. We had already changed the springs a few years ago but with the added additional load (roof rack, additional spare wheel), and especially our desire to always go further off the beaten track, we wanted to raise the van a bit. Thing done with GoWesty +1.5 inch raised springs, or nearly 4cm! They have a "modern" spring design with so-called progressive turns which both compensate for the weight of the van and have greater driving comfort on the road.
On top of that, to take full advantage of this additional travel we have installed Fox pendant lights ! Those who know the brand will understand what we are talking about ... They were designed in collaboration between GoWesty and Fox especially for T3 (they also exist for the VW T2 and the VW T4), and are INDESTRUCTIBLE! More travel, a rod twice as big to avoid breakage and overheating on bad and long paths, a separate oil cartridge, again to avoid overheating. Yes because when you drive several hundred kilometers of dented dirt roads as we tend to do, the suspensions heat up and the oil they contain takes a hit ... They then lose their effectiveness before draining. to flee and even to break. Now we won't have to worry about that anymore!
At the first test, driving is radically different, the van reacts better despite these 2.5 tonnes at full load: it pitched less in bends despite the 4cm rise, he brakes shorter and is much nicer on a bad road. Another combi!
The original Popo exhaust line with more than 500,000km has played a few tricks on us several times… The first time, it was the catalyst that broke, the second time one of the tubes replaced by a used one, the third was the pot and the fourth the same hit… Well, it must be said that with his age and the vibrations outside of “classic” roads, he suffered. But given his age, we didn't blame him. In short, it was time to change it! We therefore decided to invest in a fully stainless steel line always at GoWesty. Lighter, very resistant, which does not fear rust and identical to the original in the event of a problem (even if with this one, we are really quiet), our dear house on wheels now has the best, with in passing, a released engine that has a little more power and a rather discreet sound, more serious and pleasant on long journeys. On top of that, the exhaust outlet is higher and that suits us well because more than once, it happened to us to hit a stone or to throw it in the ground in reverse ...
Another improvement this time inside the van and for our comfort.
If you read Popo's presentation here, you may remember that we had installed one, or rather, auxiliary batteries. As a reminder, an auxiliary battery is used, with the engine stopped, to power the various accessories connected to it: water pump, heater, 220v converter, USB sockets, etc. It is charged by the engine when it is running and by the solar panels stopped. In short, it's essential in a converted van! The space being counted in a small combi, the autonomy too. Because we work on the road thanks to our computers, our energy needs are important and we therefore decided, not to add a battery, but to change the type of battery to a 50ah Lithium battery. These have many advantages! To simplify once again, the capacity is doubled. That is to say that at equivalent capacity, 50Ah is in fact about double on a lithium battery. On top of that, they are much lighter and better withstand deep discharges. So many advantages. The only constraint is to have the appropriate equipment around, i.e. the battery coupler (which is used to charge the battery when driving and to avoid discharging the battery when the engine is stationary), and ideally a solar regulator (the box that manages the electricity created by the solar panel before arriving at the battery). We therefore changed these two elements at the same time as this new battery and we thus gained in autonomy.
Let's go outside the van. A few months before leaving for Alaska, in May 2019, we had already started making some preparations.
After all these years on the road and our desire to try the Pan American again, we needed a little more storage space. (Remember, for those who have followed us for a long time, that we were cut off in our tracks for the first time, during the civil war in Nicaragua in the summer of 2018, preventing us from descending further south.)
Not a lot, but just enough to free up the inside of the van by removing our trekking equipment (backpack, tent, etc.). But also, by talking with other travelers, we realized that we needed more gasoline autonomy to explore certain areas especially in South America.
What could be better than a roof rack to install all this! Neither one nor two, we made the choice ofa Front Runner gallery in aluminium. Lightweight and flexible, there are tons of accessories depending on your needs from everything to everyone.
For our part, we posed there a waterproof box with our trekking equipment inside + a new solar panel rigid Renogy Solar of 100W above to optimize the space.
Beside, one, and eventually, two 20l petrol jerrycans almost 400km of autonomy and finally our sand removal plates that we already had, just to get out of difficult situations.
But how do you lift the roof with all this ?! (we can hear you from here). Simply by installing jacks to assist the lifting of the roof manual. We found them at GoWesty (Never change a winning team).
There are several possible configurations depending on the weight of the set and thanks to that even Joana with her little arms easily opens the roof!
So here is Popo in his a priori final version, ready to face the Pan-American Route more calmly. Technical improvements that are sometimes costly, of course, but which will pay off easily over time and greatly limit the risk of breakdown or breakage while providing us with comfort and safety #POPO2.0