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Thread: 86 Westy sputters and loses power when climbing at high speed, but otherwise normal

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Dec 2010

    Default 86 Westy sputters and loses power when climbing at high speed, but otherwise normal

    I have an 86 Westy which runs fine, and after replacing the radiator and the pressure cap never lets the temperature needle go up even halfway, regardless how steep the climb.
    Now driving 8 hours from San Francisco to Death Valley somewhere in the last third while driving up some minor elevation at a constant rapid speed of 70 mph the engine suddenly hesitated, the car shook, I took my foot off the accelerator, everything was smooth again, until I stepped on the accelerator, and the hesitation and shaking began again. Slowed down, and then it disappeared, never to come back for our 3 days in Death Valley.
    On the return trip the Westy had to climb several passes, working at it hard in 3rd and and 2nd gear, no problem; climbing another less steep pass in the 4th gear out of a sudden the same: hesitation and shaking. I pulled over, and stepping on the gas pedal in neutral, there was no response, after a few very long seconds the engine revved up; I filled up the tank (we were down 3/4), restarted the engine, and without even a hint of hesitation it drove the remaining 4 hours at 70-75 mph back to S. Fr. .
    Short of partially clogged up fuel filter, which I replaced immediately, does anyone have any other idea, what might have been the cause. I am not very mechanically talented, so having an old car, which I truly love, out of a sudden play havoc on me in the middle of nowhere is somewhat unsettling. So what else can I do? It is running perfect right now.

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  3. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2010
    Snohomish, WA


    You raise a few points.

    Firstly, if the temperature gauge is not going to 1/2 way you should have your thermostat checked. Thermostat should stay closed until the engine warms up then it opens allowing coolant to flow to the radiator. This allows faster warm up of the engine and heater system. Since you are in a relatively warm climate then this may not be a big concern for you.

    Secondly, there are so many things that could cause your 'sputter' / loss of power. (I would suggest that 70/75 mph is too fast for a Vanagon but that is a choice for you. The engine will be spinning pretty fast (4500+ rpm) for hours at a time and slowing down will give better longevity). The concern sounds very intermittent but appears to happen while climbing grades and the engine is under load. There is a fairly common air flow meter issue but that (in my experience) tends to happen more often than is suggested here and usually will 'reset' after the ignition is cycled off and on again. If the issue goes away after a key cycle (not sure in your first example) then you might have the air flow meter issue. If not, the best I could suggest is try to notice ambient temperature, gradient, fuel level and see if there is a common connection. The other thing to find out is the condition of your secondary ignition (coil, distributer cap, plugs and wires) to see if they are serviceable. You might have a coil or sensor on the way out.

    Sorry for the vague reply but without specifics it is difficult to diagnose.


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