Gauges (factory) and warning lights except Speedometer/Odometer

Capt. Mike

Transferred to consolidte same topic.

Chuck (CA) Member posted August 02, 2003 10:54 PM

I'm in the market for an 86-88 Westy. This week I looked at three. All three had dead fuel guages. What's up with Westy fule guages not working?

Comment and suggestions please.

Thanks in advance

Capt. Mike

There is nothing "up" with Westy fuel gauges. They are made by VDO, one of the industry's largest and best. Their reliability equals or exceeds most. If a fuel guage is not working, often the reason is buried deeper in the previous owner's maintenance & care. Some Westies get a lot of dead time and fuel deteriorates rapidly, causing tank & sender problems.


New member
i have a 1984 westy with a 1985 intrument cluster. no instrument lights and cool temp gauge doesn't work.
My Question: Are the clusters interchangeable?

or do I have some other problem?
thanks Geryll


New member

I have a 1980 Vanagon Westfalia. My EGR light recently came on and at the same time the light that has a symbol looking like a battery also came on. I know my battery is fine because I checked it. I also heard that the EGR light comes on every 10-15,000 miles, and can be reset to turn it off. (I think for emissions purposes) Do you think these lights are related, or do you think I just need to reset them? If they need to be reset how do I do it? Any help is appreciaited. Thanks


New member
Well, I figured out the problem with the EGR/battery light. Turns out it was the alternator. Now I have another problem. When I come to a stop at an intersection my oil light and the emergency brake light simultaneously come on. When I start to move again they eventually go off. The brake works fine and the oil level is also good. Could this be some sort of electrical malfunction? Any suggestions?


New member

Sounds like on top of everything else you have a short somewhere. The oil light doesn't indicate oil level, it indicates oil pressure. From the symptoms you described (light comes on when the van stops, goes off when driving) the oil pressure is your problem.

A number of things can cause low oil pressure, some suggestions are:

Wrong grade of oil--too light, the Westfailia takes 20W50 when the average temperature is above freezing and 10W30 when the average is below. If your temperature is above 20 C or 68 F you should be using 20W50 oil.

Old Oil or Old Filter--I would hate to think that on an air cooled engine you haven't changed the oil in the past 6 months.

Oil pickup tube is clogged--A number of things can cause this, one of which is teflon additives.

Oil pressure sensor is beginning to fail

And finally, if the sensor is in the same location as the wasserboxer, the wire can touch the exaust system and melt the jacket and start shorting out. This is more of a flickering effect though.

Remember that in the original owners manual it states that momentary flashes of the oil light are normal when stopping after extended periods of high speed driving, but you should treat this as serious as low oil pressure will seriously harm your engine.

As for the two lights coming on, you probably have a short in your dash.

'85 VanagonGL Westy
1.9L Wasserboxer


New member

I have a 87 westy and my temp gauge doesn't move off of cold even after I know it is warmed up. I looked through bentley but can't find where it talks about temp. sending unit (or whatever it is called) location or test to see if it is working properly (which I guess it is not since needle doesn't move). Can anyone point me in the right direction in the manual.

OK Update... I found in bentley how it says to test the gauge but I don't know what "VW 1301" is. I suspect it is not a volt metre?!? Therefore do I need to go to my local VW mechanic for this one or is there another way???

This site rips!!!!

thanks mike for you tire help, David

Capt. Mike

Not exactly. The VW1301 is a variable resistor. The temp sender changes resistance with coolant temperature. The specs are that at 50 ohms, it send the 'overheat' signal and at 560, it send the 'normal' signal. Since most volt-ohm meters can't introduce an artificial resistance, you have two options. Go buy a couple of resisters of the specificed ohms at a Radio Shack type store.

Or remove the sender, and test in heated water. Start with a cold sender hooked up to an ohmmeter. As you slowly increase temperature, look at the water temperatures (measured with a cooking thermometer). Do they correspond as the ohmmeter passes the specified numbers? i.e. it should read very high ohms at cold, then gradually come to the specified central value at a temperature of about 200-210°F, and then drop rapidly to 50 as you exceed push 225°F. Not as exact, but at least isolates the gauge vs. the sender.

Also check your voltage stabilizer. It should give you 9.6v, which is what the gauges run off. Testing of that is in the Bentley, I think section 90.8.


New member
I have just acquired a 78 Westfalia. The fuel gauge does not work at all. The previous owner never bothered to fix it and instead kept a log of his mileage for years and would fill up when he hit a certain number of miles. All other gauges and electrical items work fine and the engine is in good shape. Is this something I can fix myself? Any ideas on how to tackle this problem? Thank you. Rhonda

Capt. Mike

The fuel gauge system is relatively simple. Look at the wiring Diagram in the Bentley Circuits 41-45. Trouble shooting the fuel gauge is given in Section 4-13.2. If it tests to be the sender, you can reach the tank (barely) without removing the engine per Bentley Section 3-3.1. However, it may still be necessary to remove the tank for clearance to replace the sender and gasket.

If the gauge, OEM replacements are readily available or you can send to an authorized VDO service center for repair. Senders are not practical to repair.


New member
Hi again,

I have a 85 digijet vanagon, this time with a cooling gauge and low coolant/overheating light problem. The gauge pegs to the top and the light flashes continuously with the engine cold (or just the ignition on). Usually after driving a bit will eventually calm the two down.

I am working through the posts and the Bentley wiring diagrams for my issue, and I have two questions (more to come).....

If the voltage stabilizer is bad, will all the instruments in the cluster behave eratically or can it be isolated to one or two items (ie temp gauge and light)? And, with the temp gauge not working properly, does this make the fan thermo switch also not work properly?

One last question - I can find the posting guidelines, where are they??



Greetings Rocket Dog, The site guidelines are at the bottom of the page. See where it says Copyright? Right below that it says Guidelines.
Click it and your home free.

Capt. Mike

The voltage stabilizer works primarily with the fuel & coolant gauges; see Bentley 97.62, circuits 30-36.

The radiator fan thermo switches are independent of the gauges, see circuits 88-90.

In addition to guidelines, especially #1-4, you will also get some valuable site protocol hints from the "New Boards" and "Disappearing Posts" topics in the JUST CONVERSATIONS forum.

Ludwig van

New member
I'm trying to get the fuel gauge working in my '78. When I run the diagnostics per Bentley, I get an interesting result by connecting the gauge's ground wire directly to the instrument cluster ground (which eliminates the wire to the sender and the sender itself). The gauge moves a little off empty, bounces a few times, goes to 1/1, then very slowly falls back to below empty (needle disappears). When I connect a voltmeter, I don't see any variations in voltage, which stays just under 12.
I'd appreciate any ideas - I don't relish another summer of using the odometer for a fuel gauge.

Ludwig van

New member
I still don't have a working fuel gauge in my '78, but I've learned a few things. The first is that while Bentley says the gauge is a balancing-coil type, that's only half right. It seems that type of gauge was used until 1972 (per dealer). The sender for this type has a float inside a tube. The tube fills and empties through one or more small holes, which damps any changes in fuel level, so the needle isn't going all over the dial with every bump or turn. The later Type 2's use a sender with a conventional float and arm, and the gauge uses a bimetallic strip with a heating coil wrapped around it. Current flowing through the coil varies with the resistance at the sender, and heats the strip, which is attached to the base of the needle. When the strip bends due to the heat, it deflects the needle. I guess the gradual heating and cooling of the strip has a dampng effect on the needle's movement.

In retrospect, I think my original problem was a shot sender, but in carrying out the diagnostic tests per Bentley, I shorted the gauge's ground wire for too long a period, and I think that's what burnt the heating coil out. I've since learned that this test should be done only for brief periods. What I did probably wouldn't have damaged a balancing-coil gauge. I know that now, but it's a little late, and the gauge is NLA, so I'll look for a used one.
I'm posting this for the benefit of anyone else having fuel gauge problems with a 73-78 (and probably 79) Type 2. In this case, Bentley isn't quite gospel (nor is Haynes, for that matter).


New member
Another fuel guage not working. I have a 90 Westy. My fuel gauge is not working. The Bentley says to use a VM1301 to trouble shoot. I cannot find one of these. Some posts say to ground the guage. I am hesitant because that would put approximately 9v across the guage. Any ideas out there?

Capt. Mike

The VW1301 is a basic adjustable resistance. It allows you to dial in the amount of resistance you want on the circuit, i.e. the 50 & 320 ohms they use as specs.

You can do a field substitute. The sender is the variable resistance in the circuits 67 & 73. Test the sender with an ohm-meter to check its resistance when empty & full. If it gives reasonable readings, close to the test dial settings, this would indicate your sender is working -- though perhaps no longer in exact specs. If no resistance, problem is likely the the sending unit; if variable resistance, then follow the trouble shooting direction for "no needle deflection . . ."


I'm not sure this is the right place, perhaps FI or Cooling system; apologies in advance for any error.

My problem is this. On a just completed 2500 mile trip along the Oregon/Cal coast and return. (Great trip by the way!) my temp gauge (86 syncro) quit. It does not register at all. I have done a pelim check and think it is the sending unit, rather than the gauge or the voltage stabilizer. My question is, are there two temp sensors, one for the FI and one for the gauge, or does the one on the drivers side front serve both functions? My Bentley is not too clear, as the diagram speaks about the sensor for the FI and a sensor for the gauge. I can't seem to find a second sensor. (I haven't waded though the wiring diagram to find out for sure)

My fuel milage suffered on the return trip, (down about 15%) so I surmise that the FI is running in a default cold mode.

I realized that I was taking a risk driving 1000+ miles without the gauge, but since the lights still work, I had to run the heater the whole way I figured I was safe, if the heater suddenly got too hot I would know it.

Anyway, any advice would be appreciated.



Once again, the wealth of information that Capt. Mike saves the day. His post of May 20 2004 telling how to replicate the test instrument for testing the gauge proves perfect.

After finaly finding the temp sender for the gauge (In a syncro, it is a simple, single wire that is on the back of the thermostat housing, you can see it by crawling under the car on the drivers side). (The FI sender is a 2 wire sensor on the side of the housing viewable from the top, blue) I cobbled together a couple or resistors as per Mike's instructions and bingo, the gauge tested perfectly, just as he said. You can also test the voltage at the sender wire to ground, should show voltage. I assume if the gauge was out it wouldn't send normal voltage to the sensor.

Now to change the sensor. Question is, can I R/R the sensor without having to do a complete coolant bleed?


PS It turns out that my fuel mileage was just about as it has always been, my error was in my calculations. The FI sensor seems to be fine.

PPS R&Ring the sensor was a piece of cake. If you do it cold, you only loose a few drops of coolant. Note that the sensor is different for the syncro, (it is a one wire sensor, the regular vanagon is a 2 wire sensor) and most parts books don't show it properly. The sensor for a 84 vanagon is the proper one. This is because in the syncor the housing is steel and therefore doesn't need a grounding wire.