Friday, March 27, 2009


The first thing you tend to notice when driving a Beetle is that you have become enrolled-into the great and very friendly family of Beetle you see on the roads will acknowledge you with a wave or by a flash of the headlights. This camaraderie extends to drivers of other air-cooled Volkswagens; the drivers of Karmann Ghias, campers and vans. Type 3s and 4s will also almost universally acknowledge you. Before long you find yourself being drawn into the spirit of things, and you begin to wave back without conscious effort.
If you were unfortunate enough to suffer a roadside breakdown, it would be almost unthinkable for another driver of an air cooled VW to pass by without stopping to offer you assistance. Likewise, you will find that you will feel somehow under an unofficial obligation to spot and help if you see a fellow air-cooled VW driver in difficulties.
Something else you notice on your first Beetle drive is that it is fun. Cars today are smooth, quiet and have free-revving engines; the Beetle offers none of those qualities which modern drivers deem so essential, yet driving along with that torque flat four chugging away in the ‘boot’ and making its presence felt in the passenger compartment both in vibration and decibels is actually a refreshing experience.
In these days of lean-burn engines and catalytic converters, some environmentally aware types might look upon the Beetle with some concern. The fuel consumption is hardly frugal by today’s standards and the pollution from the average Beetle exhaust is higher than environmentalists would like. Yet in reality the Beetle is both economical and surprisingly ’green’.
The economy stems from the fact that. Compared to almost any recent vehicle, the Beetle (new imported cars excepted) is essentially a non-depreciating car, so that, irrespective of fuel consumption, repair and other costs, Beetle ownership over a period of years is relatively cheap. For the price of two or three years’ depreciation on a new modern family saloon car, you can buy and run a Beetle. For the price of five years’ depreciation on the modern car, you should be able to buy , restore and run a Beetle and, after the five years are up, the modern car will have depreciated to the point at which it is practically worthless but the Beetle will still probably be worth a fair percentage of its purchase price and restoration costs.
The Beetle is also far more user-repairable than most. If not all, more recent cars; a fact which the DIY-inclined owner can use to bring down servicing and repair costs dramatically. Apart from any other consideration, all new cars sold on the UK market from January 1993 must be fitted with catalytic converters, which effectively mean that the simple and easily repaired carburetor will probably be supplanted. The flat four engine can be removed in a fraction of the time it take to remove the engines of most other cars (it takes minutes instead of hours), and the engine can be test-run on any suitable flat, hard surface before it is placed back in the car.

The car is ecologically ‘friendlier’ than many would have you believe. Most Beetles enjoy longer working lives than the average car, many out-lasting ordinary lives than the average car, many out-lasting ordinary cars by a factor of two, three or even more. Since 40 percent of the energy consumed by a vehicle occurs during its manufacture, the saving in pollution is obvious-catalytic converters and fuel consumption notwithstanding. In fact ecologists are slowly awakening to the idea that all cars should be manufactured to enjoy longer working lives in the interests of reduced pollution.
The Beetle can be a very reliable car, simply because there is last to go wrong with it. The fact that the engine is cooled by air means that there will be none of the problems with cracked engine blocks and cylinder heads in cold weather due to the expansion of frozen liquid coolant, with leaking radiators and hoses or which can afflict liquid-cooled engines and wreck some of them in a very short space of time.
Compare the Beetle with the average modern car. The modern car has by law to be fitted with a catalytic converter and hence normally fuel injection and they also have to be fitted with electronic ‘brains’ (the dreaded Engine Control Units) which meter out the fuel precisely in order to avoid damaging the catalytic converter. All of this technology should pose no problems when the car is new, but when it is a few years old then each extra component represents something else which is likely to go wrong and cause a breakdown. Those electronic components will probably in many instances prove to be the most fault-prone of the modern car.
What is perhaps worse is that the mechanic is no longer dealing with repairable components, but is very often faced with sealed units or electronic components which are so hopelessly sophisticated that it takes a degree in computer science in order to understand how they function. In other words, problems within some of these units can only be dealt with by straight (and expensive) replacement. This increases repair costs but more importantly it means that a modern car which breaks down miles from anywhere due to a problem with one of its electronics systems cannot be repaired there and then. It must either be towed away or stay where it is until the necessary component can be sourced and transported to it. The Beetle is so simple that most roadside breakdowns can be dealt with there and then without need of special equipment beyond a normal motorist’s took kit.

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