Here's Everything I Fixed To Prep My 250,000-Mile Diesel Manual Chrysler Minivan For Germany's Rigorous Inspection

Illustration for article titled Heres Everything I Fixed To Prep My 250,000-Mile Diesel Manual Chrysler Minivan For Germanys Rigorous Inspection
Photo: David Tracy

I’ve been wrenching for over a month on my Graz, Austria-built 1994 Chrysler Voyager (diesel, manual!), preparing it for Germany’s notoriously tough “TÜV” safety and emissions inspection. Here’s every single thing I fixed to give myself the best chance of passing one of the toughest mandatory vehicle inspections on earth.

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It’s been over two weeks since I’ve given an update on Project Krassler, a diesel manual Chrysler Voyager designed in the U.S., built in Austria, and sold in Italy before making its way to Germany. That’s where I bought it sight unseen for $600. My vision when I initially asked my Nürnberg-based friend Andreas to purchase the van on my behalf — far from my Michigan home — was to fix the machine, somehow get it past Germany’s vehicle inspection, turn it into a mobile apartment, and then live in the van as I road-trip through Europe.

That vision remains, though I have to admit that the timing has slipped a bit, mostly because sourcing parts locally has been so difficult (not a surprise given that this is an old, rare American van—one of 23 second-gen diesel Voyagers registered on German roads according to Andreas’s look at German government records). Also, I find myself just generally fatigued these days, so that doesn’t help.

Despite these hurdles, I’ve managed to do lots of wrenching on the van. Check out the video above to see everything I’ve fixed in the last month and a half.

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I Got The Motor Running

The most important thing that I fixed is the engine, which initially leaked diesel fuel and didn’t run. I can thank an Erlangen-based reader named Loyal (a self-proclaimed “farm kid” from the U.S.) for helping me bleed the fuel system and get the four-cylinder running beautifully. Click the video or instagram embed above to listen to the glorious 250,000 mile 2.5-liter turbodiesel.

To help that motor crank over without the help of a jump-start, I bought a new battery for $100, and to keep the motor clean, I replaced the air filter, oil filter, and fuel filter. Otherwise, the motor is as I bought it; it seems quite healthy and it passed my cylinder head crack/head gasket leak test. This was a huge relief, because these VM Motori engines are notorious for cracking their four individual cylinder heads.

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But getting this van past Germany’s inspection was going to require much more than just getting the motor running. Though my van, initially sold by an Italian Chrysler dealership back in 1994, is pretty much completely rust free, there were still plenty of issues.

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I Replaced Lots Of Rubber Parts

The rubber parts were particularly bad, namely the sway bar bushings, rear leaf spring bushings, and engine mounts.

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Photo: David Tracy

I snagged some new sway bar bushings from my go-to car parts site here in Germany, kfzteile24.de, and while installing them should have been a breeze, I ended up breaking a bolt. How I managed to snap a fastener on a vehicle as rust-free as this van, I’m unsure. But as someone who’s spent a substantial amount of time in Michigan, I wasn’t too worried. I’d been dealing with this kind of thing for years.

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I welded a nut onto the broken bolt shaft that was stuck in my subframe, and just zipped the broken piece out with an impact:

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The engine mounts were undoubtedly the most difficult parts to find. What I’ve learned while working on this American car in Germany is that finding chassis parts is pretty easy, as I can have those delivered from the U.S. if need be. Finding motor parts? That’s also pretty simple, since this VM engine found its way into Land Rovers, Alfa Romeos, and numerous other cars through the years.

What’s most difficult, though, is finding parts that are specific to European Voyagers. Engine mounts are a good example. After lots of searching, I managed to find the engine torque mount on a Portuguese website. The tiny bushing cost me a ridiculous $40:

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I didn’t really have much of a choice, though, as the old bushing was completely torn:

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The big passenger’s side engine mount was also a bit of a problem. I initially ordered one from an eBay store out of the U.S., since the part actually appeared to be common to the gas models. Unfortunately, the part shipped overseas was the wrong component, and I had to send it back.

The good news is that I found the right engine mount on German eBay, but unfortunately, it had a manufacturing defect, so I had to do a bit of drilling to get it to work:

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The last rubber parts I replaced were rear leaf spring shackle bushings, which were cracked and definitely not worthy of Germany’s Autobahn:

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With the help of my mom, and with parts from a Hamburg-based American car parts store called Kilan Shop, I got the new bushings in just a couple of days. Look at these beauties:

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I Replaced Quite A Few Front Suspension Parts

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The front suspension needed some work. One of the first things I noticed when I put my van on the hoist was that the passenger’s side wheel bearing was ruined. Putting one hand at the top of the tire and the other at the bottom, my friend Andreas shook the wheel and noticed quite a bit of slop. That usually means that either a ball joint or wheel bearing is toast. In my case, it was the wheel bearing.

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I unfortunately had to order six wheel bearings to finally get the right parts in (again, getting the right parts for this American/European van has been a real chore), and while swapping the driver’s side one, I noticed that my ball joint and tie rod each had a cracked boot. So I changed the ball joints and tie rod ends on both sides for good measure.

Here’s one of the old ball joints (you can see the cracking rubber up top):

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Here’s one of the new ones:

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Here’s one of the old tie rod ends:

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Here’s one of the new ones:

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The photo above shows a new driver’s side outer CV joint. During my maiden drive, I’d heard lots of clicking coming from the axle—a telltale sign of bad CV joint bearings. I decided to replace the CV joints on both axles, though in retrospect, maybe I should have just replaced the two axle shafts (as you’ll read a few paragraphs down, swapping just the joints didn’t go well).

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I moved the knuckle out of the way, and pried the axle out of the transmission. I then hammered the outer CV joint off the shaft.

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The new CV joint, shown above, came with a new clip for the axle shaft, which holds the shaft onto the inner bearing race in the CV joint. Unfortunately, I apparently hadn’t hammered the new CV joint onto the shaft hard enough, and the clip didn’t grab. This caused some issues:

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Luckily, the axle just slipped out of the joint and destroyed the rubber boot. A new boot, some fresh grease, and a few hours of wrenching, and the axle was all back together.

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I also took care of the passenger’s side CV joint (shown above), just to be safe, though my god was it hard to get the joint off the shaft, as I mentioned in my previous article about my disastrous weekend.

Again, I almost think I should have just bought two new axle shafts and swallowed the $90-ish bucks. I say “almost,” because I am a cheap bastard first and foremost.

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I Cleaned Up Some Rust

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Rust really doesn’t slide with German car inspectors, so I was sure to break out the grinder and paint. The spare tire mount, shown above prior to its transformation, looks much better now:

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The brake line conduits also had some surface rust, so I hit them with a grinder and some grease to keep the rust from ever reappearing.

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Here’s how those lines look now:

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There were a couple of small rust holes on my exhaust, so my friend Tim—an incredibly skilled and trained mechanic—welded up what he could with his cheap welder.

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Here he is at work:

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New Tires

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As a general rule, I buy my tires used from junkyards. It’s the best way for me to get new-ish, high quality, name brand tires for dirt cheap. But I didn’t have time to scour used tire shops in Germany, and new tires were cheap enough at $60 apiece.

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Some great Turkish guys in a garage just a few yards from the one I’m working in offered to mount my tires for $60, so now I’ve got my seven year-old rubber off and brand new tires in place, ready to soak up European roads.

I Fixed/Replaced My Cracked Lights

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The front turn signal on my passenger’s side had a giant crack in it, so I hit up eBay.de and snagged a pair for ~$12 each (I’ll be selling the driver’s side one, as mine is fine).

My headlight bracket was also cracked, allowing the beam to bounce all over the place as the car hit bumps.

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Photo: David Tracy

A bit of epoxy took care of that:

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From there, my friend Tim helped me adjust the headlight and foglights, the aims of which were were way off. Check out the cool machine that he uses for this. I’ll have to show you how this is done in a later post, but basically each car has a prescribed headlight angle that, in the case of my van, is listed via a sticker on the radiator support (my Voyager’s is 1.3 degrees). You set the machine to that angle, and make sure the beam pattern follows the markings inside the lens. The machine tells you not just if the pattern is right, but if the light is bright enough:

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I Installed Some Badges

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When it comes to German TÜV inspection, I’m told that optics matter. Show up in a dirty old shitbox with body panels painted different colors, and there’s a chance you’ll be written up for every small infraction. Show up in something that looks well cared for, and you might get away with a bit more. At least, that’s the theory.

My van was missing badging on the rear, and the double-sided tape leftover just looked hideous. While I realize that badges aren’t exactly the highest priority, I bought some from eBay for ~$10 each, and they make a big difference, I think.

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I’m especially a fan of the “Turbo Diesel” badge. It’s just badass to see that on a van.

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I Replaced The Rear Wiper “Refill”

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Since my rear wiper’s washer nozzles are integrated into the blade, and I didn’t think I could find a new blade at a good price, I just replaced the rubber strip, called the “refill.” I’ve written about how this works in a little article; check that out if you’re unfamiliar with how to replace just the rubber strip in a wiper blade.

I Affixed The Lower Dash Trim

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Every time I pulled my park brake release handle, my lower dash would move all over the place. There was a screw missing, so I replaced that, and now all is well.

I Fixed The Reverse Lights

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My friend Tim noticed that my reverse lights weren’t activating when I shifted into “R.” The bulbs looked fine, leading us to suspect that the reverse switch was bad. We jumped the connector, and saw the lights come on, confirming the problem.

There was no way I was going to get a reverse switch for a Chrysler manual transmission in Germany, at least not quickly. So the solution was to just fiddle with the switch. I grabbed the hex part with a wrench, held the plastic part with vice grips, and just twisted the two sections relative to one another. Eventually, the switch woke up!

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I Fixed The Slop In My Shifter, But Had To Fabricate A Part To Do It

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The Instagram album above tells it all. I went to replace the four rubber bushings in my shifter linkage, and ended up breaking a bracket on the top of the transmission.

Obviously, finding a Chrysler transmission part as random as this in Germany wasn’t going to be easy, so I simply fabricated a new bracket with some steel I snagged at the hardware store for $4.

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All That Work And Yet...

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Expect an article soon about how the inspection went. I’d say “well” is not the appropriate term.

Sr. Technical Editor, Jalopnik. Always interested in hearing from auto engineers—email me. Cars: Willys CJ-2A ('48), Jeep J10 ('85), Jeep Cherokee ('79, '91, '92, '00), Jeep Grand Cherokee 5spd ('94).

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