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The burning Volkswagen Kombi: a burning problem for a classic pickup

The air-cooled Volkswagen Kombi is an iconic vehicle that oozes character. Kombis are also practical. You can take them to work, take the family, and go camping in them, and you will still see that they are used daily and restored for occasional use. There are still many young boys and girls who would like to have one as a daily driver.

However, Volkswagen kombies have a disturbing flaw. They catch fire and then he says goodbye to Kombi.

So why do they catch fire and what can you do to prevent yours from burning?

I have not yet found a definitive article in a VW magazine, but I have been driving my 1976 2-liter window as my daily driver for over 14 years, so I have taken an interest in the problem and learned as much as I could. I will answer the question to the best of my ability.

There are actually a few different things that can cause the Kombi to burn out, but they all go back to fuel leaking into the engine compartment. Kombies have a fuel tank in front of and above the engine, a hose that runs from there to the fuel pump, and another hose that goes up through the tin to the carbies.

The kombies are old now and have a lot of age related issues unless they have been rebuilt. Even then, most likely not everything has returned to its new state.

One of those old age problems is cracked and deteriorated fuel lines. Most likely yours have been replaced, but check them anyway. When they crack, they can leak gas everywhere. One spark and your Kombi is history. Also, just below the engine are two hot heat exchangers that have the exhaust running through them. I don’t know what causes the biggest problem, the heat exchangers or the sparks, but it’s largely irrelevant when your truck goes up in smoke.

So check those fuel lines, and if you buy a kombi, don’t drive it anywhere with old, cracked fuel lines. Replace them! And don’t forget to check the hose from the fuel tank to the pump. It is out of the way and easily overlooked.

If you have loosened the fuel hoses several times, make sure you have not cut the hose with the edge of the clamp. It can happen, and then you have gas leaking onto the engine.

The fuel hose goes through the tin around the engine. Tinsmithing plays a very important role, it is essential to keep the engine cool. It’s almost as important as the radiator in water-cooled cars, so don’t throw it away. But check where the fuel line goes through the body shop. There should be a rubber grommet that protects the fuel line from the can. Mine eventually perished, and it was one of the few pieces that I couldn’t buy new, so I wrapped the fuel line in a piece of larger diameter hose to stop the chafing.

Another old age problem is where the fuel lines go to the carburetors. There is a brass inlet tube that is part of the carburetor and they come loose. You can imagine what happens. Suddenly, the gas going into the carburetor was spreading all over the engine. Goodbye Kombi!

I was very lucky. I was buying parts from a VW mechanic for a long time and he told me about that particular problem. I checked the inlet pipes shortly after, and one of them came out of the car very easily. I put it back in with loctite and check both inlet pipes regularly. If yours is loose, check with your mechanic and have it fixed before driving your truck again.

My Kombi also had loose inlet and outlet pipes at the fuel pump. They put them back in with loctite and also check them every time I do maintenance on the engine.

I have also encountered another problem. There is a rubber elbow near the fuel filler neck. Mine perished and I could smell gas, but couldn’t find the leak. I finally found fuel dripping on the bottom of the Kombi under the filler. Needles to say it was replaced before I drove it again.

I’m not saying I’ve listed everything that can cause a Kombi to burn out, so if a V-bender tells you other causes, listen to them. And keep a good eye on your kombis fuel lines. If you smell gas, find out where it comes from and fix it. It must be very depressing to sit on the side of the road watching your beloved Kombi go up in smoke.

And it happens. You will read about the burning of Kombis in VW magazines and forums, and I have heard of a couple of incidents personally. My wife was driving to work one day and later on there was a plume of smoke and the local fire team. While driving, he saw a burning kombie. The burned shell ended up in a storage yard near where I lived for a few weeks.

A couple of months later, the gas station attendant told me about his Kombi. His wife was driving him, smelled gas, and went into a gas station to get checked. The mechanic couldn’t see any leaks, so he kept driving. The Kombi burst into flames and that was the end.

Do not let that happen to you.

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