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Observational Inspections

T.P. Stephens

How do you know how much is too much or not enough maintenance??? If you
follow glove box Owner's Manual and Maintenance Manual rules of thumb for
standard intervals, can you assume that all the rates of WEAR for the way
you use your car will contribute to the life you expect or the life the
engineers had in mind?? I say, only if you continue reading and find and
follow where it says EXTREME CONDITIONS. It tends to require halving all
intervals for such things as stop and go traffic, short range use, dusty or
arctic conditions, commercial use, you know the way they are typically used
in fact by most. It's a rule of thumb approach to a rule of thumb optimum
use standard which is atypical of the norm in actual use.

Note that every single individual chassis of any makemodelyear in use will
be used uniquely. It will be subjected to unique events in every way except
the purpose to travel from A to B. It will be used in a myriad of ways more
particularly if it is a VW Bus or Van. They can be put to 100's of uses.
But back to maintenance, how do you know which of two rules of thumb to
use. I suggest you replace the rules of thumb with observations by
inspection as the motivating info you need to prove your maintenance is not
just adequate, but LEAST wasteful of TIME/MONEY to get the CHEAPEST RESULTS
EXPECTED that can be termed rational.

The CHEAPEST result is the anti-thesis to PREMATURE FAILURE if the goal is
proper fixin' that stays fixed and even no need of fixin' at all via
rational observational inspections. That's why you must establish a
criteria as to what you expect in terms of fixed for now or a little while
or fixed right. How do we eVALUEate this??? The actual needs of your unique
chassis for maintenance, repair or restoration are all dependent upon
actual use, unique in every case. On the other hand is what the owner wants
or expects. You can know what the vehicle needs by rational inspection
only. This can't be harmonized with irrational wants or expectations of the
owner. Of course, the owner is in no place to rationalize anything in a
state of ignorance. Where does he get the data?? He can get all he needs
himself with his eyes, nose, fingers and ears. I have found the tongue of
use very rarely.

Those printed rules of thumb are guides. They are a negotiated compromise
by and to and between the marketing branch and the engineering branch. They
cannot hold a candle to maintenance by inspection at the correct intervals
learned by the notes from the inspections themselves as they progress in
unique fashion as the miles add up from the show room or that used
BUSVANEURO with the "new motor" you just bought.

To get started on documenting the proof of correct maintenance for your
BUSVANEURO for the unique uses you use it will require expense to the tune
of a $0.39 spiral pad and you could probably visit any golf shop and nab a
pencil for free. The whole world changes when you start writing things
down, recording facts for future VALUE, long term VALUE, lowest possible
cost per mile for indefinite term VALUE, which is the true Scottish CHEAP,
ie NOTHING WASTED. You have no need of an eraser. If you want perfection of
function you can get surveyor's books with nicely columned and grids and
lined and numbered pages. If you want aesthetics cover the book in fabric
of choice, like say, matching your custom curtains in the Westy. If the
inspections are going to be unique, so shall the record book be unique. If
you succeed in getting down the road the distance the engineers had in mind
when they designed it you will end up with a series of 3 of these 80 page
books at 300,000 miles with a vehicle in functional order and all
weaknesses noted for addressing at the next inspection after the parts and
lubricants have been obtained and verified as suitable to purpose. For
digital age nerds, you can iPaq it into a data base or spread sheet.

Of VALUE to note is ALL observations. Date, mileage, and notes of
observations. If you check the oil at every gas fill, note it's level. "1/3
above add, add half quart". If you continue you will know in time your rate
of oil use. If you continue you will know if the rate changes. At your
convenience you can look into it at the next lube lube change. Also note
color, smell and texture. Characterize these observations with words on
paper for future recall. Once you have been 10,000 miles notes down the
road with your new BUSVANEURO you will know then just how less often is
required for continued monitoring.

If the oil is dark after only one tank of gas, it's been quickly used up by
the crud in the engine. It dissolved all the built up crud it could, it's
fully loaded, it has packed the filter with crud and it's time to reduce
the rate of wear again after only 300 miles. Change it every 300 miles till
all the crud is dissolved and removed and you can get perhaps 1000 mile
intervals before it gets overloaded again. If you feel grit, how do you
think your cam lobes feel about that??? you waited far too long, no matter
any rule of thumb. This is just simple demonstration of the principle. If
observation says change it soon before it gets gritty or another shade
toward dark, change it like the machine is showing you and ignore rule of
thumb. You have observed facts as a better indicator of when to schedule

This principle applied with rigor will double the life of everything on the
car, insure least possible inconveniences like tow bills to the shop from
hell, and of the highest VALUE will put you in a position of knowledge such
that you have no need of wasting TIME/MONEY on any assumptions or guesses.
If someone asked, "How often do you change your oil??" You could reply,
"Precisly as often as is required to prevent excess wear rates." How do you
do that? Via observation and notes.

Another note on the principle. If you anticipate by observed weaknesses an
upcoming issue and take care of it at the next inspection it's not a
component failure, it's not repair, it's replacement via maintenance
inspection. With proper inspections for the way you use your car you can
watch the compression balance and know a year ahead of any failure to
replace it as a matter of the next inspection. Rule of thumb throws the
door open to unexpected failure. Observational Inspections done properly
rules then out. The difference is just that distinct.

The only other low hassle option is 3 or 5 times as expensive for a million
miles of service. Buy a new car, run it under light use maintenance rules
of thumb until it starts needing repair a few years out of warranty then
sell it or trade it for a new car. It will take you 5 or 6 cars at least to
make a million miles if you run stop and go and hold to 7500 miles
suggested light duty rule of thumb inspection intervals that are not even
inspections, just oil changes.

And if you dutifully log all your gas as well, you will see that if you in
fact run 20,000 miles on your spark plugs then change them, your gas
mileage will show an increase measurable over time, even though rule of
thumb says 30,000. Monitoring your gas use and noting changes in the
numbers over time is a superior diagnostic tool of high VALUE in
anticipating and resolving the issue prior to wasting gas/money that is
better used to maintain a better rate.

There is simply no such thing as too much data. Paper is cheap, use lots of it.

Doktor Tim
Maintenance Repair and Restoration of European Vehicles
San Juan Island, WA

Doktor Tim can be reached at doktortim(at)

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