1983 VW Vanagon GL

Okay. I am 16 and my father and I have been trying to figure out the problem with the cooling system on my water-cooled vanagon. Among some other, more do-it-yourself-able problems, it overheats like you wouldn’t believe.

I understand that halfway through the year in 1983, VW had to switch their Vanagon design from air-cooled to water-cooled. We purchased it under the assumption that it was air-cooled, but after buying the manual, saw that it was definentally a water-cooled engine. ((The engine is located in the back and the radiator located under the grill in the front))

For a while we have been trying to locate the thermostat, but have had no luck.

1) Does anyone know of a book title for the 1983 water-cooled Vanagon?

2) There is a specialist on VW’s near where I live, and I am thinking about calling him to take a look at the van. Is this something I should consider doing?

3) Does anyone else know about some other reasons for this happening?

At worst, could we need a new radiator?

Some more info:

After about 15 minutes of driving the van, if you are on the highway at 70, it has pegged the top of the heat dial.

The van can handle driving about 40-45 for almost half an hour if you are careful about it.

We checked the Vin # online, and it came up as invalid.

I would check with these guys first:


The thermostat will be somewhere on the engine, likely near a radiator hose. I suggest that you are more likely to find that the radiator needs a cleaning or replacement than a thermostat.

Check Books4Cars.com for a service manual. A manual will be immensely helpful if you are attempting do-it-yourself work on this vehicle.

Your local phone book should tell you if there is a VW specialist in your area.

1: The Bentley Publishing Co.'s manual is the one to have for VW’s. Make sure you get it for the water-cooled version, though they might be in the same manual.

2: By all means! You will want to foster a relationship with a VW specialist. Even if you do most of your work yourself, the VW guys are usually used to helping do-it-yourselfers and can often get the best parts for cheap.

3: One possibility I can think of is that for these models, VW has a special anti-freeze that they are adamant about you using. I’m not quite sure what failure to use it will do, but its entirely possible someone along the line didn’t. Also, because of the size of the cooling system, the Wasserboxer vans are very sensitive to low coolant level and failing water pumps. But the thermostat sounds like the likely thing-- it will be located at the connection of the coolant hose that goes into the top of the engine.

Oh, also the VIN came up invalid because 1983 was before standardized VIN’s. If you type something along the lines of “VW Vanagon VIN Decoding” into google, you can probably find a site that has information on what the numbers and letters mean.