The Volkswagen Taos And The Most Legendary Repair Manual Ever Written

The Volkswagen Taos And The Most Legendary Repair Manual Ever Written

The new compact Volkswagen SUV slated for North America will be called Taos, the company said today. Initially, I thought it was more name alphabet soup from the automaker but it turns out the name has roots in the most legendary VW repair guide ever written.

The Taos will slot in under the Tiguan and will compete with the Hyundai Konas and Honda HR-Vs of the world. VW said today it would debut October 13. VW said it was naming it Taos after the town of Taos, New Mexico, population 4,000, because, “It’s a small city that offers big things — from outdoor adventure to arts and design and great cuisine.”

Which, sure! The more interesting fact is that Taos was the home of John Muir, who wrote “How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step-by-Step Procedures For The Compleat Idiot,” first published in 1969. That book was one of the first — if not the first — repair guide in a genre — “How To Do X For Dummies” — that didn’t even exist yet.

Combined with illustrations by Peter Aschwanden, “How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive” became a phenomenon among VW owners and sold millions of copies in the decades after it was published, updated frequently, even after Muir died in 1977.

Here’s a representative snippet:

Step 1. Analysis

Read the procedure all the way through before you start. This will familiarise you with the problems and prepare your head for the operations that will be required.

Step 2. Preparation

Get all the tools and materials needed for the procedure together, prepare the location by maybe sweeping the area before putting the car there. Have the blocks and safety equipment ready. Make sure there is hand soap and rags, things like that. If the procedure calls for help, make arrangements with a friend. Arrange for any needed transportation.

Step 3. Safety

Cars can be dangerous and deadly weapons. They kill more people by accident than are shot on purpose. Keep your eye on your cute little bug and your wits together when working in and around its machinery. Especially when it’s running; spinning and sparkling, be super aware. A reader wrote us that it took his Bug, with a half a tank of gas, a few seconds less than 10 minutes to be consumed to nothing (zilch) by fire.

No matter how tired, cold, miserable or pissed off you are, don’t make “border line” decisions against safety and for convenience.

As we couldn’t possibly think up every bizarre situation you might run into, we’re listing a few, ‘regulars.’,

Carbon monoxide kills, so never run the engine in an enclosed garage or other building without plenty of ventilation. (This is suicide!)

Gasoline burns fast and well; that’s why it’s such good fuel for internal combustion engines. Make sure to wipe up all drips, spills, puddles, etc., right when they happen, especially when working around the engine compartment. And don’t light matches. Beware of the combination of spark and gas.

By the way, use a professional drop light with a wire or plastic cage or shield around the bulb when lighting up the engine compartment, and don’t hang it where it will drop. The hot filament of a broken bulb can cause gasoline to ignite.

Take off all jewellery, including rings (finger, nose or ear). Also remove scarves, neckties or any loose clothing and tuck long hair into a stocking cap when working on a car. A friend of ours had just finished doing a valve job, the engine was in and she started it with one tum of the key, when she went to the back to admire her engine and her prowess. She spaced out about her long, loose hair and leaned in to get a better look. A piece of that beautiful black hair got caught in the pulley and was yanked off her scalp. Fortunately, John was there with the instant reaction to turn off the key. She looked at that hank of hair, about ~” in diameter with some scalp on it, and tied it to the handle of her engine compartment as a reminder. For months we saw that little red bug, with the pony tail flying behind it, zipping around Taos.

When you need to support the car to work under it, support it well on level ground. Use good firm wooden blocks or good quality jack stands to block it. We definitely don’t recommend using cinder (cement) blocks, but if you’re caught in an emergency and there’s nothing else, make sure the holes in them go up and down, and not sideways. None of us would ever get under a car held up by cinder blocks.

Use safety goggles if there’s any chance a piece of flying metal (maybe even dirt) could land in your eye.

If while you’re working you have loose and dangly wires hanging around, disconnect the battery ground strap.

Having a fire extinguisher around may be handy, but we hope you’d never have to use it. Most important-KEEP ALERT AND AWARE! See Changes and New Ideas at the back of the book.

Step 4. Miscellaneous Instructions

Get someone to read the steps to you the first time you do a procedure and even the second. There’s nothing worse than trying to tum pages with greasy hands or trying to read while lying under the car with dirt falling in your eyes. Besides, two heads are better than one but you must know that.

Double check everything! In other words, do the step and then have it read again so you can see if you did everything right.

Equip the reader with a pencil so notes can be taken while you are down there looking at the thing.

Take your time! Just do the job once and well. You have an eternity! DON’T IMPROVISE! Just do it the way it says.

Wear the right clothes. There’s no way better to keep peace in the family than to wear car clothes to work on the car.

Step 5. Goof-ups

When you strip a thread, twist off a stud, drop a bolt into the engine and like that, don’t freak out-turn to Chapter XVI, written for these contingencies. Smile!

Step 6. Cleanliness

Keep everything clean as you go along. Clean parts so they shine, or get someone to do it. When you are through, clean your tools and put them away before you take your coveralls off, then clean yourself and change your clothes before you drive the car or at least cover the seat with something so you don’t get the inside greasy.

Step 7. Love

This is a tough one and will make or break you. You must do this work with love or you fail. You don’t have to think, but you must love. This is one of the reasons I have nice tools. If I get hung up with maybe a busted knuckle or a busted stud, I feel my tools, like art objects or lovely feelies until the rage subsides and sense and love return. Try it, it works.


“How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive” is full of stuff like this, both of its time and timeless. These days, spiral-bound versions sell for hundreds of dollars on Amazon but you can still get a paperback version there for around $US25 ($34); alternatively, PDF versions aren’t hard to find on the internet if you go looking.

Muir himself was a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, Here’s a bit more about him from their alumni magazine:

John Muir was born in 1918, which made him old to be a hippie. Ane yet a hippie he was. When he married for the third time in 1968, the entire Hog Farm commune attended, including Wavy Gravy, the DayGlo jester. After graduating from Berkeley, he worked in aerospace, including a stint at NASA, but eventually dropped out and found his way to Taos, New Mexico, where he set up a repair shop called John’s Garage. It was there, and in Mexico’s San Miguel de Allende, that Muir set to writing his manual, which he filled with soulful, folksy advice on everything from buying a car (assume the lotus position and meditate before taking the plunge) to how to drive (never, ever lug the engine) to step-by-step instructions for doing a complete engine rebuild. When it was finished he recruited Taos-based artist Peter Aschwanden to illustrate the text with whimsical, R. Crumb-inspired drawings. It was a perfect pairing, like Hunter S. Thompson and Ralph Steadman, and helped cement the book’s countercultural appeal.

The timing of the book in many ways could not have been better, for Muir or for a generation of burgeoning car enthusiasts. Taos is, I’ll venture, one of the most appropriate names for a Volkswagen ever.

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