Brake lines replacement

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Brake Lines Replacement on a 1988 VW Vanagon GL

My wife and I just bought a 1988 Vanagon. During CAA inspection the front left and right rear brake lines burst causing the van to fail inspection. We bought it anyway and negotiated the price down quite a bit from what the seller was asking.

I replaced every single metal and flexible line in the van. It took me an entire day 8 to 10 hours plus bleeding and adjusting time. But it was worth it. I drove the van on Sunday and it works great!

What you Need

Parts required to do the entire van from front to back. I found it all at Napa (i bought mine in Shawinigan QC. If I can find it in Shawinigan you can find this stuff anywhere!

  • Brake fluid (I bought dot4) 2 pints
  • Steel Brake lines 10mm bubble flair connector with a diameter of 3/16 (4.75mm) See diagram...Buy some spare in case you kink the lines while bending!
    • 60 inches (X3) about 10$ each (pre-flared with connectors)
    • 40 inches (x1) about 7$
    • 30 inches (x2) about 7$
    • 20 inches (x2) about 6$
    • 12 inches (x2) at about 5$
    • 1 10mm bubble flair female to female union.
  • Flexible lines (2 short ones in the rear 2 longer ones in the front)
    • sThese can be ordered through your car parts dealer and are $15-35 each
  • 8,10,11,12,14mm box wrenches
  • 2 good pairs of vice grips
  • A Turkey baster (to remove brake fluid from the master cylinder
  • A hammer (always need a hammer with a VW)
  • A 10 and 11 mm rusty bolt extractor looks like a double sided box wrench with two round ratchet ends (my old brake line connectors were really stuck these tools saved my life!) I got mine at Canadian Tire.
  • A pair of small bolt cutters (to cut your rusty brake lines)
  • A beer bottle to catch brake fluid. You can start with a full one and empty it, but don't drink the brake tastes horrible and it is poison!
  • Flashlight or Mechanics lamp
  • Phillips and flat head screwdrivers
  • Rubber mechanics gloves (brake fluid is bad for your skin and rusty brake lines mess up your knuckles!)

Brake Lines Diagram


Start in the Front

Once I got all of my parts and tools (and my full beer bottle) together I found a level driveway and raised the front end of the van on some sturdy ramps (it is nice to have room to work) I then removed the spare tire and set it to the side.

Empty your beer bottle. Climb into the driver seat with your turkey baster, 11mm box wrench, two 5 foot steel brake lines and empty beer bottle. Remove the shroud around the instrument cluster Pull up from the rear. Find you master cylinder and empty it with your baster and bottle. If your lines are as bad as mine you won't have to worry....gravity will have emptied the reservoir. Remove the instrument panel cluster (4 Phillips screws) and set it to the side. Use the 11mm wrench to remove the two steel brake lines from the master cylinder. Remove the vent shroud from in front of the transmission gear box (auto or standard they are both the same) just pull on it give it a good yank but don't break it! You will need to do this to have access to where the lines go through the floor.

Get under the van and look up towards the front where the spare tire goes. You will find the two lines coming through the floor. Cut one of them with your bolt cutters (I started with the front and it was on the driver's side in my van).

Get back into the cab and remove the cut line and replace it with a 5 foot section. Bend the line to follow the path up to the master cylinder and connect it to the rear hole on the driver's side of the master cylinder.

Be careful when bending the lines you don't want to kink or crimp them!

Now do the other one (for the rear) by repeating the same steps mentioned above (cut below, remove, replace).

Go back under the front of the Van. Look for the steering box. You will find a T brake line connection there (follow your cut line). Cut all of the lines as close to the connector as possible at the T and use your super Matercraft extractor to remove the old connectors. Try to reuse the "T" if you may look bad on the outside but I'll bet that it is still good. Besides they are hard to find and nothing beats the originals!

Connect the front line (driver's side) to the "T" run a 20-inch line to the driver's side and a 30-inch section to the passenger side. Cut and remove the old lines (close to the connectors again!)

Replace the Flexible hosing by removing the old ones with a 14mm box wrench. Keep the clips that were used to hold the hoses in place! Put in the new flexible hoses connected to the callipers and the new lines that you brought from the front "T."

Front is done!

Finishing with the Rear

The second line that you ran from the master cylinder runs to the rear but it goes through a booster first. You will find it by following the cut lines that go towards the passenger side. It is right beside the spare wheel well and just in front of the front beam. Cut the connectors from this booster taking note of which end was the in and which was the out. Use the rusty bolt extractor to get the old connectors out. Connect your 5 foot line that you ran from the master cylinder to the in and take another 5 foot section and run it towards the rear (I ran mine in the valley in the gas tank.)

It's time for a break and to raise the rear of your van as we did the front. Once again it is much better having room to move around when working on the van.

Use your union connection that you bought and put it on the end of the 5 foot section you ran over the gas tank. We now need to look for the "T" in the rear. I found mine just above the front of the transmission on the passenger side and man was it hard to get at! It took time (a lot) to get the "T" unbolted from the frame. Once I got it, I cut the lines and used the extractor to remove the old rusted connectors.

Pass a 40-inch section of steel line from the rear union you placed on the 5 foot section to your "T". I moved mine to a slightly better spot so that I could work on it again if I needed to. Remove the old lines to the flexible lines and replace the flex lines with the new ones. Pass a 12- to 20-inch line to the flexible hose on the passenger side and a 30-inch section to the flexible hose on the driver's side.

Keep the retaining clips and reuse them if you can. If not you can always find some way of fixing the lines to the frame.

There are 2 small sections (12 inches or so) of steel lines you still need to replace on the rear suspension. But by now I am sure you can figure it out.

That's it for the rear!

Bleed the Brake Lines

Fill up the Master Cylinder reservoir and bleed the brakes. You can Google "bleed your brakes" if you don't know how. Start with the rear passenger and then rear driver. You can then do front passenger then driver. You may need to bleed the lines a couple times (at least I did).

Test the brakes

Check for leaks. Make sure your emergency brake works (just in case). Test your system first by having the emergency brake all the way and jamming your feet on the break pedeal. If there is no leak, go for a test drive on a safe road.