Here’s Why My Diesel Manual Chrysler Voyager Failed Germany’s Ridiculously-Strict TÜV Inspection. Again.

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Germany’s TÜV inspection is one of the toughest vehicle safety inspections in the world, and my 260,000 mile diesel, manual Chrysler Voyager Minivan has been getting its ass kicked by it since 2020. It was then that I went through the inspection three times before finally making it through; with that under my belt, I was certain the vehicle would pass all subsequent TÜV inspections for years to come. I was wrong. Just today, the van failed; here’s why.

My biggest worry with Germany’s TÜV inspection is that technicians sometimes don’t know the ins and outs of all the cars they’re dealing with. That may seem like someone venting their frustrations, but it’s not — it’s acknowledged as a major problem by the “Oldtimer” car community here in Germany. Take two of the reasons why my 1994 Chrysler Voyager failed its inspection back in 2020 (see below): The rear brakes were considered too weak and the steering column wasn’t locking properly.

Neither of these were actual issues. The steering lock was just behaving in a way that the inspector didn’t understand (the inspector wasn’t used to there being a separate “off” and “lock” position), and the rear brakes were in perfect shape. I later called The Chrysler Voyager King of Germany, Tizian, who told me that all of his Voyagers tended to fail TÜV due to the inspectors’ scorecards containing overly optimistic target values for rear braking force.

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Luckily, this time around, my inspector didn’t fail the van for the weak brakes or an ignition he wasn’t used to or anything like that, though he did find some things

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First, the inspector claims the headlights are too dim; he’s not wrong that they’re dim, but Chrysler headlights from this era just were dim. My van’s bulbs are new, the wiring has been replaced, and the light looks about as bright as what I’m used to in 1990s-era Chrysler products. I know he’s got target light output values that my van needs to hit, but any inspector used to dealing with 1990s Chryslers would say “Yeah, these suck, but that’s just how these things are.”

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Actually, looking at that photo, maybe he’s got a point. Those really, really suck.

Second, my inspector discovered grease leaking from an outer CV boot that I had replaced. He’s totally right on this one, though I do think he’s being a bit picky. The boot is new, and it’s not cracked; it appears that the clamp is a little loose, and a bit of grease has oozed out. Could this affect braking performance theoretically? If it somehow gets to the brake pad or disk. I don’t expect that it will; still, this should be an easy fix — just tighten the clamp, and boom: done.

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The problem is that the headlight fix will not be easy. In fact, I’m really worried about it. Euro-spec headlights for a Chrysler Voyager (they’re mounted differently than U.S.-spec headlights, which weren’t required to have a leveling feature to keep the lights down when the vehicle’s rear was loaded, plus the beam pattern is a bit different) are basically unobtainium. Here’s a single New Old Stock for $330:

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Used ones are often listed at over $100, and they’re probably in no better shape than the ones in my vehicle:

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So what’s the solution? I don’t know yet. I’ve purchased some better bulbs than the crappy gas station ones I’d snagged for 5 Euros, and I have a lens restoration kit, which I hope will allow more light through:

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But I don’t think these two are going to be enough, and I don’t know what other options I have. Looking in my engine bay, it appears based on the paired relays near each headlight that someone already installed a headlight booster kit (which, if I understand it correctly, allows for a more direct path from the battery to each bulb to maximize brightness). Here’s how a booster kit looks:

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And here’s the setup in my car (yeah, I know, it’s a rat’s nest. The previous owner was messy with wiring):

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So if the wiring is okay, the bulb is good, and I can’t afford new headlight housings, then what’s the solution? I really don’t know yet, though the aforementioned Chrysler Voyager King of Germany suggested I send my headlight housings out to be restored. There are services like “Reflektorklinik.de” in Germany that will re-coat the reflectors in the headlight housings for about $60 a pop, though I’d have to carefully remove the lenses using heat; check it out:

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Here’s a look at my Voyager’s reflector situation; you can see how some of the reflective coating has faded away, and black plastic is showing through:

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Who knows; maybe the new bulbs and the lens cleaning kit will get me over the hump. I sure hope so. Tighten the clamp, squeeze out a few more lumens from those headlights, and I should be good. Screen Shot 2022 07 26 At 8.50.53 Pm

In all honestly, this inspection could have been so much worse. A few months ago, as my dad was driving the van, the thing just shut off. After a bit of diagnosis, I learned that the problem was that the engine computer wasn’t sending a steady signal to the fuel shutoff solenoid valve, meaning the valve would close and shut the engine off. The output from the computer appeared to be eight volts, which seemed low to me, so I just used it to trigger a relay, which sent 12 volts to the solenoid to allow fuel flow. This didn’t work either — at least, not under heavy acceleration, as the signal seemed to cycle the relay and shut off the fuel intermittently. During low pedal applications, it worked fine.

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I fixed this by bypassing the engine computer, so that — instead of the engine computer triggering the relay to send 12 volts to the fuel valve — the ignition switch did the triggering. I actually used the underhood OBD connector (see above) — which feeds 12 volts to the OBD reader when the ignition is on — as the source for the relay trigger (I also wired in a cutoff safety switch in the cabin, hence the two relays below). Now the van works great (though the computer can no longer shut the car off to protect itself — hence the safety switch), though even the inspector mentioned that he wasn’t thrilled to see this wiring situation:Screen Shot 2022 07 26 At 9.00.40 Pm

Still, he gave me a pass, his CV boot assessment is technically correct, and he’s not wrong that my headlights are dim, so overall, this time around wasn’t too bad. Though getting these lights bright enough may be a bigger job than I’d like.

 

 

 

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156 Responses

  1. I don’t know if David is still active on this thread, and I read as much as I could before wanting to choke myself out, but I agree with some of what I read that the booster might not be doing much in this case; at least not like it should.

    The place to go looking for help, if one is so inclined, is in forums for the 944, where weak headlights are also acknowledged as a problem. On that car, the issue is that the power to the headlights is routed through the switch. As the switch degrades over time, resistance builds and the headlights become dimmer. It’s important to note that headlight brightness is not linear with voltage. Small decreases in the input have large drops in lumen output at the headlights.

    What the headlight relay is supposed to be doing is feeding those relays with power directly from the alternator, or battery. You then use the headlight switch to activate the relays, which then send the power to the lights with much less voltage drop. Voila, brighter lights.

    So yeah, check that booster, or get a proper headlight relay harness, but at the very least check the voltage you’re getting at the lights themselves. I bet it’s pretty low and a big part of the problem.

    Good luck

  2. My issue with David (and many other Americans) is their concern with passing the test and not with safety. I would never knowingly drive a car with those headlights and I surely wouldn’t loan it to my father.

    I daily drive old cars but I try to keep them to a safe standard, generally better than new with upgraded lighting, brakes, and occupant safety systems. I firmly believe this is a responsibility to myself, my passengers, those around me, and to the old car hobby in general.

    1. First, I’m both German and American.

      Second, I inspect my vehicles more carefully and frequently than literally anyone I know. I keep very careful tabs on the states of my machines, and I do not drive dangerous cars. If I hear a weird noise, I fix it immediately. I know what shape my car’s underbody components are in because I look at them regularly. You gotta realize: This is not the case for the layperson. (Also, to imply that I’d put my dad in danger is unfair. It’s a factory headlight that’s a bit dim, and a tiny bit of grease. Relax!).

      You’ve see the vehicles I’ve rescued — completely rusted-out hulks (the POStal Jeep, the FC-170, the Willys CJ-2A). These are things I’ve taken from undrivable nothingmobiles to 5,000-mile road-trip champions; to do that with a perfect safety record requires precision and a thorough knowledge of engineering.

      My concern with vehicle inspections in general is the same concern you have with “Americans”: It’s not always about safety, it’s about rules. Like, the fact that you can fail an inspection because of a small underbody rust hole — seriously, what’s the issue, there? Who is that endangering? That’s just an example of the inspection no longer serving the public, and instead just pricing folks out of vehicles.

      With that said, I did author the article “All States Should Have Mandatory Vehicle Safety Inspections.” I’m actually pro-inspection, and generally, I don’t mind TÜV; sometimes you can chat with the technicians, and they’ll be reasonable.

      1. I agree with you on surface rust and pin holes in the body and a bunch of other silly requirements like paint chips. Those are not safety items. If we have a disagreement it is on our definitions of meticulous and safe.

        Those headlights are not safe if you are driving at night. Bodging up an ECU bypass wire is fine to get you home. Treating it as a permanent fix is not meticulous.

        Sometimes I think you are just playing ‘Captain Click’ and trolling us with your rust and bodges. And it’s working. I am looking forward to reading about your culture and climate shock when you arrive in LA.

        1. The ECU bypass is a permanent and safe solution; it’s meticulous because I engineered it after poring over wiring diagrams and studying the system — I’m not guessing, here. The headlights were fine, just as the last inspector determined; I bet some lens cleaning and new bulbs will solve it.

      1. Check this:
        https://www.adac.de/rund-ums-fahrzeug/ausstattung-technik-zubehoer/licht-und-beleuchtung/scheinwerfer-polieren/#:~:text=Auf%20Anfrage%20der%20ADAC%20Experten,oder%20%C3%A4hnliche%20Verfahren%20ist%20unzul%C3%A4ssig.%22

        With polishing your lights you change them from a technical point of view, at least that’s what the TÜV says. Still many people do it and often the TÜV does not care about it…but sometimes they do…

        1. That’s absolutely stupid.
          Bug guts will eat through the protective coating and allow the lenses to yellow. At that point its changed component wise. Do Germans not allow bugs in their country? And that’s just one of the possible ways that the lenses can change component-wise.

          What an absolutely asinine decision.

          1. Well I am totally with you…my bmw has the typical problem that cars with plastic headlights have…so I am curious about what will happen next year at the next inspection. Luckily, ONE headlight only costs 1600€.

  3. Many years ago, the inspector at Hohenfels had a reputation as a hard case… Who didn’t like to get too dirty. Not saying it’s right, but plenty of folks had a 3-step inspection routine:
    1. Wait for a good, soaking couple of rainy days.
    2. Find a soggy tank trail.
    3. Pass inspection.

    Is it right? No. But when you get failed for a rust hole on the underside of the car, just behind the front tire, it’s hard to argue pedestrian safety. “Poor soul *would* have survived getting run over by an old 3-series, if only he didn’t get tetanus from that rusty patch!”

      1. I finally convinced the boss to condemn an old flatbed trailer we don’t often use. I was doing some wiring on it and smashed my knee into the back end of the frame… And hurt the trailer. My knee was fine. That thing makes Project POStal look good.

  4. This is probably silly, but if your battery is not at 100% and you might have any other drain on it other than the lights, depending on how your charging system and everything works (is the test while the engine is on) it could be getting a tiny bit of lesser voltage than optimum.

  5. DT. How/Why are you getting this inspected under a USAREUR stamp? I get that you’re an Army Brat, but what’s the deal here? Just odd to me.
    I haven’t been in country in many years. Maybe the rules (Status of Forces Agreement maybe?) have changed?

  6. Just import the vehicle to the good ol’ US of A… you’re past the 25 year waiting period, so you’re good there. Then, make the short drive down to Indiana and register it here (well, might have to establish an LLC with a PO box to do this right and register it to the business). Because we don’t even do smog checks in the hoosier state (unless you live in a Chicago suburb county), they’ll let you drive practically anything here. The only thing they check for in Indiana when you register is proof of ownership and insurance. Maybe get a new license here too… we have race cars on our licenses now.

  7. David,
    Have you checked the output of your alternator? It seems like you have a few issues on that van caused by low voltage. If that checks out OK, I wonder if you could use an actual ‘DCDC boost’ circuit to push the voltage at the headlights to 16v or so. For redundancy, I would use one DCDC per headlight.
    https://www.ebay.com/itm/265185011764?chn=ps&mkevt=1&mkcid=28
    You only need a couple of volts more to make a big difference in brightness.
    I did something similar on my model T. I wanted to keep the car stock with a 6v system, but I needed 12v for some nice soft-white LED bulbs that were bright enough to actually use at night.

    1. If the bulbs are certified and approved for the road use by Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt, then they are allowed. Kraftfahr-Bundesamt (KBA) is the federal agency responsible for evaluating, certifying, and approving the motor vehicles, OEM and aftermarket parts, accessories, and likes.

  8. David – a quick, cheap fix to pass inspection is to use bug spray with deet in it. Just spray it on a paper towel, wipe on, wipe off, repeat. Then clean it with windex a few times to get the remaining deet off the plastic. Yes, it works by melting the plastic. No, it is not permanent, and not exactly an elegant fix. It will probably get them clear enough to pass your inspection, though.

  9. Hi David,
    AlClad “Chroming” paint could come handy if you wish to give your bezels some more shine.
    Out of topic: I can’t remember you referring to “One head per cylinder” for your VM engine. They also made 5- and 6-straight blocks with 5-6 heads…
    My 1995 White-Whale-From-Rhine-River Scorpio sedan can testify.
    Now if I could just put my hands on a rear bumper…
    Best luck to you and your mini van.

        1. Beh… Always, why not? 5-speed manual here (oh, and original clutch and gearbox) plus some high compression per cylinder.
          OK: 90% double-clutching.
          Same for always downshifting with auto trans on other cars: +/- gearshift or palettes. (Exception: downsized gas-powered engines: no engine brake, just some hi-rev, useless, unpleasant noise unless I mean to be on the appropriate gear ahead of a curve).
          Ahem… I must acknowledge some 40-60.000 km (25-37.000-mi) lasting rear pads: rear electronic brake force distribution seems to prevail here.

  10. Uhm, why not just buy some LED headlight bulbs? They make them to plug in to anything now and they use a tenth of the juice of a halogen. If you really want to get fancy for a few Euros more you can get the ones which let the light “turn corners” via a box — all with CE homologation…

  11. Honestly, I think the US could use a little TUV love given the crap we see on the roads. That said, this does seem a bit over the top. There’s an argument to be made that if someone is keeping a car on the road in good faith that the inspector should give it a pass or note things that “won’t pass next time”.

  12. The stringent adherence to standards is a product of German culture and the higher demands the autobahn puts on a car. I work in manufacturing, and it reminds me of a custom test rig that an engineer who worked for me purchased from Germany. He did not do his due diligence, and it ended up NOT meeting safety standards mandated by our US factories. The main issue? These little plexiglass doors that slide down once the part is loaded and the test cycle begins. They had 2-hand controls, but did not have an interlock, preventing a finger from getting pinched. The way the Germans approached it was to ensure the force (pneumatic) was not enough to injure a hand or finger if caught in there when it shut, and to put big signs on the thing, essentially saying “keep your damn hands out when the test starts!” I feel like this would have been sufficient in Germany, where I have found people in general just follow the posted rules whereas in the US, people will constantly test and question posted guidance and blame the employer for their stupidity when they get hurt. There needs to be some wiggle room on things like this, but we worry WAY too much about the exceptions here in the US, and tailor our processes to them, instead of just managing them when they come up…

  13. Ah, these are just minor things really, both for the CV boot and the headlamps.
    I’d say not bad at all on a nearly 30-year-old vehicle with 400k+ kilometers!
    You should be proud of the condition the van is in, only these two things trained TÜV-mechanics could nitpick on.
    Also, the new headlights may be relatively expensive relative to the (perceived) value of the vehicle.
    But if you think about it, a defective LED compound headlight replacement on a modern car is probably several thousand Euros. And at the end of the day, they are both just headlights that serve the same purpose.

  14. See if you can find someone with an older-style large buffer (not the hook and loop style) using a big wool pad. I’ve had great luck using that setup with some fairly aggressive (approx. 600grit) buffing compound on the outer portion of some truly roached head light lenses. Hit them lightly with a sponge pad and some glaze compound after that if possible for just a bit more shine. Make sure to apply some plastic sealer (which I’m guessing you already have in that kit) every few months afterwards and you could be good to go for awhile.

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