Just One Screw

There are probably a thousand nuts, bolts and screws holding our vehicle together. Most of them aren’t all that important. If you have ever taken something apart, put it back together, and had a few bits left over… you know what I’m talking about. The car will probably still run fine.

Screws fall out all the time. That’s what the our ashtray is for – it holds all the little pieces that have fallen off and we haven’t figured out where they go or had the time to put them back in. None of the interior screws are all that necessary. Half of the bolts in my front skid plate have sheared off and I’m not worried a bit. I’m guessing only half of my engine tin screws are still there. No biggie. Heck, I could lose half of my lug-nuts and I’d probably keep driving.

But, there is one screw in this vehicle that is utterly necessary. There’s only one like it in the whole car, and without this screw, it won’t work. Period.

It has a simple, yet critical job. It holds the points in the distributor in exactly the correct position. Without it, there’s no ignition system and you aren’t going anywhere. The spark plugs won’t spark.

Today while I was doing a tune-up, something I feared might eventually happen finally happened. The screw stripped. You might know the feeling. You’re delicately turning the screwdriver until you feel just exactly the correct amount of snugness when all of a sudden the pressure gives way. As if you don’t believe what just happened, you usually turn it in again and the exact same thing happens again. If you’re a glutton, you’ll do it again hoping you can get away leaving it just a little loose. It never works.

I sat a while and contemplated my predicament. We could be stranded because of one damn screw.

The upshot is that there is no wasting time trying to figure out a patch. There is no work-around. No duct tape fix. Bailing wire isn’t going to help. You need that one special screw. The exact size, even. No substitutes.

I pulled out my potato sack of spare parts that rides under the back bench seat and hoped for the best. I have a spare distributor in there, but it wasn’t set up with points or that screw. Fortunately, I’ve got a ziploc bag of random nuts, bolts, washers, screws, etc. Some of them migrated from the ashtray to this bag. Others, I just picked up along the way. Sometimes I even pick up bolts or screws I find on the ground if it looks like something I might need – I’ve got a pretty good eye for thread sizes and where they might fit on the bus. I don’t recall ever picking up this one.

I did find one screw that would thread in, but it was too long. Length matters here. I considered using a sheet metal screw and forcing it in – generally ruining the distributor in the process. Too brutal. Finally, after more digging (it’s a big bag) I eventually found one that seemed about right. I have no idea where it came from – it was black and Phillips-head – but it fit perfectly.

Sometimes, you’re just lucky.

I know everyone has their own list of essential things to carry along on a road trip. If you are planning one in an air-cooled VW… pack an extra screw. This one.


Why can’t I get just one screw?

-Violent Femmes


9 thoughts on “Just One Screw

  • August 5, 2011 at 11:23 AM

    there is one more , the square headed bolt that holds the shift rod to the tranny . odd ball size and square head. should have a wire keeping it tyed into place. I lost one once and took an engine screw that was smaller and eletric taped it into place. worked good enough to get me home

  • August 5, 2011 at 8:08 PM

    I highly recommend one of those Pertronix
    Electronic ignition points replacements if you ever come across one or have the opportunity to get one shipped to you. I’ve been running one in my bus for years. Timing stays dead on forever and no points gap/dwell angle to mess with. Throw the points & cap in that bag o parts just in case but in general it cuts out one tune up variable pretty nicely once it’s in and the timing is set. Then it’s pretty much just the valves and carbs to keep after to keep it tuned. But don’t get too crazy… You’ll still need that screw 😎

  • August 5, 2011 at 8:20 PM

    Over the course of four Type IIIs, a Beetle, and a bus, I’ve always hated that damn screw.


  • August 6, 2011 at 1:38 AM

    Great ending for an awful predicament, plus I love that song!

  • August 6, 2011 at 8:41 AM

    I second the Pertronix idea. I just installed one in my bus about a month ago…long overdue.
    Keep on truckin’ folks. I see the 2 year mark is just around the corner!
    Happy trails.

  • August 7, 2011 at 5:49 PM

    I wish I had one for when the one that holds on my distributor snapped in 2. While in the middle of the Andes not close to anything, I did manage to tie it on with some metal wire….. I got LUCKY!!!!! I would recommend some of that stuff for your kit too….

  • August 8, 2011 at 8:50 AM

    We did have an electronic ignition for part of the trip. It died a mysterious death when we stopped at a mechanic in Quito, Ecuador. Since then it’s been all points. So far, I haven’t been able to find a ‘drop-in’ electronic ignition down here. There is a an over-complicated Brazilian e.i. that was stock on their later VW’s but I think I’ll stick with the points until I can find something simple.

  • August 8, 2011 at 8:56 AM

    wow – coincidentally, same thing happened with the screw on my dresser drawer. too much tugging on the RIGHT knob resulted in a stripped screw. you know how handy i am – i got out my glue gun! needless to say, it didn’t work and i’m now 1 screw short.

    when are you coming home? i need help. until then i’m tugging on the LEFT knob.

  • August 9, 2011 at 12:58 PM

    I’ll second your sentiments on that screw and that shift rod linkage screw! Couple them with the barrel nut (for the throttle cable) and they are show stoppers. I’ve heard mixed reviews of the electronic conversion for the dizzy; I’ll take my chances with a backup to my points and condenser set. Old School hasn’t left me sitting (for too long lol) yet!

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