Ask a Stupid Question, Get a Stupid Answer

After a great deal of wrenching and some ancient pagan rituals to make our VW Jetta Ute project pass its emissions test, it still failed Massachusetts inspection. It wasn’t anything I’d done wrong, but a small detail I hadn’t considered. The stock muffler is supposed to have two tailpipes. The right one had broken off. Therefore, exhaust gas was escaping ahead of the rear bumper. That stupid complaint, alone, transformed the car into the ultra obscure VW Jetta Type R – with a big red sticker on the windshield indicating it couldn’t be driven, anywhere, ever, until this got fixed.

Volkswagen Jetta Type R

Most people I told about this said it was a stupid reason to fail. While I understand not wanting exhaust fumes in the passenger compartment, I tend to agree. Welcome to Massachusetts. Ironically, if the Jetta had already been converted into a Smyth Ute, it wouldn’t have been a problem. The passenger compartment technically ends where the bed begins, despite the separate trunk area of a sedan not being given similar consideration.

Since it’s going to become a Ute anyway, I didn’t want to spend any more money on this “repair” than absolutely necessary. Before leaving the inspection station, I asked the guy if just sealing off the hole for the second pipe to force all exhaust out the remaining one, behind the bumper, would be legal. He paused to think about it, and said yes, that would be fine. I went home and planned the worst exhaust bodge job ever.

A Cover Up Operation

Not your typical exhaust repair components

My fix involved simply patching up the hole left by the missing tailpipe. I picked up some Muffler Weld for $5. But this goo is intended to fix pinholes and cracks, not large open spaces like the missing tailpipe left behind. I’ve used exhaust sealer tape in the past, but that’s designed to wrap around a pipe, and wouldn’t work over a big gaping hole like this. So I turned to what all wise men turn to when faced with a problem – beer. No, not to get drunk about it. My plan was to cut up a beer can and use its aluminum to cover the actual hole, then seal all around it with Muffler Weld. Sure, a soda can would’ve worked, too, but beer seemed a more appropriately German solution.

Beer can fix anything.

In retrospect, it might have been smarter to use the bottom of the can, since it was already round. But the flat side of the can worked well enough, and was super easy to cut with tin snips. I bent and folded it around the stub of the missing tailpipe and contours of the muffler as best I could. I would’ve preferred to use a good German beer for this repair, but that would have doubled or even tripled the cost, so I settled for a beer I already had from an American brewery founded by German immigrants.

Patched exhaust

Then I put on some gloves – you don’t want this toxic goo on your skin – and slathered it all over the patch. I even covered the can itself so that the inspector couldn’t tell the true ghetto nature of this “repair.” But mainly I focused on gooping up the seams between the beer can patch and the muffler itself. When I was done, I let it sit and cure for 24 hours before starting the car and checking for leaks.

Over the next couple of days I found pinhole leaks when I did this, patched them up, and waited another day before trying again. Then the air would start coming out of a new leak, now the path of least resistance. It took a few days to get them all, but finally I was satisfied that if the inspector put his hand near the patch, he wouldn’t feel any exhaust leaking out. It was time for my state guaranteed free re-check for this particular problem.

We Have a Winner!

Fully armed and operational battle station

Now witness the power of this fully armed and operational battle station! OK, it’s more like a Jetta knight than a Death Star, but the point remains that despite its battle scars and a few remaining minor issues, our 2003 VW Jetta is now fully street legal. And it was literally a one beer job.

The inspector didn’t even check the exhaust as carefully as I did. He could see that the hole was patched, just as I had suggested, scanned all the necessary bar codes, and stuck a valid inspection sticker on my windshield. Even better, it has the number 4 to commemorate the month in which I actually legalized it, not a 1 going back to the month we bought it like my registration, which screwed me out of three months of use. But whatever – it passed, it’s legal, and it never has to pass another Massachusetts emissions test again. Fail it for a stupid reason, make a stupid repair and pass. Like our modern education system, it’s not about making it work properly – it’s all about passing the test.

What Now?

Smyth Ute

Ever since we got the Jetta, our primary main objective has been to make it fully street legal. After a lot of work, we’ve accomplished that. It’s a major milestone for this project. So what’s next? The battery seems to be having trouble holding a charge for more than a couple of days. I blame the numerous times it got drained while diagnosing that problem. I’ll see if the second battery that came with the car does any better. If not, it’s time for a new one. I wonder if they’ll take two cores in exchange. Beyond that, there are no remaining major issues. For under $50 I can replace the dented right front fender, but I’ll probably wait on that until it’s time to paint the car.

That’s right – it seems that the next major step in this car’s evolution will be the Smyth Ute kit itself. I’ll be paying them a visit next week before leaving for NYIAS, checking out the shop, and making some plans. And now I’ll even be able to drive the Jetta there to catch a glimpse of its future form. I’ll also do some strategic planning and figure out what other modifications will be easiest to do in the middle of the Ute conversion. For example, it will probably be easiest to install a trailer hitch after the interior is removed and the body is cut, but before installing the aluminum Ute bed. Access for drilling holes where the hitch mounts will be better than in either intact form.

But until it’s time for surgery, I plan to just keep driving the car, put a few more miles on it, and work out any other minor issues that come up. I’ll also get my wife driving this car to finally practice and master the manual transmission. For me, even in stock form, it’s extremely satisfying to be legally driving this car that many people would send to the crusher after repairing all of its major issues with my own two hands.

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