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tech B
tech B, ASE Certified Technician
Category: VW
Satisfied Customers: 13
Experience:  12 years experience, VW factory certified, ASE master tech
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I have an 87 Vanagon GL and the headlights went out, started

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I have an 87 Vanagon GL and the headlights went out, started working again, then went out for good over a few days time. Jiggling the fuse/relay panel fixed it the first few times, and the lights always remained on while the car was running. The lights only stopped working when I stopped, fortunately. I have replaced both the light switch and the load reduction relay as these were suggested as possible solutions by a VW dealership, and the lights still do not work. A few interesting side notes: 1)The high beam indicator lamp came on when the headlights failed in low beam mode. That has been my guide as to whether the lights work (as well as noting it was dark in front of the Vanagon) - neither low nor high beam lights work, but the high beam indicator light remains lit all the time when the switch is on. 2) The headlight dimmer and flasher switch appears to be working correctly as continutiy is either from the top to middle or top to bottom lugs, as checked by disconnecting the wiring harness at the switch and toggling the lever back and forth between low and high beam and checking continuity with a multimeter, but when voltage is applied (wiring harness plugged back in and light switch turned on), all three lugs are showing 12V. I am perplexed.
This can also be caused by a failing ignition switch. Have you tried wiggling the key slightly with the car on?
Customer: replied 7 years ago.
Wiggled key, no change. Did it again, just to make sure, and still no change.
Sorry for the delay in responding, I am locating the wiring diagram for this vehicle. I believe there is a separate relay for the headlights (separate from the X relay) . I will need to know the exact designation of the X relay you replaced (number and location on relay panel).
Customer: replied 7 years ago.

No problem. I have a scheudle which allows me to keep off the road after dark. Replaced the load reduction relay, position 8 on the fuse/relay panel. I have the Robert Bentley Volkswagen Official Repair Manual , and am using the diagram on page 97.102 as reference.


Lights worked for a while today, then died shortly after starting up again after a brief stop.

OK, so you have a diagram to refer to, good. To solve this type of problem, you have to look for what is common to all four lights. The load reduction (X) relay is one; you have replaced that. As you can see, the X relay gets power from the 31 line, that is from the ignition switch. So it is necessary to verify power from the ignition switch to the relay. If the X relay were at fault, you should see simultaneous failure of everything else on the X line such as the heater fan and wiper motor. The next common item, the headlight switch, you have also replaced. The next place to check is going to be the ground point. This is marked by the circled 30 on track 99 and 109. Unfortunately the exact location of the 30 ground point is not described, only that it is under the relay panel. It will likely be a stud with a lot of brown wires on it. If there is a loose, corroded, or otherwise compromised connection at that ground point, it affects both high and low beams.
Customer: replied 7 years ago.

Sounds good. I'll get on the hunt in the morning, and let you know what I find.

Customer: replied 7 years ago.
Not able to work on it until Friday. I think you are right about a loose connection. Lights came on when I hit a bump as I was driving late this afternoon. Will let you know when I find the culprit.
Sounds good, and good luck! I hope it turns out to be a simple loose ground connection. If not, get back to me and we will continue to work on it. Thanks.
tech B and 2 other VW Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 7 years ago.

You were spot-on with the advice. Most of the ground connections are on either of two multiple-tab terminals secured to the body adjacent to the fuse/relay panel. Started to wiggle each tab until the lights came on, then went around again removing each male connector to confirm I had the right one. Once I found the right one, I took off the male connector to examine, and it looked a bit rusty and the wires appeared as if they had been subject to heat. Found that where most of the ground connections were single wire to single ground tab, the offending one had two ground wires terminating in a single male connector, which also was hot to the touch, unlike any of the others. Split the wires and put on two new male connectors and reconnected. No discernable heat, and the lights work great. Many thanks!!



Very happy to help, thank you for following up. Nice to keep the old vans on the road.
Customer: replied 7 years ago.
Yep. Thanks again.