Vehicle Orientation: Which Way is Up?

OK, let’s get the basics straight: The front of the vehicle is where the headlights are, the rear is where the brake lights live. Left is driver’s side (in the USA, left-hand-drive vehicles) and right is passenger side. Top or up is the general area where most of us keep our heads—down, bottom, or under is for the feet. That is all pretty simple, right? So, what’s all the confusion?

Well, when it comes to VW vans, the engine compartment can be a confusing place. For example, it seems pretty clear that fan belts are DEFINITELY right there, smack dab on the FRONT of the engine, right? WRONG. On REAR ENGINE vehicles, the FRONT is where the flywheel (manual trans) or flex plate and torque converter (auto trans) are located. OK, so that was simple, FRONT and REAR have to do with the orientation of the engine in the vehicle, not anything having to do with the engine itself…. Huh? What I mean is that, if the engine and transaxle in a Vanagon were located up front (like they are in a Subaru, for example), the FRONT of the engine would in fact be where the fan belts are located. But in a Vanagon, it’s not, and they aren’t….

OK, good, that is all settled. So, what about a Eurovan? The engine is up front—good, we are golden. WAIT! The engine is in there SIDEWAYS! Now what? Well, the same principle applies. The engine is on the right, the transaxle is on the left. The water pump and fan belt(s) are on the right. Of course, if you are staring at the engine from the FRONT of the vehicle, what I just wrote SOUNDS all backwards. But, I did not write “on YOUR right”, I wrote “on THE right”…. Got it? Good….NOT.

Just think of a vehicle like you do a MAP, and it all makes sense. That is, on a map, one always orients north UPWARD. That way, if you turn right, you go east, left is west, a u-turn points you back south. The same works with any vehicle, just mentally put the FRONT of the vehicle UP, and all the rest will fall into place: On a Vanagon, the clutch is to the north, the muffler is down south, coil is on the west, and east is air filter country…


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