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  1. Justin

    Justin Owner Administrator

    Trabant Buyers Guide:

    Things to look for when buying a Trabant.


    Whether this is your first time buying a Trabi or your 5th, there are always a few things to keep in mind when picking out the right car for you.

    If you're here in the U.S. then it is important to be patient and not rush into a car that is beyond your capabilities, budget or expertise. Be patient and one will come up. For the most part, in the U.S. and the U.K., there isn't much supply, if you want a Trabi then in most cases, it is a sellers market.
    If one is buying a Trabi or any other rare antique car without a decent amount of repair ability, it can be invitation to a costly and tedious repair bill.

    Remember we in the forum can help, but we are not physically there with you, some general understanding of a vehicle is incredibly helpful. The Trabant is a very simple car, is a lot of fun to own and can draw a lot of attention. These next few items should be kept in mind when looking at your new Trabi.
    Bear in mind also that most of these cars are 25+ years old and were driven and maintained in countries where it wasn't always easy or accessible for people to get a brand new or factory part.

    As we go through things to look for it is not meant to scare you off as a buyer, these are truly wonderful and historically significant vehicle. We would rather you have too much information than not enough.
    Finally, a test drive is always ideal; if/when possible (and if the vehicle can’t be started and/or driven, make sure you know why and that the price is negotiated accordingly).

    BODY/RUST

    With any classic car, rust and rot are always a concern. It becomes less of an issue in 1986 +/- and later models when started galvanizing the shells in ? Problem areas include:

    • Sills can be very bad
    • Wheel arches (Especially where they lead into the sill cross-sections)
    • Front shocks domes and the area surrounding it. (You can still buy repair panels for the shock dome)
    • Trunk/Boot floor pan
    • Rear Panel in the trunk/boot - check where the lights attaches, this area can be prone to rust.

    As a general rule, check ALL the box sections which tend to rot from the inside unless regularly treated.
    Something that can be a bit of a challenge is that the Duroplast tends to hide problems too; it is worth checking around the rim of the metal where it connects to the Duroplast and see if you can get an idea of how solid it is there.

    Another area to check is on the middle cross member; it's a horizontal member behind the engine where the "frame" cracks. It usually cracks from the bad roads or from rotten rocker panels.

    Depending on what your comfortable with, a lot of it is people’s own perception; some people think filling rusty holes up with body filler is a perfectly acceptable restoration, while others would insist on cutting out all the rot, welding in new plates, etc. If you're OK with the use of body filler, then something you should add to the structure inspection part – look for signs of disguising rotten structure, like body filler and fiber glass. May look solid, but if you get up close, you may find that it needs a LOT of junk cutting out and repairing properly, which can be a lot of time and/or money depending whether you repair it yourself or have it done. If you have it done, find a good shop, pay the extra money and have it done RIGHT.

    MOTOR/TRANSMISSION

    Head gaskets and base gaskets often leak and blow; a lot of the time you can’t even tell (aside from a slight itch in the heating air); pretty easy fix usually; I wouldn't read too much into a blown gasket on these, but it’s a fair point. You can check more by pulling the rear surround panel off the motor and putting your hand around the backside of the heads, if you feel bursts of air then you may be looking at a blown head gasket. For base gaskets, with the same panel removed, look down with a flash light on the back side of the engine, if you see oil on the backside where the bores meet the block, you may have blown base gaskets. Both of these are easy and cheap repairs in most cases. More importantly ensure that the engine runs smoothly without nasty metal clanging/possible bearing noise, piston slap etc. These engines, by nature are a little noisy, but a good ear should be able to tell normal running/exhaust noise from bad wear noise; bear in mind that the crank is 1 pressed unit, so 1 bad big end or central main bearing and it’s an expensive rebuild or engine replacement! If you can take the plugs out, set a screwdriver on each piston in turn, rotate engine clockwise ‘till JUST after TDC, then push down on the screwdriver; if the piston drops noticeably, that’s little end wear typically; usually, assuming the con rod itself is OK, that’s just a quick top end rebuild with new bearings – but if the con rod’s worn on the little end, again, that’s a new crank job.

    When trying to measure compression,keep in mind the lower engine compression is just as important as the top (over the piston) compression. So if the engine is really oily around the front seal, this could mean you're in for some serious overhauling.

    Check the fuel hose condition, like the brake hoses, this is also easily and affordability repairable.
    4th Gear Freewheel – does it skip 4th gear when cold? If so, not critical or urgent, but you may be looking at a gearbox rebuild ultimately, so bear that in mind.

    The rear engine mount tends to separate so the engine would move back and forth if that's the case. This is not hard or expensive job, but something worth noting.

    BRAKES

    Trabants DO NOT like standing and if it’s stood for a while it may need ALL new brake cylinders, and possibly shoes depending on condition. All the parts are available and it’s all doable – just be aware of the possible expense.

    If the car has the earlier hubs (pre-spring-’84; 36mm axle nut on front not 32mm is a tell-tale sign) then you’ll need the factory hub puller. (an aftermarket one will not do, you NEED the proper tool for the job, keep this in mind too because your car will eventually need the brakes re-done).

    Check rubber brake hose condition, metal brake pipe condition. Don't stress if you find issues in these areas; all is easily and affordable repairable.

    STEERING/SUSPENSION

    The next bain of a Trabant driver’s existence is the steering swivel joints upper and lower – Bakelite type bushes which need to be reamed once fitted. Typically you need to get everything off and apart and get them into an alignment shop to have it done at significant expense, though Harbor Freight sell a whole reamer kit for I think <$100 which you can use, but it’s still a bit of a job! Check for play in these joints, and also in the wishbone and leaf spring end silent bushes – these are NOT easy to press in and out, you typically need a machine shop again for doing these.

    ELECTRICS

    The Trabant has a wonderfully simplistic electrical system; that said, it is still worth checking all the electric functions. It can be a hassle if you have any bad switches or appliances which need replacing but it's all available and pretty affordable.

    Also check and make sure the orange battery/charging light goes out when the engine starts. If it doesn't then the car is probably not charging properly and you may need to have your alternator or generator rebuilt or replaced.

    FUEL:OIL MIXTURE

    As simple as it may seem, the importance of correct fuel to oil mixing is critical. There is no such a thing as "I'll just drive it home without oil"! In most Eastern Bloc countries, the 2-stroke mixture was available at the pumps, that is no longer the case, use a 40:1 or 50:1 mixture (depending on motor) and be sure to NOT to use the made for water cooled 2-strokes.

    *Special thanks the John Short, Keri and Bountyflyer for helping put together this list.
    mbeamish, Aaron and Matteo like this.
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