The fuel gauge has never worked in the Vanagon, and I have lived with it. After all, I have had old bikes for years with no fuel gauge, so the odometer was the fuel gauge. No problem. However, there is something about actually having a fuel gauge that is not working, which was grating at me constantly. Did I forget to reset the odometer? On a bike, you simply open the filler cap and peer inside. You also have the benefit of a reserve setting on the petcock. The Vanagon has no such option, and does not have an idiot light (not that it would be working anyway).
For Vanagon owners, replacing the fuel sender is one of those jobs that you put off. It is a pain to get to the sender, and before you can even think about getting to it, you have to drain the tank. Then you have to jack up the van and work on your back. Unhook the filler neck and various vent hoses, and finally drop the tank to get to the top of it where the sender is mounted. I am puzzled as to why VW didn’t put a small access panel in the floor. It would have made life so much easier, given the array of grommets and vent lines involved.
Anyway, I wanted to be sure, so I took to the forums, and dutifully checked fuses and the instrument cluster connector, and grounding points. No love. To make matters worse, the tank is obviously new, so surely there was a reasonably new sender as well, right? Reluctantly, I ordered a new sender. While waiting for it, I emptied the tank in a combination of driving and draining. With the tank down, and the sender out, I took it to the bench and connected my trusty multimeter. It did not look particularly old, and everything moved freely. Strangely, there was a normal resistance reading as you moved the float from full to empty. It seemed to be functioning normally. Scratch head. I took to the forums again and armed with a new diagnostic step, I bridged the fuel sender plug. The gauge came to life. It appeared to be in normal working order. More scratching of the head.
The smart thing to do is wait for the new sender, which thankfully arrived a day early. It too measured appropriate levels of ohms at the prescribed levels. I installed it and put the whole mess back together. I put in about 4 gallons I had on hand, and started it up. Fuel gauge right where it should be, and all was right with the world. I briefly considered keeping the old sender as a spare, but tossed it. However, I am treating this vehicle like a motorcycle, and the odometer will be used to trust-but-verify.