Part 2 of the story of the Syncro is more interesting in a way. The Syncro passed the second emission test with flying colors (the problem was a bad spark plug) and it's nice to know it won't need another emission test ever again, but I learned something new about the law.
The system has an oxygen sensor connected to the catalytic converter for monitoring the exhaust with the Engine Management System (EMS). The State prohibits a licensed dealer from removing the catalytic converter no matter the age of the vehicle. And the EMS requires the oxygen sensor to be connected and working to the converter, or some part of the exhaust system.
The problem is no one that I can find yet makes an aftermarket exhaust system for Syncros without a the converter with the connector for the sensor. In short, the converter stays for life, whether it works or not, unless you can find an exhaust system with a connector free of the converter. I'm looking for one.
Anyway, the second part of the story is the shop found a piece of insulation came loose and dropped into the radiator/AC fan area causing the noise. The fan is fine, and removing the insulation fixed the problem. But they found another problem, the brakes.
The master cylinder, which I knew was going bad, was bad, but the rear brakes were almost gone, almost completely worn out. So they did a complete rebuild of the brake system with complete new rear brakes (everything including drums) and new master cylinder. The front brakes were done a few years ago and are good.
The end result was a low 4-figure check and with the complete steering system rebuild last November, that's about $5K in one year for the van, and I still have the tires which could be replaced, or should be in the next 6 months. That's another $1K for the ones which legally fit the Sycnro (load range D).
The tire requires the load range because the van has a 6,000 lb gross vehicle rating, with about a 1-ton carry capacity (VW states it's 1700 lbs but that's low). The Syncro weighs 4,150 lbs with full gas tank and me (150 lbs). The weight is surprisingly split 2100 front and 2050 rear.
That's because of the extra weight of the front drive and 4-wheel drive train (gas tank moved to rear in Syncro models where it's in the front of 2WD models - one way to tell the difference). This is where the tires pressures changes the driving dynamics which is normally neutral with some slight oversteer.
One of the arguments in the Syncro community is the tire pressures. VW requires 42 lbs front and 47 lbs rear to level the Syncro, something required for a full 4-wheel alignment, but rarely do owners normally run those pressures because if varys with the tires.
The Syncro originally came with 14" wheels, which I still run on mine, but had optional 15" wheels with appropriate tires. You can also get 16" wheels for them with lower profile tires. And with larger wheels, you can get wider wheels for larger tires.
This is where I doubt any Syncro owners run the same tire pressures. I run 40 or 42 lbs in all four which is for the best driving and tire wear. Lower and the ride and driving is soft with understeer. Higher and the ride is too hard with bad tire wear.
The other argument is tires. Some don't follow the load range requirement because larger tires don't need it where load range C works to cover the weight per tire and for the whole van. The argument is VW recommends the overall wheel-tire diameter be 25-26" for the proper operation and wear of the all-wheel drive system.
Many Syncro owners and Syncro geeks have told me that's just a recommendation and subject to interpretation. I haven't found one VW engineer to argue against that recommendation since all-wheel drive systems are designed for vehicles with a specified wheel-tire setup, and while they may not test outside that setup, they test for the optimium operation.
But that's just my personal view of things. Anyway, the van is running fine now with no major repairs anticipated for the next few years, just tuneup and the stuff that breaks. It has 170+K miles to date so it has 3-5 more years before I have to experience this kind of costs into it, so it's just drive and enjoy it.