Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!
Nunz asks: Found me a ’72 Super Beetle for sale locally that I can get for $2,500 – 1600cc, 4-spd manual. Has a few minor ‘lectrical issues (turn signals, etc.) Other than the obvious, like rust, any quick pointers at what I might look for? (I don’t know anything about these Hitler-mobiles- never even really liked ’em all that much- but for the price, I figger it’d be neat to have an old throwback to hippy days to futz with, and of course, the ode that they are to utter simplicity and function is to me what a Tesla is to a virtue-signaling greenazi! (Plus I was salivating while reading your stories about your protégé’s VW- BTW, how’s he/that coming along?).
My reply: Rust is, indeed, the major money worry with these cars because it’s the most expensive thing to fix – and it’s one of the few things that requires specialized tools/skills (welding ability, a welding rig) to fix. But, the rust you need to worry about is structural rot – the parts of the unibody which support the suspension/engine – not floorpans or external body panels.
Pans are actually not hard to fix, either.
One area where Bugs are very prone to rust that’s not fatal but is aggravating is under the battery – which is under the back seat. Lift the seat and have a look there. You may find you need to stitch in a patch panel to keep the battery from falling onto the road!
Bu not a big deal, much less a deal killer.
The mechanicals of these cars are very simple; if you can service a Briggs& Stratton lawn mower engine, you can deal with a Beetle engine. If it starts, runs and drives well it is probably sound.
Make sure the transmission shifts easily through all four gears; sometimes, a “transmission” problem can be as simple as the vinyl bushing in the shifter on the floor console being worn (or missing) but make sure the transmission (transaxle, technically) is operating normally.
You can do a compression check/vacuum check on the engine to establish basic soundness. Check that the little red oil pressure light in the main gauge (speedometer) comes on with the ignition hot and goes out within a 2-3 seconds of engine start. Also the “generator” light.
I would not worry about the electrics as the entire VW harness is incredibly simple and – if you have to do it – can easily be replaced. No worries at all getting parts, for pretty much anything.
Probably, the heater cables/vents will not be working or will be working kinda-sorta. The tinwork/shroud around the engine probably need adjustment. All not tough – and basically free; just elbow grease. You’ll be surprised how well the heat works, actually – once you get the system (and car) tight.
If you buy this car, I would immediately: Drain and change the oil, check valve clearance/adjust (too tight is not good) check/adjust the points and drain and refill the transaxle (likely low, probably old and dirty fluid) with fresh lube.
I would pull all four wheels and check all four drums; get PB Blaster and be prepared for some tight/rusty fittings – but it’s not a technically challenging job. Bleed the entire hydraulic system and refill with fresh fluid.
Change the fan belt unless you know it’s new or nearly; make sure it is tensioned correctly. The Beetle depends on the belt for cooling and charging.
This will assure critical maintenance has been done.
The car may need shocks/struts; again, not a big deal.
I recommend buying a copy of Muir’s VW repair manual for the Compleat Idiot (see here). It’s better than the VW shop manual – though it’s good to have one of those, too!
The price is very fair – assuming the car is solid. The value of old Beetles continues to rise, so I’d snap this one up if it’s solid. You can’t lose – because if you decide you don’t like it, selling it for what you paid will be no problem.
These are great – and fun – cars! My protege loves his; he drives it to school and is the envy of his friends!
Keep us posted!
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