|By Mike C.
I have not driven an air-cooled Beetle that didn’t
have at least some play in the shifter. Most of it is caused by two
things: one being the shift coupler that is located in the back,
underneath a cover under the back seat cushion, and the other being the
shift rod bushing that is located inside the hole where the shifter
mounts. The lack of a shift rod bushing is what causes most problems with
missed shifts and reverse.
As far as I know, there are two designs of the shift
rod coupler. Up to about
’67 (???) the couplers are round and bonded steel/rubber. They were
redesigned in ’68 as a stamped open-frame design with replaceable
bushings. The bushings in the newer design were made of rubber and tended
to shrink or deteriorate over a number of years. This caused looseness in
the coupler, resulting in play in the shifter. A loose coupler will cause
mostly front-to-back looseness and can cause missed shifts by not fully
engaging the gears in the transaxle.
A deteriorated shift rod bushing will cause
side-to-side play and could make it difficult to find the right gear when
you have to shift or put it in reverse. If you have any of the above
problems, go no further than to replace the bushing and coupler. The
coupler is about $10 if you have a ’68-up and $40 for ‘67-down. The
bushing is $5 for all years.
To do the job, you will need the following:
Small Phillips Screwdriver • Scribe
8mm, 10mm, and 13mm Combination Wrenches
13mm socket/ratchet • Wire Cutters
Mechanic’s Wire • Safety Wire
Heavy Grease • Loctite
Large Channellock Pliers or some very sticky fingers (not to be
confused with any kind of theft!!!)
Lacquer Thinner or some kind of solvent
New Coupler or Coupler Bushings.
To get to the shift coupler, take out the rear seat bottom.
See a cover over the rear part of the tunnel that looks like a
speaker? Remove this by taking out one phillips screw, sliding it out
toward you, and lifting up.
After this, take your wire cutters and cut the safety wire off and
remove the square-head retaining screw using the 8mm wrench.
Now slide the shift rod off the coupler and pull it back a couple of
inches. Take the 10mm wrench and remove the long screw that holds the
coupler on the transaxle. You can rotate the coupler a bit for
If you replace the coupler bushings with stock rubber ones, you will
reuse the old cage in which they fit. If you opt for one of the red
urethane replacements (which I recommend), you will replace the whole
you put the coupler back on, do yourself a favor and either safety-wire
the retaining screw or put Loctite on it. I had the screw back out on me
right in the middle of Covington Pike one evening, lost everything but
first gear, and had a time finding a place to pull over. The retaining
screw has a hole in the head just for safety wire, so not doing it would
be certain suicide. The old style round couplers install as an assembly
only and you only have to worry about the one retaining screw.
Shift Rod Bushing:
Now let’s move on to the shift rod bushing underneath
the shifter. It will help if you take out the driver’s seat to do the
job. I have replaced them with the seats all the way back, though. Also,
the coupler needs to come out. You will have to take out the front carpet
to gain access to the two shifter bolts.
your scribe and mark where the shifter retaining plate was originally so
you can get it back in the same spot. If you don’t, it won’t shift
right and reverse won’t work too well, either.
- Remove the retaining plate with the 13mm wrench or ratchet. The
shifter assembly just pulls straight out.
- Move to the outside and look under the car. There is a cover plate
in the front of the frame horn that you’ll have to remove using the
13mm wrench or ratchet. If you have a standard Beetle, you’ll have
to remove the small round cover on the front apron under the front
bumper, as well. Super Beetles don’t have a cover on the front
apron, and you only have to remove the one on the frame horn.
- Now just slide the shift rod out. It is about four feet long and
will be slippery with dirt or old grease. Use the Channellocks to help
you a little here.
- After the rod is out, clean it with the lacquer thinner.
- Grease up a new rod bushing and put it in the bushing retainer
plate. You may have to fish it in there with a pair of needle-nose
pliers. If you drop the bushing in the tunnel, it could be certain
madness to try to fish it out.
- Now slap some grease on the shift rod where it moves in the bushing
and slide it back in the tunnel, being careful not to push out the
- Reconnect the coupler
- Put some heavy grease in the hole the shifter ball goes in and lower
the shifter back in place, lining it up with the scribe marks you made
earlier. Check the shifter for correct operation. If it won’t go in
reverse or won’t stay there, move the retaining plate around until
it does, checking for regular shifting operation in first through
fourth. After you finished all that, put the carpet back in, reinstall
your seats, go clean up, and shift your way to the bratwurst burger
Your VW Maniac and Tech Specialist,