Great. You have decided to buy a Volkswagen Beetle. Great choice! The Volkswagen Beetle will always be an icon on the road and due to its cult status it will always be collectible. The Beetle is the perfect car to enter the classic car scene. The vehicle is very DIY friendly and above all buying a Beetle is a good investment. After reading this article you will be able to see which Beetle you have to buy and which one certainly not (depending on your wishes and budget of course). We’ve included a printable checklist at the end of the article.
Table of contents
- Determine which Beetle model you love
- Buying a driver or a restoration project
- Prepare yourself if you are going to inspect a used VW Beetle
- Rust is not a crime, but pay attention
- The VW Beetle engine
- Inspect the Beetle electrical wiring
- VW Beetle interior
- The VW Beetle rubber seals
Determine which Beetle model you love
First decide what model you want and how much you want to spend on your VW Beetle. If you don’t know the main differences between all Beetles, you can have a look at the specifications. We have the VW Beetle specs listed per year.
The biggest difference (in value) is the rear window. You have the Split Window Beetle, the Oval Window Beetle and the sedan with the large window. A split window Beetle from 1951, has a higher value than a 1961 sedan in the same condition. The 1951 Beetle is older and very rare. Nowadays, split window Beetles are highly desirable collector’s cars. A few months ago a Split-Screen Beetle was sold for over £70.000.
When looking for a suitable used VW Beetle, you will notice that there are numerous Beetle scenes including rat-look, Cal-look, concours and street rod – plus many more besides. The key thing to remember is that despite the Beetle’s ubiquity a lot of cars are not what they seem, which is why you need to buy a Beetle with care.
Tip: Mexican Beetles don’t hold quite the same kudos as genuine German Bugs, and this is usually reflected in lower values.
Buying a driver or a restoration project
So, the second step is determining whether you want to buy a driver or a restoration project. Drivers of course will have a much higher starting price tag initially; however, you will need to check things over really well. This choice is more for those that are either not inclined to do body work, or mechanical repairs. Don’t be frightened, the VW Beetle is one of the easiest of cars to work on and there is a vast amount of information available to help you do so.
Buying a restoration project can be a little tricky. But if you know what you are looking for, you can find yourself a very good deal. Decide how much labor you are willing to put into the project, inspect the areas of interest as outlined below and go from there. Many VW Beetles are left to rot even though they have a great deal of potential; Especially pre 1967 models. If you discover a model and it won’t start, don’t panic. The car might have an empty battery. You could use a jump starter or heavy duty jump starter to start the vehicle.
Prepare yourself if you are going to inspect a used VW Beetle
If a VW Beetle has attracted your attention and interest, it might be useful to bring along some stuff when you are going to inspect the car. If you see a spot that looks bad, give it a poke. If it goes through, well, there will be some welding involved. Another thing that I like to keep handy, is a small magnet. This will help you discover an overabundance of body filler. The magnet that I use will not stick to metal that has much more than 1/8 inch of filler on top of it. Another handy gadget is a flashlight. When you are going to buy a Volkswagen Beetle, the bottom of the car is very crucial. Use your flashlight to determine whether the bottom is rotten or not.
Rust is not a crime, but pay attention
Many Beetles have stood the test of time. However, rust (corrosion) is a common phenomenon with these cars. A Bug without rust is the exception (and will approach the concours state). Nevertheless we must point out that you have to be very careful with rust. Rust can hide in many places, and if you see a bubble, there is usually more rust to come. The only positive being that you can buy replacement panels and repair sections for just about everywhere that’s likely to be affected (air cooled VW Beetle parts in general are very easy to find). Here’s a list of major areas to check.
The VW Beetle floor panels are the most common repair area. You can detect the rot very easily. The most common is under the battery, which is located under the rear seat. Also lift the floor mats if possible to check for more. The condition of the floor panels is very important because replacing them takes a lot of time and is pretty expensive. You will find many videos on Youtube about how you can replace the floor panels correctly. If you have little experience with such restorations, you better ask your local car mechanic to help you.
Another crucial place to check are the VW Beetle heater channels. The engine is air cooled so the heat must be transferred to the front of the car through the rocker panels just below the door. These heater channels are constantly moving hot air, so condensation occurs during the cool down process. Look primarily above the jack support.
Quarter panels behind the side rear windows
A third spot that certainly deserves the necessary attention when you buy a VW Beetle is the the quarter panel behind the side read windows. When manufactured, Volkswagen put either a bag of filler material or expanding foam inside the quarter panel to reduce noise and also as a vapor barrier from the engine compartment to the passenger compartment. This filler or foam collected condensation and run-off water causing rust and rot.
Rear boot compartment or the package tray
Just behind the back of the rear seat of the Bug you have the boot compartment. This was extra storage space because the trunk is rather limited. You will need to be able to lift any covering that is on this area to inspect properly. If you can’t lift the covering, the just apply pressure straight down onto it in as many places as possible. If you hear any ‘Crunching’ sounds or worse (worst case: your hand goes through), then the tray will need replaced.
Rear cross members
Under the back seat is the rear cross member, where the body is bolted to the chassis. The heater tubes from the engine compartment come through this area to feed the heater channels. This area will sometimes rot out from road dirt collecting on the underside and holding water. Rot in the rear cross members should be easy to detect but feel around the area behind the heater tube since it’s not as easily visible.
Fender mounting areas
All four fenders on a used VW Beetle are bolted to the body, with a rubber strip separating them from the body. This area likes to collect dirt and grime, and eventually, rust if not attended to. If rust is not evident on the surface of these areas, check inside each fender well with a flashlight.
Spare tire well
The trunk seal can only do so much to keep water out of the trunk, and eventually they do go bad. Make sure that if there is a spare tire in the spare tire well; remove it and check for rust in the trough below it. Water will collect in this area and rot it out.
The VW Beetle frame head is a long tunnel that runs all the way down to the center of the vehicle, which is the bulk of the support for the suspension and drive train. At the front of that tunnel is the ‘Frame Head’ which is where the front suspension, or beam is bolted on. It’s slightly triangular in shape and is directly below the gas tank. Usually you will see rot in the bottom of the frame head first.
The VW Beetle engine
As mentioned before, the VW Beetle has an air cooled engine. Don’t you know what the components ar from such an air cooled engine? Well, let’s get technical: this VW Beetle engine is an boxer engine with four horizontally opposed cast-iron cylinders, cast aluminium alloy cylinder heads and pistons, a magnesium crankcase, a forged steel crankshaft and connecting rods. Enough technical stuff for now. What you should know is that if water gets into the motor via the carburetor or other entryway, it can easily make its way to the cylinders and cause them to rust to the piston rings. The valves are also prone to damage from this as well.
Try to start the engine of the car. If the engine runs and the motor is complete, then go for it. There’s your driver! No, no wait, hold your horses. After you started the VW Beetle engine, check for smoke coming from the exhaust or any strange noises. Strange knocking or heavy pinging noises are definitely not normal.
Inspect the Beetle electrical wiring
The VW Beetle fuse box is located inside the trunk on the drivers side just in front of the stereo speaker. Check to make sure that all of the wires are plugged onto the block and that all relays are present. After that, test whether all lights and traffic indicators are working. Rewiring a Beetle is a pretty big project. However you can find the wiring diagrams on the internet.
VW Beetle interior
So we’ve covered the models, the rust area’s and the engine. Let’s talk about the interior, the cockpit. Originality isn’t important to a lot of Beetle owners. You can tweak a Beetle to your own wishes. It is difficult to find two identical Bugs these days. So find a Beetle with an interior that meets your expectations.
Some Beetles are fitted with a plastic dashboard but most have a painted metal dashboard. The plastic can crack from being exposed to the sun and while reproduction replacements are available, they’re expensive. Lots of companies offer new trim for the Beetle, whether you want something original or modified.
Make sure to check the condition of the seats and the door panels. Are there any cracks? Are the seats still good or do you need to replace the horsehair padding and the seat cover?
The VW Beetle rubber seals
A final item that we want to discuss and where you definitely have to pay attention to are the VW Beetle rubber seals. Although the VW Beetle rubber seals used by Volkswagen throughout Beetle production were of excellent quality and often last the lifetime of the vehicle, sometimes it is necessary to replace some or all of them – either through damage, time spent in a hot country or during a full restoration. Make sure that there is no rust under the rubbers.
You finally reached the end of the article. We can understand that this was an overload of technical information. However, now you have a pretty good understanding on what you should pay attention to when buying a used VW Beetle. Never take someone’s word that a Beetle is in great condition no matter how it looks on the outside. You be the judge, inspect the vehicle. In order to help you with that, we’ve created a ‘VW Beetle Rust Checklist’. You can download the checklist by clicking on the button below. If you found this article useful, please leave a comment.