Removing an engine from an aircooled Volkswagen

Before owning my first aircooled VW 5 years ago I had barely changed a spark plug. In the last 12 months I have removed my engine by myself twice! If you need to do some work on your Beetle or Bus engine this should hopefully give you the confidence to give it a go.

My 1500 single port engine after being pulled from my Splitscreen bus

What you’ll need

  • Fuel clamps
  • Selection of 10mm, 13mm and 17mm and 19mm spanners and sockets (better to have all the spanners you have as no doubt you will have a mix of parts on your vehicle)
  • Screwdrivers
  • Floor jack (if you can get access to a motorcycle jack with wheels even better — if you’ve got a beetle you will need at least 2 jacks and stands)
  • Piece of wood (I use a bit of scaffold board)
  • Ideally a friend to help out (at least the first time)
  • Small dolly
  • Small jam jar

1) Make space

2) Remove the bumper and rear valance

The rear valance or apron on a bus will slide off with the removal of 4 (or 2) long bolts that will be facing you when you open the engine bay.

You should find 4 bolts attaching the bumper bracket (2 a side) to the chassis. The bumper brackets have holes that allow you to adjust the bumper position so it’s best to mark where the current nut is so you can put it back in the same place. You’ll need two spanners for this job as you’ll need to hold the bolt in place as you turn the nut.

Something will need to take the strain of the bumper as it’s removed, this can either be your knees as you lie on your back undoing the bolts or some type of crate or dolly. Either way you do not want the brackets to bend as you unbolt the bumper or the bumper to drop onto a concrete floor.

3) Disconnect the battery

4) Disconnect the wiring

You should end up disconnecting:

  • Spade terminal on the oil pressure sensor, located on the bottom left of your engine as you look at it in the engine bay
  • Spade terminal on the positive side of the coil
  • 2–3 wires from the alternator or generator depending on the model

Be careful when disconnecting any wires from the alternator or generator, if the wire has a “ring” connector between two nuts make sure to use 2 spanners, one to hold the bottom nut and one to loosen the top. Undoing the nut with one spanner can cause the terminal to spin and will often break the internal connection. I’ve learnt the hard way and broke my first bus’ generator doing this.

Once these are removed this part of the loom should be disconnected and it can be pulled through and laid to one side. You do not need to disconnect any wires that do not attach to the main loom.

5) Disconnect the fuel line

Once clamped unscrew the clip holding the fuel line to the fuel pump barbed connector. Once that is loose gently pull the fuel line as close to the pump as possible. Sometimes you need to give the hose a helping hand and prise it off a little with a flathead screwdriver. Just be careful not to damage the pump.

Once it’s off put it directly into a small jam jar or simply pull it through and point it at the floor. It will have a small amount of fuel left in it from the part of the hose that wasn’t clamped. Once its stopped dripping put it on the left hand side of the engine bay so it won’t get snagged as you pull the engine through.

You do not need to disconnect the fuel line that goes from the pump to the carburettor. If you’re planning to change it, do this after the engine in out.

6) Detach the accelerator cable from the carburettor

Before you unscrew the cable barrel, put a mark on the cable just before the barrel with a marker. This way you can be sure to set the same tension again once you put the engine back in.

Once it’s undone pull the cable back through the fan housing and lay it to one side.

Edit — 6.5) Detach the heater cables

7) Remove the air filter

8) Put your engine at Top Dead Centre (TDC)

9) Support the engine

The piece of wood will help you balance the engine when it’s removed but also stop the jack damaging the sump plate.

If you have a motorcycle jack you’re in luck, because they can support the engine in two places it’s not going to wobble!

If you have a dolly, you can put the jack through dolly at this point, as you won’t be able to put it on later.

9.5) Remove engine mount bolts (bay window)

10) Undo the bottom two engine bolts

First, find the bolts. Your engine has two studs on the bottom that feed through the transmission bell housing and get bolted up on the other side. It’s easy to get confused with the bolts that hold on the transmission because they are more immediately visible. The ones you want are inset slightly which is why it can be better to use a spanner with an offset rather than a straight one.

I tend to lay on my back on the left hand side of the bus and reach over to the right hand bolt first. Once that’s off I undo the left hand bolt on my side with my body not directly under the engine. These shouldn’t actually be on too tight so normally come off with a basic spanner, at most you might need to extend your spanner for a bit of extra leverage.

11) Undo the top two engine bolts

There is some variation in what you might find on the left hand side top bolt but it will generally either be a captive (joined to the bell housing) or non captive (just a free bolt). If it’s a free bolt you may need to also hold the bolt on the other side to undo it which may seem like an impossible task. However this can usually be achieved by either feeding a spanner through the rear tinwear or simply removing the rear tin so you can reach underneath. The ability to do this will vary on model but you will find a way!

The right hand side has a moon-shaped bolt that goes through the starter motor (outside the bellhousing) and then through to the engine. The moon-shaped bolt acts as a captive bolt, meaning it locks in to the starter allowing you to turn a nut without needing access to the other side while still being removable.

Undoing both of these bolts requires a fair amount of pateience and varying your body positon, often this is a task you need to do just feeling the bolts as it’s hard to get your arms and head in position that works. This task is actually much easier on a beetle than a bus as you will have a lot more top down visibility (especially if you take the deck lid off).

Give the jack a little pump to take up any more strain if the engine moved after removing the bolts.

12) Pulling the engine

A common problem is that people haven’t pulled the accelerator cable out through the fan housing properly or it gets caught on the way out.

There are a few differences here based on the the vehicle type or the engine set up you have. For example, an engine with a single carb will drop straight down where as dual carbs will need a bit of extra wiggling or dropping at a slight angle. Make sure you have good clearance before you start the drop.

Pump the jack again and find somewhere on the engine where you can get a good grip, I tend to use the bottoms of the inlet manifold on either side.

Start to pull the engine forward with side to side movements. Before you can drop the engine down it needs to come forwards enough to completely clear the shaft that joins the gearbox to the engine. This is why it’s important to do this in gradual steps and make sure the jack is there to support the weight once it detaches.

Once you feel the engine is free you can start to gradually let the jack down and pull the engine back towards you. Go slow and keep checking for anything that might be caught.

Putting the engine back in

It’s much easier to put the engine back in if you have someone to help you out, debatably it’s better to have someone to help you put it back in than take the engine out. Just keep taking breaks and check that your bottom engine studs are lined up and the engine is level before you make the final push.

If you’re second guessing your own ability, just take it slow and get another pair of hands to help you.

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