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Old 07-18-2012, 09:22 AM   #1
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Towing a classic VW Beetle as a Toad

Hello. Does anyone have experience in towing a classic Volkswagon Beetle? We just purchased a '74 Beetle to tow behind our Argosy 20 motorhome. Do we need a brake buddy? Does a brake buddy even work with manual brakes? What type of wiring harness would we need? Any info would be great. Thanks!
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Old 07-18-2012, 09:33 AM   #2
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I would get the separate lights you stick on the back of the car instead of trying to break into the electrical system of the car. Get a tow bar for it and don't worry about the brakes. Make real sure you have the car in nuetral or it will really mess things up. I had a 73 super beetle and I spent more time keeping that thing going than any car I have had before or sense. Tow bars are cheap and you can get them at any bug place or on the net.

I spent too much time towing that car for all the wrong reasons.

Perry
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Old 07-18-2012, 11:11 AM   #3
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Not sure what you mean by "manual brakes". Beetle has hydraulic brakes. You might be under the weight limit for which brakes are required. You should check for sure. I would want the brakes anyway. I like the light bar idea. Check the front bumper area carefully. In the old days the tow bar mounted to the front bumper, and I had one come off on one side while towing. The bumper support pulled loose from the car body. I only towed about 1000 miles or so before this happened. One of the great weakness of the Beetle and the Porsche's of that era is the attachment of things like the bumper and the suspension mounts to the body or unibody or whatever it is. Have seen several of both brands that came apart. They are weak to start with and then they hit bumps and corrode. I was told I should start the engine every 500 miles or so and run the transmission through the gears. Never really believed it though. What about putting it on a trailer?
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Old 07-18-2012, 11:22 AM   #4
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I have never heard of being able to use the brakes of the car being towed while towing. Unless you use the old method of a rope and a driver in the towed car. That car only weighs about 2000lb.

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Old 07-18-2012, 01:15 PM   #5
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By manual I believe the OP's referring to the lack of a power brake booster. I would think a Brake Buddy would work but wonder if it really needs one.
Magnetic light bar would be the easiest to work with but hard wiring an old Bug would be pretty easy.
It the car a Standard or Super Beetle?
As far as a tow bar goes you need to buy one that connects to the torsion bar tubes for the front suspension if it's a Standard. The reinforced tubular compressing bumper brackets on a '74 are still only attached to the body, nothing structural. I'm not entirely sure where you'd put one on a Super. Maybe the frame extension?
I don't believe you would need to worry about if the car is an Auto Stick Shift of manual trans. The "Automatic" part was basically the clutch and nothing like a common auto transmissions in the Type 3 or 4s of the era.

Enjoy the old Bug and good luck,
Tom
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Old 07-18-2012, 03:02 PM   #6
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Thanks for all of your replies! The Beetle is a standard not a Super Beetle. By manual brakes I meant "not power brakes".
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Old 07-18-2012, 03:42 PM   #7
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I have owned some VW's and they were cheap vehicles that broke a lot. They were clever in their ads and became seen as cute and that sold a lot of them. Fortunately there were pretty easy to fix. The flat 4 air cooled engines lasted about 50,000 miles before they needed a serious rebuilt. They leaked oil all the time. The accelerator cables would break at the carburetor. They were cold in the winter and you had to be very careful not to breathe on the windshield or it would fog up. They were fun to drive though. I don't know how improved the '74 Beetles were, but the Rabbits were pretty bad too. Bring lots of tools and motor oil.

A dolly would be another option besides a tow bar.

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Old 07-18-2012, 04:27 PM   #8
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I had a good friend that passed away a few years ago that towed a old vw behind his class c for years, all over the states. i miss him a lot.
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Old 07-18-2012, 04:35 PM   #9
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Wow, from all of these replies I'm starting to think that I made a mistake by buying a VW Beetle to tow. Hope my Bug does better than what I heard about here. Thanks for your replies, though.
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Old 07-18-2012, 04:49 PM   #10
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Well, a bug should give you plenty of opportunities to tow.

However, that is balanced by the really bad brakes. They'll need fixing a lot too.

They are fun when everything's right though.
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Old 07-18-2012, 05:35 PM   #11
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Get yourself a tow bar for a standard beetle. They cost about $100 from many online sources. If you have a air-cooled VW shop near you they may have one. Here's a link to a decent article about the process (scroll down to the green heading "Or Be Towed"):

Towing
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Old 07-18-2012, 06:07 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by HappyPill77 View Post
Wow, from all of these replies I'm starting to think that I made a mistake by buying a VW Beetle to tow. Hope my Bug does better than what I heard about here. Thanks for your replies, though.
Happy', I was thinking when I posted you didn't really want to hear about all the problems people have had with VW's. But, you might as well know the truth. They are light to tow and cool to drive. You can shift without the clutch if you time the engine revs correctly, but I used to do that just for the fun of it. If you are fairly good at auto mechanics, you can keep them going. And if you had bought an English car from that era, you'd be replacing all the Lucas electrical parts over and over. And just about any 40 year old car is going to need lots of maintenance.

Both my VW's were obtained in trades. A '59 was a European model that could climb a mountain pass in Colorado at close to 35 mph. Someone owed me $400 and gave me the car around 1980. I drove it for a while and then sold it for $600. Then I had a '70's Microbus with fuel injection. I got that in a trade too, but didn't make a profit. Actually it was a pretty good vehicle, but I sold it when I had to add oil every 75 miles and that was after I fixed the leaks. See if you can get a shop manual for the VW; they are strange, but simple cars.

It weighs 1,800 lbs. The engine may be 46 HP. But it is likely the engine has been rebuilt more than once, or replaced and rebuilt again. Some of them got vapor lock on hot days and people would drive with the engine lid up. One of the front cylinders (can't remember which side) would run hot because it didn't get enough air to cool it and it was the first one to need a rebuild. The pancake engines in the station wagons were the worst engines of all, but you don't have that one. I doubt you have a fuel injected engine though; the first fuel injected engines were poorly designed, the second generation ones were pretty good and much faster.

If you keep after it, it should be ok.

If you could tow the car on a trailer and use the trailer brakes and lights, you could avoid putting miles on the VW and that may be a good idea. You wouldn't have to get anything to operate the VW brakes and lights, but the trailer would be costly.

Check state laws to see how heavy a vehicle you can tow without brakes, but brakes are always a good idea.

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Old 07-18-2012, 08:07 PM   #13
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Looks like I am going to have to learn to be a VW mechanic. I'm up for the challenge.....I hope. A new adventure for a women in her 40's!
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Old 07-18-2012, 08:09 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by HappyPill77 View Post
Looks like I am going to have to learn to be a VW mechanic. I'm up for the challenge.....I hope. A new adventure for a women in her 40's!
One thing about working on VWs (Volkswagens, not me), the parts are light.
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Old 07-18-2012, 08:41 PM   #15
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Air-cooled VW's are pretty easy to work on. I'm a mechanical moron and was able to keep my '78 bus running without too much difficulty. Your best resource will be a copy of John Muir's "How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step-By-Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot", or "The Idiot Book" to regular users. You can usually find one edition or another at used book stores - just be sure you get an edition late enough that covers your particular year. If you can, find an edition with the spiral binding, as they lay nice and flat while you're working.
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Old 07-18-2012, 08:51 PM   #16
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Happy', ironically I learned how to fix my 1st one from my girlfriend at the time.

And The Idiot's Book is a good one to use. Cameron is correct.

Gene
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Old 07-18-2012, 10:00 PM   #17
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I've had about a dozen VW's over the years, still have one. The air-cooled ones were very reliable for me, when they broke easy and cheap to fix. There was a place in San Diego that did a rebuilt engine swap for about $300 in '70's, although never had engine problem in any of them.

Biggest problem today would be keeping up with traffic, they were slow, decent 55 mph cars. Not too bad handling and the Super Beetle was quite good, independent suspension all around, rear engine, needed better tires.

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Old 07-18-2012, 10:40 PM   #18
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Awesome . . . finally something I can weigh in on. Here's the sum total of what i learned in two years of part time work in an independent VW repair shop while going to college. My boss was a VW genius who left the dealership and opened his own place so that stuff got done right.

1. Make sure you are religious about changing oil. Beetles love to have clean oil.

2. Keep the valves adjusted. We saw too many engines ruined because valves were not properly adjusted.


3. Keep the clutch cable adjusted. Failure to do this will lead to a clutch that gets less responsive over time and then one day its all the way to the floor and you will be limping into a repair shop in first if you are lucky. Clutch cable replacement (when one breaks) not rocket science to repair but can be a total pain to do.

4 Make sure your belts are tightened to the proper specs. That air cooled engine really depends on that fan working to disperse heat, so you don't want any slipping belts.

5. Learn how to adjust the brakes and stay on top of that, metal to metal is not a good sound when they wear out too fast. Or better yet, just take it to a good brake place. Changing brake shoes on a hot summer day still ranks as my all time worst employment experience. Well, that and the guy who had driven from Denver to Wichita Falls on his way to Houston, pulled in and demanded a quick oil change because he had to be on his way.... just no good way to get the oil out of the old Beetles without dropping at least one of the nuts that held the oil plate in the bottom of the engine into that pan of boiling hot oil.

Only other thing I learned from him was that if you really wanted a quality vintage Bug.... you wouldn't buy anything made after 67.

But if you are just going to use this as a toad and not as a daily driver, I would think you would get good service out of it and the real upside of the old Beetles was that they were a lot of fun to drive.
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Old 07-19-2012, 04:37 AM   #19
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My Super Beatle ran like a top. The Super Beatle has a transmission that was geared for the highway. I use to run it 80 MPH on the interstate with no problems. I don't know what trans ration is in the 74 standard Beatle. I rebuilt the engine myself it grad school and when I sold the car a few years ago it had about 60k on the engine and it was still running strong. There are good and bad parts out there. I would put new parts on it and sometimes they were worse that what I took off. I had an oil pump shaft wring off because the metal was too soft. I put a cast iron Melling pump back in and never had anymore problems. I also had problems with fuel pumps wearing out because they were cheap. I had the throttle cable problems as well. The breaks were crappy and were not self adjusting. If I was using one as a daily driver I would get a disk brake conversion kit for one and about 50% of your problems go away. They are tough little cars but a pain to work on especially if you have one that had half a million miles on it before you got it. The heads are prone to cracking but new heads are not all that expensive. There are ungraded crank bearings that last longer than the old ones. The magnesium crankcase is problem because the metal is so soft that the bearing become loose and you lose oil pressure. Get a real oil pressure gage and a head temp gage.

I hit two deers in the car and ran off a 6 ft embankment at 60 mph and the car held together. A lady pulled out in front of me and I had to take the ditch. I ran off the side of the road off an embankment and kept driving till I got to the next driveway and got back on the road. No other car that I know of would have survived that experience without major damage. I had no damage. I hit deer number one in front of the college and lost a fiberglass 40 Ford style hood (it saved my life). I did a 180 at 60mph when I had the second deer encounter 2 weeks later. I ended up with a dented rear fender when I tried to avoid the deers and they ended up running into me by hitting my rear fender which spun me around. Rain is an adventure in a bug because they have no weight over the front wheels. Keep a cinder block in the front trunk to add some weight up there. Also they swap ends real fast in the rain because all that weight in the back. I used to do it for fun.

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Old 07-19-2012, 07:38 AM   #20
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My first car was a '65 Beetle (55k miles, $555), that I sold to my brother, who traded it to my sister, who drove it for years then sold it to a neighbor. I believe it had around 120k on the original motor. Later I had a '69 bus, which stranded me in PA when it broke a valve on Rt 80. Dealer put a new head on one side, and off I went. Later, blew an oil cooler seal in Quebec - quick dealer repair. Drove for years, then it wouldn't stay in fourth gear. I screwed a leather strap to the driver's seat base, which I would slip around the shifter to keep it in gear - hah! Sold it that way. I probably accelerated the wear on the tranny when I moved from NJ to MI towing a U-haul trailer with it a couple of years before. Hills on 80 in PA had me down to 35 mph - oh, man, the things we did in that van. Flat towed, the beetle would be a fun toad to have to scoot around in - makes more sense than some of the big, heavy vehicles you see behind motorhomes (like Hummers- what's up with that?).
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