How To: Adjust Valves on an Air-Cooled Beetle

Your air-cooled Volkswagen Beetle engine will run much smoother and more efficiently when it has valves that have been properly adjusted.

Air-Cooled VW Engine

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In order to adjust your valves, you first must determine the clearance needed based upon the year of the vehicle. Here are the standard clearances from Volkswagen:

  • 1954 – 1960 (36HP) (Intake – .004?) (Exhaust – .004?)
  • 1961 – 1965 (40HP) (Intake – .008?) (Exhaust – .012?)
  • 1966 and Up (Intake – .006?) (Exhaust – .006?)

You will need the following tools to adjust the valves:

  • Feeler gauge
  • 2 new valve cover gaskets
  • Medium sized flat-bladed screwdriver
  • 13mm wrench
  • 19mm / 21mm wrench

Get Started

  1. Using your screwdriver, loosen the bails on the valve cover and remove the cover.
  2. Clean any dripping oil off the heat exchange.
  3. Remove the distributor cap by opening it with the screwdriver between the clips and the cap. Leave the wires and the rotor inside the cap and set the cap aside. You can let it hang from the wires.

Turn Over Your Engine

  1. You need to turn your engine over by using your 19mm or the 21mm wrench on the pulley bolt for the generator/alternator, which is the bolt holding the pulley for the upper fan belt.
  2. Create tension on the belt by grabbing both sides of the belt where it goes in and comes out of the upper pulley and squeezing if it is too loose. Hold the belt and apply the wrench again.

The Adjustment

Start with cylinder number one, which is the cylinder at the front of the passenger side.

  1. Place the cylinder at top dead center (TDC) by rotating the engine to line up the distributor rotor with the notch at the edge of the distributor.
  2. Look down at the crankshaft pulley. It has a notch that lines up with a split in the engine case center. When you line the notch up with the split, you are at TDC for the number one cylinder.
  3. Use the feeler gauge to measure the gap between the top of the valve for intake and exhaust and the adjusting screw.
  4. Tighten the adjusting screw until the gauge has a drag on it as you move it back and forth.
  5. Use the screwdriver to hold the screw in place and use your 13mm wrench to tighten the bolt. Do not over-tighten.

From this point, here’s what you need to do:

  • Repeat these steps with each cylinder. Make sure you find TDC for each one.
  • Replace the distributor cap and clip it into place.
  • Remove the old valve cover gaskets. Make sure you get every bit of them out before putting your new gaskets in.
  • Put the valve cover back on and clip it shut.
  • Remove any oil drippings from your engine compartment and add oil if necessary.
  • Start the car and make sure that it sounds right and has no oil leaks.

Now your engine should be running much smoother as the valves are set properly. If you need to seek help from a professional mechanic at this point, make sure they are certified to work on Volkswagen models.