Shifter problems

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I?m assuming you have a VW based kit because this is posted in the VW section, although, I?m somewhat confused by your statement ?considering changing to an automatic?


Your option to change over would be to an Autostick (simi-automatic). Works like an automatic in that you have no clutch but you still have to change gears.  Many VW owner make the switch from Autostick to Manual because of the maintenance involved and the extreme loss in power, especially on  take off. The work involved can get extensive and depending on what year chassis you have you may not able to change over in the first place.

Here is an article on how to replace your shift rod bushing and coupler. REMEMBER  SB=donor car is a super beetle. It was writen for  a Bug not a kit car but I’ve made a few changes that apply to the kit cars but might have missed a few. Make yourself familiar with the changes made when adding the kit to the chassis. i.e. your shift rod has been shorten to relocate the shifter closer to the drivers seat.

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Symptoms: If you have trouble finding the gears in your VW or have a “sloppy” action when trying to shift, you may need to replace the bushing in your car. Another symptom of the problem is that the gearshift rattles when the car accelerates.

Background: VW Beetles use a solid shift rod that goes from the shift lever in the front of the car, through the tunnel of the car, and continues to the transaxle in the back of the car. There are four parts to this system:

-Shift lever: This is the stick and assembly that you use to change gears. It includes everything that you can unbolt from under the shifter (stick, ball housing, spring, shift plate).

-Shift rod: This part lives in the tunnel of your car. It is a solid rod that transfers the motion of your shift lever back to the gear selector shafts in the transaxle.

-Shift bushing and holder: The shift bushing supports the front end of the shift rod. It holds the rod up to contact the bottom of the shift lever. It also aligns the shift rod so that it can slide smoothly back and forth in the tunnel. The bushing is a split piece of plastic with a circlip on its front end. The holder is a piece of metal with a round hole in it. The bushing fits in this hole and is held and supported by the holder. The holder is about 3 inches behind the shifter hole in the tunnel.

-Rear shift rod coupler: This part connects the back of the shift rod to the inner shift lever inside the transaxle. It is located under a cover plate under the back seat. It looks like a little square cage with two rubber bumpers in it. On older cars it looks like a round disc.

Tools and Materials:

-New Bushing and circlip (costs about $5 (US) at most VW parts houses). -Rear shift coupler (If needed, I installed a new one while I was at it. Also costs about $5). -Wheel bearing or white lithium grease. -Surgical rubber gloves (These really make cleanup when working with grease easier. They prevent grease on your hands from spreading inside the car too). -Plenty of shop rags (or the disposable rags that they sell on a roll like paper towels). -Lock wire. -Heavy string. -Emery cloth strips (strips of sandpaper).

-Metric wrench and socket set. -Long nose pliers (maybe long nose vicegrips too). -Phillips and standard screwdrivers. -Wire cutters. -Crescent wrench. -Small flashlight/mechanics mirror (for looking into the tunnel if needed for finding dropped parts and tools).

Procedure: One note: This project is actually a little easier to perform on a SB. On the Super, the shift rod fits inside the frame head of the car when you push it forward to replace the bushing. On a standard beetle, you have to remove a couple of plates on the front of the car (one on the frame head, one inside the trunk, and one in the front apron) to get the rod out. However, if you need to completely remove the shift rod from the car in a SB, you need to remove the inspection cover on the frame head and for cars that had a airconditioner, a “deformation element” from the frame head at the front of the car that holds/held the a/c condenser, I saw no easy way to get this plate out without dissembling part of the front suspension. Don’t worry too much. There is really no reason to remove the rod from the car in a SB unless you are trying to convert an Auto-Stick to a manual (yes the shift rod is different).

1. Place the car in neutral. Remove floor mats and carpet to get at the base of the shifter. If you are a big guy, you may want to remove one of the front seats to make some more room to work. Take a scribe and mark where the base of the shift plate sits on the tunnel of the car. (Note on earlier cars, the shift plate will not be visible under the base of the shifter. Just make some marks so that you can align the shifter back to its original place in the car when you put it back in). This step really pays off when you reinstall the shifter. You don’t have to guess where to put it and mess with the shifter to get into all gears.

2. Between the front seats, under the carpet, there is a small access plate. Remove the single phillips screw that holds it in place and remove the cover. The coupler is now visible. Take a small open-end wrench and remove the horizontal hex head bolt that connects the shift rod to the coupler. This is pretty hard to do since there is not a lot of room to swing a wrench. A small 1/4″ socket driver may fit down there too. Note the location of washers and spacers for easy reassembly. Be careful not to drop the parts or tools into the tunnel. They can be very hard to retrieve. (You can use a bent piece of wire or a magnet on a rod or string to try to “fish” stuff out of the tunnel. Don’t ask me how I know about these techniques)! Now cut the lockwire, loosen, and remove the square head bolt on the transaxle side of the coupler. I used a crescent wrench to remove this.

3. Go to the front of the car and remove the two bolts that hold the shifter base to the tunnel. Be careful because there is a spring under the base. Remove the shift lever, shifter base, and spring from the car. Note the orientation of the plate that is left behind on the tunnel. (The tabs should stick up with the smaller one towards the driver’s seat (US car)). Remove that plate once you have memorized its position. Put all of those parts in a rag to keep the grease on them from spreading.

4. Take a look into the hole in the tunnel. You will see the shift rod with a cup for the ball at the bottom end of the shift lever. Use a rag to clean all of the old grease out of this cup. If you look back into the tunnel a couple of inches, you should see the remains of your old bushing and the bushing holder attached to the top of the tunnel. Your old bushing may have completely rotted away and may be sitting in pieces on the bottom of the tunnel. If the holder isn’t attached to the top of the tunnel anymore, you’re hurting. You’ll have to fix that by welding a new one in before you can proceed further (OUCH, looks like a nasty job to do). Use your long nose pliers or a screwdriver inside the cup to push the shift rod towards the front of the car a couple of inches. If it won’t budge, go to the back of the car and use pliers to start it forward.

5. Go to the back of the car and make sure that the shift rod has broken free from its coupler. Remove the part of the coupler attached to the transaxle’s shift rod. This next step is just a tip to help the job go smoother and to prevent the shift rod from going too far forward into the tunnel. Attach a strong string or wire to the back of the shift rod. The string will feed inside the tunnel when you push the rod to the front of the car.

6. Go back to the front seat and start feeding the shift rod to the front of the car using the long nose pliers. You will only be able to push the rod forward a couple of inches at a time because of the small size of the hole in the tunnel that you are working through. Be sure to inspect the rod as you push it forward. If it is rusty, you need to try to clean it with some strips of emery cloth or sandpaper as you push it forward. The rod needs to be clean and smooth because you’ll later be pushing it towards the back of the car through your tight new bushing. My shift rod seemed to be made of some kind of alloy that didn’t rust. When I did my Dad’s ’63, the rod was pretty nasty. Luckily, we just removed the whole rod on that car and cleaned it up outside the car. Be sure to keep the remains of your old bushing (if the circlip and part of the bushing are still attached to the rod) visible in the hole so that you can remove them from the back end of the rod. Continue pushing the rod to the front of the car until you can see the back end in your shifter hole.

7. Take out your new bushing out and look at it. First thing that you’ll notice is that there is a split in it. My VW Bentley Manual says to install that split towards the driver’s side of the car (US again). The next thing to look at is the two grooves in its outer diameter. Those should point towards the front of the car. The groove in the front is where your circlip lives. The other groove is the one that holds the bushing in its holder in the tunnel.

8. Pull the string or wire that you used on the rod out of the shifter hole in the tunnel. Feed the new bushing and clip onto the string (i.e. so that the string is inside the circlip and bushing). Put the circlip on the new bushing in its groove. Here is the moment of truth. You need to put the bushing into its holder in the tunnel. If you have short or fat fingers, this can be a real pain. Find a friend with skinny fingers to help you out. Press the bushing into its holder inside the tunnel. Use your flashlight and mirror to check that it is fully seated in its groove. Be sure that the string stays in the center of the bushing and doesn’t get trapped between the bushing and the holder. Remember that the split in the bushing should open towards the driver’s side of the car.

9. Take a breather for a minute, because now it’s time to get dirty. Put on the rubber glove and put a good dollop of grease into the inner diameter of your new bushing. Spread it all around its inside. Find the back end of the shift rod and slap some grease on its outer diameter for a few inches too. Align the shift rod with the new bushing and circlip and start to push it through. This can be the most frustrating part of the whole job. It is very hard to force the rod back through the new bushing. You may need to use a pair of long nose vice grips to help force it through. Go to the backseat and take out the slack in the string/wire so that it doesn’t get trapped between the rod and the new bushing. Check to see that the bushing is still seated in its holder inside the tunnel.

10. Continue to push the rod towards the back of the car with the long nose pliers while applying more grease to the rod. If you encounter heavy resistance in pushing the rod towards the back of the car, STOP! Remember that the gas line, accelerator cable, clutch cable, heater cables, and E-brake cables also live inside of the tunnel. You don’t want to break any of them (especially the gas line)! Push the shift rod towards the front of the car a few inches and try again. It helps if you try to keep the rod level in the tunnel when you push it towards the back of the car. A loop of wire inside the shifter hole can help with this.

11. Once the front of the shift rod is visible in the shifter hole, you are almost done. Go to the back of the car and try lifting the rod up into its normal position relative to the transmission coupler. If you can’t lift the rod up to its proper position, it means that you “threaded” it under some obstructions inside of the tunnel. The only way to fix this is to push the rod forward and try again. To prevent this problem, ensure that the shift rod is level in the tunnel while trying to push it towards the back of the car. Center the cup in the middle of the shifter hole.

12. Get your new rear coupler and install it onto the shift rod and onto the transaxle’s shift rod shaft. This installation is basically the reverse of the removal outlined in step #2. Don’t worry about redoing the lockwire on the coupler yet.

13. Clean all of the old grease off of the shift lever assembly. Clean the spring, lever (including the ball on the bottom), and the shift plate. Apply a fresh coat of grease to all of the lever components. Be sure to apply enough to the ball at the bottom of the lever, the lip on the lever that contacts the shift plate, and the shift plate itself. You want a “good” bit of grease anywhere that there is metal to metal contact. Remember to clean and reapply grease into the underside of the ball housing on the base of the shift lever assembly too. While you are all greasy again, take the time to put a little extra grease on the shift rod where it contacts your bushing. Bob Hoover (of the Sermons fame) recommends pulling the shifter out of the car and greasing the bushing every couple of years. The reason that our bushings failed in the first place was a lack of lubrication. It makes sense to me to do a little preventative maintenance to make sure that I don’t have to do this nasty job again anytime soon! Clean off the bolts that hold the shift lever assembly to the tunnel too. Mine had rusty threads.

14. Place the shift plate on the tunnel and reinstall the shifter. Make sure that the plate is oriented correctly. See step #3 to check it if you have forgotten how it goes on the tunnel. Line up the shift plate to the marks that you made on the tunnel. Tighten down the two bolts that hold the shifter to the tunnel.

15. Test the shift lever with the engine off first. Be sure that you can engage all gears easily. Don’t worry if the lever feels tighter than before to get the car into a gear. It is supposed to be that way after you have installed the new bushing! Put the car in neutral and move the shifter left and right. Notice that it doesn’t flop from side to side anymore. Start the engine and try the gearshift lever again. You should be able to engage all gears easily again. Take the car for a short test drive just to be sure.

16. If you marked the location of the shift plate on the tunnel and installed the plate in its proper orientation, you should have no problems reinstalling the shifter and finding the gears. If you have trouble finding a gear the only tip that I can provide is to loosen the shifter base bolts a bit. You want them to be tight enough to hold base in place but not so tight that you can’t move the base with a hit with a rubber hammer. Use a rubber hammer to move the base in the opposite direction of the gear that you can’t engage. For example, if 2nd gear won’t engage, move the base of the shifter assembly slightly towards the front of the car and try it again. This can be another frustrating part of this job. Marking the location of the shifter assembly before removal usually prevents this problem from happening when you put it back in.

17. When you can find all gears with the shift lever, reinstall the carpet or rubber mats. Go back to the rear of the car and install the lockwire onto the bolt on the rear coupler. Replace the cover plate under the back seat and put the back seat back in the car. Go inside and clean up. Take the car for a good long test drive. You’ll agree that the pain involved with fixing this problem was worth it! Hopefully you won’t have to do it again for another 20 or 25 years.