Shifter Bushing Discussion


Note: Please see our Shifter Bushing Replacement procedure on our main Web page. That procedure evolved from the agonizing you will find documented here. Also, see John Henry's excellent article on the subject.


This article includes the following subtopics -


Introductory Conversations

Dave wrote to Rob - A nagging worry about my '73 SB is the gear shifter. As we're fweeming down the highway it rattles and makes an awful racket. And the gears are very sloppy; manipulating the shifter in that car is a skill that has to be acquired.

Rob - That’s a common problem in older VWs, particularly if it's had a ham fisted PO who liked to 'speed shift' -- yanking it through the gears. Whilst you have the the gearstick off, also check the condition of the plastic bushing on the horizontal shift rod, which is just behind the gearstick opening in the tunnel. wiggle the shift rod sideways and up and down. If there is movement, the bushing is worn and this can worsen any hard-shifting problem.

Dave - All of this leads me to believe that the shifter bushings and whatever else associated with the shifter there in the tunnel need to be replaced. There is a very good article in the June 1998 VW Trends with lots of pictures showing step-by-step how to replace the shifter bushing and some other things.

Apparently to do this you have to pull the cover plate underneath the back seat to access the point where the shifter rod attaches to the transmission -- this is where the bushing is?

Rob - No, that's just the connection between the shifter rod and the gearbox. It CAN work loose and cause slop in the gear change -- it's worth checking on it's own. If I remember right, it has a large 'grub screw' type of locking nut on it, and if this comes loose it will allow sideways slop in the gear stick.

The rear shift rod connection needs to be removed to withdraw the shifter rod from the front of the tunnel.

Dave - Some months ago I thought it looked like too much of a job for me to handle, so I took the car over to our local VW shop and asked them to replace the shifter bushing. All I got was a blank stare -- they didn't have a clue what I was talking about.

Rob - Oh dear, they do have LOTS of VW experience don't they. I haven't needed to do this job yet, but it's coming. As an only driver for my vehicle, it's had a reasonably easy time (still got an untouched gearbox remember), but there is more play than I'd like in the shifter.


Regarding Removal of the Shift Rod
("Crash Plate," etc.)

Dave wrote - With the shifter removed and the coupling under the rear seat taken apart, the whole assembly is pushed/pulled to the front of the car and completely out. Now I think I could do it, but I worry -- so many strange things have been done to the body of this car that I'm not ever sure it's possible to pull the shifter rod out.

Rob - Not hard from what I read -- just a bit fiddly. Look under the front bumper. There should be a small round or eliptical cover plate in the centre of the bodywork there. There should also be a matching cover inside the front trunk, at the back of the spare wheel well. These two cover plates line up with the tunnel, and the shifter rod is removed through them.

The actual bushing you mentioned is under, and just behind the gearstick assembly, and when you remove this from the tunnel it should be just visible in the tunnel, to the rear of the shifter assembly hole. My manual says you rotate this bushing until the long slot is facing downwards, loop some wire into the shorter slot next to the long one, and draw it out of the bushing guide. It then comes up through the shifter hole in the tunnel. It MIGHT be possible to do this with the shift rod still in place (the manual doesn't mention removing the shift rod) but not having done it I'm not sure.

If you are lucky it will just be a loose rear shift rod connection, and tightening it will improve the shifter movement enough.

Dave - I’m fairly certain this car has been in a front ender in the past. There’s a lot of body putty up front, as evidenced by the flaking away that’s going on down there under the bumper. Also, the front bonnet latch won’t match up, also the result of a front end accident, I think. I’m at a loss as to how to fix that.

John Henry (The Bug Shop) says, in his article on Shifter Bushing Replacement, that in Super Beetles you don’t have to remove the cover plate in the front... The Super has enough ‘tunnel’ in front of the shifter that the rod can be slid far enough forward to clear the bracket and still be completely in the tunnel.

Rob - It's unlikely you'll ever have to replace the rod itself, so getting it right out should not be necessary.

Dave - Today I started poking around looking for the access ports that are supposed to be there so the shift rod can be moved forward and out of the car if necessary. I found NONE -- there is nothing that looks remotely like a cover plate or the like in the front trunk area. It would have to be in the spare tire well. There is nothing there that fits the descriptions in my various resources. I measured the distance from the rear end of the shift rod to the shift lever -- 44 inches. That's about how far the shift rod as to go forward to be inserted back into the shifter bushing and moved back. From the shift lever forward to the spare tire well is about 35 inches. This is going to be interesting. We gotta figure it out -- that chattering shift lever is enough to drive you bonkers after a while!

Dave posted to the RAMVA Newsgroup - I'm going to replace the shifter bushing and coupling in my '73 Super Beetle tomorrow. To do this I'll have to pull the shift rod forward and then push it back through the new bushing.

The books and the procedure in the June issue of VW Trends say that there are supposed to be cover plates in the spare wheel well and in the nose of the care that have to be removed to allow the shift rod to be pulled forward. I find no such cover plates in my car, and I don't think there's room to pull the shift rod far enough forward to clear the bushing. Am I not looking in the right place for the cover plates?

"Speedy Jim" responded - On Super's there is also a "crash" plate in front that you have to remove to gain access. Sorry, I can't describe it any clearer.

Dave - Thanks for the information. Unfortunately, I don't find anything that fits that description on my Super. I understand everything about how to replace the bushing and the coupler except how to clear the way for the shift rod to move forward -- oh, and how to keep the shift rod from dropping to the bottom of the tunnel when you remove the shift lever bolts (the procedure warns against that when you put the bolts back in, but not when you take them out).

Someone wrote - You shouldn't have to remove these plates, nor remove the shift rod all the way. All you do is shift into 1st or 3rd, go to the back, disconnect the rod from the coupling, move the rod forward away from the coupling, and then you should have enough room to replace the shift coupling bushing.

Rob - Replacing the shifter bushing DOES mean sliding the shifter rod forward through the body cover plates to clear the bushing under the shift lever.

This guy is only talking about changing the rear coupling I think. Move the lever into 1/3 means the coupling will be pushed right back towards the gearbox, so when you removed the lock buts you can slide the pushrod forwards (gear lever will move back to 2/4) and free the coupling from the gearbox shaft. I think his "shift coupling bushing" means shift coupling -- nothing to do with the shift rod bushing.

Dave wrote to Rob - Tomorrow I'm going to tackle the shifter bushing. The bushing and coupler came by UPS today -- such diminutive little parts for such a big job! Two things I still don't know: what keeps the shift rod from falling to the bottom of the tunnel when you take the shift lever bolts out, and how do you pull the shift rod far enough forward in this car to get it started in the bushing, since there don't seem to be any cover plates to take off. I have a question in to the Newsgroup about this -- hopefully somebody will enlighten me before I enter the shifter bushing school of hard knocks tomorrow!

I did check my Haynes Manual (which I hadn't done before) and found a fairly complete procedure there. With that I have revised my composite procedure… (See Dave's Shifter Bushing Replacement Procedure.)

Someone wrote - Are you talking about the bearing that holds the shaft in place within the tunnel? If so there is a crash plate held in front of the access plate under the spare wheel. This is easier to remove than it looks. If you are only talking about the bushing at the gearbox nose, that is a piece of cake, two 8mm headed bolts and a wire lock. Should take about 10 minutes.

Rob - There's a plate in the floor of the spare wheel well, eh? Makes me wonder though -- where the rod ends up when pulled forward. Does it exit the body UNDER the spare wheel housing, not through the body at all? But John Henry said you didn't have to remove the (missing) front cover plate on supers. All sounds a bit confusing. A new direction to look though, and I'm quite sure it will become clear when you start the job.

Another response - The heck with the shift rod coupling -- it's the shift rod bushing that you need to change and clean the whole rod when you take it all the way out of the car. Don't bother to fix the shift rod coupling without replacing the shift rod bushing first.

Another Newsgroup response - Super Beetles have what's called a "deformation plate" at the front, right behind the apron. You must remove it to access the cover plate for the frame tunnel! It has I think 6 bolts, just drops out, and then you see the little cover plate with two screws in it to access the frame tunnel.

And check the hole in the little hanger thing that holds the shift rod bushing, too...if it's severely thrashed, you'll have to replace it too, otherwise the bushing will just slide. If you have to replace THAT, it gets a bit trickier.

Dave responded to this post - Thanks for your response to my question on the Newsgroup regarding replacement of the shifter bushing in my '73 Super Beetle. I wondered what the Bentley manual meant by a "deformation plate," but I am still unsure, having not seen anything up under there with six bolts. I found a picture in the Bentley manual showing a rectangular hole in the frame right in the front center, with two holes that appear to be for bolts to hold a cover plate. I need to crawl under the front of the Bug and take a real close look.

Rob wrote regarding the absence of an "access port" - That's odd, unless your car had had an aftermarket front end added or something. I'll have to see if I can get a look at a Super to satisfy my curiosity here. (The port) has to be low down to line up with the cover plate in the frame head, and of course it has to be in the centre of the car, so it would be hard to miss it! (As your measurements show, there’s) just not enough tunnel available without moving the shift rod forward into the spare tyre area. Replacing the shift rod bushing DOES involve moving the rod forward out of the way.

Dave - As soon as my son pulls in from work tonight I’m going to go out and pull his spare tire out and have a real close look. If I’m reading the responses correctly, the access plate to the “crash” plate is UNDER the spare wheel. I’m having a hard time visualizing this -- gotta see it. Once I get this configuration down pat I’ll feel a lot more comfortable about doing this job...

The guy who wrote about an access plate directly under the spare wheel wrote again - It's not actually under the spare wheel, it's in line under the spare wheel. If you remove the crash plate that fills the hole between the front valance and the anti roll bar you will see a small squarish plate about 3" X 5" with two 10mm headed bolts holding it down. To see this plate look in a line down the length of the trans tunnel. This plate is there to allow removal of the selector shaft, but you may not need to. I've never replaced the support bushing that you are hoping to do, so I can't be sure if there is enough room to slide the shaft forward anyway. Try to slide it foward to see if it drops out of this support bush, if it does you don't need to remove any front panels at all.

Dave - The latest post spurred me to do some more investigation of the Bentley manual. Figure 10-2, page 4-29 shows the 1973 frame and has the front sticking out there very prominently. And sure enough, there it is! Right in the middle of "frame head" (correct terminology?) there is a rectangular hole with two little round holes on either side to secure a cover plate. I assume this to be the "small squarish plate about 3" X 5" that this guy is talking about.

But now -- to get to this cover plate in the frame head everybody says you have to remove the "crash plate" that fills the hole between the front valance and the anti-roll bar (which is what I think Bentley calls a stabilizer bar). I guess when it all boils down, this "crash plate" is what I'm having trouble finding. I need to lay down under the front of the car and do some serious looking. I know the car has been front ended--there is all kinds of body putty right behind the front bumper--finished off nicely and painted on the outside, but just slapped on on the inside.

Rob - There are six bolts holes visible in Bentley on the front lip of the frame head, just below and to left/right of the cover plate.

Regarding the crash plate, Dave wrote - NOW we’re getting down to cases! See Fig. 1-1 in the Bentley manual. Ever since that guy wrote about having to remove something with six bolts, I’ve been looking for a plate in the center with six bolts around it, and of course not finding it. What you’re saying is that there is a piece (“deformation element” -- others call it a “crash plate,” but that’s probably not politically correct VW-ese) that extends from one side of the frame head to the other, between the stabilizer bar and the inside of the apron. The six holes that you point out in the frame head are for the bolts that hold this "deformation element" in place. Once this “deformation element” is removed, you have direct access to that rectangular hole in the frame head through which the frame head will pass when you push it forward.

There is indeed a metal device -- which I assume to be the "deformation element" (crash plate) bolted to the frame head directly over the stabilizer bar and directly behind the front apron of the car--there is about an inch and a half of clearance between the crash plate and the apron.

The crash plate is essentially a flat piece of fairly heavy metal, with vertical pieces on the front and back. Like I said, the stabilizer bar is directly under it, and the spare wheel well is directly over it. You can see the spare wheel well over the top of it, and in the well there is an access port that is about six inches in diameter. I saw this when I inspected the well from the top, but it looked like it had been welded shut. It wouldn't help much to remove it, since you have to remove the crash plate to get to the access port in the frame head anyway.

The six bolts that connect the crash plate to the frame head are exactly the six that you identified in Fig. 1-1. Additionally, there are two bolts right where you would expect the access port for the shift rod to be, going through the crash plate (which is vertical at that point) and apparently into the frame head.

It doesn't appear to be too difficult to remove the crash plate; the bolts are all accessible, and the Kroil will help with the bit of rust that is on them.

Once you have the crash plate removed, you have clear access to the back side of the frame where the front bumper brackets attach. Like I think I told you before, we have only one bolt on each side holding the front bumper in place; this may be an opportunity to get to those broken bolts and perhaps drill them out and retap the holes. If we can't get to that for a little while I see no reason (other than a front end collision!) that we can't leave the crash plate off for a week or two until we get to it.


Regarding the Shift Bushing Itself

Dave - So does it look like the bushing has a clip on the 'front' or 'back' of it...

Rob - The ‘clip’ (just a circle of wire) definitely goes on the back of the bushing -- there is a groove all the way around the bushing made especially for the clip. So it looks like to thing to do is to pull the shift rod forward out of the old bushing, polishing it up with emery cloth as you go. Then put the new bushing in the bracket, grease up the rod and push it through. Just as the rod emerges from the bushing, slip the clip over the end of the rod. Then continue pushing the rod through the bushing, greasing it as you go and sliding the clip on the rod so that is stays just behind the bushing. Then, when the rod is all the way back and the coupler has been attached, press the clip into the groove in the bushing and replace the shift lever.

Dave - There is a picture of the bushing I ordered on p. 142 of the RMMW catalog; the catalog indicates that it is for ‘46-‘74 models. As I am looking at it the front is to the lower left, then proceeding back there is a groove for the bracket and then another one for the clip, which is pictured beside the bushing. Flimsy little thing, it seems to me...

I've been standing out by my work bench in the heat (95F) ponderating over the shifter parts. You know, the bushing is split longitudinally and can be easily stretched over the shift rod. What if I were to dig out the old bushing, slip the new one over the rod and push it into the bracket. Then slip the circlip over the rear end of the shift rod and pull it forward with a long stiff wire, and slip it over the rear end of the bushing. This way I'd only have to move the shift rod forward a few inches and eliminate all the hassle with the crash plate and stuff. I wouldn't be able to polish up the rod and grease it over it's entire length, but . . .

Rob - Will it (the shifter bushing) stretch enough to fit over the rod without distorting?

Dave - Yes, I think so. I opened it up a little this afternoon, and I'm sure I could get it over the rod. And then it will have the bracket on one end and the circlip on the other to hold it tightly on the rod. It's supposed to be a tight fit, according to what I've read.

Rob - Might work. And so long as the rod isn't too rusty that it will fall apart from (more) inattention, I don't see a problem... And so long as you can clean up the bit which rides in the bushing...

Dave - If this is the case I will fall back to the original plan and work the rod over real good. It looks pretty rusty in the back -- not falling apart rusty, but it has a nice brown coat. The more I think about it the more I think it will be best to just to the job right -- brighten up the rod over it's whole length and coat it with a nice layer of white lithium grease. I'm sure the rod has never been out of the car and the bushing and coupler have never been replaced. They say that doing this will make the car drive as if it were new.

Regarding the bracket that the bushing goes into: from the various pictures I've seen this bracket seems to be connected to the stop plate (or another piece) that fits directly under the shift lever. The article in the June '98 VW Trends gives a source for this bracket, but I haven't seen it anywhere else. If it needs to be replaced I'm going to button things back up until the part comes, as I can't keep the car out of commission for too long -- it's actually my son's, and he drives it to work everyday.

In the June ‘98 issue of VW Trends there is that pictorial article called “Cure For The Sloopy Shifter.” In it the statement is made, “If your hanger is in good condition and isn’t oval shaped, you can get away with just replacing the bushing. If it has become egg-shaped due to years of neglect,... you will also have to replace the hanger.” This statement has haunted my twilight times the past few days -- I wonder if maybe I should hold off for a week or so and get a new hanger just in case. It can’t be too expensive. The article recommends Kymco Motorsports in Costa Mesa, California for the hanger.

I just got off the phone with a very helpful guy at Kymco Motorsport. He's going to ship me a new shift rod hanger second-day air, so it will be here for my project on Friday.

Now I've got a problem and would appreciate your advice.

To replace the shift rod hanger (which holds the bushing that the shift rod passes through) I have to drill out six small spot welds that hold the shift rod hanger to the underside of the tunnel, right around the hole where the shift lever sits.

I'm a little confused by what I'm hearing and seeing. The pictures in VW Trends show that the new aftermarket hanger has two large holes on either end so that it attaches to the underside of the tunnel with the same bolts that hold the shift lever assembly on. On the other hand, the guy at Kymco said that I will have to spot weld the new hanger back into place. Aarrgghh! Seems to me I should be able to bolt the hanger in place through the holes that I drill out (but then the surface wouldn't be flush for the shift lever assembly). Maybe I can find a friend who welds and can come over and do this for me.

Rob - My guess is that the hanger would only be damaged if the bushing had worn right through and the rod was rubbing on metal. You might be able to see if it's OK just be removing the shifter, without first touching the shift rod...

As you say -- I haven't done this, but my friendly VW shop says there are BOTH types of replacement hanger -- the type which has to be fixed in separately (they thought it might be possible to use self-tapping screws or similar but recommended welding) and the 'other' type, which uses the shift lever mounting bolts to hold it in place. And he said it depended on what was available at the time, as to which one you got.

As I said in my previous email, you might not need the hanger in the end -- my VW shop says it has to be REALLY bad to wear right through the bushing. (But I know you said yours was bad and finding gears was difficult, so maybe...)

Dave - I’m hoping that you’re right. The new hanger is cheap, so I thought it would be safe insurance. Sure don’t want to have my son’s car laid up while I’m waiting for a part!...

Since the guy described that type that requires welding to me, I suspect that’s the kind we’ll get. I went to Eagle Hardware last night and got a supply of very small (3mm) metric bolts and nuts. The bolts have very low rounded heads that are tapered on the underside; I thought these might work to attach the hanger if I need to.

Just have to wait until I get in there to see. Inspection of the bushing and the hanger will be just about first after removing the shift lever assembly. I’m going to take that apart and paint the shift lever, by the way. Also going to paint the emergency brake lever -- both look pretty ratty. A bit of wire brushing/emory cloth sanding first, of course. I learned in Painting 101 (in the School of Hard Knocks) that surface preparation is the most important step in any painting job.

Tomorrow morning I’m going to stretch out under the front and apply Kroil to the eight bolts holding the “crash plate,” then remove the passenger (right) seat, the rear seat and the carpeting so I’ll be all ready to go in the morning.

Now my question, which you may not be able to answer as you haven’t done the shifter bushing replacement. First thing I gotta do is remove the two bolts that hold the shift lever assembly in place. What’s the deal here? What do these bolts screw into? Are there “captive” nuts below? There must be, as it is impossible to get a wrench into the tunnel and onto a nut.

Dave reported - First thing this morning I sanded the shift lever lightly and put another of black shiny paint on it. Then I spread out in front of the car and removed the "crash plate" -- total of eight bolts. The two in the middle go into captive nuts on either side of the access port in the frame head. There is no other cover over the access port. Piece of cake removing the crash plate.

Then the fun began. Moving that shift rod forward was no easy trick. First of all the cup on the front end interferes with the forward captive nut on the shift hanger, so you have to turn the rod to one side to get by it. Not only that, but it interferes with something else inside the tunnel, and you have to turn the cup completely upside down to get it through. And then it was REALLY tight in the bushing. I had to grab the rod with a pair of conventional pliers, opened to the wider setting, and then ply the pliers against the edge of the hole to move it about an inch and a half. Greased the rod and went back and forth thru the bushing a few times to try to ease it up. Very tedious.

The end of the shift rod finally cleared the bushing, so I went around to the front to pull it through. It was no where to be seen! I knew it had to be there, so I fished around in there as far as my fingers could reach (hand wouldn't fit) and located the cup about three inches in. Pulled it on thru, but no luck. It HAS to go through the little round access port in the front apron to come all the way out, and of course mine is all puttied up and painted over.

So I did it the hard way. I pulled out the old bushing -- not all that bad, actually. I couldn't see any visible signs of wear. I expected it to be in shreds or something! And the bracket on the shift rod hanger was in perfect shape, so I left it. Slipped the new bushing in and then the "clip" (turned out to actually be a rubber o-ring affair) over the end. Then I greased everything up go and reversed the process with the pliers, only this time I lathered the rod up with grease every step of the way.

Rob - I'm not sure how much play there should be in the gearbox either. Not too much I imagine, so I hope it's not a compounding problem for you. Have to see how the gear shifts are when you get it bolted back up.

Dave - Once I got everything connected properly this problem seemed to go away. I don't see the fantastic "new car" improvement that some have reported, but I guess ours wasn't as bad as I thought it was. Mainly just the "chatter" at highway speeds, and I think that was due to the defective coupling (bushings on either side were worn and cracked).

Someone wrote regarding replacement of the shifter bushing - It took us a couple of hours and was accomplished without removing the "crash plate" at the frame head. There is plenty of room to slide the shift rod forward through the frame tunnel in order to insert the bushing in place.

Dave - Yes, I discovered this. Was quite surprised to run around to the front of the car once the end of the rod had cleared the old bushing and find no sign of the front end of the shift rod! Found it a few inches inside the frame head, of course, but could have saved myself the trouble of removing the "crash plate." I couldn't take the rod completely out of the car anyway, as a PO must have had a front-ender--he completely puttied and painted over the round access port in the front apron behind the bumper.

The guy continued - The original bushing was completely disintegrated- the only evidence of its existence was the metal retaining ring.

Dave - This is what I expected, considering how our shift lever was "chattering." But our bushing was actually in pretty good shape. The bushings in the coupler on the other end were shot; this must have been what was causing our problem. I had also purchased a new shift rod hanger, expecting a fried bushing and an 'egg-shaped' bushing bracket. Was VERY glad to find the old hanger OK, as to get the old one out you have to drill out the six spot welds and then spot weld the new one in place. Welder I'm not!

The guy continued - The only real problem encountered was that the shift rod seem to occasionally jam into the cable guides, especially when we slid the rod back into place. I had to reverse directions several times and try to reposition the rod in an effort to avoid interferences.

Anyway, after a few minor frustrations and some very greasy hands, the job was done.

Dave - Yes, I discovered this too and have added a note to the procedure to reflect it. If you're not careful the rod will get lodged underneath the cable tubes for the rear footwell vents--it must go over the top of these tubes to mate up with the transmission shaft.

The guy wrote - With a new Scat Drag-Fast shifter, a new shift coupler (and not to mention a new rebuilt transmission/transaxle), the results are quite impressive. The shift is very tight and smooth with a very short throw -- much better than when it was new.

Dave - Ours is much improved, but not as tight as I'd like it to me. I noticed some play in the transmission shaft itself--I suspect a tranny/transaxle rebuild is on our plate for sometime in the future. I noticed that it's a little harder to shift into reverse, but I suspect this is a stop plate adjustment.

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