How To Change & Adjust Air Cooled VW Points

If you have been following the tune up procedures your distributor cap is already off, if not then unsnap the clips and remove it from the distributor. There is no need at this point to disconnect the spark plug wires.

Air Cooled VW Points

Air Cooled VW Points

Pull off the rotor button and look at the tip. Is it burned, pitted or corroded?

Inspect the points. The contacts should be perfectly parallel and their surfaces should be smooth and clean. If the points appear burned the culprit is most likely the condenser.

As part of a routine tune up you will replace the spark plugs, ignition points, rotor button and condenser. You should also inspect the distributor cap and spark plug wires and replace them when necessary.The points are held in place with a small slotted screw and is attached to the condenser with a wire connector. Pull of the connector with your fingers or a needle nose pliers. Remove the screw and lift out the ignition points. Remove the condenser which is held on with a slotted screw.

Attach the new condenser and insert the new points tightening the screw only until it is snug. The easiest way to do this is to hold the points in your left hand then insert the screw into the hole and hold it in place with a screw driver.

When you look at the distributor shaft where it comes into contact with the points you will notice four lobes, or high areas.  Turn the engine until the base of the ignition points is resting on the highest point. Here is when your points will be fully open and here is where you need to set the gap.

Loosen the mounting screw just until you are able to move the contact points. Insert a 0.016 in. feeler gauge into the gap and tighten the screw. There is a spot where you can use a slotted screw driver to pry and hold the points in place (See photo).

Adjusting Air Cooled VW Points

Adjusting Air Cooled VW Points

Be sure to recheck and verify the gap once the screw is tightened as the gap tends to decrease when you turn the screw. This takes practice and you will probably have to redo it several times to get it right. Many experienced air cooled engine mechanics can actually set the point gap by eye balling it!

Now all you need to do is pop on the new rotor button, and if it looks fine, then snap on the distributor cap.


In an emergency you can file the contact points and get your VW back on the road. If you break down and you find that your points are pitted or they have material build up (which causes them to never fully open) you can remove the points and file down the contacts. If you don’t have an ignition point file any small bastard file should work. Keep in mind that it is important that the surfaces be as smooth and even as possible.

Proceed to Step 4 of tune up procedure Air Cooled VW Spark Plug Service

Written by David Slone, Copyright 2008

Air Coole VW Love! tagged this post with: Read 13 articles by

How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive:
A Manual of Step-by-Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot

First published in 1969, this classic manual of automotive repair equips VW owners with the knowledge to handle every situation they will come across with any air-cooled Volkswagen built through 1978, including Bugs, Karmann Ghias, vans, and campers.

Easy to understand and fun to read information. For novice and veteran mechanics alike. Anecdotal descriptions, and clear language, this book takes the mystery out of diagnostic, maintenance, and repair procedures, and offers some chuckles along the way.

Image of How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step-by-Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot
How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step-by-Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot
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  1. Luke says:

    Hi thanks for all the help this site is really good

  2. VWNut says:

    You are very welcome Luke and thank you for the good words. I am one of the biggest VW (Air cooled only please) fanatics around.

  3. Keith says:

    Hi, Great instructions to help me look after my first bug,
    65 with a 1600.

  4. Logan Richardson says:

    Hey everyone, I have a 1978 fuel injected Volkswagen bus. I drove her up to Illinois from Tennessee and back to Tennessee. On the way back, I started to notice a loss of power, and she started to act a little odd. When I get home, I shut it off.

    I got up to go to work the next day, and it wouldn’t start at all. I have changed the spark plugs (they were a little fouled by carbon buildup (rich fuel mixture)). Also, the points were completely shot, so I replaced them as well. I have also gone over the entire fuel and vacuum systems, and there is nothing out of the ordinary to my knowledge.

    A couple of weeks ago, the EGR light came on the dashboard. Before that, it was already starting to act strange, and I started having to adjust the idle regularly. Now, I have to really up the idle to make it run for longer than about 20 seconds. When I put it into gear, she starts to kind of bog down, and when I back up, or put it into drive (automatic), she starts to really bog down and eventually she dies. When I try to get on the accelerator, even to get her up into the driveway again, she bogs down really bad, chugs, sputters, and then dies.

    I haven’t tried to take it out of the neighborhood out of fear that it will completely crap out on me. I’m trying to figure out what else could be wrong. I haven’t checked the gasket to the throttle body as of yet, but I really don’t think it would be that at this point. Whatever is going on, it’s completely robbing the power of the engine.

    Could the fuel in the tank itself be bad? There are only a few gallons of fuel in it currently. I am kind of losing my mind trying to figure out what the problem could be. I don’t want to just end up throwing parts at it until I find out what’s wrong. I would much rather have someone who actually knows what they’re talking about answer my question.

    Can anyone get back to me and bounce some ideas around with me, please? That’s all I’m really wanting. Also, I’m not 100% on this, but it does sound rough at idle. There is possibility that it could be missing? I’m not really sure though. She does sound like she’s firing on all four.

    I spoke with a VW mechanic in my area, and he told me not to worry about timing it because of replacing the breaker points. He told me it wasn’t necessary. I also don’t know the last the time the condenser was replaced. Not since I’ve owned her at least. Let the idea bouncing commence!



    The fuel tank was recently completely recoated, and the fuel line and fuel filter are very new (fuel line within a few months, pump within a year, dual relay within a year and a half, spark plugs brand new, distributor cap brand new, plug wires brand new, breaker points brand new, fuel filter brand new, fuses look to be well kept and intact, starter turns over easily, fuel injectors within a year old)

    The only things I think could be wrong (POSSIBLY) are:

    Throttle body gasket
    Thermo time switch
    Temperature sensor II
    EGR failure of some sort?
    Decel Valve maybe?

    I’ve read so much about people having similar problems, but people say how to fix them and the people never respond with whether the solutions worked or not! I’m at a loss! 🙁 Please let me know likely culprits and some detail on how to fix the problem 🙂

  5. craig says:

    Hi Logan, I would like to know if anyone responded to you concerning your 1978 bus stalling out. I have had the exact same condition the last two days and I have the same bus as yours. Mine is going in for its first rebuild next week after 215,000 mi. but I would like to be able to drive it there. Thanks, Craig

  6. JP says:

    maybe the carb throttle spindle is worn causing an air leak,carb base gaskets are important,any leaks about the manifold to carb or manifold to engine block inlets will have a
    bad effect with the engine getting too much air and running lean.
    What color tips of your spark plugs?If white-engine is running hot with lean fuel mix.
    If black then engine runs rich mix.

  7. JB says:

    No matter how many times I TURN THE ENGINE it never stops on the high side or extreme open points position. Anyone know what else I can do to achieve this?

  8. Larry wilson says:

    What is your cardsapp brand number?

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