How to Tune Up an Air Cooled Volkswagen

Here are some tips on how to tune up an air cooled Volkswagen. Most people can learn to tune up an air cooled Volkswagen engine with just a bit of practice. If your VW is getting harder to start and you notice less power and gas mileage or missing then a tune up is long overdue.

A tune up is important for any car, but it is even more so for an air cooled engine. An air cooled engine will vibrate much more than a water cooled one. This vibration will cause engine components to wander from optimal settings a little quicker. The better tuned your engine is the less it will vibrate.

When you tune up an air cooled Volkswagen engine you should follow the procedures in a particular order. Some systems are dependent upon other systems to operate properly. For example an accurate carburetor idle mixture cannot be achieved unless the compression, ignition system and valve clearances are correct. In addition, compression readings will be adversely affected by improper valve clearances.

Tune Up Air Cooled VW Engine

Air Cooled VW Engine Tune Up

You can take your VW to a mechanic, if you can find one who is familiar with air cooled engines, or you can do the work yourself. Doing your own work and maintenance will save you money, it will also make you closer to the car. When you do your own work you know what you have and you develop a feel for the way the car runs which helps you notice problems much quicker.

The “official” recommendation for tune ups is around every 10,000 to 12,000 miles, but this is only a very general guideline.

The actual need for tune ups is dependent upon driving conditions and how hard your VW is driven.

Remember, if your VW is getting harder to start and you notice less power and gas mileage or missing then a tune up is long overdue.

As time goes by you will “learn” your air cooled VW. You will know exactly when to do a tune up and you will be able to do it quickly. The trick is to make it a labor of love and not a chore, otherwise consider taking it to a mechanic.

OK, so a tune up is important, but it doesn’t end there. Between tune ups you should check things like your ignition points and oil level. There are also plenty of non tune up things to check, such as; brake fluid level, condition of brakes and tires, battery charging system, exhaust, etc.

VW Ignition Points

VW Ignition Points

When you first begin tuning up and maintaining your air cooled Volkswagen check everything often. As time passes you will learn things like how much oil it uses and what sort of gas mileage you are getting. You will notice quickly when conditions or performance deteriorates and you will know what to do to get that VW running smooth again.

Here are the steps for performing a tune up. These steps are arranged in the order they should be performed:

1. How To Test Engine Compression
2. How To Adjust Air Cooled VW Valves
3. How To Change & Adjust Air Cooled VW Points
4. Air Cooled VW Spark Plug Service
5. How To Set Ignition Timing On An Air Cooled VW

Written by David Slone, Copyright 2008 all rights reserved.

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
with Confidence from Amazon


  1. Ben says:

    I bought my first VW bug in 74. it was brand new. I wish I still had that one! Currently I have a 72 VW bus and even though it isnt in mint condition I still love it.

  2. owen Smith says:

    thanks for putting this site together. I used it to tune up my 1968 bus and it has never run better! i appreciated your hard work. Thanks again.

  3. Fank says:

    I am building a trike 1600 twinport model unown.Need HELP

  4. robert says:

    I would like to rebuild a vw classic beetle1972 up but dont know where to begin not familiar with autos but have seen several old beetle bodies put up for sale.where do i begin from.

  5. beetleboy21 says:

    hi there, im busy rebuilding a beach buggy and am having huge trouble with the wiring as i did not strip the vehicle. does anybody have a wiring diagram for me PLEASE. thanks for the great site 😉

  6. VWNut says:

    I recommend that you try to find a Bentley Manual for Air Cooled VWs. An excellent manual with very detailed wiring diagrams

    Volkswagen Beetle and Karmann Ghia Service Manual, Type 1: 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969

    Volkswagen Service Manual Super Beetle, Beetle & Karmann Ghia: 1970-1979

    Volkswagen Station Wagon, Bus (Type 2) Service Manual: 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979 (Volkswagen Service Manuals)

  7. john hart says:

    Hi i got a vw jeep and its jerks when i remove my foot from the accelerator when driving,when i keep my foot on the gas all is well only when i slack off ever so slightly its got this jerk ……..pls help

  8. Al says:


    I have a 63′ VW Beetle Sedan -- all stock 6 volt 1200cc 40 hp -- and there seems to be confusion on what notch on the pulley to use to set the timing. Muir says one thing, “Bug Me” video another. I have one of those short stubby (about and inch thick) distributors. Anyone have advice on what position to use? -10, -7.5 or TDC?

  9. Ad says:

    I own 2 VW’s..a 71 Bay & a 73 Super Beetle..can U please email me information as my Beetle miss fires on acceleration after replacing points,condeser..set timing etc


  10. suzanne neylan says:

    I have driven 1,000 miles since my last tuneup in Jan. 2014…..I was told when it hits 2,000 I need a tuneup is this correct? where in santa monica can I get a tuneup?

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