Valve Adjustment 101


One of the best things about owning a ACVW (Air Cooled VW) is how easy they are to maintain. Regular valve adjustment will greatly increase the life of your engine. All you need are some simple tools, a jack and about 1 hour of time. The VW manual says to adjust them every 3000 miles, but do a valve adjustment at least once a year… usually in the Spring when I get the car ready for the warmer weather.


I’ll describe how to do it on a late model Beetle, but this generally applies for early Beetles, Ghias, T3 and Busses. You need the following tools:


13mm Box Wrench

19mm Box Wrench

Slotted Tip Screwdriver

Feeler Gauge

Valve Cover Gaskets (2)


The valves should only be done with the engine COLD. That means you should do it only after the engine has been sitting overnight. You can adjust the valves with the car on the ground, but if you have access to a floor jack and jack stands it will save your back. You need to know that cylinder #1 is on the passenger side toward the front of the car. #2 is behind it on the passenger side with #3 being on the driver’s side toward the front of the car and #4 on the driver’s side toward the rear of the car.


The first thing you need to do is get #1 at TDC (Top Dead Center). Use your slotted screwdriver and remove the 2 clips that hold the distributor cap on. Under the cap the distributor has a filed slot that indicates #1. You need to rotate the engine until the tip of the rotor points to that mark. To rotate the engine use your 19mm box wrench to turn the generator or alternator pulley. That will cause the crank pulley to turn also. You will notice a notch on the crank pulley. That also indicates TDC.


When #1 is at TDC you need to remove both valve covers. Use your slotted screwdriver to pull the valve cover bail down and the valve covers can be pulled off. At this time you should examine the cork gaskets. If they need to be replaced, remove them and clean the mating surface of the valve cover. Apply a thin coat of Permatex gasket adhesive to the valve cover only… not to the head.


Now you are ready to adjust the valves. Using your feeler gauge check the clearance of both intake and exhaust valves of cylinder #1. I set mine to 0.006”, but some early cars use 0.004” and some aftermarket cams use other specs. If they are OK, you can leave them. If they need to be adjusted use you 13mm wrench to unlock the jam nut and use the slotted screwdriver to adjust the clearance. When it’s at 0.006” tighten the jam nut and then recheck with the feeler gauge.


Now turn the gen/alt pulley nut counterclockwise 180 degrees. A degreed pulley makes this easy, but if you have a stock pulley, just turn it until the TDC mark is at the bottom. Now you are ready to adjust #2. You do it the same as #1. When that’s done turn the pulley another 180 degrees and #3 should be at TDC. Adjust #3 like the others and turn the pulley a final 180 degrees and #4 will be at TDC. When #4 is done you should reinstall the valve covers and reinstall the distributor cap.


That’s it… just clean up and you’re ready to go.