Speedometer Woes Resolved!

Posted by on February 27, 2011

When I bought the bug the speedometer didn’t work.  The previous owner said that it had never worked for him, and I found receipts in the glove box from 5 years ago that mention the exact same odometer reading as what is currently displayed on the speedometer.  When I was at Central Texas Autowerks for the parts liquidation sale and swap meet I asked Steve about it and he gave me some pointers on how to debug the issue.

The bug uses a very simple speedometer system.  A cable is attached to the center of the front driver’s side wheel.  The end of the cable is square and it fits into a square hole on the wheel, where it is clipped into place.  Whenever the wheel turns the cable turns as well.  The other end of the cable screws into the back of the speedometer.  The cable is surrounded by a plastic sheath that protects it between the wheel and the speedometer.  When the cable turns, it spins a small electric generator in the speedometer, causing the needle to move.  This generator also turns a gear which advances the odometer.

To find the problem with my speedometer, I first took the dash apart and removed the speedometer from the dash.  In a super beetle you do this by removing the dash plate that contains the switches and then pushing on the back of the speedometer, making sure to push evenly on all sides.  Trying to pull the speedometer out from the front or pry it out with a screwdriver will only cause damage to the speedometer.  Also, it is important to write down the location and color of each of the electrical wires before you disconnect them from the speedometer.  Once the speedometer was removed I found issue number one: the speedometer cable wasn’t even screwed into the speedometer!

Next I jacked up the front of the car and spun the front driver’s side wheel.  This should have caused the cable in the dash to turn, but it didn’t.  Next I popped the hubcap off of the wheel and checked to make sure that the hole in the wheel was still square.  It was square and turning the wheel caused the cable in the wheel to turn without a problem.  This meant that the cable was broken somewhere between the wheel and the speedometer.  As a last check I put the square bit in my drill and ran it in the back of the speedometer.  Sure enough, the needle moved without a problem, although the odometer still didn’t work.  Armed with all of this info I called and talked to Steve again.  He said that the odometer gears often break and need to be replaced.  I swapped my speedometer for a working one that he had and also bought a new speedometer cable at a great price!  He even reset the odometer in the new speedometer to zero!

Once I had the replacement speedometer and speedometer cable, I enlisted my daughter Kaitlyn to help me do the repairs.  She removed the pin holding the speedometer cable to the wheel and I pulled the cable out.  A piece of cable immediately fell out of the sheath onto the floor!  Next I pulled on the end of the cable that was in the dash until the cable was completely removed.  I ran the new cable through the hole in the dash and down through the trunk into the wheel well.  I then pushed the cable back into the wheel and my daughter clipped it back on.  Once that was done I put the new speedometer in place and screwed the new speedometer cable into it.  Spinning the front driver’s side wheel now caused the speedometer needle to move and the odometer to turn.  Success!

Finally, I had Kaitlyn read me the notes I had made about the wire colors so that we could rewire all of the lights and instruments in the speedometer.  Once that was done Kaitlyn tested all of them by turning the ignition on and testing the blinkers, hazard light, headlights, etc.  Afterwards I pushed the speedometer back into the dash and replaced the dash panel.  It won’t get a full test until I fix the carburettor’s gasket problem and get the car running again.

As a side note, while I had the speedometer out of the dash I hooked the antenna cable back up to the radio and checked out the fresh air box.  It looks like the driver’s side of the fresh air box controls work but the passenger’s side controls do not.


9 Responses to Speedometer Woes Resolved!

  1. Skip

    Your web site was helpful. I have a 1977 super beetle with a broken cable from the speedometer to the counter box. Is it possible to reach up under the dash, remove the cable from the back of the speedometer, and not have to remove the gauge unit from the dash?

  2. andrew

    Hi Skip,

    Not really. Your best bet is to pull the gauge out. The good news is that it is relatively easy, no tools are required. The gauge just pulls out, though it might be stuck if it hasn’t been removed in a while.

    – Andrew

  3. paul

    On a RHD Super Beetle (1303) it is possible to reach up under the dash and unscrew the cable from the speedo if anyone with a RHD car is reading this. I’ve just done mine.

  4. Dave

    I just unscrewed my 78 Convertible Super Beetle from the underside of the dash as well. You do have to be patient and feel around to find the cable, but as soon as I did, I could pull the cable down and start driving to see if it’s moving. No luck, so I’m needing a new cable.

  5. Troy Silverman

    My 69 bug makes a horrid buzzing noise that seems to come through the dashboard when I go 40mph or over, and just recently, my speedometer goes crazy and flails around between 40mph and 80mph when I go about 50mph, could I fix these problems with the solution you provided in this article?

  6. Jim Lehmann

    I have (HAD) a 1974 Super Beetle speedometer with odo and built in fuel gauge. The speed needle shook back and forth when driving and the odo didn’t work at all. I found a place on line in Corona, CA that was highly recommended that repairs older model VW speedos so I send it to him. That was in March and it is like pulling teeth to get this item back. I have called him–he doesn’t answer. I have E mailed him and he has responded 2 or 3 times but now won’t even answer my E mails. All I want is my repaired speedo head back. I have not refused to pay or caused him any grief whatsoever. I am about to just give up, figure I have been swindled and search around for a replacement unit I can buy. Do you have any idea where I can get one? Thank you for your help.

  7. mike

    I need a replacement odometer ,,, cable replaced but after a month or so no work …. I have a great 79 super beetle epilogue edition … odometer & speedo not working

  8. mike

    mbdartmouth@aol.com …….need to send out my speedo for gear replacement ,,, where can I send or buy a eplacement ,,, thanks ,,, since mine is perfect I would like the name of a shop to send ,,,, 79 vw epilogue

  9. David

    Getting ready to remove the speedo from my 1977 super beetle convertible to change the fuel gauge voltage stabilizer. Hope there is enough wire in there to remove the gauge without having to take it completely out. Thanks for this information

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