Automatic transmission problems


New member
I have an 89 westfalia GL and am experiencing a problem with the transmission. If I am travelling below 35-40 mph there is no problem, but when I go over those speeds, the transmission gets louder, and when I take my foot off the gas it gets even louder and the engine maintians high rpm's and does not go to idle. It seems to be worse after a trip to Cape Breton Island (lots of hills). I dont know much about this kind of thing, I was wondering if this is a common problem, or what I might ask a transmission person to check...does this sound like a costly repair?


Capt. Mike

No, it's a sign you've got something wrong. First thing, go ahead and blow the $10 and do a fluid change. When you dump the old, look for color (should be bright red) and smell (no 'burned' or sharp acrid smell). If either, than you've got serious problems. Be sure and clean the screen/filter. If it's blocked, that leaves the pump starved for everything else and hopefully will fix the problem before permanent damage.

A/T fluid is also in the torque convereter. That's the liquid "clutch" and what you are describing is similar to clutch slip. Again, lack of fluid feed.

There is an operation checking sequence in the Bentley, 37.16-37.19. Run through it. Engine speed-up between shifts indicates slipping brake bands or clutches. There is "band adjustment", but I'll leave that to the pros -- I'm not that up on A/T's.

10-7-00; 2130: I've had a reader point out that the Bentley, Section 37.9, advises that the factory fill effective with the 1985 models, was a "red/brown" color that would discolor to black/brown quickly. It is interchangeable with ATF Dexron. At the age of all Vanagons, I would hope there aren't any "factory fill" left. I assume most would now have the US industry red color.
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New member
Capt Mike gave some excellant tips on keeping the transmission going along time with frequent oil and filter changes. One thing that is always missed with automatic transmissions is checking the drive train section fluid. Most people who have owned American cars, with automatics, know that the whole transmission uses just automatic trans fluid through-out. But with the Vanagon automatic, this is not the case. The automatic section and drive train section use different fluids and are separate sections. A noise like what you are describing could also be low or no fluid in the drive section, which means your ring & pinion bearings, or ring & pinion gears are going south. If you look forward from the CV joints, you should see a big allen screw plug that fits in the side of the transmission. This is the filler hole, and with a 17 MM allen wrench, you can check and see if you have fluid at the right level. It should be 80/90W gear oil, and you should be able to put your finger in the hole and feel fluid. It should be just below the hole and if you don't feel fluid, then you better get some in it. Hope this helps in getting your transmission back to road worthiness again. Good Luck.

[This message has been edited by CGOTTS (edited 08-21-2000).]

Capt. Mike

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'87 auto trans. slow to shift

Morgan101, Junior Member, 10-24-2000 11:27 PM

My '87 Westy automatic transmission operates well after about 2 miles, but will not shift into drive during the first mile or two of travel. This is only a problem on the initial trip per time period, ie. if the tranny is warm from recent travel it shifts fine.

I recently changed fluid (Dextron III) and screen, shifts a little smoother in all conditions, but the cold shifting delay problem still exists.

Any tips are appreciated.

Capt. Mike, Moderator, 10-25-2000 08:05 AM

Nice of VW to leave it out of the Vanagon edition of the Bentley, but the older Type II edition has an excellent troubleshooting chart for A/T's. Section 7-3.1.a.

Although your symptom could come from several causes, the prime suspect is #7: "Transmission stays in 1st gear with lever at 2 or D." Their probably cause is a. Governor dirty or defective; b. Valve body assembly dirty. There are a couple of others that may also be applicable.

I'm not too versed on A/T's but that you got an improvement with a screen cleaning and Dexron III change is encouraging. Tranny fluids do contain cleaning additives and if you have a blocked or sticky valve, it's possible it will work out as varnish disolves or the piece of trash breaks free and moves to the filter. You might check with a reputable tranny shop to see if there's a safe and effective tranny cleaner additive. One that you can put in, run the specified miles, then drain and refill with fresh Dexron.

Do check your vacuum connections. A slight leak or defeciency, compounded by cold oil could leave you with incorrect vacuum until things warm up and seal.

Like oil changes in a gunked up engine, several changes in a short sequence could clear you out. Hope so rather than have to pull the tranny for a valve plate cleaning or worse.

Automatic problems[?B]

busman, Junior Member, 12-15-2000 10:51 PM

Dear friends, please help!

I took my 1.7L Porsche engine out of my '74 Westy and rebuilt it. When I reinstalled it, the transmission (which worked before) refused to do anything. No gears, no noise, no nothin'

I took a look at the tranny and there was no shredded metal in the pan or anything. At some point during the process, I drained my torque converter. The last time I reassembled everything, I tried to refill it by holding it at an angle and pouring in fluid a little at a time. I could only get about half a quart in that way. Then I put another two and a half quarts in the transmission--it read full. Still nothing when the engine was run.

When I had the tranny out last time, I could manually turn the drive shaft and get movement on my drive axles. So I don't think the torque converter is doing its job. Perhaps it's still low on fluid--if so, how do I refill it. what else goes wrong with them? Where can I get one?


Capt. Mike, Moderator, 12-17-2000 09:20 PM

Slushboxes are hardly my long suit so I can only go by the troubleshooting chart in the Bentley, Section 7-3.a. It gives "No drive in any lever position" as probably caused by A/T fluid low; manual valve not hooked to selector lever; pump or pickup screen clogged; defect in pump or pump drive; or broken shaft or planetary gear set.
If just in the forward positions, forward clutch defective.

I'd lean to the manual valve not hooked to the selector lever, or a broken pump or pump drive because these are the items most likely to be disturbed by an engine R&R.

If the axles turn manually, that should rule out the broken shaft or planetary gear. Your fresh drain and screen cleaning eliminates the clogged screen, and unless it was full of trash, probably a clogged pump too. But an accidental disconnecting of the valve is easy enough to do when trying to hump an engine around. That could also cause a pump drive component to break.

The torque converter is refilled by the pump -- not a seperate fill operation. In fact, they only mention draining the last residuals as a special operation if it's been contaminated by a tranny failure. Apparently it gets adequate drain & refill with the tranny's.

I'd put myself at the mercy of the dealer for repair or parts. That is not a routine tranny for most of the chain shops. At least any work they do is warranted by VW parts & labor. This gives you a recourse if anything goes wrong.

Capt. Mike

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My 83 won't move

hitchgina, Junior Member, 08-20-2000 12:27 AM

I put a rebuilt motor in my '83 and now it won't move at all. Its an automatic transmision and the shaft is in correctly but it won't move a bit. It did set for about a year and a half before the motor was rebuilt but it was working fine, transmissiiion wise, before we rebuilt the motor. anyone have any ideas as to what my problem may be??

nosliwmit, Junior Member, 08-20-2000 05:18 PM

A friend and I replaced a motor in an old Dodge many years ago. When it was all back together the engine fired up and ran great, but the rig wouldn't move. Turns out we busted the little "ears" off the torque converter when we cinched the tranny up to the motor. Replaced the torque converter and all was well...

Don't forget to check the tranny fluid. No fluid will have the same symptoms, I think...

Good luck.

Capt. Mike, Moderator, 08-30-2000 07:57 AM

Sitting for 2 years with no maintenance is asking for trouble. The torque converter is really an exotic fluid coupler. The engine turns one set of vanes and the fluid then turns the other. Trash, gum or loss/hardening of fluid would stop them cold.
Ditto the A/T -- many tiny little valves, orifices and check balls inside, not to mention a pump, filter and lines to clog up.

See the other posts by CGotts about the dual fluid mode in a VW A/T transaxle.

Last, you said you put in "a rebuilt" engine. Is it the original or exact match? Not all VW engines are interchangeable, even if they do fit in the box.

Capt. Mike

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Doesn't move when warm

cijuin, Junior Member, 01-22-2001 05:33 PM

I recently bought a California conversion 87 Vanagon camper auto trans,which appears new, went up the East coast and back. On the way back in the Great Smoky Mtns, it made a whine shound and I smelled a burnt rubber smell, then it drove home to Atlanta. It sometimes works and drives, but it just won't move after it warms up sometimes. I'm told the transmission is bad and it's a $4700 factory rebuilt cost if it can't be rebuilt which costs $1500, BUT if the van sometimes works for a little, can the trans be bad???

Capt. Mike, Moderator, 01-22-2001 08:41 PM

That's not really enough info to give you a long-distance diagnosis. Borrow a Bentley shop manual for the '68 - '70 Type IIs. You should be able to look at one at your dealers -- ask the service department (nicely). I wish Bentley had included it in the Vanagon manual, but the principles and diagnosis will be the same.

Section 7-3 has an excellent troubleshooting chart in Table a. Run through it to decide if your looking at maintenance, adjustment or overhaul.

While you're there, ask the parts department the price of a VW factory remanufactured transmission. Since a factory reman engine is less than $4700, I think someone is screwing you around. Get the authorized dealer straight scoop first so you can make sound decisions; never trust an aftermarket shop blindly.

There is a post on new vs. factory reman vs. rebuilt trannies on this same forum. It will also refer you to a similar topic on reman engines. Read them both.

Capt. Mike, Moderator, 01-23-2001 08:16 AM

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Fair cost for factory rebuilt trans

cijuin, Junior Member, 01-22-2001 11:30 PM

I read the archives explaining the diff between rebuilt and factory rebuilt and the +/- of each. I was told by a VW dealership $4700 for factory. How can I get the fair price? I read another archive saying it's a listed price. What is fair and apologies, but I'm neither technically nor mechanically inclined. I saw it on this site how to find a good Westy mechanic locally but didn't find the list... where is is?? I love my camper van and want to fix it and need advice... sorry if this isn't the right kind of question for this forum.

Capt. Mike, Moderator, 01-23-2001 08:33 AM

The VW retail on an '87 factory reman automatic tranny is $4,090. So your VW dealer that quotes you $4,700 is jacking up retail, an unethical practice which I'd report to VW US. Unless of course, he's quoting you installed price, but even that's high.

Fair is in the eyes of the beholder. Needing one, you probably won't think it's fair, but what you (& VW) have to consider is the total cost to supply. I'm not defending VW in any way, but I do have an MBA and understand the business side that says they must make a profit. The cost of setting up a reman line for a tranny that has very limited sales has to be spread out over far fewer transmissions. Also the continued supply of parts with limited demand. The A/T was not very popular, so few were sold. That means even fewer are repaired through the factory reman process. Add in VW must warrant the product at ANY dealer for parts AND labor, and you've got a price that is high, but not necessarily 'unfair.'

Most dealers will tell you it takes about 20% markup just to handle parts. They have employees, overhead and other fixed costs to cover beyond the price they pay for the part. Plus they tie up a large amount of capital in stock. So expecting them to pass on parts with no profit is unrealistic. However, that said, many will work with a customer on such a large ticket item. Most also have a discount plan they offer large customers like independent shops; you might find one that will order for you and pass on part of the discount.

In the aftermarket rebuild world, it's "pays your money, takes your choice." There are very good and very bad and all in between. Only thorough investigation, including checking with your state's Attorney General office and BBB, can guide you. Supplement by talking to other owners who have had work done there. A reputable shop will give references. The advice posted elsewhere on rebuild shops for engines applies to trannies.

I'm sorry you're looking at a big repair bill. Have you gone through that troubleshooting chart? Take some time and do things in a logical order -- don't panic and make a wrong decision.

Capt. Mike

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RPM at 70mph for 91 West with Auto Trans

potami Junior Member # 2241 posted 09-10-2001 11:18 AM

A mechanic (non VW) friend of mine was surprised when I told him that my van was at 4,000 rpm at 70 mph (on the edge of the green area of the tachometer.)
Is this a normal rpm value for that speed? It is an auto trans (the first AT van I have owned).

Also, the trans does not seem to have much of a passing gear kick-down. Regardless of the speed, putting the accelerator down will not lead to a downshift. Do I have anything to be concerned about here?


Nicholas Garbis
Minneapolis, MN

Capt. Mike

If you are not down-shifting, you most certainly should be concerned. Your Bentley manual section 37.17 suggests the most common cause & 37.19 lists specs. How to adjust is also in the manual.

The A/T has a final drive ratio of 1.00:l, considerably lower than a M/T's 0.85:1. Thus RPM will run about 15% higher for a given speed. Yes, the 'green' on the tach goes to 4,000 RPM, but I suggest you read the post under ENGINES about breaking in a rebuilt engine -- it contains some excellent advice on sound driving practices for long engine life that apply to all engines. If you spend a lot of time running at 4,000 RPM, prepare to spend a lot of time in the shop.

Capt. Mike

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93 Westfalia with Unstoppable Automatic trans Leak

Ben of Indy Junior Member # 2682 posted 12-05-2001 05:57 PM

I own a 1993 Eurovan Westfalia with a 5 cyl and Automatic transmission. I noticed that the transmission pan was leaking so I replaced the pan gasket. Still leaking. It is a five bolt pan with metal spacers between the bolts and the pan that insert through the rubber gasket. Thinking that the pan may have lost some of it's clamping force I then removed the pan again and trimmed about .050" off of each spacer to allow the pan to tighten up more. It still leaks. It's not major, just seeping all around the gasket leaving small spots in my garage every time I park. I've considered buying a new pan, but my old pan looked to be in such good shape that I'm not convinced that it will fix the leak without hearing someone else's input first. Any experience/suggestions are appreciated.

Capt. Mike

Generically, without seeing the vehicle, leaks of a pan typically fall around the gasket not being correct or correctly installed, or the pan being dirty &/or warped.

If you are using an original VW OE gasket, that should safely rule out incorrect gasket or material. If aftermarket . . .?!

Cleanliness & removal of old gasket debris and varnish is essential. Often, this damages a pan if done with scrapers. 3M and others make excellent gasket removal chemicals that do not damage the pan like scrapers can.

Perhaps the most common damage is warping the pan, usually caused because they are stuck and somebody prys on the pan. The correct removal method is to gently tap the sides of the pan with a rubber mallet after the bolts are removed, breaking the seal sideways very slightly. Some will leave a bolt or two at one corner to help drain the pan further, thus allowing a warp. If there is not a drain plug (all too common these days), a suction fluid removal through the dipstick with a pump is of great assistance.

For a warped pan, there is little one can do except replace the pan. "Straightening" a warped pan is usually a futile task.

See the post under oils about the contribution of oil type & weight to leaks.

Depsite the best intentions of the manufacturer to provide a leak free 'dry' gasket assembly, some assistance is usually helpful. I use a set of gasket retaining clips. These are a set of copper clips from tool dealers that insert down through the gasket & pan, protruding out the bottom. When the pan is in place, the can be squeezed and removed out the bottom to install a bolt. Thus the gasket cannot slip around or get bunched/wrinkled. I also use a spray copper gasket adhesive/sealer available from auto parts stores. Permatex and others make it. It puts a tacky sealer on the gasket without any build-up like a silicone seal. This helps the gasket stay in place and seal up to the pan and body housing. Finally, I let the pan gasket set before filling -- several hours or overnight is often advantageous.

Last thought: Torque. Exact; no more no less. A "little extra" usually does more harm than good, distorting the gasket and/or pan lip. On a pan gasket, one does them in alternating sequence much like a head or wheel lug-nuts. Since the gasket will compress as it sets up, it usually takes several rounds. I do a final round after the gasket has dried per above.
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Capt. Mike

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Eurovan automatic transmission problems

blyster Junior Member # 3935 posted 04-11-2002 09:07 AM

I have a 95 Eurovan Camper with serious transmission problems. The transmission does not have a dipstick or any other way to check the fluid, so I had to bring it to a dealer to have diagnosed. The diagnosis was that I needed a new or rebuilt transmission. This is where the problem gets worse. Nobody besides VW has the codes for these transmissions, so I am forced to have the work done there. $4000 without labor for a rebuilt one. I heard something about a lawsuit against vw concerning this. Does anybody have any info on this lawsuit or any other suggestions on what I might do. Oh yeah, the van has 51k miles and 5 years 3 months on a 50k, 5 year warranty.

Capt. Mike

You have given us no symptoms or other information with which to respond to the technical question. However I refer you to your Bentley H37-46 which describes the dipstick, checking & topping of the ATF. The 'codes' are published in the Bentley! See Guideline #2. This forum does NOT provice legal advice.

Capt. Mike

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Automatic Shifting Questions

Sean Andersen Junior Member # 3963 posted 04-18-2002 11:35 PM

My mother's 91 Westfalia doesn't seem to want to shift down when under load. When coming up a significant hill the van slows to @ 40mph but remains in the third gear. The engine "feels" like it needs to "kick it up a knotch" but refuses. Shifting to 2 makes all the difference but shouldn't the transmission do that on its own? Nobody in my family has own a Westfalia before and we need advice on what these über-machines do...

Sean Andersen

Capt. Mike

Which transmission? See Message Forum Guidelines.

The troubleshooting chart referenced above indicates the most common failures are Kickdown switch defective or misadjusted, or kickdown solenoid switch defective.

Accelerator linkage & cable adjustment starts on page 37.12 of the Bentley.

Capt. Mike

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Harry Sloane Junior Member posted May 02, 2002 11:37 AM

I just bought a 96 eurovan westfalia with auto transmission and 70k miles and it has developped intermittent shifting problems. As I come to a full stop the RPM reduces down to normal but I get sudden surges that sometimes make the engine stop. Upon accelerating from a full stop the transmission shifts up to a higher gear at about 1000 RPMs and all shifting, while accelerating or decelarting is very erratic. The work around to this is to shift manually until the problem stops, which it does after a while. This has happened 3 times over a 2 week period. the morning after the first occurence I brought it over to a reputable VW shop in my area. Naturally it wouldn't do it for them at the time and they had never seen or heard of something like I was describing. After the second instance I brought it back to the shop and after several road tests it did it very briefly. The mecanic had a computer hooked on but couldn't get any "codes", he told me, from it. On all occurences there was a very high humidity factor (wet snow), cool (35-40) temperatures and lots water splashing in the engine compartment. The VW shop told me they would call VW tech services support and get back to me. In the meantime if someone has ever had this type of problem happen and solved it, or has information that could help, I would much appreciate to hear about it. Thanks

Harry Sloane Junior Member posted May 06, 2002 2:59 PM

My problem stated in the previous posting, went from intermittent to permanent. I broke down on the road Friday (May 3) and had to get my van towed to a nearby VW specialist. The specialist made a diagnosis today (May 6) and found nothing external. He suggests it might be the "body valve" as the tranny won't even shift into drive from park, let alone shift automatically from drive. He also suggested that if the valve is not to blame it might be internal printed circuits or mechanical. He proposes to first have the valve checked and then we'll see waht he next step might be. He mentionned it might go as far as having to replace the whole transmission. I recently purchased this van for a hefty sum and got it completely checked out by a CAA auto verification outlet before doing so. The VW specialist says it could have happend anytime, that these problems don't necessarily show signs before they fail As I have little mechanical knowledge I feel completely helpless. Can somebody provide advice?

Capt. Mike


New member
although the transmission in my '89 vanagon was rebuilt last year, it occasionally has shifting problems. generally, in the morning going up the hill from my house, if it happens at all. when it does the transmission waits until the revs are very high before shifting gears. sometimes, taking my foot off the gas will prompt the shift. my mechanic hasn't the slightest what this could be and the van won't do it away from the house. homesickness? is anyone familiar with this?


Capt. Mike

I wish they had included a similar chart in the Vanagon manual, but there is an excellent troubleshooting chart for A/T's in the older Type II 68-79 manual Section 7-3.1, Table a. Your shop should have a copy.

Item #12: Shifts take place at too high speeds.

a. Primary throttle presure valve misadjusted
b. Vacuum hose leaky
c. Kickdown switch lever bent
d. Kickdown solenoid switch defective
e. Valve body assembly dirty
f. ATF pressure low due to internal transmission leaks.

Capt. Mike


New member
thanks captain mike

i'll take your chart to the garage but in the meantime a new weirdness has cropped up. going up that same troublesome hill the tranny sounds like it's sliding (for lack of a better term) between gears, although the revs don't fluctuate. while this is happening the power level seems to be very low. will the same troubleshooting chart be applicable?


Capt. Mike

April Junior Member posted July 15, 2002 10:19 AM

1981 Westfalia-auto transmission- My friend and I just got back from what was supposed to be a cross country (PA to CA) 2 month trip. But we only made it to Tennessee before we broke down. When we got off the interstate to a secondary road, my transmission started slipping. So when we pulled in to the closest garage, transmission fluid started pouring out everywhere. So he changed a seal that is next to the torque converter (white, about the size of a half dollar, and got a round spring in side of it) and said that was the problem. Then he started it up and fluid poured out right away. So he took it apart again and said there was too much room in there and anded up putting 2 of these seals in. He said he still wasn't sure if that was it, so we tried coming home and made it. It just started leaking again the other day. I drive it took work everyday approx. 13 miles one way and it is leaks. If I drive it around for an hour or two it will leak horribly. So I went to a little vw repair shop nearby and they showed me the seal and it looked like the one he put in it and they said the following could be one of the problems....#1 The seal could have moved crooked when they put the other piece on #2 The bushings could be wore #3 The metal piece around the seal could be rough and cutting the seal up. My father fixes my other 3 stick shift vw's is clueless on my first manual transmission. Any suggestions on what we could check or any sites you could reccomend we could get some info from? Our manual we have now doesn't give much description for repair or troubleshooting on a automatic transmission. The mechanic at the garage also said they had few problems with the automatic transmissions they put in the westfalias. Please let me know. Thanks


Capt. Mike

If there was 'room for 2 seals', somebody was doing something wrong -- wrong seals or there is already some other problem. The seal must sit in the case at exactly the right position & depth so that the section of shaft that rides on the seal is the section designed for that purpose -- diameter and machined smoothness.

You use words like "little VW repair shop nearby" and "Our manual we have now". This suggests you are not taking the vehicle to a qualifed VW dealer and do not have the factory shop manual by Bentley. There are independents who have a good knowledge of the VW A/T, but not the average street mechanic. The Bentley shop manaul is required for this site (see Guidelines). It does give good repair procedures including a section devoted to the seal in question.

Although not in the Bentley for your vehicle, the troubleshooting chart in the Bentley for the Type II (any quality shop should have) suggests checking both the converter oil seal and the welded seam in the converter.