Manual Transmission problems


New member
My '77 Westy gearbox is dripping at the front (nonengine) end. I read in the "Keep Your VW Alive" book not to overfill the gearbox because it would "blow out" the seals, but not until I overfilled it a little. I'm curious as to...
- Why would this would affect the seals?
- When the level drops to where it belongs, will the drip stop?
- What should be my next move in addition to checking it each weekend (I do all my own work, for better or worse).
All suggestions cheerfully accepted!

Capt. Mike

You have a seal at the front end (toward passenger compartment) of the tranny as well. It's where the shift rod goes enters. This seal is a wear item and needs replacement every so often.

Overfilling causes the oil to foam up and can cause pressure to blow a seal. Although vented, the tranny can't always relieve that much pressure.

Once the seal is damaged, it will require replacement. If you have overfilled, reduce the level immediately. It may not leak as bad at normal level but replacement is your only option. Leakage at this end is more of a mess and annoyance than critical, but once leaking, a seal may finish going with a rapid dump of oil that could damage the tranny.

Seal replacement itself is not difficult. However, if you have blown the seal, you may have also started the rear (clutch end) seal leaking too. Thus you might want to consider changing both.

VW issued a tech bulletin (repeated Bentley §35.31) reducing the fill for this reason to 15m (9/16") BELOW the filler hole. I made a little 90° dipstick to measure this.


New member
While there are a number of small things that can be done to strengthen the Syncro transmission, there are a few areas that absolutely require special attention. I've read some discussion of them here, and see that some clarification is needed.

1) The splined slider hub that 3rd/4th slider rides on has a design flaw that allows this hub to eventually crack in virtually every Vanagon (not just the Syncro). VW has actually strengthened the replacement hub in 3 different ways, wishing to take no chances. It is absolutely imperative that this hub be updated to the new version whenever the transmission is apart for whatever reason. VW sells the slider & hub as a set.

2) The mainshaft ball bearing (in all Vanagons) does not get adequate lubrication to last indefinitely. This bearing should always be replaced whenever the transmission is apart for whatever reason.

Furthermore, in the Syncro, retention of this ball bearing is minimal, and the mechanic should seriously consider eliminating the intermediate housing gasket altogether (replace with a quality sealant), as this contributes to initial bearing movement. At the same time, the low gear housing should be resurfaced to restore the retaining tang that sits against the mainshaft ball bearing. Retention of this ball bearing is minimal at best, and everything possible should be done to keep it stationary. Almost always, the intermediate housing should be replaced or sleeved to restore the required interference fit of the bearing. Because of the high cost of Syncro intermediate housings, a standard Vanagon housing can be machined to suit.

3) The clearance of reverse and low idler gears must be set at the upper limit -- at least 0.5mm (.020"). Thinner special low gear shims are available through the dealer.

4) The 8mm rod that is spot-welded to the relay lever should be tig-welded in at least one spot. While these don't fail consistently, it is a simple enough precautionary measure (and it does fail often enough) to be well warranted.

Capt. Mike

Who is your source and can you provide any supporting documentation?

[1/1/07 NOT received -- doe it exist or just another unqualified rumor? NO VW documentation or parts supersession to support it supplied -- Westy Tech, Moderator]


New member
AA Transaxle

Just wanted to follow up on my post about buying a rebuilt transmission. It's been well over 3 years now and the tranny from AA Transaxle is still going strong. Cost was about $1000. Warranty is 3 years. AA seems like a quality vendor. I'll post contact info under mechanics listing USA/WA state as well.


pablo (87 Westy)

[This message was edited by pablow666 on June 05, 2003 at 09:08 PM.]


New member
This is regarding my 1985 Westfalia camper, manual transmission, 121,000 miles. I'm headed into the mechanic today since it seems my transmission/clutch is kicked. My question is, will it potentially cause worse damage to start in second and drive with no gear shifting at all or should I follow the exact instructions for towing in the manual? It was sticking coming out of fourth for a little while and now the clutch does not engage at all in any gearwhile the engine is running.So, drive it in or get the tow?
P.S. My mechanic is great, but since I'm learning, any transmission 101 books/websites/resources you recommend? The Bentley is still a little over my head and I'd like to start at the beginning so I can fully grasp your posts. hmmmm, this is actually more and more fascinating even though I should be stressed. Interesting, I must be turning into a full fledged Westy owner

Capt. Mike

Tow! You run the risk of something coming adrift in the transmission and ruining it beyond rebuild or even as an exchange core to a reman.

You didn't give distance, but if more than a few blocks, starting in 2nd will require some dexterious slipping of the clutch to avoid engine lugging, which could damage the engine on top of your tranny malady. And you're basically limited to about 27 mph for the journey.

The Porsche transmission up into the 911's were of the same basic transaxle design except they didn't use the more difficult 'hot oil bath' press fits, etc., of the VW. One of those books might give you at least an understanding of the tranny operation. Porsche syncro patents were used extensively in transmissions.


New member
New Member.Northwest England
Hi all.
Had my 1986 1.6td westy (130K miles) for 18 months.took a trip round europe last year taking in 11 counties and travelling 9000 miles. Without any problems at all>(only getting stuck on a beach). Thats the good news.
A few weeks ago i noticed the clutch slipping when i chaged from 2 to 3 . high revs until the clutch caught up.when i stopped the Van and set off again i expexted it to slip in 1st and 2nd but it didn't only 2-3 ( but it doesn't do it all the time)?I thought it maybe fluid on the plate.
This weekend a set off an a 160 mile journey to a long awaited festival after being in europe last year and missing out. call Vanfest You may have heard of it?
4 miles down the road on the motorway (no slipping 2-3) i couldn't engage 5 th gear nor could i get it back into 4 th gear. which ment pulling over in fourth. stopped the van put it in 1 st and set off again this time managing to engage 5th but quite forcefully.At my next turn off i couldn't change down from 5th so had to stop again and work my way up the gears no problem apart from 5th being hard to get.
5 hrs later we arrived at van fest.
The next morning i started seaking advice ( somebody must know there is 8k vans hear)
After speaking to various people it sounded like either a bend gear shaft or bushes in the linkage.
I am about to investigate this weekend
Could it be something else.
I can change gear from 2-3 (without it slipping now)?? and 3-2 without any problem at all.It just seems to be when you go across the gear box from 3-4 then you can't change from 4-3.
You seem to be able to find all gears with the van stopped but engine running. The clutch itself feels fine.
Any suggestions would be most welcome.
PS. Geat site


New member
I find that when the synchronizers (that would be synchronisers in the UK) start to go, you get eratic shifting behavior like this. I've experienced it in a Bettle, a Fiat, a Pontiac Tempest and a Ford van. When they begin to go, you can frequently only shift OK between 3rd and fourth, but not 1st and 2nd, etc.

Capt. Mike

T Rivers:

Start by eliminated the items that don't require a transmission tear-down. First the linkage -- which has it's own forum on this site -- to be sure that the engagement of the gears is not being hindered by out-of-adjustment plate, worn or broken bushings, bent rod, etc. Checking is discussed here and in that topic.

Second, check the clutch entirely -- it should be hydraulic on an '86, but I do understand some markets are different -- especially since your engine is different. The hydraulic mechanism requires the master cylinder, slave cylinder AND all the lines to be in good order. For instance, a deteriorating line can be swollen and hinder flow, especially the release flow that engages the clutch. See the hydraulic brakes topic in the Wheels forum for info on that -- same principle.

And, of course, your clutch could be binding or hanging up as it slides in and out on the throw-out bearing.

Since syncronizers are a 'convenience', they can usually be by-passed by double-clutching. That's one way to check but does require a fair amount of driver skill.


New member
thanks Guys for your reply's. I am away on holiday but will check linkages etc on my return and will report back.
Many thanks


Has anyone installed the taller gear set offered by aatransaxle, particularly with a tiico conversion?

I would be interested in your fuel mileage, driveability and general feelings.


Capt. Mike

The general consensus is that the Vanagons don't do well with taller gears or oversize tires. You face a couple of problems, power the obvious, but the jump between 2nd & 3rd is too large for much higher gears and 4th is already an overdrive ratio. I'll email you separately a spreadsheet that allows you to play with ratios and see their effect. From the Syncro site, I'm hearing that anything beyond about 3-5% taller begins to create driveability problems. Obviously, a more powerful engine extends that some, but consider that the low ratios & reverse are best left alone for start and control reasons. I've got a tractor and a truck with hi-low axles that I can experience it with and that low ratio control is worth a lot.


New member
Just an opinion, but I will state it for what little value another may be worth. I am in agreement with Cap'n Mike on this issue. Actually I live in the West (Las Vegas) and hills are just a part of life out here. I am in third gear quite a lot of the time. My experience though, also includes years in New Orleans, flat as a pan-cake, and more years on Whidbey Island, just as flat.
Still, I agree with Mike. These vans do not need longer gearing, or bigger tires. Even on level roads, in top gear they are working very hard as it is. Leave well enough alone, I think. Yes, I have read the GO-WESTY site opinions, I just do not agree. In fact, I too would like to switch to 15 inch tires for appearance. But for performance? No! And that is why I recently bought yet another new set of tires in 14 inch. They are not difficult to source, I ordered mine through Costco at a good price. Light truck specification, of course. Loved those old Continentals more though. They were quiet, and truck treads are not. May change my tune one day but I doubt it, getting old and resigned. The VW Engineering Staff in 1984 were possibly the best in the world, and they were not sleeping on the job when they set up these cars.
Perhaps something will come along to change the calculations; like a really great engine swap. I have not seen it yet however. The in-line VW option is, well, OK. I wouldn't do that myself as the performance gain is too small to give up original pride. And to use an Asian (Japan) engine in our treasured Nazi Footlockers, welllll, it will need to include far, far better performance upgrade than it does at present, in order to interest this old Redkneck.
I have had this 84 camper-van since it was new. Every fault is my own. I am fixing them each, as quickly as I can do it. The failings are resulting from neglect more than abuse - but, in no case can I really point to design problems.

If you have read this far, then please also join me in wishing the very best Holiday Spirit to our very own Cap'n Mike. We all owe him a sincere salute. This is the finest information forum for our old vans in the world....and the credit goes to our favorite Captain...Mike!!!

Keep um rolling...


New member
Originally posted by Capt. Mike:
First, there isn't any particular "gear oil" smell. Companies add aromatics and additives with different smells that vary. Shell Rotella-T motor oil has a peculiar 'burnt' smell even new. Viscosity will be your biggest clue. Check the puddle on a drip pan. Transmission oil is thick and when the drips are cold, will be almost like molasses. It usually stays golden. Motor oil will stay thin and 'run', turning towards black in fairly short order.

Actually, I am quite sure that there is a smell associated with rear end (differential) oil. That is, as compared to engine oil. The smell of gear/diff oil comes from the sulfer content, and it can be a problem for older differentials with brass parts. This is true for so long that I accept it as normal knowledge. How can someone who professes to actually work on cars be unaware of such basic information?
Cap't Mike, get away from your office and smell the oils....The young man was correct.



New member
Hi all,

Recently purchased an '88 westy with the 4-speed manual. Just read on Gowesty's site about the 3-4th syncro problem and was wondering if they are exagerating or if I should be thinking about a rebuilt transmission.
I am not having any shifting problems at the moment (about 130,00 miles) but i was wondering if the problem is as inevitable as they make it seem.

Capt. Mike

It's overplayed as "problematic". And it's sure not something to overhaul a perfectly good tranny for. Problematic is in the eye of the beholder. It might be something to replace if the tranny is being overhauled for some other failure or it fails itself, but for the most part it does not cause a premature failure of the tranny by itself, especially if properly maintained (fluid change every 30K). Do you have any signs? Excessive clash when shifting between 3-4? Excessive popping out of those gears (which may be linkage, too)? If it ain't broke, don't fix it. The tranny is tough enough to rebuild as it is; one doesn't do it for 'excercise'.


New member
Thanks for the quick reply. I don't have any shifting problems and your reply reinforced my gut feeling. It's just that after reading what GoWesty had on their site, I was wondering if it was going to be something in my mind every time I went up a hill in 3rd or 4th. I looked on several sites on the web and didn't see the transmission mentioned much (a million leaking head references!)but still wondered if other owners had many problems. Thanks again and GREAT site!

Joe Lauver

New member
I am getting ready to upgrade from an 84 to a 90 or 91, but my long time mechanic has warned me that tranny part for the manuals are now nearly impossible to get and I might be buying something that is very hard to fix in the future. Has anyone else heard about problems getting manual transmission parts. Thanks for the help.

Capt. Mike

Nope! Find a new mechanic.

First, go ask your dealer (Guideline #8)! Why would you want 2nd hand information when you can go right to the source? He can pull of the screen and quickly check any parts for current availability (as well as the availability of factory reman transmissions).

Second, where do all of the rebuilders, noted in several topics on this site, get their parts? You'd not buy a car based on an unsubstantiated rumor of what MIGHT happen to a very reliable transmission? 'Cause that's what you're really asking . . . "What if?"