Vanagon fluid capacities

Capt. Mike

Vanagon Fluid Capacity Chart & Recommendations

VW’s technical bulletin #V00-90-01 included a Fluid Capacity Chart. Following is a repeat of that information with some added comments. These apply only to the Vanagon, though lubricant type specifications are also applicable to earlier Type II's.

Engine Oil:
Air Cooled – 3.0 L (4.2 qt.); 3.5L (3.7 qt.) w/ filter.
Water Cooled thru 1986 – 3.8L (4.2 qt.); 4.2L (4.7 qt.) w/ filter.
Water Cooled from 1987 – 4.3L (4.8 qt.) w/ filter.
Diesel – 3.5L (3.7 qt.); 3.8 L (4.2 qt.) w/ filter

VW specifies a minimum API Service rating of SF for gas and CC or CD for diesel, but the advances in lubricants make use of these now obsolete oils unwise. The highest rated oils have current specifications of SM for gasoline and CI-4+ for diesel engines. Below SJ & CF are considered obsolete. Use the appropriate grade and viscosity for your climate conditions from the owners or shop manuals. Multi-weight oils of the proper viscosity range may be used in older vehicles that original specified single weight oils. Suggest changing with filter every 3K.

Manual Transmission:
Air Cooled 4 sp. – 2.9L (3.2 qt.)
Water Cooled 4 sp. – 2.5L (2.8 qt.)
Diesel 4 sp. – 2.5L (2.9 qt.)
Diesel 5 sp. – 3.4L (3.8 qt.)

VW specifies 80/80W/90 weight with a MIL-L-2105, or API rating of GL-4, but API GL-5 are now the most advanced gear lubes. It adds an impact additive to GL-4 to combat gear lash.

VW has issued a tech bulletin update on capcity (included Bentley §35.31 in later editions to reduce capacity by 15mm (9/16") BELOW the filler hole to reduce foaming and shift effort.

Caution: There is some controversy about using GL-5 in transmissions specifying GL-4. Some manufacturers claim they should not be used, others that they supercede the previous GL-4 spec fluids and are for use in all transmissions. GL-4 spec fluid is becoming harder to find. See posts elsewhere on this site. Suggest changing every 30K. See the discussion here:

Red Line (premium brand)

Red Line (premium brand)

Automatic Transmission:
All -- dry fill 6.0L (6.3 qt.); refill – 3.0L (3.2 qt.) The reason for the difference is the amount captured in the torque converter, which cannot be drained in car. However, A/T fluid has excellent life so a drain, filter replacement and refill every 2 years will usually catch any particulates and refresh the additives sufficiently that a complete drain is not required. Severe contamination may require several, short interval drain & refills or professional flushing.

VW specifies Dexron©/Dexron II©, but Dexron III© is now available. Mercon© and Mercon V© are Ford spec fluids. They meet Dexron© specs, but not vice-versa so you'll frequently find fluids rated Dexron III©/Mercon©, which is satisfactory. Do NOT use ATF+3 (certain Chrysler transmissions) or Type F (<1980 Ford transmissions) Valvoline now makes a MaxLife ATF for older (75,000> mile) transmissions with special additives such as seal conditioners & cleaners. Suggest changing every 30K.

Valvoline MaxLife ATF

Automatic Differential:
All – 2.1L (1.3 qt.)

MIL-L-2105B or SAE 90W API GL-5. Suggest changing every 30K.

Cooling System:
Water Cooled thru 1986 – 15.2L (16.9 qt.)
Water Cooled from 1987 – 16.7 L (18.6 qt.)

Use a 50% mixture of “safe for aluminum” or phosphate free ethylene glycol. See the coolant tips elsewhere on the Tips Board. Change every two years.

Power Steering:
All – 1.2L (1.3 qt.)

VW specifies ATF Dexron II, but Dexron III is now available. A VW tech bulletin cautions Vanagon owners that the Vanagon did not change to the hydraulic oil in 1989 as did other models. Suggest changing every 30K.

Brake Fluid:
Varies with system & manufacture of brakes. It typically takes a qt. To flush and change the entire system.

VW switched from DoT 3 specifications to DoT 4 in 1984. The two are compatible and may be mixed, but use only DoT 4 for all changes and fill-ups. DO NOT mix Dot 4 and Dot 5! DoT 5 is a silicone based fluid and has several very different characteristics beyond the scope of this Tip that make it unwise to mix the two. Dot 3 & Dot 4 are hygroscope; they will absorb moisture out of the air. Since brake systems must be vented, all systems will accumulate moisture which can lead to corrosion and failure. Also, brake fluid will oxidize and become contaminated, especially in the vicinity of the seals at the caliper or cylinder pistons. Change every two years. See change out tips elsewhere on this site. Don’t forget the clutch is part of the hydraulic system feed by the brake reservoir and should be changed at the same time.

Windshield Washer Bottle:
Front – 3.9 L (4.3 qt.)
Rear – 1.0L (1.1 qt.)

Use a commercial solvent and anti-freeze mix year around. Most protect to -20°F. If using a concentrate, mix according to directions. Avoid tablet & powders as they may not dissolve and clog the jets.

R-12 Refrigerant:
Air & Water Cooled – 1190 + 85 grams (42.0 + 3.0 oz.)
Diesel from 1986 – 1438 grams (50.75 oz.)

R-12 is being phased out in favor of R-134a. The two are not compatible and may not be mixed. Conversion to 134a is possible by an experienced professional. It involves changing all hoses, O-rings, pressure switches, the receiver-dryer and compressor oil. This option should be considered if you have a major failure and the system is opened for repairs.

Refrigerant Oil:
Air & Water Cooled – 135 cc (4.75 oz.)
Diesel from 1986 – 237 cc (8.0 oz.)

VW allows any commercial domestic refrigerant oil in USA models (R-12 systems), but specifies Suniso 5GS, P/N X 091050, only in Canadian models. If converted to R134a. only R134a compatible oil may be used.
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Capt. Mike

A copy of the oil viscosity chart for Vanagons is posted on the tech drawings link. ;) It is for Vanagons! The older Type II's were almost identical but the new Eurovans are considerably different. Consult your shop & owner manuals.


  • Vanagon oil weight chart.jpg
    Vanagon oil weight chart.jpg
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New member
I've never been able to figure out what the "+3.0 oz" was for. anyone know?

I get good cooling at 85% of the 42 oz using R-134a. Which works out to exactly 3 cans. I did try more and less but the performance was best at 3 cans.

R-12 OZ 41.92
% of R-12.........OZ #of R-134.....12 OZ R-134a cans
100% ...............41.92...... 3.49
95% .................39.824 ....3.32
90% .................37.728 ......3.14
85% .................35.632 ......2.97
80% .................33.536 ......2.79
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Capt. Mike

When I had the conversion done on my '90 Vanagon Syncro, the R-134 initial fill charge was 2.4 lb. The oil charge was 8 oz., which is higher than the R-12 system's was. Be sure you know NOT to use the same oils as the R-12 systems did.

I don't know what the + 3 oz. in the R-12 specs is unless it's a typo and meant +/- 3 oz.