Welcome to the BugShop FAQ

The text following is part of a series of articles written by John S. Henry on the restoration and maintenance of air-cooled Volkswagens. While his experience is exclusively with the Beetle, many of the techniques can be applied to other models.

This text is copyrighted and duplication, re-distribution or publication is prohibited without consent of the author.

Article: Resuscitating and Mummifying a Beetle
Last updated: 10/27/01

Resuscitating and Mummifying a Beetle

Symptom- You are "putting away" your trusty Beetle for some indeterminate amount of time and you want to do the right thing. OR You are "waking up" a sleeping Beetle and trying to get it road ready, and you want to do the right thing.


I spent some time thinking about what to call this article. I try to be clever and make up "leading" titles. "Mummifying" came to mind because I would be talking about draining fluids and all, with the committed hope that the subject would one day come back to life. Maybe.

Just wanted to be clear on that.

Anyway, inherent in the Beetle hobby is the fact that many of these cars will "sit" for long periods of time. This could be because they are being stored, their "resto" is taking along time, or their resto has simply not started. And unfortunately, many times, the owner really doesn't intend for the car to sit for a long time, but it ends up doing so and without certain precautions, often unnecessarily costs time and money to rectify. So this article will offer some suggestions on resuscitating and mummifying a Beetle. Many of them are inverses of the other, but I will start with resuscitating, then discuss mummifying.

And lastly, I just thought of something cool to do with this text. Everywhere I mention the possible use or need of a part or supply, I will use this dark red color. So you can scan through this article and get all your stuff ready prior to resuscitating or mummifying your old Beetle. I will be doing this with any new articles I write.

Resuscitating the Beetle- Blood Transfusion

A cardiac defibrillator. My employer makes these. Part of the "Resuscitation" product line. 

Before I start, let me say that a bit of this "resuscitating" stuff is covered in the "Ok, I bought a Beetle, now what?" article. But it doesn't presume that the car was necessarily dug up after years of storage. You might want to read it nonetheless for another perspective, there is lots of "get it ready for the road" stuff there. The text below is really aimed at the "barn" or "field" Beetle. The one where you can't find anyone alive who remembers driving it. Use common sense in any case.

Ok, lets make some assumptions here. You have a Beetle that has just been brought out of mothballs/dusty barn/towed from a weedy backyard and you want to "get it going". Probably 90% of the Resusitation/Mummify issues around Beetles (and cars in general for that matter) involve fluids. There is a "quiz" in the "Ok, I bought a Beetle, now what?" article; name all the fluids needed by a Beetle.

Only the last one is pretty inconsequential when it comes to the its effect on the long-term "shelf life" of a Beetle. In resuscitating an old Beetle, you should address each of these as described below. In summary, you must address all of the fluid systems in the car. Aside from rust, they have the potential to do the most damage. Which is why folks, you should be aware of all of this and take the steps below in the "Mummifying" section to insure this doesn't happen whilst the car is in your care. In a really crusty subject, you will likely have to, and should, replace all of the brake lines (they're cheap) and probably rebuild or refresh the engine.

Resuscitating Beetle- Brakes

Next on the list of stuff that "crusts over" is the brakes; the mechanical part. There is probably no better opportunity to practice you metal conquering (and swearing) techniques than to bust open all the drums on a generations-old Beetle that has been untouched for almost as many years. My rule of thumb is to never plan on re-using any internal brake hardware. Corrosion, even surface rust, makes brake components unsafe. Plan on replacing shoes, wheel cylinders, hardware (springs and such) and possibly drums. The backing plates usually survive neglect OK though. You will want to basically "resto" each of the 4 hubs. Start with the fronts, they are usually easiest. I'm not gonna tell you how, you should already have the Muir book and/or the Robert Bentley manual (www.rb.com) to tell you "how". The only two tips that I would add here is to spray WD-40 or penetrating oil in the lug not holes a day or two before (only because you will be replacing everything inside) and make sure you back the adjusting stars off all the way (see Muir) before taking the drums off. You may need a hammer and large screwdriver to do this. Take everything off and inspect the drums. My rule of thumb is that if there is a ridge worn near the inner lip greater than a dime's thickness, they are trash an should be replaced.

The back hubs are where the real fun comes in, for two reasons. One is the infamous rear axle nut, the other is the fact that cars are often mistakenly stored with the emergency brake on. As for the axle nut, see my "Tool techniques" article. The preferred method is a 3/4" breaker bar with "cheater" pipe, a 36mm or 1 7/16" 3/4" drive socket, a torch and penetrating oil. Do this only while the car is on the ground, wheels on and chocked. That not available, a very large adjustable "crescent" wrench may be used. The alternate method is to use the slug wrench as seen on my "Altar of Manhood" page (scroll down). This is less preferred because some schools indicate that you can do bearing and tranny damage using them. I have used the slug wrench on occasion but personally have never experienced this damage. Make sure you release the emergency brake handle and adjust the shoes all the way out before attempting to remove the drums. And a word of caution, at the time of this writing, '57 and earlier rear drums were pretty damn hard to find. Don't trash yours until you are sure they are unusable and you have something else.

Resuscitating Beetle- Other Stuff

I'm not going to try and tell you how to start an engine that has not been run in 10 years. But I would say to use common sense, ie. if you do get it to run, don't expect it to effortlessly scoot you around for another 100k miles. But if it is otherwise trash, and you do get it to run, by all means, let it live out its useful life. There are many a marvelous story about "Barn Beetle" engines coming back to life and living again for many years. Just do all the maintenance (ignition stuff, valve adjust, oil, etc.) about 2-3 times as often as you usually would for the first year.

Here's a quick summary "Checklist" for Resuscitating a Beetle:

Checklist for Resuscitating a Beetle 
  • Restore Fuel System 
    • Flush and clean tank 
    • Flush and clean main metal fuel line and rear metal line 
    • Inspect in-tank fuel strainer, replace if necessary 
    • Inspect and clean carburetor 
    • Replace all rubber lines, clamps and fuel filter 
  • Warm engine externally and drain and replace oil. Clean strainer and replace using new gaskets. 
  • Remove all hubs and inspect brakes. Replace components as necessary 
  • Flush and replace brake fluid, inspect all brake lines and replace as necessary. 
  • Warm transaxle externally, drain and replace transaxle oil. Check axle boots (swing axles) and replace if necessary. 

Mummifying a Beetle- Introduction

"You are young again. You live again. You are young again. You live again. Forever."

....Ancient Egyptian prayer for the dead 

More mummy stuff here.

[Special thanks to Bob Hoover for some additional tips on mummifying, added since the first publication of this article.]

If you didn't read the "Resuscitation" stuff above, go do it. At a minimum, it will paint a picture of you of stuff you don't want to have to deal with as a result of your own actions. This section will follow a similar format than the one above, why? Because if you do all this stuff, you won't have to do all that stuff later! Also, Page 22 of the '57 restoration series contains some details and pictures on how I store my '57 for the winter. You might want to check that out also.

Very often, with the best of intentions, we park a Beetle thinking "This summer I'm gonna get this thing done". This is very often the case after another vehicle is purchased or maybe after a change in life like a new house or a marriage. But as I said in the "Ok, I bought a Beetle, now what?" article,

You must make absolutely no assumptions that rely on a predictable periods of time passing between events in the restoration.

If you have any doubts about when you will "get to work" on that old '64, take the measures listed below so you don't have more work to do.

Mummifying a Beetle- First things first

WASH the car and clean it out thoroughly.

Mummifying a Beetle- Fluids, again

Two approaches to gas; all or nothing.

  1. Fill the tank completely and add a can Sta-bil or other fuel stabilizer. Fill it right to the top, you don't as little air in there as possible. Now drive the car for a few miles. You want to make sure that the treated gas finds it was all the way back to the carb and all it passages.
  2. Remove all the gas. Drain the tank completely. This can be done by removing rubber fuel line under the tank at its connection to the main fuel line coming out of the top of the tunnel. If the car will be stored out doors in a moderate to high humidity climate, consider removing the tank and storing it indoors. In any case, leave the cap off the tank to allow it to "breath".



    Remove the rubber fuel lines from the rear of the car and blow out the main metal line that runs through the tunnel line. Blow out the fuel pump, from the inlet side, with LOW pressure air (5 psi or less). If the car runs, start it at this point and let it run until it stalls. As it starts to sputter, open the throttle all the way. This will remove most all of the gas from the carb. Lastly, make some rubber caps by cutting about a 1" piece of fuel line and squeezing a little bit of silicone rubber into one end. Once the silicone is dry, place these caps on both ends of the main metal line, on the input and output points of the fuel pump and on the carb input.

The first method is the lowest effort one and best for just "winterizing". The second is best for longer term, multi year storage.

Brake fluid. Hmmmm. I have tried to stay away from a table that says "if less than one year do this, up to 3 years, do this, etc. etc." But for brake fluid, you almost have to. Understand that brake fluid, especially unused, absorbs moisture, and as we all know, moisture causes rust. The "DOT" grades of fluid, by the way, have nothing to do with moisture absorption. It specifies the boiling point of the fluid. Silicone fluids do not absorb moisture, but are very expensive and to "convert" a system from Glycol to Silicone requires the whole brake system be rebuilt, not just flushed out. I recommend a Glycol DOT4 or better fluid for Beetles. Silicone would be a good choice for a brand new, not-to-be-driven-much resto if the whole brake system is re-done

So here are some storage time dependent recommendations for dealing with the brake fluid system:

Storage Time Procedure 
1 year or less  Flush and replace fluid prior to storing and again when put back in use. 
2-4 years year or less  Flush and replace fluid each year, or drain lines and remove master and wheel cylinders. 
4 years or more  Drain lines and remove master and wheel cylinders. 

These are guidelines. Take from this that once fluid is installed in a car, it will require some maintenance or deterioration, possibly damage will occur. For very long term storage, the master and wheel cylinders should be removed and store in a sealed, dry place. As with any metal, the environment (humidity) will eventually cause deterioration of exposed metal surfaces. If you remove the cylinders, "cap" the ends of the drained lines using the method described above for fuel lines.

Always completely seal up the system prior to storage. This means tightly cap the brake fluid reservoir. Some reservoir caps are vented and should be screwed down with a few thickness of plastic wrap under them to prevent absorption of moisture.

For the transaxle oil, best to change it, but at a minimum, make sure the oil is fresh and topped off. There is a part of me that would recommend over filling it, but that is a bit hard to do and you'd have to make sure remembered to drain some off when you took the wraps off. Also make sure that the axle boots are in top shape and don't leak, at all.

For the engine oil, I recommend draining it and putting 4 fresh quarts in. Obviously you have to make sure that you drain off 2 when you start it. You should do this for a couple reasons. One, it will keep most of your inner valve train immersed in oil and two, it will allow your "periodic spinning" (see "Maintenance of your mummy" below) to be most effective.

Mummifying a Beetle- Brakes (mechanical part)

Release the emergency brake and go around and back the adjusting stars off all the way on each hub. You do not want your shoes contacting the drums at all, or even real close. This will keep the surface rust and corrosion that will inevitably form inside the drums from ruining the shoes. It will also help insure that your car will roll when you need it to. Many people forget this step and are sorry they did later.

Mummifying a Beetle- Suspension, wheels

Do not store you Beetle resting on its wheels. Wheels are best stored off of the car (see below), BUT you want the suspension to be loaded. Huh!? If the suspension is fully unloaded, the ball joints or king/link pins will be resting in a position that they aren't normally in and may not want to go back when the car is put back on the road. Additionally, when the suspension is fully unloaded, the shock absorber shafts are fully exposed outside of the shock and they may get corroded or surface rusty making them difficult to re-compress. Some people cringe at this suggestion, but I would store Beetle resting on its drums. Use some blocks of wood under them, with smaller block nailed on to them front and back to "chock" the drums and keep them from rolling off. Short blocks will allow the car to rest much lower than it normally sits on tires and may make other storage space available. You can also build a pair of rolling dollies out of wood that the drums can sit on and will allow you to move the car around.

Another way to do this is to support the car by the bottom shock mounts, front and back. In the back, they are part of the axletube/torsion arm ends, up front the lower torsion arm. This can be a bit of a trick as the shock mounts are pretty close to the brake backing plates. I have done this using blocks of railroad tie. Make sure the front wheels are pointing straight ahead and do not turn the steering wheel when the front is supported by blocks under the shock mounts. It will easily fall to the floor!

Page 22 of the '57 restoration series shows how I made dollies to do this and keep the wheels on the car.

 Wheels are best stored with the air and valve stems removed, laying on their sides, and covered. Ideally, they should not be stacked, but storage space may prevent this. I stack mine 4 high with cardboard in between, and cover them with a plastic garbage bag. Ultraviolet light, even from artificial lamps, can accelerate cracking of the rubber.

Mummifying a Beetle- Seals

"Crush" type rubber seals will loose their effectiveness if stored crushed. The best example of this are the door seals. Ideally, you should remove them, and possibly the hood and decklid seals, and store them in a dark, cool place. If this is not practical, store the car with the doors slightly ajar. But unless the doors are completely open, the forward portion of the seals will be crushed. You can prop the hood and decklid open slightly and do them some good.

 And while they are not exactly seals, they are rubber, so we will talk about the windshield wiper blades. You don't want to store the car with them pressed against the windshield. Get little blocks of wood or something similar to place between the midpoint of the arm and the windshield. Just wide enough to keep the rubber off the glass slightly. Do not bend them out all the way if they are the kind that you can do that to. This severely stresses the spring and if left that way for along time, will weaken it. If you don't want to scare up little blocks of wood, just remove the whole arm assembly.

Mummifying a Beetle- Engine

Aside from an engine oil "overfill" above, seal off you carb throat. An easy way is to remove the air cleaner, use some plastic wrap and a rubber band to seal the carb throat. Remove the oil from an oil bath cleaner and wipe it out. You can place it back on the sealed carb, but make sure you remember to remove the plastic before starting it up again, else the plastic can actually get sucked in and ingested by the engine (place a note to yourself on the dash!). I don't trust my self to remember and just wrap the cleaner in a plastic bag and lay it in the engine bay on one side. Loosen the spark plugs about 1/2 turn but leave them in. This will help prevent them from seizing into the heads.

Remove the distributor cap and rotate the engine until the points are closed. This relieves pressure on the spring and preserves the lubrication as much as possible. Make sure you do this each time you "spin" the engine (see "Maintenance of your mummy" below).

If the car (or just the engine) will be stored for along time (more than a whole year) you want to completely seal up the engine case else moisture will collect inside as the temperature changes and the engine "breathes".  Water will quickly corrode the alloy case from the inside!

Mummifying a Beetle- Battery

Simple, remove it from the car. Do not leave it on a cement floor. Not sure why, but I was told that this was bad. I keep mine on my workbench. Kind of keeps it there in front of me and influences me to use it every now and then to test light bulbs and stuff. Even better to take it in the house, especially if you live where it gets very cold. If you get a "trickle" charger, make sure it is a floating circuit type, designed to be left connected to the battery. Many cheaper ones, labeled "trickle chargers" are not this type.

Mummifying a Beetle- Pest Controls

Really. I have a little field mouse that shares my garage with me. At least I think he is still around. He used to hang out by the sink and eat the soap off the bar; I saw little teeth marks and he considerately left little (soapy) turds. A couple years ago, I rescued him, nearly drowned from the sink drain. He was saved from a ride to the sewage treatment plant by a small "X" grate a bit below the drain opening in my plastic "laundry" sink. But last year, I snipped that grate out for some reason, then a month or two later, the sink started draining really slow. So I worked it with a plunger a bit and suddenly it broke free. Wonder if I'll see little Hermie this winter.....

 You only have to teardown one "Barn Beetle" to realize the there are animals that love Beetles as much as we do. Recently at the newsgroup, there have been stories of people starting up years-dormant Beetles and shooting singed, dazed mice out of the tailpipes, no lie. So I thought I'd offer some very valuable tips that came out of that discussion.

Various species of Rodentus Annoyus love to find dark crannies in Beetles to nest in. But there feces and urine will damage metal by fostering rust and corrosion. Additionally, in their search for soft, loose nest "bedding" they may damage upholstery, paddings, linings, and other non-metal components. They particularly seem to like the grey padding that is used behind the headliner near the back window. So best to keep them out.

Mummifying a Beetle- Protecting from the elements

The two worst enemies of a car in storage are water and sunlight. We all know what water does, sunlight attacks finishes and rubber seals. On my list, after those two dangers, comes kids bikes. Namely handlebars without grips. You get the idea. If the car is stored, long term, in a garage that is often used, cover it and protect it. Page 22 of the '57 restoration series shows how my '57 is stored for the winters. I built a hinged, plywood "wall" to protect it from the other inhabitants of the house. As for car covers, if it is indoors, nothing fancy is needed. Old blankets and/or bedspreads are fine. Soft cotton is best for a fine painted finish. Also, a moisture barrier for a cement floor is a good idea. A lot of moisture can "breath" up out of a cement floor. Before rolling your car into its resting position, place one of those inexpensive blue poly tarps down on the floor.

Then there is outside. As much as we would all like to have a BIG garage or barn many of our treasured cars are relegated to storage outside (When my wife an I pass by these old farm houses in New England and she says "Wow, what a beautiful place, look at that porch!". And I think "I bet I could get seven Beetles in that barn!") . If you are storing a fully resto'ed split window Beetle outside, I don't want to hear about it.

But storing any Beetle outside is better than sending it off to the crusher. I am of the opinion that there is no car cover that will "preserve" Beetle outside, long term (but many claim to). In fact, in many cases, a VW may be best stored uncovered. The problem comes in when a cover is in contact with a car body. Invariably, moisture will be trapped and the car's finish will suffer. On the other hand, remember that you are trying to protect the car from water (major moisture) and UV (sunlight). Given this, there are some cases when covering a Beetle is best. If the painted body surface is somewhat sacrificial (like you are going to strip it and paint it "one day" anyway) a poly tarp may offer the best protection.

If you are covering a car for storage outside:

If you are storing a car outside uncovered:

Mummifying a Beetle- Maintenance of your mummy

Now, about that "engine spinning". The idea is to keep a thin film of oil on the metal surfaces inside your engine, just like when it is running. Having 4 quarts of oil in there helps that. My technique is:

Depending on your drill's power, you may get enough speed to actually extinguish the oil pressure idiot light. Of course if you car is mothballed and the battery is removed, you wouldn't know, but you may want to try this before doing all else. You remove the spark plugs to make the engine easy to turn. Especially if you pulled off the rockers and all the valves are closed (try turning that by hand). And if you try this with battery in and ignition on make sure the plugs are removed else that engine may start and that drill go a-flyin' (been there, done that). There will be a lot of air expelled and sucked into the spark plug holes, that is why you want the area around them to be very clean (don't want anything sucked in there).

If the car is stored outside, uncovered, remember to wash and wax it at least twice a year. And keep the kids bikes away from it. And if you did not drain the brake fluid, I would flush and re-fill it every year.

Mummifying a Beetle- Write it all down!!

Write down EVERYTHING you do in the storage process, tape a copy to the steering wheel!!! It is so easy to forget when it comes time to resuscitate the car. Make it impossible for you (or anyone else) to not know what was done prior to storing the car. If you do this annually, take the time on your computer to make a little checklist with "Done" and "Undone" columns that you can use each fall and spring.

Here's a quick summary "Checklist" for Mummifying a Beetle:

Checklist for Mummifying a Beetle 
  • Address Fluids 
    • Warm up engine, drain oil, add 4 quarts of new oil 
    • Drain fuel tank, idle car until it dies, remove rubber lines, blow out metal lines and fuel pump
    • --OR-- 
      FILL fuel tank completely, add gas stabilizer, drain carb bowl, drive 2-4 miles. 
    • Replace or drain brake fluid. Possibly remove wheel cylinders (see above) 
    • Replace transaxle oil, check axle boots (swing axles) 
  • Release emergency brake, back off brake adjusting stars 
  • Remove wheels, remove valve stems and deflate. Store lying flat, cover.
  • --OR-- 
    Store car off the ground with suspension loaded, leave wheels on, but remove stems (if long term) 
  • Place moisture barrier under car, store car on blocks with suspension loaded 
  • Open doors and lids slightly or remove seals and store inside. 
  • Place blocks under wiper arms to separate rubber from window; or remove wiper arms. 
  • Engine 
    • Remove aircleaner, if oil bath remove oil and wipe out 
    • Seal up carb throat with plastic wrap and rubber band 
    • Loosen spark plugs and leave just hand-snug 
    • Remove rocker arm assemblies, oil, wrap and bag. Store inside car. OR back off all adjusting screws until all valves are closed. 
    • Place mouse screens over fan intake, tailpipes and any other openings. 
  • Remove battery, store appropriately 
  • Cover car (see above) 
  • PRINT THIS LIST and leave it on the front seat or tape it to the dash!!!

  • [Will you REALLY remember to re-tighten the spark plugs all by yourself? Hmm??] 


That is all I can think of right now. Bottom line is that you have to have respect for the damage that neglected fluids can do. Next you have to preserve the rubber parts on the car. A lot of the other stuff is very simple and can make owning and storing a Beetle much less painful. Collectively, it may seem like a lot, but in contrast to the effort that many of us put into our cars to get them on the road in the first place, it is a small price to pay. Feel free to e-mail me if you have any other tips or ideas that I might be able to add to this article, or to the "Reader Contributed" page.

Copyright© 2000; John S. Henry 

[back to FAQ Index]