The Beetle is without doubt one of the easiest of all cars to maintain properly. The fact that the engine is air cooled means that there are no problems with sticking thermostats, leaky radiators and hoses, cylinder heads cracking when coolant freezes or worn water pump impellers. The mechanical components are simple, sturdy and long-lived; the ancillaries are often user-repairable or alternatively new or exchange reconditioned replacements can be obtained easily. Access to most of the components for servicing is better than on many cars, and in extreme cases when serious mechanical repair is found necessary, it is easier to get the engine and gearbox out of a Beetle than almost any other car.
Maintenance comprises a number of procedures which should be carried out at fixed intervals which are determined by either the number of miles travelled since the last service or the amount of time which has lapsed since then. Most maintenance procedures are concerned with preventative measures to prolong the life of the car and its components; some are concerned with making adjustments to maintain good fuel economy, smooth running and so on; many are checks to ensure that certain components (particularly the brakes, fuel and electrical systems) are functioning perfectly for safety reasons.
The price of ignoring proper service routines is that the car can become less safe to drive due to decreased braking efficiency, insulation breakdown on electrical wires or fuel leaks. A neglected car will also almost certainly show increased fuel consumption, and so skimping on maintenance does not save money! Furthermore, failure to check oil levels and to change the oil and clean the strainer, to check the ignition timing and carburation will shorten the useful working life of the engine. The engine oil is particularly important; with the air-cooled boxermotor, the oil plays a large part in cooling the engine and, if the oil level is allowed to drop then not only will lubrication suffer, but the resultant problems will be exacerbated byoverheating. Nearly all mechanical components will suffer increased wear and reduced life if maintenance is skimped.The majority of Beetles in existence are now old cars, and so there can be no hard and fast service intervals (recent imports excepted), because too much will depend on the age and condition of the individual car and the way and the conditions in which it is driven. A car which lives in dusty, very hot or very wet conditions or a car which is driven hard will require more attention on a much more frequent basis than a car which is kept in a garage and driven carefully. The service intervals given in this chapter are a general recommendation which should be taken as a minimum requirement for a car which is driven hard or in adverse conditions, and as having a margin of safety for cars which are driven gently.
The most frequent recommended service routines are concerned mainly with checking the efficiency of components, that everything (especially the electrics) works, and maintaining lubricant and hydraulic fluid levels. These routines are intended to give a framework which will ensure that potential problems are spotted at the earliest opportunity. A small problem, left unattended, can often quickly develop into a large and expensive to rectify problem. The most obvious illustration of this is when the oil level is allowed to fall to the point at which the engine overheats and eventually the big ends start knocking. Do not worry if you do not understand the terminology at this stage, for all will be made clear later in the book. Suffice to say for now that for the sake of topping up the oil, the engine has to be removed from the car and stripped down for an expensive rebuild.
For weekly service checks, little specialised equipment is needed unless the checks reveal problems which have to be attended to. With each service interval, the list of necessary equipment grows a little. However, all of the tools and equipment necessary to carry out all servicing on a Beetle can be bought at a fraction of the cost of a 'full' service from many franchised garages, so the expenditure is easily justified.