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A Brief Overview Of The VW Beetle
You might expect that the VW Beetle would have sold like hotcakes when the Type 1 first came to the US market in 1949, but it didn’t. Only two units were sold. Designed with a rear-mounted engine that produced all of 25 hp, the car sounded like a popcorn machine as it sped down the roadway. The American public (fresh off the horrors of a world war) had trouble putting their hard-earned money down on any kind of German machine.
But in 1959, an American advertising company got the idea to promote the compact car with an aggressively simple ad campaign. The ad showed a smaller image of the VW in the distance, surrounded by white space, and encouraged Americans to “think small.” The ad instantly took off, transforming the car into a popular alternative to the large V8 engines and muscle cars beginning to dominate the market. Sales began to take off, and VW became a legitimate contender for consumer dollars.
The early sixties were the best years for the little car, and as the decade rolled on, the VW Bug became a part of the popular counterculture. American students involved in anti-war protests flocked to the inexpensive, fuel-efficient vehicle. As “Flower Power” Bugs began to populate the country, young Americans began to see the compact as a means of signaling their distrust and anger at their parents and the establishment. It didn’t hurt that the engine was virtually indestructible and easy to maintain. The car got better fuel economy than most cars on the road, and it was just a blast to drive (ask any boomer, they’ll tell you).
In 1969, VW labeled the “Bug” compact with the moniker of “Beetle.” That year, a Disney movie featuring a 1963 Love Bug named Herbie would splash across movie screens. The car became iconic, cementing its place in automotive history as Americans continued purchasing it. By 1972, VW had produced more units than the Model T, becoming the most produced (sold) vehicle in automotive history with over 15 million sold.
But sales slowed during the 70s, as Japanese imports like Toyota and Honda began to siphon dollars away from the Beetle. As Ford, GM, and Dodge followed suit with American compacts of their own (Pinto, Chevette, and the Colt), VW was in free fall. Even as Volkswagen attempted to increase the Bug’s power with a new “air-cooled” engine, the resulting reliability issues simply added to the Bug’s demise. While production continued, alongside new models like the Rabbit, the company had relied on a single-vehicle design for years. Now, it was paying the price for peddling what many felt was an outdated vehicle.
The Beetle (with its rear engine) would soldier on until 2003, when VW announced the end of the icon. Sales had fallen from a high of 1.2 million in 1972 to only 30,000 in the early 2000s. The last car rolled off the production line in Mexico 65 years after its original launch. VW turned its attention to the Passat, Jetta, and “New Beetle,” which had a front, water-cooled engine (introduced in ‘98).
Even though VW continued to make the “New” Beetle, the car was considered little more than a modified Golf sedan. In 2011, partly due to the retro-style movement embraced by other American automakers like Ford and Dodge, VW reintroduced the Beetle (A5). While the car caused a momentary splash, sales didn’t motivate many Americans to abandon their more reliable Toyotas, Hondas, and Hyundais. Reviews found the car had limited space, reliability issues, and only average fuel economy. In 2019, Volkswagen announced again that the New Beetle was being discontinued, this time for good.
What Is The Best Year For The Modern Day Volkswagen Beetle?
Defining the best VW beetle years will depend on whether you are searching for an older classic beetle or a more modern one. While boomers will quickly point out that the 60s and early 70s Beetles were the best, most used car owners will want information on the more recent models.
Let’s look at both.
Classic Beetles (1960 - 1975)
According to carcomplaints.com, three years of the old VW Beetle stand out. The ‘63, ‘69 and ‘72 Beetle. While the classic Beetles do not have many safety features or modern conveniences of present-day vehicles, if you are looking for a good car to restore, these three years are your best bets. There are plenty of aftermarket parts still being produced for older Beetle restorations.
Modern-Day Beetles (2000 - 2019)
If you are shopping for a used modern-day Beetle, there are more years to avoid than there are to consider. The Best Volkswagen Beetle year is 2018. Consumer Reports rates 2018 as the only year with high owner satisfaction marks. JD Power rates the same year as the most dependable and selected the 2018 model as the “Most Dependable Compact Car” for 2021. (The survey interviews customers of 3-year-old vehicles about reliability issues). The VW Beetle beat out 16 other competitors for the title. The same survey recorded a 79 rating for driver experience, but the car’s resale value was lower than most at a 66 rating.
Other review sites have reported issues with the car’s electrical system (power windows malfunctioning). Edmunds gives a 4.5 rating, while KBB rates it with a 4.3 consumer rating. Unfortunately, the VW Beetle ranks 11th in the subcompact category in US News and World Report’s Best Used Cars For 2018 review with a 7.3 rating.
Most reviews feel that the 2018 VW is powered by a peppy 2.0 turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which produces 174 hp and achieves a reasonable 34 mpg highway (26 city mpg).
While there are some advanced safety features and a user-friendly cabin, the car is often dinged for its basic design and average performance.
While the 2018 MY Beetle deserves all the love, it should be noted that the 2013 and 2014 VW Beetle won a Top Safety Pick award from IIHS (Insurance Institute of Highway Safety). Other reliability issues are associated with these model years, but at least VW got something right when they made these Beetle models.
What Are The Years Of VW Beetle To Avoid?
Almost every other year than the 2018 Beetle should be avoided. There are serious reliability issues that center on problems with electrical systems, dirty throttle bodies, burnout headlight wiring harnesses, and engine issues (just to name a few). Frankly, many more dependable used cars are on the market, and consumers are better off purchasing these than the Beetle.
What Are Some Common Problems Related To The VW Beetle?
According to Repairpal.com, owners have reported many issues concerning the late model VW Beetles. We have listed a few of them below.
Power Window System Failure
Many owners have reported issues with their power windows, either moving up or down independently or not working altogether. While the causes of these failures varied from fuses broken regulators, or power window motors, the repair was a nuisance for many VW owners. The average repair cost for a window motor or regulator is around $750, according to Repairpal.com.
One of the most common problems for 2013 VW Beetles was the issue of engine failure due to a faulty timing chain. Even though VW recognized this issue and finalized a recall a few years later, the bad timing chains tended to ruin the engines. Owners who experienced this problem often ended up replacing their motors. The cost of replacing an engine is costly, costing close to $10k - $12k for each instance.
Volkswagen extended its warranty to 6 years/72k miles and made it transferable to subsequent owners, so if you purchase a 201-2019 model, the warranty will apply. However, VW shorted the warranty to 4 years/50k miles for its vehicles in 2020. (The Beetle had already been discontinued).
Faulty Power Locks
While engine issues are more serious, the power locks on many Beetles simply stopped working. The problem was with the original switch, which, when it was replaced, corrected the problem. The problems confounded owners, and the issue was long-lasting and affected multiple years.
Takata Air Bag
The A5 Beetle is included in the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) recall of Takata airbags, which affected over 370k VW vehicles. (VW expanded the recall for 2015 and 2016 models in 2023). The faulty airbags could accidentally deploy, sending sharp pieces of metal flying through the cabin’s interior. With nearly 23 fatalities recorded due to these faulty inflators, owners should ensure that this recall has been performed before considering the purchase of this vehicle.
Faulty Frontal Crash System
Later model VW Beetles often suffer from ghosts triggering the frontal crash avoidance system. Owners reported that some models detected objects that weren’t there and applied the brakes when it wasn’t necessary. Others indicated the system stopped working in rainy weather, which turned off the adaptive cruise controls. Common complaints were warning sounds constantly going off, to unsafe braking practices when nothing was in front of the vehicle.
Many early 2000 model VW Beetles are prone to transmission failure and can fail without notice. The average cost of this repair is over $5,000 for replacement.
Is The VW Beetle A Reliable Car?
As far as compact cars go, plenty of other choices on the market have better dependability scores. Repairpal.com gives the car a 4 out of 5 rating for reliability but only ranks 24th out of 36 compact cars. The average cost of a typical repair is $612, and the frequency of breakdowns was listed as average. You should expect the car to last for about ten years or 150k miles with proper maintenance.
About The Author
Matt is a VW Master Technician since 2009 after proceeding through the ranks as a Team Leader and Shop Foreman. He has developed software to increase car dealership efficiency, managed 10+ techs, and instructed students at multiple high-performance driving events since 2011. He is also the lead mechanic, engineer, and driver for Blue Goose Racing.Read More About Matt Meurer