View original topic: 86 - 91 Vanagon automatic tranny VS. manual
Smothers Thu Aug 14, 2008 1:47 pm

I am looking to buy a 86 - 91 Vanagon Westy, and plan on pulling a small trailor (actually small boat). I was thinking a 4spd manual would be the best bet for towing. Problem is, seems like most the westys I like are coming with a automatic.
So, should I wait untill the right manual comes along, or should I consider a auto. Also, do they get worse gas milelage, thats usually the case. And are they much inferior to a 4spd when going up hills (mt. passes and such).


Smothers Thu Aug 14, 2008 7:18 pm

no one wants to touch this one? lol

freshintulsa Thu Aug 14, 2008 7:25 pm

well, this is more of an opinion than anything else, but here it goes. i've towed full length trailers full of tons of stuff, easily 1500 pounds plus the trailer with both a stock 2.1 van with an automatic, and with a svx powered stick shift. honestly, i think the automatic can easily handle it. i have always been impressed with the vanagon automatic. just make sure you are okay with being the slowest car out there. i dont think there is any doubt that the automatic is perfectly fine with towing, but i do think the manual tranny will be better to work with on hills and mountain passes. as to the gas mileage, yes the manual transmission gets better gas mileage, but from your point of standing, all you have around you is automatic vanagons, so i wouldnt probably be able to wait for a stick shift to pop up, but im kind of impatient with that kind of thing. so i guess long story short is: its really up to you. both will be fine for what you're doing, it really depends on what you want. DO WHAT YOU WANT!!!

Smothers Thu Aug 14, 2008 8:59 pm

Good stuff, thanks freshintulsa. Hey, I lived in Fort Collins for about 5 years. Awesome place. Went to CSU. thanks

Franklinstower Thu Aug 14, 2008 9:43 pm

My Buddy that tows his '67 drag bug around the northwest is on his third auto tranny with only 160K logged on his stock '90 weekender westy.

He just told me he is glad he has 3 manual tranny's in his shop because he is done with the autos after this one blows...And he loves his autos! Also, he is a certified VW tech at the dealership but switched to an Indie last year.

freshintulsa Fri Aug 15, 2008 6:24 am

the only reason that the auto trannys die is lack of maintnance. make sure to change the fluid and filter, and dont forget the cooler!! its a little block in the front of the tranny that lets tranny fluid and coolant pass NEAR each other to cool the tranny. occassionally they leak internally and cause major problems. as long as you take care of any part of your car it will last. and i too work in a vw shop, i may not have as much experience as your frined does, but some of the people i work with have wildly incredible experience with these things. im not doubting your freind, just thinking he must have bad luck. good luck with your choice Smothers

Lanval Fri Aug 15, 2008 6:32 am

Maybe someone who is more certain could chime in, but it's been my understanding since getting into the VW world that the auto tranny is very strong.

I have a 3 speed auto in my 73 Bus (first year for the auto in VW Bus) when I was 18 and I beat the crap out of it ~ never had a problem.

You WILL be slower with the auto though.



[email protected] Fri Aug 15, 2008 6:36 am

I'm almost never without a trailer behind my full westy (1988) automatic. No issues, I do tend to manually shift it from a stop though as it dumps into 2nd pretty quick.

Depending on what kind of camping we are doing, I tow a small lightweight trailer with gear on it, or a center console Carolina skiff (loaded with the camping/boating gear), or a small trailer with a large 3 wheeled Cushman and usually 1 or 2 more mini bikes, sometimes even a small tent camper. I definitely can't keep up in the mountains with my buddies '88 manual tranny westy, but hes not pulling anything either.

I have never pulled anything with a manual trans vanagon. I'm helping a friend out with an '84 westy right now I have to say its fun to drive with the 4 speed though!

Terry Kay Fri Aug 15, 2008 8:18 am

If properly maintained, the Vanagon 3 speed automatic is one tough transmission.

As it usually is with any automatic if your going to be building more heat pulling a trailer--whatever--a auxillary transmission cooler would be a real good idea if your planning to have the trans stay together for any length of time.

Other than that the automatic is a pretty much bullet proof unit, and is much more trouble free in the long run than the 4 speed.

Plus the Van is faster off the lights----

danfromsyr Fri Aug 15, 2008 8:30 am

I agree it's all in the maintenance, and cooling of trans fluids..
a trans temp gauge wouldn't be a bad idea, along with more frequent fluid changes if it's going to get abused.

the vanagon automatic is the same transmission body from 76+ VW & Audis
including the 88-91 Audi 200 Turbo Quattro with over 175hp stock
I'm fairly sure it's the same as the Audi 200 V8 thats about 350hp.

in the kitcar world the Lambo guys are mating corvette LT1s to the Audi 200 automatic transaxles for a mid engine V8 setup

there is an extra clutch plate in the Audi 5000/200/V8 turbo trans and the seal between the 2 halves has to be vanagon for vanagon and audi for audi.

now how well the vanagon automatic differential section is built i'm not sure.

Smothers Fri Aug 15, 2008 8:37 am

Thanks again for the imput. Taking it all into consideration.

Terry Kay Fri Aug 15, 2008 8:43 am

Here's a performance tip for any automatic trans.

Run either B&M Trick Shift, or Ford Type F fluid.

It tightens up the shifts--less slippage between gears, and will help your trans run cooler & stay together longer.

It's an old GM Hydro quick shift solution.
There's more grabber's in the B&M & Ford fluid making for faster shifts--less slippage, less clutch plate wear.

Simple concept that works well.

Tomasz Fri Aug 15, 2008 9:48 am

[email protected] wrote: I definitely can't keep up in the mountains with my buddies '88 manual tranny westy, but hes not pulling anything either.

well, hopfully I'll be pulling something soon once that trailer and the hitch arrive :)

Volksaholic Fri Aug 15, 2008 10:19 am

Yup... opinions... lots of them. When I was shopping I read that the automatic was bulletproof and should be more than up to the task of pulling a trailer. I opted for a manual because I pull a small boat or utility trailer more often than not when I'm going recreating. I live in Northern Utah so I deal with mountain roads and passes, and I hate the way automatics hunt around, especially when pulling a load. I like the idea of being able to select from one of 4 gear ranges and then camp there at comfortable engine RPMs rather than bouncing back and forth or forcing it into one of 3 speeds.

My wife and I wanted a late '80s/early '90s Wolfsburg/Weekender type setup and most of those are automatic, so when I found a manual I jumped on it. That's just me and that's living in the mountains... you would probably be fine with an auto.

[email protected] Fri Aug 15, 2008 3:34 pm

Tomasz wrote: [email protected] wrote: I definitely can't keep up in the mountains with my buddies '88 manual tranny westy, but hes not pulling anything either.

well, hopfully I'll be pulling something soon once that trailer and the hitch arrive :)

Oh you finally ordered a hitch? :D BTW you can thank me for the killer deal by having a cool frosty beverage ready for me tomorrow when I arrive with your new toy, see what this one is going for!!!!!!!:

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