Vintage Beetle won't start again after running in hot weather

Twice in as many months, my very well-maintained 1971 Beetle has refused to restart after I’ve stopped briefly following a drive of an hour or so in hot weather. The key turns on, I have dash lights and running lights but no headlights and no engine turnover. After a few hours, the car starts.

My mechanic tells me maybe the starter is getting too warm and I need to replace it. That doesn’t explain to me why my headlights wouldn’t go on though. I don’t want to spend $250 on a new starter if I don’t have to. He’s checked the battery and generator and they’re fine.

Sounds like a weak ground to me! No offense to your mechanic, but if he can’t diagnose a problem like this on a simple '71 Beetle, you might think about taking the car somewhere else.

This is a problem you can solve yourself, actually. Follow the negative battery cable from the battery, to the point where it mounts on the car. Remove it, clean the terminal end and the point where it mounts, reattach, and see what happens.

Wow, that sounds incredibly easy and I have nothing to lose by trying it except for he’s got the car in his shop. It’s running well now so maybe I’ll just pick it up and bring it home and try the battery cable thing. Thanks.

I don’t remember (it’s been a while), do the headlights work off the ignition switch on your car? If so, I would be suspicious of a heat related failure of the ignition.

That doesn’t explain to me why my headlights wouldn’t go on though.

Sorry…but that DOES sound reasonable. A starter motor will draw several hundred amps. Headlights will pull MAYBE 15 amps.

Try this next time it happens. Pour warm (NOT COLD) water on the starter and see if it will start. I nursed a starter in my 72 F-150 about 4 months until I finially got around to changing it.

I just reread the post…Sorry…The headlights are NOT on…Yea this doesn’t sound like a bad starter to me. More like a short or bad ground.

I fixed the same problem on a '60-something VW van not long ago.

However, when you say “no headlights”, that’s not with the key in the “start” position, is it? Which is to say, if you turn the key to “off”, and turn on the headlights, they do not come on, correct?

Josh may well be right and that would be the first thing I would check. However, if that does not do it and assuming they did not change things from the 1970 model, you should also check the connections at the starter. As I recall there is a short heavy wire that goes from the bendex to the actual starter motor. It tends to act up when hot as does that bendex.

This sounds like a starter going bad. I think that $250 is a bit high for an air-cooled starter. Why don’t you take it off and have it rebuilt? You could clean all connections at the same time. How many miles on it? Starter ever replaced? Getting stuck in the boonies is a bad time and could be dangerous. Good luck! Rocketman

Go over the battery cables first and make sure they’re spotless clean.

Starters were a common fault with these cars. Often previous owners have replaced a faulty starter and omitted a very major step.

That step is replacement of the starter armature bushing that is mounted in the transaxle housing. The VW starter has a free floating armature that is supported by that bushing and if the bushing is worn the armature will drag on the field coils.

There is a chance that replacement of the bushing only could cure this, but after going to the trouble of removing the starter, and if it’s aged anyway, the starter should be replaced.

The new bushing is Oilite and should be thoroughly prepped with fresh oil before installation. The bushing should be filled with oil, fingers capping both ends, and squeeze hard until the oil oozes through the pores.
There’s also a trick to removing the old bushing. You must run a thread tap into the bushing and continue to tighten the tap. This will force the old bushing out and the new one can be tapped into place.

Thanks to everybody who posted. I’m a little more confused now than I was before because some suggest it might be the starter, others say it’s a ground issue. At the moment I don’t have the $250 to buy a new starter so I think I’ll try the other suggestions first. The car is running fine at the moment and starts immediately every time (unless it’s really hot). I just keep thinking back to the fact that the lights wouldn’t come on when the key was off. . . anyway, thanks a bunch, I’m hooked on this method of getting some real world car advice and appreciate all the input!

Don’t feel bad, when I was in college I parked my bug on hills for months to avoid replacing the starter.

I’m a little more confused now than I was before because some suggest it might be the starter, others say it’s a ground issue.

Don’t be confused, it could be either. We want you to try the easy/cheap stuff first.

Some other quirky things to check. My memory is hazy on this but I think the main power lead to the ignition is taken from a voltage regulator terminal and sometimes these were prone to corrosion.

As Mr. Meehan said, check the cheap and easy stuff first. Make double the sure the batt. terminals are clean and the voltage regulator connection. (Large heavy red wires if I remember right)

Another possibility, and also a common problem, is the electrical part of the ignition switch. This could cause an inoperative starter and no headlights to boot.
This could also be easily checked by verifying power at the switch. (also red wires if I remember right)

To verify a potential starter problem have a load test performed on the starter while the engine is being cranked over. Unplug the coil wire so it will not start. Starter draw during steady cranking should be about 125 amps. Over that and the starter is going.
AutoZone has starters for about 80 bucks if needed.

The terminals were filthy, both on the battery side and where the negative cable attached to the body of the car. I also found out that the water was very low in the battery so I refilled that. The shop told me that they had checked the battery, which was obviously untrue; I could also tell because it was obvious that the clamp holding the battery down on the body of the car hadn’t been taken off in years! Wish I could find just one honest VW guy - I’m thinking I might just start doing my own work!

One other weird thing was that when I hooked up the cables again to the battery, I heard a funny buzzing noise in the dash, even though the keys weren’t even in the ignition. I had an aftermarket radio put in a couple years ago and since then I’ve had to take it out every time I turned off the car because it would continue to run so I wondered if it was the radio. Sure enough, when I unplugged the wire behind the dash (coming at it from the front of the car with hood open) and then plugged it back in I heard the buzzing noise again. Anyway, I don’t listen to the radio much so I just unplugged it entirely. I wonder if that had ANY connection to the other problems. So far so good though, and the car starts immediately and hasn’t hesitated to restart after sitting. Maybe it’s just good karma created by nice car folks willing to share their insights! Thanks again!