It’s been a while since I last posted a Beetle repair article. In the intervening months, I’ve visited LKQ Pick-A-Part junkyards in Southern Florida many, MANY times looking for parts on my list. (I’ve also relocated to southwest Indiana, where the nearest LKQ is three hours’ drive away). Unfortunately, in the intervening months, the mostly-plastic parts on my car have also deteriorated. The headliner on the sunroof visor – though, fortunately, not the ceiling of the car itself – has also mostly de-adhered and drooped. The cracks on the front fenders have spread. The interior – particularly the doors and switches, handles, etc on them – have developed further cracks and pieces have dropped off.
It’s definitely not all bad news, though. Before I left Florida, I bought and installed four new tires – and also rear brake pads. Full flush and drain of the brake system. Timing belt replacement (and water pump, idler pulley and related “big maintenance” items), and fixing all the oil leaks from both the pan and the valve cover. Cumulatively, those repairs cost more than the price I paid for the vehicle. Apart from the fact that it needs new motor mounts, the car drives perfectly – it even has fully working AC (though not heat).
One of the pieces that has irritated me the most in the car is the dash (and, less so, the radio). Besides the fact that one of the vents has a broken cutoff linkage, the front of the center dash is massively damaged by my attempts to clean off the sticky VW soft-touch paint; you can see that in the picture above. The previous owner, or perhaps the dealer, had also inflicted some kind of solvent damage to both the dash and the radio. The radio’s main quadrature encoder used for volume setting (knob at left) was also twitchy, even after the application of lots of contact cleaner – it would always turn UP, but was intermittent at turning DOWN.
Part of the reason I had to go to LKQ so many times is because, naturally, all the other 2003 Beetles in the world are the same age as mine, and their interior plastics are equally fried. I pulled at least 15 center consoles only to find that they had broken “ears” or other interior damage. That’s the irritating thing; while the screws are still tight, everything holds together – but once you remove the screws, all the broken parts disassociate and it’s impossible to reassemble anything. It was, at least, good practice for knowing what to unscrew and how hard to pull things without risking breakage – and I did FINALLY find an externally-intact dash in the Tampa junkyard (amusingly, once I got it out I found an LKQ sales mark inside it – so it had already been pulled from a junkyard, spent some years in its new home, then become a donor again). The right-hand air vent was broken, but I pulled one of those from a different dash and epoxied it into place; looks and works perfectly apart from missing on/off decals. I wrapped that Frankendash in bubble wrap and held it like a baby as carryon luggage flying SRQ-ATL-EVV! So, months later, I was finally ready to buckle down and do the replacement – and at the same time fix up the radio situation. This project occupied me for two half-days from Saturday the 13th to Sunday the 14th of June, 2020.
This picture gives you a better idea of the damage (some from my cleaning, some from the dealer using some horrible solvent). Anyway, in order to remove the center console, you need to: 1) remove the flower vase (I found my vase holder was broken, and used this opportunity to replace it with another junkyard part), 2) remove the cover on the top of the dashboard by sliding it towards the windshield, 3) pull the radio, 4) remove the heated seat/ASC/hazard/rear demist switch panel. Sounds easy but in practice most of the junkyard cars to which I’d done this, had other broken parts that disintegrated as I took out the relevant screws. VERY LUCKILY, only one of the screw points on my car was broken. This picture doesn’t make it entirely obvious, but the piece to which that screw clip at center attaches is completely broken off:
By the way, note all the hair and dust stuck to the plastic. That’s because this piece has not had the soft-touch paint cleaned off it, nor whatever fiendish solvent the dealership tried to use on it. Regardless, with a little 5-minute epoxy, the piece came together strongly enough to reinsert the screw come reassembly time:
Darnit, the bracket that holds the aforementioned switches also had cracks. Those, fortunately, were very easy to fix. More epoxy time!
It was also time to do “something” about the radio – both the solvent-damaged fascia, and the twitchy quadrature encoder. The difficulty here is that the VW radio is security coded; if it loses power, when you power it up it just says SAFE onscreen and you need to enter the random 4-digit code before it will unlock. I have three radios – one in the car (I don’t know the code; the car didn’t come with its manual), two pulled from LKQ. Of the two pulls, one had a good fascia and cosmetically good controls, but I didn’t know the code. The other one, I paid $14.95 to look up the code. I didn’t actually know if either of the pulls worked, and I didn’t even know if my paid-for code worked, because you can’t just power the VW radio up off 12V; it does a wiring integrity check on powerup (amazingly there is a dedicated part for this onboard; TDA7476 “Car Radio Diagnostic Processor”) and it won’t do anything at all if it detects missing speakers, etc. Grrrr. This whole situation is one of the reasons I held back so long on doing this repair; there seemed to be a decent chance I’d wind up with no working radio due to code issues if nothing else. I was quite relieved when I plugged in the known-code LKQ pull, and both the code and the radio itself all worked fine. This only left the problem that my “good” radio had some scuffed-up control switches. Time to pull the whole fascia apart on the good radio, and the other pulled radio, and swap all the buttons (cleaning as I went). Note that in all of these radios, the sprue holding the preset buttons in place (these are also used to enter the security code) is broken. While probably fixable with epoxy, I didn’t bother – I just finagled the buttons back in, and wiggled them until they worked. I doubt I’ll ever press them again apart from entering that security code. This is the working radio with its fascia components entirely removed:
This also provides an opportunity to clean the LCD bezel-to-bezel (the edges are normally hidden under the fascia plastic). Not shown, I also cleaned the tape heads while I was in there:
Fascia reassembled with “good” buttons from radio 3 on “good” main plastic body from radio 2, but electronics still not reinstalled (I was using IPA to do the cleaning, by the way. This is a bit risky because the fascia itself is also painted with that ridiculous soft-touch paint. Cleaning it properly is more pain than it’s worth right now).
The final product! (the white marks are just dirt, not scuffs). Happily all the controls on this radio both look good and work perfectly; it just needs a rub with a cleaning wipe, which I didn’t happen to have handy when I took this picture.
Some random pictures. I have another project for the “leftover” radio, but it will have to wait for another day.