Are Volkswagen Beetles Hard to Drive?

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The classic Volkswagen Beetle is one of the most recognizable cars ever produced. Even people who “aren’t into cars” know exactly what the Beetle is when they see one rolling down the road.

Despite the allure, classic Volkswagen Beetles and Super Beetles are remarkably affordable. In most places, you can still find one in reasonable condition for $10,000 or less. That makes the classic VW Bug a tempting purchase, especially for new classic car enthusiasts.

However, there are numerous horror stories about vintage cars, including the Beetle. So is it hard to drive a 50-year old VW Beetle, or is it similar to driving a modern car? In this article, we’ll cover the quirks and realities of driving a classic bug.

Table of Contents


Is Driving a Classic Bug Easy?

Driving a classic Beetle is easy once you put it into perspective. Almost all beetles came with a vague and clunky manual transmission, which is much more forgiving than modern stick-shifts. If you’ve always driven an auto, this will be a challenge, but it won’t take long to master.

The exception is the dreadful VW AutoStick transmission, which is essentially a manual without a clutch. While this idea looks good on paper, it was plagued with problems and should probably be avoided.

Manual Steering

The Volkswagen Bug has manual steering, which means that the engine doesn’t furnish any power to the steering gear. Drivers of modern cars may not have any idea what this means, as power steering has been standard in the United States for almost forty years.

Cars with manual steering require some muscle to turn. The amount of effort required to steer decreases when you begin moving, so manual steering is mostly a problem reserved for parking lots. If you’ve driven larger cars or trucks with manual steering, the classic Beetle seems like a dream.

The manual steering in a Bug is significantly lighter than other cars of the era, which means it’s totally manageable for most people. That said, it may seem difficult for People who only drive modern cars. That said, almost everyone gets used to it pretty quickly.

Manual Brakes

Manual brakes are just about as archaic as manual steering. In modern cars, the engine vacuum furnishes power to a brake booster, which reduces the amount of effort required to stop the car. Cn the Beetle, this is not the case. That said, the Beetle is an extremely light car, so the amount of effort required to stop isn’t much higher than a modern car.

Signals and Controls

When it comes to signals and controls, the classic Beetle is pretty much in line with modern automobiles. Things like flashers, turn signals, and wiper controls use the same universal symbols as you would already know.

That said, they’re a lot more basic, and they lack some of the features you’ve come to expect in cars. For example, there is no wiper delay setting, and the windshield wipers only have two speeds. That means your options in a light drizzle are ‘too fast’ and ‘way too fast.’

The high beams are activated using the turn signal lever, except you pull it towards you instead of pushing it forward. The most annoying archaic feature of the Beetle is the climate control system if you can even call it that.

The original VW Bug never came with air conditioning, so you can pretty much forget about that. The heater works very well, but it’s controlled by a set of unmarked levers on each side of the parking brake handle.

The defroster is controlled by the levers and a set of manual knobs on the dashboard. This system takes some getting used to, and the uninitiated have basically no chance of figuring it out without guidance. The good news is that the heater runs off of the exhaust manifolds, which means it heats up much quicker on cold mornings.


So, is it hard to drive a classic Volkswagen? Well, not really. Actually, it’s a ton of fun once you figure it all out. The important thing to remember when driving a classic Bug is that it’s a quirky car that was designed in the 1930s. If you can forgive the oddities and work out the kinks, you’ll likely find it to be a very rewarding experience.