Bulb Repair

Vintage Volkswagen Bulb Repair

A couple of months ago, some of us were having a VW photo shoot. As my wife, Neva, drove away in our ’67 Beetle, someone exclaimed that one of the brake lights wasn’t functioning.

“Again?”, I thought and remarked to those present that I had serviced the offending brake light on more than one occasion. I added that to my list of VW Things To Do.

A couple of weeks later, I had a moment to work on the problem. But, in the intervening time, I had thought of a possible solution. It derived from something having nothing to do with VWs. In fact, this possible solution had nothing to do with anything automotive!

I removed the car’s cover, removed the lens and the offending bulb. I tested it to be sure that it was a functioning unit. Sure was. Sigh. Not as easy a fix as I had hoped. Wouldn’t it have been nice to just replace a burnt bulb?

Usually what I have done in the past is to remove the bulbs, then to remove the bulb holder itself. This is an easy operation requiring the removal of the lens, then the use of a Phillips head screwdriver to remove one short screw at the bottom of the bulb holder. The holder lifts out of its slot and there it is.

On the backside are brass contact strips that touch the tips of the bulbs. Since brass isn’t especially suitable for springing, each is backed by a steel springing strip. With the bulbs removed, my usual “fix” is to press the steel spring tensioner towards the bulb hole to over-tense it so that it will make sooner contact with the tip of the bulb.

#1 BulbHolder 001

#2 BulbHolder 002

But, I had done this not so long ago and here I was again.

No…I would take a different tack this time. I would try what I had done to my neighbor’s old refrigerator. My neighbor could not get her refrigerator bulbs to come on when the door was opened. We tried several new bulbs until I discovered that the new bulbs were not quite long enough to touch the contact at the bottom of the socket—a combination of old socket contact and short (?) new bulbs, perhaps. At any rate, my experiment proved successful. Now to test it upon “Baby”, our precious 1967 Beetle.

First, I used a fine wire bristled brush to diligently clean the bulb base and tip contact. Studying the bulb, I noted that over time, vibration and pressure had flattened the soft “lead” tip.

I keep a small 12 volt battery on my workbench for testing bulbs. My bulb tested good. Second hurdle passed.

#3 FlatBulb single tip BR2 009

#4 FlatBulb double tip 007

I cut a rectangular piece of cardboard from a shipping box. I creased and bent it in the middle so that I had more or less equal halves. In the middle of one half, I cut an X through the cardboard and pushed the bulb socket through.

#5 BulbTest BR2 002

#6 BulbStand BR2 005

Then, I folded the cardboard until it squeezed the glass bulb between the halves—a bulb sandwich! Using some masking tape, I secured the ends so that they would hold the bulb tightly. Now, I could work with both hands on a stabilized bulb.

#7 BulbStand closeup BulbRepair 010 #8 BulbInBulbStand BR2 006 #9 BulbInBulbStand BR2 008

I retrieved resin core solder and my electric soldering gun from the workbench drawer. I held the trigger until I could see that the gun’s tip was good and hot. There was some slag on the tip—I wiped it off on the workbench towel and applied the tip of the fresh soldering wire to the hot gun tip. This produced a nice glob of solder hanging on the tip of the gun.

#11 Apply Solder BulbRepair 013 #10 Soldering Equip BulbRepair 012

It took only a quick touch of the hot solder to the bulb tip and the solder bonded to the bulb contact tip. (love that solder smoke odor!) If you’re good at soldering, the bonded solder will be nice and rounded. But, sometimes there will be a little peak. This can be removed easily by using some fine sandpaper. Smooth the end and you are done.

#12 SolderBulb BulbRepair 015 #13 SolderBulb BulbRepair 016 #14 SmoothSolder  BulbRepair 017

This procedure will work with the single-tipped (single filament bulbs) as well as the double tipped bulbs (double filament bulbs).

#4 FlatBulb double tip 007 #3 FlatBulb single tip BR2 009

While you are at this point, before reinstalling the bulbs, clean the bulb holder brass contacts to ensure good conductivity. You can use very fine wet-dry sandpaper or other means.

Use some Dielectric Compound, if you have it. If you don’t have Dielectric, then use lithium grease. Lightly coat the bulb base and tip with the “grease” to seal out moisture and to resist tarnishing of the brass contacts and thus to maintain conductivity over time.

#15 DielectricCompound  BulbRepair 019

Reinstall the bulbs and test. Get a companion to watch while you turn the key to the on position to test brake lights, turn signal bulbs and running filaments. Then reinstall the lens. Use care when tightening the lens screws—don’t over-tighten. That will crack the lens.

Hopefully, you will have trouble-free lighting for a long while to come.

PS: you may wonder why I didn’t just replace the old bulb with a fresh new one. Are you kiddin’? I didn’t come through the VW School of Hard Knocks by replacing everything with new parts. No siree! I am a member of that long line of Users-of-Original-Parts. It’s such a challenge to get that original part to function again.

Posted by Jay Salser

My wife, Neva, and I have been driving and working on VWs since 1976. In fact, we raised our family in these cars. Now, we are retired and enjoy VWs as a hobby. The ’67 Beetle always has been our favorite year. We own a '67 Beetle and a '68 Karmann Ghia.

  1. Great tip – thanks.

      1. Thank you, Eric, for your diligence in editing and posting for me. You do such a great job of it! I also want to thank my wife, Neva, for her patience while I push here and pull there and switch things as she tries to focus her camera. She always comes through with some great shots! jay

    1. Is this the Larry of Linda and Larry? Hi, Larry! Thanks for reading! jay

    2. Great ideas to extend the use of an otherwise good bulb. I also have some spray wire cleanser that I spray on bare wires before reinstalling, and once in awhile, the fuse box. Most of the bulbs on my ’67 Bus are still original to the car. My ’67 Bug has not fared as well, but some bulbs are still the original ones. Amazing.

      1. Todd…I am interested to know about the “spray wire cleanser”. Can you elaborate and give our Readers more information which could help them to locate and use this product, please. I know what you mean when you say that most of your bulbs are originals on one of your VWs. Over the years, I collected bulbs when I was at a salvage yard or bought them in parts-lots. Now, I have a 20 life-times supply of them. When I was doing this article, I went through and culled many that were not good or which were corroded beyond cleaning. Thanks for commenting and we look forward to your further information! jay

        1. Jay, the product I am referring to is CRC Contact Cleaner 2000.

          1. Thank you for this information, Todd! CRC Contact Cleaner 2000 is readily available from various sources including Amazon, Grainger, etc. Apparently it is prohibited in California. Another product which is available for cleaning brass is Turbo Case Cleaner by Lyman. jay

  2. Jay, you are so detailed in your repair ideas, thank you for this demonstration.
    I have had trouble with my rear lights as well. one of the common issues with mine seems to be the two posts like to vibrate until they touch. When this happens I don’t need to check from the back, when I use a turn signal and hit the brakes the turn signal indicator stops blinking on the dash. I know then the two terminals are touching again, and I have no brake lights.
    Got that all fixed, now i’m having trouble with my front turn signals after my renovation of Elsey (our red and black 67, LC, love child:) What color wire goes to what post on the front signal? seems I try both options and signal either just makes the bulb brighter without flashing, or nothing happens. It worked before I took it apart :( so I don’t think it is a bad flasher unit, I pretty sure I got some wiring messed up..

    1. Hello, Ken…I probably am not going to be any help here. I am electrically-challenged. LOL Where’s Jody when we need him? What I call the “ground wire” is connected–it’s a common wire between the front turn signals. The “positive” wire tracks through the turn signal switch, etc. Do you have a Bentley’s? There is a ’67 wiring diagram in the back pages. I’m sorry that I’m no help here. : ( jay

    2. One more thought, Ken…if you have painted where grounds connect, make sure that grounds are bare for the connections. jay

    3. Ken,
      A black wire with a white tracer should go to the drivers side turn signal and parking light. A black wire with a green tracer is for the passenger side. Both of the wires will terminate at the turn signal lever. These wires control the turn signals. The other wire which should be grey is common to both turn signal parking lights. This wire will terminate to #57 of the light switch. These wires control the parking lights. There isn’t a ground wire, the light housings are grounded through the bolts that hold them onto the fender. Make sure the holes in the fender above and below have nice clean metal for grounding. Your problem sounds like a grounding issue to me. Hope this helps.

      1. I knew that you would be able to answer Ken’s question, Jody! jay

  3. Richard A. "Dick" Diaz August 6, 2014 at 11:23 am

    Jay, You have trouble shooting down to a science! Great article! I like that bulb kit! I always enjoy your articles and the useful tips!

    1. Hello, Dick..Eric came up with that opening photo–he’s always looking for the best openers. Hey, take care of that “new” knee and have a great time at this weekend’s VW events there in CA! jay

      1. Jay runs this ship.. I just work here….

        1. Now, Eric–we ALL know better than that! jay

          1. Ok, ok… I RUN THIS! Get back to work, Jay. You’re on the clock.

          2. Now, now you two. The way I look at it, it, takes both of you to make 1967Beetle.com purr. One day Eric is “Lucy” and Jay is “Ethel” – the next day Jay is “Lucy” and Eric is “Ethel”! Either way, you make me smile. Thanks!

          3. Ha! Ok, Donna wins.

  4. Okay, Boss–I’m working two Featured Articles. jay

    1. All hail J.K Salser!

  5. Hello Jay, and Eric
    Great reminder of the tail light bulb problem solver. Iv done the same on old bikes in the past. The used a different wattage than the 1157 bulbs, and would not flash with the higher wattage 1157. Vibration killed them also. We have some tail light trouble with both out 67s intermittently, and iv forgotten about the solder idea.
    Best of all is your fuze, and bulb road pack… Best idea yet… I’m all over it now….. I’ll add a small screw driver, test light, and small dielectric to the kit as well..just so I’m not totally stealing your patent…lol .. Great for the daughters beetle for sure, and a good idea for us all.
    Iv spark plug kits like it for my bike, and beetles. But never once thought of the lighting kit.

    Thanks alot for doing the hard work for us all.. Richard

    1. Hello, Richard of Canada! Good to hear from you! The bulb kit is a file photo which Eric found for the top of the article. One like that would possibly cost hundreds if it is the vintage real deal. Owning two ’67s as you do, presents the problem of supplying both with repair kits and spares. Good for you as you keep each car current! It can be a worse problem if a guy or gal is stranded with no way to remedy the situation. Thanks for adding to the ideas for all of us, Rich! jay

  6. Good read. We here in Germany frequent this site, and support what you’re doing.

  7. Nice job! I also keep a voltmeter in my garage and set it on ohms to check the bulb. Then, to square two……

    1. Ha! An even better idea, Frank! Thanks for the idea. I wish that I had listened as people over the years explained about “electricity”. Do you think that, at my age, I still can learn? LOL. Thanks for chiming in, Frank! jay

      1. Jay,
        That’s my Dad. (Frank)

    2. Good evening, Frank…I hadn’t realized that you are Eric’s father. Has Eric convinced you, yet, to get a ’67 Beetle? Isn’t there an old saying that goes…”Like Son…Like Father?” LOL. jay

      1. Jay,
        A hit of info. My Dad drove my Grandpa’s ’62, which he traded for the ’67. There’s a lot of history there.

  8. Jody, thanks for the info,I think your spot on with the poor ground and I may have a wire reversed. Eric, I have the full color print out of the wiring diagram, it’s been a big help

    1. Ken…a friend gave me a large color print-out of the ’67 wiring diagram. I took this to a shop and had it and the diagram key laminated. I keep them in a cylinder for safe-keeping and easy storage. jay

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