Trans Axles

Since your Thing aint goin anywhere without one, transaxles are a big point of discussion. Many people acquire a Thing with plans to restore it and find out the previous owner(s) were highly unkind to the old transmission. What to do now?


First, determine what you actually have. On the underside of the VW transaxle, there is a small flat area where the axle codes and serial numbers are stamped. From the factory, the VW Thing Type 181 came with a single side cover 4:12 ratio transaxle. The code is stamped with AV on the flat spot. Don’t be surprised if you find a different code on your transaxle. Some other codes that show up are AT and BG (typical Bug transaxle), BA and GA, AH and DC. These transaxles include single side cover as well as dual side cover. The dual side cover applications have another seam that can leak, and the transaxle case itself is not as strong as a single side cover case. Hence, this discussion will proceed referring to single side covers.

Now from this point on we will be discussing the relative merits of some of the other transaxle code/ratios. First……how are you going to use your Thing you are restoring?

If you want it for a grocery getter, the 4:12 or 3:88 ratio will do. The 3:88 has proved to be somewhat quicker around town and off the lights. We quickly learned that the rolling hills and mountains we traverse on rallies make the difference between these transaxles obvious. The 3:88 ratios were slow up the hills, and downright pokey in the mountains. We ended up with two distinct groups on the road, sometimes as much as 8-10 miles apart. The defining reason was the type of transaxle being used, not the size of the engine.

It was VERY obvious the German engineers designed the Thing with the 4:12 ratio for optimal multi-use. If you are driving long distance tours and rallies, the 4:12 is what the doctor ordered.

With the amount of Thing trips/rallies we do ……some rallies 9 days long, we observed firsthand how the different ratios actually perform on the real road. For us, the Thing isn’t looked upon as a racer – not with those aerodynamics! We want smooth traveling at normal speeds all day long, comfortably. The German Federal Army Manual TDv 2310/001-12 has all this information on the ratios for the Thing application.

Question I get a lot – where do I get another transaxle if mine has barfed out a ring gear? With the BTG (Boise Thing Group), we average two to three transaxle replacements a year. Most of us have 3 Things and a lot have two. Every time a new Thing (and it’s human) comes into the group, we go through it (the Thing – human is optional). The ones with non 4:12 ratio axles get replaced. Because we do so many, we get ours from the best VW transaxle rebuilders in the business. German Transaxle of America, based in Bend Oregon. If you need a rebuilt AV code for your Thing, check with your local shop first, and see if they will order one for you from GTA.

As a matter of course, this is when I install new seals behind the flanges, as well as the outside center of the flanges and on the input shaft – cheap insurance.

– Mike Humeston