Broken ’89 Jetta Shift Linkage = My First Lathe Project

So on the commute home from work yesterday, in my 1989 VW Jetta GL (1.8L, 8V – my $600 beater), I was unable to shift into 5th gear after getting on the highway; what felt like 5th was actually 3rd.  I soon realized that I was only able to use 3rd and 4th gears.  With a little luck — and a couple carefully rolled stop signs — I made it home without abusing the clutch or endangering anyone.

After a quick google search last night made it seem like it was the end of the transmission, today I took a look and found that the problem was the plastic front shift rod lever/selector, one end of which had come apart; both of the plastic clip tabs had come off.

Broken shift rod selector/lever

This was most likely caused by a shaft bushing that was entirely gone, causing excessive play in the linkage (which I had stupidly been ignoring) and wear on the former part.

Nonexistent Relay Shaft Bushing
Nonexistent Relay Shaft Bushing

The parts are cheap.  Here are the autohausaz.com part numbers and prices:

  • 171711067B – $1.56 – Shift rod selector lever
  • 191711595A – $0.91 – Relay shaft bushing

However, I’d have to order them, and I need to use the car tomorrow.  Kludge time!  The shift rod/selector was easy:  a couple zip ties and some grease should have it working fine again, until I can get a replacement.

Kludged shift rod selector/lever

I got a rough measurement of the kind of bushing I would need for the relay shaft — i.d. of approximately .525, and o.d. of .730, with a lip of 1/8″ or so at the end, in order to keep metal away from metal.  For material, I cut off about an inch of 1/2″ PVC electrical conduit, which had a suitable inner diameter, and an outer diameter of .85 — perfect for the lip, but too large for the main part.

I was hoping my first time actually using a lathe would be for something cooler, but you have to start somewhere.   After making a horrible mess of PVC “hair”, and melting my first attempt, I started over, and used the flat side of a tool bit rather than the point, which worked cleaner and quicker, cutting “ribbon” instead of “hair”.

Outer diameter turned down to .730 - being held by original-diameter lip
Getting the lip down to 1/8

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Finished bushing
New bushing in place

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It’s not beautiful, but it’s done, and better yet, it works! The car shifts smoothly and definitively now, and I once more have a working five-speed (plus reverse!) manual transmission.

In this photo you can see the installed bushing in the upper left corner, and the installed ty-wrapped selector rod/lever on the lower right.

Finished Product

So on the commute home from work yesterday, in my ’89 VW Jetta GL (1.8L, 8V), I was unable to shift into 5th gear after getting on the highway.  I soon realized that I was only able to use 3rd and 4th gears.  With a little luck — and a couple subtly rolled stop signs — I made it home without abusing the clutch.

After a quick google search last night made it seem like it was the end of the transmission, today I took a look and found that the problem was the plastic front shift rod lever/selector, one end of which had split apart and come loose.

Broken shift rod selector/lever

This was most likely caused by a shaft bushing that was entirely gone, causing excessive play in the linkage (which I had stupidly been ignoring) and wear on the former part.

The parts are cheap.  Here are the autohausaz.com part numbers and prices:

* 171711067B – $1.56 – Shift rod selector lever
* 191711595A – $0.91 – Relay shaft bushing

However, I’d have to order them, and I need to use the car tomorrow.  Kludge time!  The shift rod/selector was easy:  a couple zip ties and some grease should have it working fine again, until I can get a replacement.  I got a rough measurement of the kind of bushing I would need for the relay shaft — i.d. of approximately .525, o.d. of .730, with a lip of 1/8″ or so at the end, in order to keep metal away from metal.

I was hoping my first time using a lathe would be for something cooler, but I’m not complaining.  For material, I cut off an inch of 1/2″ PVC electrical conduit, which was a pretty good fit.   After making a horrible mess of PVC “hair”, and melting my first attempt, I started over, and used the flat side of a tool bit rather than the point, which worked cleaner and quicker.  It’s not beautiful, but it’s done, and better yet, it works!  The car shifts smoothly now, and I once more have a working five-speed (plus reverse!) manual transmission.

Wood work bench for the 7×12 Lathe

While waiting for my 7×12 lathe to arrive, I got prepared by building a work bench for it out of 2×12 chunks of wood, and scraps I had around.  It was my first time using a 12″ Harbor Freight compound sliding miter saw, which worked fairly well for sitting on the floor (it needs a stand, too).

The stand/bench/shelf is pretty sturdy, and is about the right height for me, though it would be slightly high if I used the lathe’s rubber feet.  Most of the work went into the supports, where I drilled the four (per support) holes  strategically to try to mitigate the warping of the 2x12s I used.  Wood is not metal, apparently.  The rear “trim” along the top adds a little extra surface area to the top (not that it is really usable), but my real agenda was to provide a good grip for when this thing is moved; moving anything with a solid back is awkward, and in this case there is enough stability without one.  I enjoy overthinking things.

7×12 Lathe stand PDF

Welcome!

Despite years of many forms of geekery, I’ve never managed to put a blog together.  Being forever trapped in a mid-1990s web development paradigm, I finally took my wife up on her long-standing offer to get something working for me.  So here it is, my first post on my first blog!