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Click here for complete engine specifications for all Cabriolet engines.
- All engines are in-line 4-cylinder, 8-valve, transverse-mounted, Single-Overhead-Cam
(SOHC), non-interference engines.
- From 1984 to 1989, Cabriolets in North America received the same 1.8L, CIS fuel-injected
engine as the Rabbit GTI.
- Solid/mechanical lifters were installed up through 1987; hydraulic lifters installed
from 1988 onward. The difference between the two: Solid lifter cylinder heads have
5 camshaft bearing caps, the hydro lifter cylinder heads have 4. NOTE: Hydro lifters
& camshaft cannot be used in a solid lifter head and vice versa. Know what you have
before buying parts!
- Solid lifter cylinder head part numbers:
- 026103373F (JH, non-air shrouded; <<1983)
- 026103373H (JH, air shrouded; 1984-1986)
- 026103373AC (JH, air shrouded; 1987>>)
- Hydro lifter JH cylinder head part numbers
- 026103373AA (air shrouded)
- Click here for camshaft specs. (The JH, 2H, KT & DX hydro heads all use the same
The engine code is located at the top of the engine block, at cylinder #3, just below
the spark plug. The 6-digit number after the code is the engine's serial number.
Cylinder Head Build Date
Click here for an explanation on deciphering the cylinder head build date stamp.
Transverse and Non-interference
Cabriolets have transversely-mounted engines. This means that the engine has been
rotated 90° from how an engine normally sits in the engine compartment; i.e. what
is usually the front of an engine (where the belts are) is on the right side of the
Furthermore, these engines, in stock form, are known as non-interference engines.
This means that the timing belt can break while the engine is running and not cause
serious damage to the valves and pistons, provided that the engine is not running
at a very high rpm when the belt breaks.
The right/left sides of a car are based upon you sitting in the car, facing the engine
compartment. Therefore, the right side of the car = passenger side; the left side
of the car = driver's side (those in RHD countries, the "driver's" and "passenger"
sides would be reversed).
The firing order on all 4-cylinder, 8-valve Volkswagen engines is 1-3-4-2. The rotor
spins clockwise from the #1 cylinder wire, closest to the engine block, around to
the #2 cylinder wire.
(If you happen to have swapped in a 9A engine, the firing order is still 1-3-4-2,
but the rotation is counterclockwise from the #1 cylinder wire, closest to the engine
block, around to the #2 cylinder wire.)
Rubber vs. poly: Rubber mounts are OEM and cushion, or isolate, the engine vibrations.
Poly mounts are aftermarket and have a tendency to allow the engine vibrations to
pass through to the chassis (i.e., you will feel the vibrations inside the car).
Symptoms of Mount Failure:
When motor mounts fail, the engine and transmission will rock causing very noticeable
vibrations inside the passenger compartment (especially at idle), shifting issues,
exhaust damage, and more.
1) Contrary to common belief, all oil filters listed above, including Fram, have
anti-drainback valves. Anti-drainback valves are built into the filters to prevent
the filters from emptying upon engine shut-off when the filters are installed on
engines requiring them to be "upside down". Volkswagen's 1.5L, 1.6L, 1.7L and 1.8L
engines installed in Cabriolets do not require this anti-drainback valve because
the filters are spun on "right side up", thereby allowing gravity to retain oil in
the filter (some proclaim that oil is siphoned out of the filter upon shut-off; this
is true only for diesel engines). The important valve that Cabriolet engines require
is the bypass, or relief valve. Should there be a restriction in the filter due
to cold weather, contaminants, or thick oil, the low oil pressure present in the
filter opens the relief valve allowing unfiltered oil to enter the oil passages in
order to keep the engine lubricated (unfiltered oil is better than no oil at all).
All filters listed above, now excluding Bosch, have this valve; Fram, however, uses
a rubber diaphragm (among other cheap parts), rather than a spring-loaded seal like
the others do, hence it not being recommended.
2) Fram and Bosch (yes, Bosch) oil filters are not recommended due to their inferior
Air Fitlers (fuel injected engines)
- K&N (part #33-2002; $50, but is permanent & requires recharge kit #99-5000)
- Mahle (part #LX 259; $10)
- Mann (part #C-2860; $10)
- Wix (part #42133)
- Volkswagen (part #049133843; $10-15)
Oil on the air filter is commonly referred to as "compression blow-by". Oil is getting
into the air passages via the main vent hose connected to the valve cover. Some
oil on the filter is normal; an air filter coated with oil is sometimes an indication
of worn rings and cylinder walls. To reduce the amount of blow-by, clean the valve
cover (including the vent screen) and air hoses and install a camshaft cover.
It's wise to upgrade your 3-piece valve cover gasket to a 1-piece rubber gasket:
You will need to install shoulderless studs, but no gasket sealant is required. The
rubber gasket is re-usable should the valve cover need to be removed, and rubber
gaskets are more leak-proof.
Order the upgrade kit from German Auto Parts.
NOTE: Late-year 1993 Cabriolets came stock with the one-piece rubber gasket and shoulderless
It's wise to upgrade your cork valve cover gasket to a rubber one. No gasket sealant
is required and rubber gaskets are more leak-proof.
The rubber gasket upgrade is available at German Auto Parts.
Click here for belt diagrams and part numbers.
Finding Vacuum Leaks
Use a nonflammable carb cleaner and slowly spray the vacuum hoses/tubes one at a
time while the engine is running at idle. When the engine stumbles, you've found
the leak. If a leak is found, do yourself and the car a favor and replace all of
the rubber vacuum lines... preventative maintenance! In addition to the vacuum lines,
vacuum leaks can also occur at the following locations:
- the idle adjustment screw (rubber O-ring disintegrates over time).
- the fuel injectors (rubber O-rings crack and/or disintegrate over time).
- the oil dipstick tube (the dipstick is not seated properly and/or the dipstick funnel
is broken or missing).
- valve cover.
- intake manifold/throttle body connection.
- auxiliary air regulator (CIS only).
- idle boost valve(s) (CIS only).
20" Hg at idle, manifold
0" Hg at idle, distributor
10" Hg above idle, manifold & distributor
How to use a vacuum gauge and what the gauge tells you
Pastic Tubes: Outside diameter is 4mm (VW part #N 020 139 1)
Rubber Hose: Inside diameter is 3mm (VW part #N 020 291 1)
Your local auto parts stores carry vacuum lines.
Vacuum Line Diagrams
- 1980 Rabbit Convertibles with EGR systems, follow the 1980 diagram; 1980 Rabbit Convertibles
with OXS systems, follow the 1980-1983 diagram.
- 1987 Cabriolets with VINs 21197 and higher, use the 1987-1989 diagram.
Minimim oil pressure in Cabriolets is 2 bar at 2000 rpm with the oil temperature
Click here to read about the low oil pressure warning system in these cars.
Symptoms of Head Gasket Failure
Early Warning Signs
- Oil in the coolant (brownish coolant and/or oil sludge in the coolant reservoir)
- Coolant in the oil (produces a milky-like substance seen on the underside of the
oil cap and in the oil in general)
- Note: Milky oil on the oil cap is normal if seen before the engine has had a chance
to get to operating temperature.
- Abnormal/unexplained loss of coolant
- Overheating (sometimes intermittent)
- Oil leak(s) around where the engine block mates with the cylinder head
- Extremely high temperature readings (coolant temp gauge jumps to the right, then
drops to normal*)
- A long trail of steam out of the exhaust pipe (coolant is entering the cylinders);
sweet (not in a good way) smelling exhaust
- Oil will be converted to a substance resembling milky coffee
- Over-pressurized cooling system causing hoses to burst and/or radiator/tank caps
to blow off/leak
*The temperature will jump to "hot" when a pocket of super-hot steam envelops the
gauge sending unit; when the gauge drops to normal that pocket of steam has been
chased away by the coolant. This can also indicate a cracked cylinder head as well
as a failed head gasket. One good reason to have this gauge: With just an "idiot
light" for the coolant temperature like modern cars have, you'd never see this warning
sign and by the time that red "idiot light" blinks, it'd be too late.
If early warning signs are leading you to suspect impending head gasket failure,
have a repair shop conduct tests (or do the DIY test below) on the cooling system
to verify possible head gasket failure (they'll check, in part, to see if combustion
gasses are leaking into the cooling system which cause the system to over-pressurize).
Try not to allow the head gasket to blow completely or the cylinder head could become
warped, among other internal damage.
DIY test: With the engine cold, attach a latex glove to the coolant expansion tank
fill hole (early Cabriolets will use the radiator fill hole). Leave the cap off
and run the engine for a minute. If the glove inflates, you've most likely got a
leaking/blown head gasket (have a professional verify your findings).
Symptoms of Piston Ring & Valve Stem Wear
If the spark plugs are continuously getting fouled, chances are that oil is leaking
into the cylinders, which indicates possible piston ring and/or valve stem wear.
Onboard Diagnostics Systems (Check Engine Light)
Only Cabriolets equipped with Digifant I engines have the OBD I diagnostic port and
check engine light. Furthermore, an OBD II diagnostic tool cannot be used to pull
fault codes from an OBD I system unless it has an adapter and the capability to connect
to and pull codes from an OBD I system!
The check engine light usually means that there is a fault in the emissions system.
Plug an OBD I scan tool into the diagnostic port (under the shift boot), pull the
stored fault codes and cross reference them with the list of fault codes below and
OBD I Fault Codes:
4444 = no faults recorded
2212 = throttle valve potentiometer (defective potentiometer or wiring)
2312 = coolant temperature sensor (defective coolant temperature sensor or wiring)
2322 = intake air temperature sensor (defective intake air temperature sensor or
2342 = oxygen sensor (faulty oxygen sensor or wiring)
2141 = knock sensor (defective knock sensor or wiring; control unit not recognizing
2341 = oxygen sensor control exceeded (air instake system leaks, CO adjustment incorrect,
faulty sensor wiring)
2323 = airflow sensor potentiometer (defective airflow sensor potentiometer or wiring)
4411 = fuel injector (check fuel injector wiring)
1111 = control unit (defective control unit)
0000 = end of fault code sequence
Cruise Control Does Not Work
Check for vacuum leaks. If the system still does not operate, use this procedure.
Cruise Control Vacuum Diagram
The pre-heat hose runs from the air box over to a flange on the exhaust manifold.
If your car is missing this hose, it's not a problem unless you live in a cold climate.
- Techtonics Tuning* header or dual-downpipe (also: swap to a dual-outlet exhaust manifold)
- Headers tend to be louder
- Techtonics Tuning* hi-flow cat and cat-back system (for those not in emissions testing
areas, you can eliminate the cat altogether)
- Larger throttle body (from an Audi 5000 or A2-era CIS Golfs/Jettas)
- Bored intake manifold (this can be a DIY job on your existing manifold with a Dremel-like
- Techtonics Tuning* 288 or 270 camshaft and adjustable cam gear (stock upgrade: cam
from a A2-era Digifant II GTI)
- You will need to upgrade the valve springs and such, advance the timing a bit, and
use premium gasoline
- For hydraulic heads, use a cam intended for an A3-era 8V ABA engine
- Enlarge the air intake & install K&N air filter
- Install a larger air pipe between air box and throttle body
- Larger valves, 10:1 pistons from a newer 1.8L
- Larger fuel distributor (A2-era CIS Golf/Jetta)
- Lightened flywheel and short-shift kit
*Autotech products are another option. Click here for further discussion.
Electronic upgrades (Digifant)
Install an Advanced Motorsport performance chip. CIS: cannot be chipped!
You can add a cold-air intake, but it depends on the type of intake you intend to
install. The cone-shaped filter-style intakes, for example, that sit inside the
engine bay just off of the fuel distributor are not cold-air intakes. Instead, they
suck in the heat produced by your car's engine. The same can be said for "Swiss-cheesing"
the stock air box. A proper cold-air intake for these cars is routed in such a way
that outside air can be drawn in, much like the stock configuration. In fact, you
can modify the stock set-up to allow for the intake of more ambient air than the
stock set-up provides; click here for Digifant instructions (CIS will be similar;
additional info coming soon).
Intake air temperature (IAT) sensors
- Digifant: The sensor is located inside the mass-airflow sensor (MAF) on top of the
This question is often asked by those who have bought, or are looking to buy, a so-called
performance chip. CIS engines are fuel injected mechanically and, therefore, do not
have the electronic controls that Digifant engines have. Buying a performance chip
for your CIS-equipped Cabriolet is a waste of money, and if it somehow gets installed
on a CIS engine, will do much more harm than good. You simply cannot chip a CIS engine!
Digifant ECU's, however, can be chipped to gain several hp's (Advanced Motorsport
makes the best one for the Digifant engines). CIS owners who want to increase hp's
need to go about it mechanically, not electronically, as listed above. If you have
a Digifant engine, please read this informative thread about these so-called performance
chips (they aren't chips at all and are mostly hokum).
Cleaning the Engine Bay
A clean engine is a happy engine! Why? A dirty engine generally runs hotter than
a clean one. Therefore, keeping your engine bay and the engine itself clean should
be part of your regular maintenance. Additionally, keeping the underside of the
hood tidy allows for quicker, easier leak detection (and your mechanics appreciate
working on a clean engine!). With a little work, your engine can look this clean.
If you don't want it professionally cleaned up, you can do it yourself. Using a
combination of a steamer, a degreaser such as Simple Green® and a high-pressure washer
along with a sponge, brush, scraper, toothbrush and/or towel should do the job with
lots of muscle power. Be sure to cover the electric and electronic components/connections
with plastic bags before beginning. Professional detailers recommend running the
engine up to operating temperature before beginning; this softens up years-old hardened
grease, oil, etc. When working on a hot engine; a hot engine bay is no different
than an oven... if you're not careful, you'll get burned!
Speaking of ovens: It's advised by professional detailers to not use oven cleaner
to rid the engine of caked-on fluids. Most oven cleaners are lye-based products
made to break down organic material in your oven; these products will strip paint
off of anything, damage plastics and rubber, as well as cause pitting to aluminum
over time and, therefore, should not be used for engine cleaning. Foaming engine
cleaners, such as Gunk, are made specifically for cleaning engine bays and are a
far better/safer choice. Leave the oven cleaner in the kitchen, where it belongs.
back to top
Rapid, multiple knocks in rapid succession that have a high pitch; occurs only when
the car is being driven at road speed and a sudden load is applied to the engine
(extra fuel is sent to the pistons).
Pre-ignition. Fuel is igniting before the spark plug sparks due to carbon build-up
in the cylinder head. The valves are being forced to move in the wrong direction
at the wrong time, which is damaging the pistons.
Switch to premium fuel for 6 months; after 6 months, switch back. If the knock continues,
see your mechanic; head work will need to be performed.
Deeper, slower, more rhythmic sound than pre-ignition knock. This sound is heard
immediately upon beginning to drive and varies with engine RPM.
Rod and/or bearing wear (naturally with age of the engine, or prematurely). The internal
space between the bearings has widen to the point that oil no longer completely fills
Do not drive the car if this sound is heard! Have the car towed to your favorite
Lighter sound than a knock, but also varies with engine RPM; can be heard at idle.
Faulty lifters and/or debris.
Sometimes debris frees itself and is flushed into the oil filter; replace the oil
and filter. If this doesn't solve the problem, one or more lifters will need replacing.
Squeak, squeal, or
High-pitched squeal; your car sounds like a pissed-off pig.
Belts are worn/loose/slipped/wet. A belt tensioner is faulty/worn. A belt pulley
is misaligned. In some instances a faulty water pump will chirp.
Replace worn belts; tighten loose belts; realign slipped belts. Replace belt tensioners.
Replace/realign belt pullies.
A deep, rhythmic groan or growl.
The water pump is dying.
Replace the water pump (and thermostat and coolant while you're at it).