Transaxle Conversion: Automatic to Manual, and Vice Versa

Q: Can I convert my automatic transmission to standard (or vice versa)? 

This is a pretty common question, and the answer is a bit more complicated than it might first appear—and it depends on whether we're talking about a Vanagon or a Eurovan.

Vanagon: These vehicles are typically the easiest to work on, as they are the most "modular" design ever created by VW. The Vanagon was designed in the '70s, built in Germany during the '80s and early '90s, and then in South Africa for another ten years until production stopped altogether in 2003. The vehicle was launched with a 2.0 air-cooled engine, then converted to water-cooled in 1982. VW put flat-four and in-line four engines in the Vanagon, and they were made in both 2WD and 4WD. Thus, when we say "modular," that's what we mean! 

When it comes to changing a Vanagon from automatic to manual shift (or vice versa), it is a fairly straightforward endeavor. And if it is being done during a full restoration, the cost is fairly insignificant. Since the Vanagon automatic and manual transaxles were both excellent and reliable designs (read "AT or Manual: Which Is Better?"), there is no reason NOT to go one way or the other to fit your personal preference. 

Eurovan: These vehicles were designed in the '80s, then manufactured in the '90s and early 2000s. The era in which these vehicles were built was one of HUGE change in the automotive industry. The introduction of on-board diagnostics (OBD) and computer-controlled EVERYTHING made the Eurovan a much less "modular" vehicle. Changing the Eurovan from one type of transaxle to the other is a much more involved process. The computers that run the engine communicate with the computer that runs the automatic transaxle (and vice versa), for example. A further complication is that, starting in 1997, VW did not import any manual shift Eurovans. Thus, even if you were able to surmount the technical difficulties, the parts just don't exist in the states. When it comes to the '92-'96 model Eurovans (which were imported with either an AT or manual transmission), it is possible to switch from one to the other. But let's face it: Nobody in their right mind would change a manual to an AT. If you want a '92-'96 Eurovan with AT, just go out and find one—they are common. Indeed, the ONLY advantage to the '92-'96 Eurovan (compared to the later-model ones) is that they are available in manual shift. Everything else about the early Eurovan is inferior to the later design. At GoWesty , we don't buy or sell the '92-'96 Eurovans with automatic transaxles. The combination of the 5-cylinder engine and VW's first stab at a computer-controlled AT was a disaster. Here is some advice: Avoid 5-cylinder Eurovans with automatic transaxle at all costs!

So, can your automatic be converted to manual? The short answers:

Vanagon: Yes.
Eurovan: Yes... but NO.