Step 1: Identify Your Vehicle
The Volkswagen Beetle was in production for 65 years. While the VW Beetle is known and loved for being highly modifiable, the vehicle itself remained fundamentally unchanged throughout its production.
The longevity of production with few major changes, paired with the interchangeability of air-cooled VW parts can make identifying your classic Volkswagen a challenge. The only sure-fire way to identify your VW is by checking the VIN.
The chassis VIN number is located under the rear seat in front of the shift access plate. On early Beetle bodies the VIN plate is riveted inside the trunk behind the spare tires. On later models it is located on the door jamb sticker and on a metal plate riveted to the dash.
Step 2: Check the Vehicle for Major Rust
It is important to inspect your VW for rust because major rust is deeper in the metal and will bubble, flake or completely "eat" away metal. (Surface rust will happen at any bare metal spot on metal and is not the end of a restoration project by any means)
Primary Areas to Inspect
Heater channels (from the front inner fender well, to the rear fender, under the running board, the door sill)
Floor pans (under the rear seat, especially common under the battery-passenger side)
Rear luggage tray (under & behind the rear seat up to the rear window)
"A" pillars at bottom of front door jamb
Front Inner fender well (in front of door jambs)
Lower rear quarter panel (in front of rear fender)
Behind quarter windows at "crescent moon" vent (on 1971 and later models)
Major Rust in any spot The above areas are common rust spots in VW Beetles but they are not the only spots. Major rust in other areas may indicate a previously repaired (or not) accident or other body damage.
Step 3: Examine the General Body Condition
When buying a Beetle we are MOST concerned with the body shell itself first and foremost. Fenders, hoods, seats, wheels, engines and transmissions, doors, bumpers and all the other parts bolted to the car can be changed. The body is the foundation and we will always look for the best foundation possible.
Sure, it is very nice to find a car that has a body that is in outstanding shape and a complete, running car as well but at the end of the day between a "basket case" (a car that is disassembled and has most parts in boxes or crates and most likely has a number of missing parts) Beetle that is solid and rust free or a running driving Beetle that has extensive rust or damage, we would lean towards the basket case.
Grant it we are slightly biased as we do this for a living and have easy access to most any and all parts that would be needed to assemble a Beetle. Keep that in mind for YOUR own restoration as parts may not be as easy to come by depending on your location and budget.
Primary Areas to Inspect
Starting at the front, look in the trunk (in the spare tire well on Standard Beetle). Irregular creases or folds in the metal with cracking paint, commonly rusted (very common on any old car). Not a deal breaker if the damage is minor and the hood and fenders line up well (the panels aren't misaligned or uneven). From the front edge of the front tire, look for damage in the front edges of the fender wells (the opposite side of the panels we were just looking at from the trunk). These areas are exposed to more weather so any damage will typically be rusted and easy to spot.
Check the door gaps (look for even spacing from the top to the bottom edge) and look for even gaps all the way around the door. Open and close the door, does it open smoothly? Does it seem to stick or fall when first opening? Do the hinges stick or make it difficult to open or close. None are necessarily deal breakers but will need some attention. The fix may be as easy as new door hinge pins. Worse case the damage may indicate a major repair is needed or was done incorrectly.Rust is common at the very bottom edge of the door as water drains through the door. Debris may have blocked the drains and can cause rust. Surface rust is common, look for major rust.
From the back edge of the rear tire, look for damage in the front edges of the fender wells Similar to the front, look for irregular creases or folds. Cracking paint and rust can highlight the area if indeed damaged.
The fenders, hood & decklid, how do they fit the car? Do all the body lines seem to be lined up and even? Are the fender to tire gaps the same? Is the fender to tire clearance the same from one side to the other?Hood & Decklid Operation When opening and closing the hood or deck lid, does it hit the bumper? Is there a lot of flex, specifically at the edges of the hinges? Where some misalignment is common, too much can be an indicator of a bad accident.