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One of the most feared and often neglected portions of Vintage VWs is the electrical system. As long as the basic systems in the car- the charging system and the lights- work, most people are content. Unfortunately, this means that often times there are wires cut, spliced and loose throughout the car. After years of working on vintage VWs, I have found that many electrical problems can be attributed to the original, old, dry and brittle wiring being modified and added on to by who knows how many people in the past. Lights being dim or not working, the wipers not working, batteries dying, or odd things like the radio turning off when the headlights are turned on are more often than not caused by problems with the all the modifications to the original wiring  over time.

This isn’t an article on how to completely re-wire your car,  it is an introduction to some of the basics of VW wiring and a guide explaining what all those wires in your VW are doing and what those numbers on the switches and relays mean. VW wiring typically follows a few guidelines:

Red Wires (including wires with tracers) are Battery Power

Black Wires (including wires with tracers) are Ignition Switch Power

White, Yellow and Grey Wires (including wires with tracers) are for the Lights

Blue Wires (including wires with tracers) are for Indicators (turn, oil, high beam, and flasher)

Brown Wires (including wires with tracers) are for Grounds

Knowing that, if you take a look at the VW wires attached to an 8 terminal (used in 1961 through 1966 models) fuse box, you’ll typically see red wires on one side, a pair of fuses with white wires, a pair of fuses with yellow wires, a pair of fuses with grey, white-black, white-red wires, and a fuse with black wires. The terminal at one side is battery power, the terminal at the other is ignition power, and the 6 terminals in between are all for the headlights and running lights. Later models add more key and ignition power fuses, 1 more at each side for the 10 terminal box and 2 more at each side for the 12 terminal fuse box.

One major thing to note is that the power to the front of the car, the main red power cable, pictured above on the left side of the fuse box, is not fused. It runs from the battery or voltage regulator, all the way to the headlight switch, and from the headlight switch to the ignition switch and fuse block. Additionally, the ignition power to the coil, from the ignition switch, is not fused. That means that two of the most important wires to your VW running do not have a fuse. We highly recommend running a manually re-settable circuit breaker or a heavy duty main fuse on the main power wire as a safety measure. 

We’ve put together a list of most every electrical terminal and color wire used by VW in all models up to 1974. We don’t get into the fuel injection wiring which is used as early as 1968 in Type 3s, but even the rest of the wiring in the 1968 and later Type 3s still follows the below information. VW added more colors as the years progressed but the same basic information usually applies.


Wire Description

Typical Wire Color/s

Ignition Switch
15 / 54 + Ignition Switched Power from Ignition Switch Black
30 + Battery Power from Fuse Box / Headlight Switch (NOT FUSED) Red
P + Accessory Position Power (not typically used) Grey
X + Ignition On Power to Headlight Switch Black-Yellow / Red-Black
S - Key In Ground (for ignition-door buzzer, not typically used) Brown
Starter
50  + Starter Solenoid Power from Ignition Switch Red / Red-Black
B+ + Power from Battery Cable Black or Red
Engine, Battery, Alternator/Generator & Voltage Regulator
1 Condenser Hook Up from the Distributor Green
15 + Ignition Switched Power from Ignition Switch (NOT FUSED)
Black

Carburetor Choke and Solenoid (from 15 on coil - NOT FUSED)
Black
61 Generator/Alternator Charge Indicator Blue
B+ + Battery Positive Terminal Black / Red
B- - Battery Negative Terminal Braided Metal Strap / Black
D+ Generator Terminal to Voltage Regulator Red
DF Generator Field Terminal to Voltage Regulator Green

Oil Pressure Switch to Indicator Bulb in Speedometer Green-Blue
Turn Signal Switch
31 - Ground Brown
49a / L + Output from Flasher Relay or Flasher Switch Black-White-Green
54 + Input from Brake Light Switch Black-Red
54F + Output to Rear Brake Lights Black-Purple
-S / S- Switched Ground Signal to Horn Brown
S Switched Ground Signal to Headlight Relay Brown-White
L / VL + Left Turn Signal Black-White
R / VR + Right Turn Signal Black-Green
Emergency Flasher Relay & Switch
15 + Ignition Switched Power from Fuse Box Black
30 + Battery Power from Fuse Box Red
31 - Ground Brown
49 / X + Input from Fuse Box or Flasher Switch Black-White-Green / Blue
49a / L + Output from Flasher Relay or Flasher Switch Black-White-Green
54 + Input from Brake Light Switch Black-Red
54F + Output to Rear Brake Lights Black-Purple
K / KBL / B1 Switched Signal Indicator Blue
S / -S Switched Ground Signal Brown
L / VL + Left Turn Signal Black-White
R / VR + Right Turn Signal Black-Green
Wiper Motor & Switch
30 + Ignition Switched Power from Fuse Box Black
31 - Ground Brown
31b - Switched Ground Brown
53 / 54d + Wiper Motor Speed 1 Black
53a / 54 + Wiper Self Park Black-Purple
53b + Wiper Motor Speed 2 Black-Yellow
53e Wiper (Brake Winding - Self Park) Green
Headlights, Running & Parking Lights & Switches
30 + Power from Battery or Voltage Regulator (NOT FUSED)   Red
31 - Ground Brown
56 + Head Light Power White-Black
56a + High Beams White

+ High Beam Indicator Blue-White
56b + Low Beams Yellow
57 / 57L / 57R + Front Parking Lights (L - Left, R - Right) (NOT FUSED)

(We usually use the 58 terminal instead of the 57 Terminal for the front parking lights as it is fused)
Grey
58 / 58L / 58R + Sidemarker, Tail, & License Plate Lights (L - Left, R - Right) Grey / White-Black / White-Red
58b + Dash Light Illumination White-Red
S Switched Ground Signal Brown-White
X + Ignition On Power from Headlight Switch Black-Yellow / Red-Black
Brake Light Switch & Warning Light
15 + Ignition Switched Power from Fuse Box Black
31 - Ground Brown
61 Generator/Alternator charge indicator Blue
81 + Power to the Brake Lights Black / Black-Red
81a/K Signal to the Brake Warning Light Red
82/82a + Ignition Switched Power from Fuse Box Black / Black-Red
Horn Relay
30 + Ignition Switched Power from Fuse Box Red
85 - Input from steering column horn button wire Brown
86 + Jumper Power wire from 30 Terminal on Relay Red
87 + Power to Horn Black

Horns have 2 contacts, either can be used for power or ground.
Speedometer & Fuel Gauge (No numbered terminals)

+ Indicator Light Terminal (under the 3 Indicators) Black

Oil Pressure Indicator Light Bulb Socket Blue-Green

Generator / Alternator Indicator Light Bulb Socket Blue

Turn Signal Indicator Light Bulb Socket Black-White-Green / Blue

Dash Illumination Light Bulb Sockets White-Red

Hi Beam Indicator Bulb Socket Blue-White

Fuel Gauge Vibrator / Voltage Stabilizer Black

(Stabilizer attaches to Speedometer and plugs in to the Fuel Gauge)

Fuel Gauge to Fuel Level Sending Unit Brown

VW added additional colors with newer model years, but this should give you a good map of sorts for the spaghetti under your hood or dash. Using this list, some patience, and a few electrical tools such as a test light and some wire striper-crimpers, wire, and electrical connectors you should be able to patch and repair any issues in your aircooled VW. If your wiring is beyond repair, or you just want to start with all new wiring, we offer complete wiring harnesses for most VW Beetles, Karmann Ghias though 1974 and Bus models up to 1967at Jbugs.com. We also offer main looms for most air cooled models to ensure that the main power harness from the engine to the front of your VW is in good shape.

-Sam Mebane


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About the Author:

Sam Mebane joined the Jbugs team way back in the mid 90's. A Class 11 racing enthusiast, Sam has amassed in-depth knowledge on VW electrical systems and Beetle suspension. He has restored a plethora of VW's including a VW Thing, Squareback, several Beetles, and (currently) a Super Beetle. Customer service, tech support, product testing & development, and youtube spokesperson, Sam has done it all here at JBugs.

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