Published on December 2nd, 2014 | by0
The Top 10 Mistakes That Noobs Make When Buying a Volkswagen
What are the most common issues that people run into when they first hop on the VW crazy train? Sometimes we forget that there can be a steep learning curve when getting into the hobby.
I have been in VWs for over 10 years; an eternity, it seems. My out-of-control VW addiction drove me to quit my good-paying job and start my own repair shop. I now have 45-ish parts cars, a few project cars – a few of them even run, and three buildings stuffed full of parts. So, yeah… I’ve got it bad.
Here are what I think the most common mistakes made by Noobs, including myself, when first getting into the VW game. I also conducted a very scientific, completely biased poll on the internet to better define my list. Take that as you will, because everyone knows what you read on the internet is true. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be writing this. Now, on to the list. After which, I will dive a little deeper on why these are the top ten mistakes.
Let’s call this “the Gateway Dub.” The best way to quit your dub addiction is to never start… Chances are that if you are reading this you are on you second or third or fifty- fourth Volkswagen by now. I have had so many that I can’t begin to count them all (no, really; I tried to a few years back and stopped after I exceeded 100). In truth, though, I may be the exception rather than the rule.
The point is, most Noobs make their first mistake the day they buy their first VW. This error in judgment comes in many forms. Maybe you’re the kid looking for a cool first car and see your buddy with flocks of women swooning over his Jetta. Oh, wait… maybe I’ve been stuck inside a VW too long. The exhaust must be getting to me.
This one has struck me more than a few times in my illustrious VW career, mostly, because it comes in many forms. It comes in the 4-Motion W8 Passat that is such a good deal – it only needs a few things (like the transmission is shifting hard or there is just a little chain noise at start up).
Or, how about the Corrado VR6 that you found super cheap on Craigslist? It started out as a G60 that someone put an ABA in instead, but the guy that has it now started a VR6 swap. It’s almost done, too, minus the wiring and cluster pedal swap since it was an automatic from the factory.
Maybe it’s the Allroad with 170k miles that needs a suspension compressor rebuilt, timing belt, and all the cam seals replaced. I mention this last one because I’m the idiot that walked into it when a customer didn’t feel like paying the $2,500 bill to get it all done. I finally got it kicked though – don’t worry.
In summary, nothing is as expensive as a cheap luxury car. This cannot be said enough. Just because a ‘10 A4 is cheap – doesn’t mean it’s a good deal when you total up all the stuff that it will need to be right.
Cheap (not just in price but in quality) parts are one of the biggest causes for peoples’ VWs to be unreliable pains in the tuckus that people don’t realize. I’m not knocking eBay, in general. There are good sellers on there that sell good quality products. I’ve sold quite a lot of OEM parts and accessories. You get into trouble when you buy bargain basement crap.
How can you tell if something is bargain basement crap? If it is a $250 Mass air flow meter and it is $45 brand new on ebay and Bosch has an ‘r’ in there somewhere – it probably isn’t worth buying. And while we are on the subject of MAFs don’t ever buy one that isn’t a brand new Bosch one. Not a Reman or anything from Auto Zone. You will want to commit suicide after about 3 months when you are still troubleshooting random multiple misfires and idle problems. Been there. It’s no fun.
Our VWs can be akin to a Lady. And ladies please hear me out on this one before you fire up the hate mail; I’m on your side. A Lady likes to be treated nice and taken care of. She likes new things that show that you care for her. She likes spending time with you, going places, and doing fun things. She doesn’t like cheap crap or ugly jewelry. Every once in a while she likes to be played with a little rough. Your VW is the same way. IF you take good care of your VW it will treat you nice and always be there for you. If you don’t? Well then, you can walk.
Buying a Bentley for your car is important. It can be the difference between fixing a problem in no time and spending weeks pulling out your hair and never figuring out why one of your doors lock and then automatically unlock. It can also save you countless hours searching the internet looking for someone who has had your exact same problem and hoping that they posted what was the issue after they bought their Bentley and solved it.
Lots of people gripe about the cost. I get that. I really do. But, Bentley manuals are like divorces. They are so expensive because they are worth it. Haynes manuals are useful, but they are kind of like those dollar ponchos at Wal-Mart. They cover you, kind of, but when the Tsunami hits the shore they aren’t much good.
Search places like Craigslist and eBay for used ones, or even new ones. I can buy a new Bentley cheaper on Amazon than I can through one of my wholesale suppliers, which makes me mad – but that’s for a different article.
I cannot stress this enough. Buy. A. Bentley. For. Your. Car. Skip your electric bill for a month if you have to; it’s worth it.
Unfortunately, the internet has leveled the playing field and now everyone with a laptop and a lukewarm Starbucks coffee is an expert on your exact problem. These ‘coffee shop mechanics’ will tell you why your car is broken, and how their cousin’s best friend’s roommate fixed their car, and that you are an idiot for not knowing the solution. More times than not, though, they’re the idiot. It happens; take it as a learning experience and move on.
Not everyone who is on a forum or Facebook knows what they are talking about. I’ve been on both ends of this. I’ve taken bad advice and given bad advice – despite my years of experience with VWs.
Forums are a great place to learn and get help. Myself? I’m pretty partial to the VWDiesel forum. I have gotten lots of comments from people saying how helpful the users on there are to people who are looking for advice. The key is to do your research first. Learn about your problem and then ask if you can’t find the answer you are looking for. People like helping those who have tried to help themselves first.
Let me tell the tale of a woman we will call ‘Patty’, mainly because I don’t remember her name. Patty drives an ‘03 Passat 1.8t wagon and has come to my shop a few times to fix small things on her car and to buy some G12. Patty called me because her car started overheating and they towed it to a Honda shop in town and wondered if I could recommend them to fix it or if I would work on it. I told her what I could about the shop and said if she would like to I would go pick it up and tow it out to my shop and have it taken care of for her. She said that she was interested in that and would call me back to have me pick it up.
Several days go by and I didn’t think anything of it. I finally get a call from Patty telling me that they fixed her car and that she made it 20 miles away and it started overheating again. She wanted to know what should she do. I tried helping her out but instead she took it back to the same shop. This time, they wanted to do a water pump and timing belt. She called me again and asked what she should do and if their price was too high. More time passes, and I get another call from her saying that they did a timing belt, water pump, and thermostat and the car had overheated again. At this point, Patty was on her own.
The moral of this story is: take your car to someone who knows them, loves them, and takes good care of them. Sure, your shade tree mechanic can probably do the brakes or change the oil but I have even seen those jobs go awry when left to untrained hands. An independent VW mechanic may be more expensive, but most of the time you end up money ahead and have peace of mind, too.
Truth time. This is just a pet peeve of mine. You can skip this one because it may sound more like a rant than anything. Please, for the love of all that is cute and fluffy, do not spend $30 at Auto Zone buying stick on chrome letters to spell ‘Booty-licious’ across the back of your Jetta. No one believes it and even your friends will make fun of you behind your back.
This goes with anything that you apply to the outside of your car with an adhesive backing. Unless it is a factory decal or it is a VWDiesel sticker, it doesn’t belong on your car. (See what I did there?)
Altezza taillights or aftermarket eBay headlights, big wings, fart-can mufflers, et.al. do not belong on a VW. If you like those things… go buy a Honda. You will have plenty new friends and they might even have some used stickers they can sell you for half-off. Meme found in the depths of Facebook.
This one didn’t make it in the ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ but it is particularly deadly to your car’s coolant system. Most people who pick up their first VW and aren’t warned of this often get suckered into the ‘Mix-all mix up’ by their local auto parts store.
I have had to replace several plastic coolant hose fittings, radiators, and coolant flanges by owners pouring green or most types of ‘mix-all’ coolants in with G12 or G13. What basically happens is that the phosphate-rich G12 and the metallic salt-rich green coolant mix together to form a jelly that loves to corrode your plastic pieces and clog up small passages.
Over time, this can cause the plastic pieces to come brittle and crack under the pressure, usually at the most inopportune times. Like when your wife is in labor and you have to get to the hospital, or when you just finished off a Crave Case you got at a White Castle 40 miles back.
The best thing to do if you can’t find G12 locally or you are too cheap to buy it at the ‘stealership,’ is to flush and refill your cooling system with your coolant of choice. Better to flush it twice just to be sure you get every last drop of G12 out of there.
Most of my vehicles I switch over to Green coolant just because it is easier to get if I am out somewhere. Yes I know I could just keep some in my trunk like everyone else does, but that would be too easy and where is the adventure in that?
This is becoming a bigger issue with Mk5s and above but anyone who has bought a 1.8T has had this fear, too. Using the wrong type of oil in your car can cause various issues from early camshaft failure in PD diesels, engine sludge problems in 1.8Ts, and using synthetic oil in old IDI diesels can cause them to start leaking everywhere.
What do you do if you if you have bought a car and don’t have any clue what was used in it? As tough as this question is – always go back to what was originally recommended to be used in it.
I had a customer who was using about a quart and a half every 1,000 miles in a 2.0T Jetta. When I was asking them about the oil they used they said they used whatever was cheapest at Wal-Mart. This is a recipe for disaster. Luckily you have already bought a Bentley for your car and you don’t have to worry about this mistake. Hint hint…
I would like to actually group this into ‘using anything other than factory fluid in your car.’ The automatic transmissions in VWs are not known for their rugged dependability or reliability. In fact, I never buy an automatic transmission car for myself to keep and rarely buy one to flip simply because I know the transmission is most likely one good burnout away from the trash can.
It is true that Lucas makes great products and some of them are even good for your VW, but please don’t use anything in your transmission. I may catch some flack from people over this, so let me add a little bit to it. It might be ok for an 096, 01M or other 4 speed auto tranny to limp it along till it finally goes. But in a Tiptronic or DSG tranny, it is like taking that ticking time bomb and drop kicking it into a bonfire.
I know that VW transmissions are expensive to rebuild or replace but this is not a band aid solution to a failing tranny. And if you are looking at buying a VW and the owner mentions that they have used Lucas or anything like that in it, just move on down the line and you can thank me later.
I had a customer who bought a 6 speed Beetle Convertible that was having transmission issues and he took it to a non-Euro shop to have it looked at and they flushed it and filled it with Dex/Merc and a bottle of Lucas and sent him on his way. I’m sure you know how this story ends…
How many of these mistakes have you made in your Volkswagen career? I have made quite a few of them. In fact my daily MK4 TDI has aftermarket ebay headlights and blue LED turn signal markers in them right now. They were in the car when I got it. I’ll swap them out eventually because it bugs me every day, but I’m a busy guy and they aren’t broken.
Do you have a story of a massive noob mistake that you would like to share? Feel free to leave it in the comments for us all to learn from. That is how we help each outer out by sharing our mistakes for others to learn from.
Need help? Head on over to the forum and we would love to help you out.