How expensive are TDIs to maintain?
October 5, 2010 5:57 AM   Subscribe

How do maintenance costs of TDI cars compare to gas engines? Or hybrids? Shopping for cars and while fuel efficiency is a factor, I need to know the long-term costs as well. What are you experiences with TDIs?
posted by smelvis to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Everything I've heard about diesel engines suggest that they are basically the last thing to fail on a car - the car will fall apart around your engine. This is because they're built with huge, thick steel blocks to deal with the pressures of compression ignition.

Having said that, if you buy a TDI from Volkswagen, it's not going to magically make the rest of the car reliable. The engine may be good, but if the rest of the car has problems you're not going to be happy. Look at it this way: in terms of long-term maintenance, you're probably going to better off with a Toyota Prius than a Volkwagen Jetta TDI.

Having said that, I think that the big unknown with hybrids is how the batteries are going to behave after ten years. Are they going to crap out? If so, that will affect resale values well before 10 years (and depreciation is the largest cost in owning a new car). Hybrids are mechanically much more complex, so there's more to go wrong. But if they're built well, it doesn't mean that anything will go wrong.

Regarding the cost to own, take a look at this Consumer Reports article and plug in your anticipated purchases to this tool. Keep in mind that the longer you plan on owning a car, the more you spread out that initial depreciation that is such a large cost of ownership (but the more you get into maintenance if you've got a clunker).

The other thing to consider with diesel vs. hybrids is what sort of driving you do. Hybrids will be especially good in the city (with regenerative breaking), while diesels are great for cruising on the highway. It's too bad the only inexpensive diesels in North America are sold by VW, about which I have not heard good things on the reliability front, and which are not cheap to repair.
posted by Dasein at 6:11 AM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Dasein basically said everything I would. I have a 2000 Jetta TDI with 280K km. The engines last forever (and my car is indeed in the process of falling apart around the engine, my father's lasted to 475K km until it was written off in an accident). Maintenance on the engine is not bad: the oil change interval is very long, though the synthetic oil costs $30-$40, other maintenance is minimal (fuel and air filters are easy), the timing belt needs to be done after a while (not sure on the latest generation, mine has a 128K km interval), glow plugs need to be changed occasionally. Repairs on the engine are infrequent, but can be expensive: turbos can have troubles, certain sensors tend to fail. Repairs on the rest of the car are more frequent and more expensive than Toyotas or Hondas. There tend to be electrical gremlins (weird alarm troubles, flaky windows, stereo problems, I have a list to deal with right now) and parts are more expensive (brakes, suspension, etc). An extra $1K or whatever a year in repairs makes a big difference to total cost of ownership.

They are great if you do a lot of highway driving. They pull smoothly up steep hills at 110km/h in 5th gear where gas cars are downshifting to 3rd and they do it on very little fuel. I would not buy one if you drive a lot in stop and go traffic. I personally wouldn't buy one again, but then I don't drive that much. A VW TDI is way more fun to drive than a Honda Civic or anything like that (not only because the TDI engine has so much torque, but also because it is just a nicer car in general).

Sorry, I have no basis for comparison against a hybrid.
posted by ssg at 6:41 AM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

One more thing about saving money: hybrids and diesel engines add a fair bit of cost up-front. Often you can burn through quite a lot of gas before you make up that cost (obviously, we don't know what gas prices will be in 5 years). Consider getting a simple, fuel-efficient four-cylinder gas engine as the most economical choice all-around. My current pick for best-value car in the world is the 2011 Hyundai Sonata, an impression that has only been reinforced with this morning's release of the new NHTSA 5-star safety ratings. If you're in the market for a smaller car, take a look at the new Chevy Cruze, which I think will surprise you in terms of what it offers for the money.

Also, ssg makes a good point about driving feel - if you like to drive (i.e. if it's not just about getting from A to B), a hybrid is probably not the best choice for you.
posted by Dasein at 7:02 AM on October 5, 2010

Whatever car you decide to go with, maintenance cost is inevitable. I have a TDI (and I like it) but I also set up a maintenance savings account when I purchased the car. By maintenance savings account I don't mean weird extended warranty or dealer offered service plan -- I mean a physical, money in the bank savings account earmarked for future maintenance. I set up automatic contributions and fund the car maintenance account each paycheck. The amount per paycheck is minimal but in the several years I've owned the car, the fund has grown such that when maintenance costs do come up, I've pre-planned for them.

Repair cost, I think, can be reasonably managed by expecting repairs to come up and budgeting for them in advance.

I've been really happy with my TDI. It's got power, starts up in the frigidity of winter, and loves zipping along on the highway at 50MPG.
posted by countrymod at 7:28 AM on October 5, 2010

I have had a Golf TDI for 8 years. I've been very happy with it. I had no issues beyond regular maintenance for the first 8 years, but over the past year, I had to have my EGR valve cleaned out due to loss of power. I also had some electrical issues with my A/C. The electrical stuff can get expensive. Furthermore, I replaced both back and front brakes over the past year, but this was an expected repair.

I've used my car in heavy snow and blistering heat, and it's performed very well in both (one of the nice things about a diesel is that it's very hard to get the engine hot!). You do have to watch for fuel gelling in the winter. Oil changes are on the expensive side ($100+), but you don't need to do them very often.

In my experience, TDIs are zippy and reliable and fun to drive! I highly recommend them.
posted by analog at 7:40 AM on October 5, 2010

Thanks all!
posted by smelvis at 8:28 AM on October 5, 2010

Go to for a lot of info on cost and maintenance of owning a TDI. Also be aware that VW of America has been, uh, 'unresponsive' with regard to a major problem affecting 2009/2010 Jetta TDIs: look up 'high pressure fuel pump failure' for those cars.
posted by TDIpod at 8:52 AM on October 5, 2010

I thought of a good comparison for the cost of ownership for a TDI: in my experience, maintenance and repairs for a TDI will cost you about the same as an American car. The TDI will last a lot longer, but you'll spend about as much per year as you'll spent keeping an American car going. I budget $200 (Canadian dollars) per month for maintenance, repairs, tires, etc. on my 10 year old Jetta.
posted by ssg at 8:21 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

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