Question about pending used car purchase.
March 9, 2011 11:43 AM   Subscribe

I'm currently waiting to purchase a 2002 VW Golf Diesel with 307k miles on it. It has only had one owner, has been professionally maintained, has all maintenance records, and has all highway miles. The owner is asking at least $4k for the car is it a good deal?

More specifically, I realize that 300k miles is a lot; however the research I have done on diesel engines suggest that they can go on forever. I personally am looking for an economical car with great as mileage under $5k that is also fun to drive. If there isn't anything wrong with it when I go to check it out, would it be a good buy? Also, the market value for the model/year of the car I'm looking at is around $7k.
posted by mtomanelli to Travel & Transportation (26 answers total)
Not just 307,000 miles, but 307,000 miles since 2002. That works out to just shy of 35,000 miles a year. That's about triple what the average family car does. It's actually more consistent with a fleet vehicle.

Even if it's been well cared for, it's a car that's been driven quite hard. I'd say no as well.
posted by Naberius at 11:53 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree with TWF and naberius. Don't think of this as a $4k car. This is going to be a $4k car plus a never ending series of repair costs and hassles. At $5k you could probably get an older civic in excellent condition with ~130k miles on it.

Actually, I just looked it up at KBB. 2000 Civic with 128k miles is around 5k.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 11:58 AM on March 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Diesel engines don't go on forever. They typically last quite a lot longer than petrol engines. But at 300,000+ miles, I'd be expecting the engine to be beyond excnomic repair very soon.

And even for a car with half that mileage, it sounds overpriced (at least in comparison with UK prices).
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 12:05 PM on March 9, 2011

I don't know diesels from Adam, but $4k for a nine-year old car with over 300k miles strikes me as about $3000 too high. At that many miles, yes, fleet vehicle. Think taxi.

Even if the engine is grand still, the driver's seat and door and seatbelt, have gotten heavy use, and all of the components in the car (especially the electrical ones) have received 150k - 200k more miles worth of vibration and wear than a typical high-mileage (100k - 150k) used car.
posted by zippy at 12:09 PM on March 9, 2011

I have a 2002 VW Golf TDI - I have 160K on it. I'd say that 307K is too many clicks for the price you were quoted. However, this is because of concerns I'd have about the body, not the engine - diesel engines will typically outlast the bodies, which can fall apart just like any other vehicle.
posted by analog at 12:09 PM on March 9, 2011

As a reference point, I picked up a 2000 VW Passat V6 two years ago (so, equivalent age) for $5000 with 96k on the clock and it was pretty immaculate - the seller even threw in a set of brand new studded snows on an extra set of steel rims. Older high mileage cars don't scare me, but the price just doesn't seem right.
posted by mbatch at 12:15 PM on March 9, 2011

Response by poster: @The World Famous: Actually, I don't think the Mk4 chassis' were assembled in Mexico, possibly Brazil or Germany. Does assembly origin really make a difference?

@Naberius: Is that considering that almost all the miles are highway miles?

@thsmchnekllsfascists: I understand the general viewpoint; however, the only reason why I am considering this car over other cars is a) gas mileage, 40/45 and b) according to my research, diesel engines are known to be very sturdy and low maintenance.

Kelley Blue Book places the value of the car (mileage included) @ $4,675 in good condition.

I know that maintenance other than the engine will be required as with any car driven that much. However, I am most concerned with the engine rather than the chassis.

I'm not saying that I am completely stuck on this car either. I am asking if it would be a good buy if all the maintenance checked out and everything else was in good condition (belts, electronics, etc).
posted by mtomanelli at 12:16 PM on March 9, 2011

Does assembly origin really make a difference?

It can. In particular, in the early 00's, VW had major quality problems from it's (then newish) Mexico plant; mostly stemming from a lack of worker experience and training.

As for this car, that price is a bit high for that many miles, IMO. Whether the engine will last is one thing, but the chassis has many hard/impossible to replace components that do simply wear out and will need to be dealt with.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:23 PM on March 9, 2011

When people say an engine "can go on forever," what they really mean is "about 300,000 miles." After that, any engine is on borrowed time until a major overhaul/rebuild to replace seals and gaskets, re-machine cams and other surfaces and clean out accumulated varnish and gunk. No engine really lasts forever.

Sure, diesel engines are known to be sturdy and require low maintenance, and the engine in that car exemplifies this record. But any engine, even a trusty VW or Mercedes diesel, is getting long in the tooth by 300k.

I once bought a Volvo with 375,000 on the clock -- it cost $400, but the nickel-and-diming that ensued over the next couple years brought the total ownership cost well over $2000.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 12:30 PM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Supposedly the Mexican built VW cars were far poorer quality that the European ones mtomanelli.

Mk IV Golf platform diesel engines are generally very reliable, but the Turbos are prone to fail (due to sooting up internally), as are the aircon compressors; both are expensive parts (to replace (although at that age it's quite likely that the compressor has already been replaced since they tended to wear out early.) The water pump was another weak point, but hopefully that's been replaced too.

Is it due a cambelt change? They're every 60k on this engine.

It's obviously a different market but similar examples with half the mileage of similar age go for £1.6k or so right now in the UK. That's $2.5k or so.
posted by pharm at 12:32 PM on March 9, 2011

At 307k Miles pretty much everything but the engine will be worn out. The replaceable things, like belts, hoses, tires, struts, brakes, may or not have done. You will be inheriting this. The non standard replaceable things like seat cushions, window regulators, trim bits, electrical components and so forth will be on their way out. Unless you can do these repairs yourself, you should probably look elsewhere.
posted by alfanut at 12:32 PM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wow - 307K Miles? I just offloaded my (gas) 2002 VW Golf 6 months ago, with 180kms, so I guess around 120 miles. I thought I put a slightly-above-average amount of milage on it, I can't even image a car a year newer with 2.5x times the milage. Yikes. If it's a 9 year old car, that's almost 100 miles a day!! It's not even the engine you need to worry about - Golfs of that time span (the Mark IV VWs) have been known to have flaky electrical as well. I got rid of my car because it was getting to the point where fixing it was more expensive than just leasing a new one. I love VWs, am driving my second now, but 4K sounds way to high given the mechanic bills you're also going to be saddled with. Even if it checks out ok now, 6 months from now it could be a completely different story.
posted by cgg at 12:52 PM on March 9, 2011

Do not do this.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 1:27 PM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

I recently sold a pristine one-owner perfectly maintained and loaded 2000 VW Jetta 1.8T (turbocharged gas, not diesel) with only 58,000 miles on it for only slightly more than you're considering paying for this car. Just as a point of reference. (Yes, I think I gave the buyer a good deal, but not an outlandish one.)
posted by sharding at 1:38 PM on March 9, 2011

Ugh I had a 2000 Jetta (Jettas, Golfs and Bugs were pretty much the same car during that era) and it had so many problems. Really crappy manufacturing. Don't do this.
posted by radioamy at 1:38 PM on March 9, 2011

FWIW, my 2000 Jetta was completely problem free for the 10+ years I had it. I probably got lucky, but it's not a given that they're horrible. Also, @Dasein, having ridden in a friend's 2001 diesel Golf less than 6 months ago, I didn't find it even remotely "clattery" or dirty. Honestly, from a "feels like a diesel" perspective, I didn't notice much difference over the 2011 Audi Q7 TDI I just recently had as a loaner. It was very smooth and drove nicely (at FAR less than 300k miles, though). I think some people may be overstating how bad those cars were.

That said, I still agree that this isn't a deal I would consider, and I doubt I'd buy one of those cars with 300k miles on it at any price.
posted by sharding at 1:44 PM on March 9, 2011

You have $4,000 to spend. What else could you buy with it?

The answer is that there are plenty of other diesel engine cars with fewer miles on it in that price range. So you have so many alternatives, I don't see why you would go for this one.

Stop looking at whether this is a good deal based on what the Kelley Blue Book says and consider whether it's a good deal in light of what else you could get for $4000.
posted by deanc at 1:55 PM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

since there has been not one 'go for it' post i would consider taking a few days to really think about it. you may be talking yourself into this.
posted by karmaportrait at 2:10 PM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Just my experience with my leased 2004 Golf TDI. I'm not mechanical enough to explain what actually happened, but the net effect was the "turbo" blew out - while I was in in the left hand lane of the expressway doing 75. It kind of just rolled down to about 20MPH and I drove it - fully terrified - about a mile until there was enough space on the left to get out of the lane (going across two lanes of traffic traveling over 60 was not a viable option...).

I don't know where it was made, and I don't care. The VW place - not the dealer I'd leased it from, BTW - told me, "It happens - usually not on the freeway, but it happens." Two months later when the lease was up the wanted to "make me a deal to keep the car." My reply was unprintable and probably heard two or three states away.

So, no. I'd be of the opinion that would NOT be a good deal.

Also: the mileage is nowhere near what they tell you it is. Even in the world of inflated mileage claims, it was bullshit. Hi 20s / Lo 30s. Nothing like the "48 MPG" or whatever it is they claim.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 2:15 PM on March 9, 2011

I shopped for those cars for a girlfriend last year. Not sure where got the idea that this was a good deal, and worth waiting for; because it isn't. DO NOT BUY THAT CAR. Yes, I am shouting.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 2:51 PM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Good grief OMU, did you drive it with your foot to the floor the entire time?

I drive a car based on the previous generation of VW diesel engines & consistently get 48+ mpg (us gallon; 58+ UK mpg) on the (UK) motorway. I don't baby it either: maybe there was something wrong with yours?
posted by pharm at 2:54 PM on March 9, 2011

I'll join the chorus of nay-sayers and say, "Nay."

But I'll also offer an alternative: ca. 2002 Honda Civic Si. It's a hatchback, its mpg is 26/30, and it's unlikely to give you much grief over repairs.
posted by CutaneousRabbit at 4:23 PM on March 9, 2011

Actually, I don't think the Mk4 chassis' were assembled in Mexico, possibly Brazil or Germany. Does assembly origin really make a difference?

Look at the VIN.
First letter W - Germany, 3 - Mexico, 9 - Brazil.

While the engine probably has decent life left in it, you're probably looking at the end of life for the rest of it.
4k is pretty hefty for the kind of year and mileage.
I'd pass unless the rest of it is absolutely immaculate.
posted by madajb at 4:32 PM on March 9, 2011

An owner of a car of that mileage, trying to sell at that price point, should be offering top quality, copious maintenance records, and a willingness to have the car thoroughly examined by a qualified mechanic. You, as the potential buyer, have the responsibility to examine, page by page, all the maintenance and parts records that you are presented, and to find and pay for, the opinion of an experienced mechanic, who you compensate for enough of his time to disassemble and inspect things like brakes, CV joints, suspension, and exhaust. That means you're willing, after your own initial read through of the maintenance records, and walk around/poke-a-bit, to spend $250+ USD, for several hours of a mechanic's time, to get a written report and opinion of the condition of the car, and the accuracy/veracity of the maintenance records.

I really doubt that any 2002 Golf with 307K miles is worth, still, $4K, but color me skeptical, and willing to learn. Over the last year, I've put about $2K in parts and labor into a 2001 Chevrolet S10 pickup with 95K miles, including a new clutch, suspension, brakes, water pump, radiator hoses, thermostat, alternator, battery, tires, fuel filter, air filter, plugs and plug wires, windshield, and windshield wipers, and I plan on keeping the thing another 5 years, as a "grocery getter" and "weekly driver." But I wouldn't have put that much money (to say nothing of thought and time) into it, to sell it for $4K, even though Edmunds Blue Book says I could have...
posted by paulsc at 5:39 PM on March 9, 2011

Good grief OMU, did you drive it with your foot to the floor the entire time?

Not that I'm aware of... I also have two colleagues with TDI VWs (a Golf and a Jetta), neither of whom gets anywhere near the gas mileage advertised.

But it's interesting to note you're in the UK. One thing I did learn from the VW dealer who replaced the Turbo unit was that the "turbo" part, at least, is different on American-sold cars than it is on VW's in other countries. I wonder if UK VWs (or even, non-American VWs?) use a completely different engine? Or is there something about the diesel that you all buy that's different from what we have available?
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 11:27 AM on March 10, 2011

ISTR that until very recently, US diesel was permitted to contain far larger quantities of sulphur than EU diesel & that does affect the possible engine designs. I believe the PD diesel engines couldn't be introduced into the US until that changed for instance. I could certainly believe that different fuel standards necessitated different turbo designs, he turbo being a precision part machined to very high tolerances.

But it seems unlikely that VW could get away with claiming the high mpg in that case, if it was effectively unachievable with the available fuel?
posted by pharm at 3:00 AM on March 13, 2011

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