If I spend $6k on repairing my VW, will it still need regular expensive repairs?
May 18, 2004 12:28 PM   Subscribe

Carfilter: I have a 1988 VW Golf GL that currently costs me about $85/month in repair costs. In other words, I'm finding myself putting about $3-400 dollars into it every 3-4 months. The car has 60k miles on a transplanted eight-valve Scirocco engine. And the steering is getting mushy. And I have no real mechanical skills.

If I take the $6k that I could spend on a newer car and put it into the VW, and I just going to end up with a pimped-out VW that still needs spendy repairs every 3-4 months?
posted by mecran01 to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total)
As the previous owner of used VWs - a Golf, a Jetta, and a Passat, I can answer that question with a hearty "YES". Go get a new car. Once a VW starts to go, it just sucks up money like a high-dollar stripper.
posted by pomegranate at 12:34 PM on May 18, 2004

I'd say don't underestimate the number of things that can go wrong in your car. I've had to consider a similar situation, and I try to remind myself that it's very difficult to get to a "repair-proof" state by doing repairs. Even if you do replace the entire drivetrain, you might begin having problems with the door locks, the electrical system, the safety belts, etc etc.

This doesn't mean get rid of the VW, it just means fix things as they come up rather than sinking a large sum into it all at once in an attempt to make it proof against problems. That isn't a wise investment as you might have to shitcan the car in another few months anyway if something catastrophic goes wrong.

The real issue is how to control your cash flow best. $85 a month sounds like a lot for repairs. But $85 a month is a pretty light car payment. In other words, $85 won't buy you much else, probably something used with its own set of problems. And those problems will be unknown to you, waiting to be found out.

I say hang on to your money for now, fix things as necessary, and if your variables change, reconsider. I don't have any brand-specific advice for you. I'm sure there are lots of people who will tell you to get yourself into a Honda with comparable mileage if you can.
posted by scarabic at 12:38 PM on May 18, 2004

There's too many unknowns to make it worthwhile; if the engine and steering are reworked, for example, the suspension, clutch or oil pumps may give out a short time later.

It might be worthwhile to look around, given the frequent troubles the car's displayed. 60k may not seem like much, but if the car was driven hard before you acquired it, there might as well be 600k on the odometer.
posted by Smart Dalek at 12:39 PM on May 18, 2004

Oh damn. What scarabic also said.
posted by Smart Dalek at 12:39 PM on May 18, 2004

There comes a time when you're no longer repairing a car, you're restoring it.

I'd cut your losses and spend that $6,000 on a more reliable used car. You could even get a newer Golf for that kind of cash -- I sold my 115k-mile '97 Golf for $3,000 last October. I'd go for a Honda Civic, though, personally. Much more reliable as long as the engine's in good shape.
posted by me3dia at 12:54 PM on May 18, 2004

I'd walk away - I loved my 85 GTI, (and my family has owned an original Beetle, 5 Rabbit/Golfs and 2 Passats) but once it crossed 150K, it was just to expensive to continue the affair. The problem with a car that age (as scarabic has pointed out), even with a relatively young engine, is all the other stuff that doesn't even fail, per se, but just reaches the end of its useful life. Brake discs and rotors, shocks and struts, shift linkage, CV joints, instrument lights (you don't even want to guess the labor charge to pull apart a dashboard and replace a 50-cent bulb, not that it's a critical repair) and on and on.

If I had $6K and a car older than say, 7 or 8 years, I'd rent a Sawz-All, chop the roof off the existing car, drive my new convertible into the ground (we did this with a '79 Rabbit) and put my remaining $5950 down on a new car or something used coming off lease with a manufacturer's warranty. If the payment is still too high, I'd look for something else. $6K will buy you a mid to late '90s Honda Civic, for example.
posted by jalexei at 12:55 PM on May 18, 2004

I agree with many of the comments above that suggest you sell the car now. $1000 a year is pretty standard maintenance cost after the car reaches 5-6 years of age, but since you have an '88, the unknown is scary.

Besides, with all the new improvements made to cars in the past five years, you're much safer in a newer car, by far. $6000, in my opinion, is not much to work with, but if you buy a Nissan Sentra or Honda Civic, you can get a whole lot of car for $15000. $9000 in loans at 10% interest and the car is paid off in three years at $330 a month, plus worry-free driving for 6-8 years.
posted by BlueTrain at 1:16 PM on May 18, 2004

I'd say it's about time to cut and run. Because of the age of this vehicle, sans engine, things are bound to stop working. Since you claim to not have mechanical skills to perform the repairs yourself, the cycle of breakdown/repair will get more expensive with time. Heck, even if you did the repairs yourself, the cost of replacement VW parts would make repairs painful to your wallet.

I realize there are plenty of healthy, dependable old VWs on the road, but yours does not sound like it's one of them, nor will it ever be. If you can afford to, you might want to donate your vehicle to an organization like kidneycars. For a car like yours, they will generally recycle any usable parts and scrap the rest, leaving you with the satisfaction of helping somebody out, and possibly a tax write-off..

As for a replacement vehicle, Hondas and Toyotas both have a reputation as good, reliable transportation. If you look carefully and can find somebody to check it out for you mechanically, you should be able to find a good used car for $6,000.
posted by SteveInMaine at 1:18 PM on May 18, 2004

It also depends on how much you love the car.

A MkII is a fairly simple car compared to today's gee-whiz, computer-controlled engine management systems. You might find that many of the repairs are easy to do once you read a DIY and FAQ.

VW Vortex MkII Forum - The MkII DIY/FAQ Thread

MkII Golfs can be quite the popular car if you sink $6k into it, and if you find that you wouldn't mind restoring/improving the car, which can easily be done with a MkII on a $6k budget, I'd go for it.

Caveat: I am a VW enthusiast, and have done my fair share of modifications to my MkIV New Beetle (self-link).
posted by linux at 2:05 PM on May 18, 2004

I owned a Passat for seven years, and the last two were hell, but that was mainly because of the dealers' service departments. I tend to agree with pomengranate about what happens with a VW when it doesn't want to play anymore.

On the other hand, isn't the average cost per mile something like $.40 per mile, counting fuel, insurance, maintenance and depreciation? Your car isn't depreciating as quickly as a new car would, but it takes more maintenance.

Pardon me for thinking it through on this forum, but ... Say you drive it 12000 miles this year, and spend $800 on insurance, $1000 on fuel (20mpg @, idunno, $1.75/gal), and $1200 on maintenance. And let's say it depreciates, um... $1000? Isn't ($4000/12000 miles) actually lower than the national average of $.40/mile? Of course you may just feel better in a newer car. And this doesn't factor in the inconvenience of getting a lot of repairs done, or the worries about taking a 16 year old car on long trips.
posted by coelecanth at 2:46 PM on May 18, 2004

But $85 a month is a pretty light car payment. In other words, $85 won't buy you much else

The payment on my 1997 Prizm is under $80 per month. I suspect if you got a 1998 or 1999 on a 60 month loan you could get a similar deal -- very reliable cars.
posted by weston at 3:07 PM on May 18, 2004

I'm under the impression that most pre-90's cars are not worth the hassle (unless it's a really nice car).
posted by rosmo at 3:27 PM on May 18, 2004

If the car holds no emotional value, I agree with rosmo, you're not going to get much for the car... I'd say if it's running but in constant repair, and if it's in okay shape... $300-400.

But if you really want to keep the car for sentimental reasons, or because it'll be a kick-ass classic in the future, if properly rebuilt and maintained as a sort of project car, then I'd keep it.

As others have pointed out, keeping the car running is still cheaper than getting a new car... and if you do decide to sink $6k or so into it, you'll completely overhaul the car to the point where maintenance will be cheaper and easier, and the car will run just dandy.

Sinking even $3k into it in one go will probably restore it into excellent working order such that you won't face these problematic repairs.

You can rebuild that engine for about $1000.
Steering and transmission would be another $1000.
The extra $1000 would be on any other bits and pieces, maybe new tires.
posted by linux at 3:39 PM on May 18, 2004

Elaboration - the other $3k

Overhaul the interior. This will eliminate any annoying maintenance like a broken handle, lid, or switch.

Also, maintain the vehicle using decent parts and quality fluids. Synthetic oil is more expensive but can be used in that Scirocco engine for upwars of 15,000 miles, so you actually won't be spending all that much more... and you can go longer between oil changes.

I would, in all honesty, go to that MkII forum I posted above and ask your question there. The MkII folks are a good sort, and not at all interested, for the most part, in "pimping" out their ride. That would be the MkIV forum, which I plead that you never even set your eyes upon, if you treasure your sanity.
posted by linux at 3:49 PM on May 18, 2004

I respect (and share, frankly) much of linux's love of the MkII. My GTI was mildly upgraded with some Neuspeed suspension and engine bits - was fast, comfortable, had amazing handling for the day, and would comfortably shuttle four large adults and their gear in relative comfort.

That being said, for the love of God please don't pour 6 grand into a ratty 16 year old car that would in all likelihood still only sell for several hundred! ($825 according to Kelly Blue Book, and I was being generous on the forms.)
posted by jalexei at 6:24 PM on May 18, 2004

I mean, if you love the MkII, you could by two 1992 16V models for that money and still have over $500 left to hire some script kiddie to write software that would tell you which one to drive on a given day!
posted by jalexei at 6:34 PM on May 18, 2004


You kids these days are friggin' crazy. If you like the car, that is, if you have a certain inexplicable bond to it, I'd say it would be worth it to roll up your sleeves and learn about fixin' 'em. You just can't do that with new cars these days. Of course, it is a German car, which means parts will be more expensive -- if it were American I'd say go nuts because parts are cheap and interchangeable. But right now you own the thing -- it's yours. If you sell it, you will have to take a loan out to get a replacement, which means your equity is gone, and you've also saddled yourself with some debt. If you honestly believe that it will take 6 grand in parts to fix it up, then get a new car. With 60k on the odometer, I very, truly, sincerely, honestly doubt you will need to put that much into it if you're willing to do the work yourself.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:26 PM on May 18, 2004

He has 60k using an 8V Scirocco engine... what about the tranny?

$6k would resurrect the car beyond it's original parameters. I still think you can get away with at most $3k for a major repair/rebuild of the engine and tranny... and that's including labor at a shop. If you did it yourself, it'd be more like $1000-1200.
posted by linux at 11:11 PM on May 18, 2004

Response by poster: Many thanks for the excellent advice. As soon as I get a repair that costs > $300 I'm going to cut my losses and try to find a (yawn) Geo Prizm in good shape, or a civic.

I used to own a 79 Nova, and I've always regretted not keeping it and slowly restoring it.
posted by mecran01 at 9:07 PM on May 20, 2004

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