By on December 24, 2012

Vincent asks:

Hi Sajeev,

I own a 2000 Audi A6 2.7T that I bought 3 years ago. It has been a surprisingly good vehicle to me – comfortable and fast. I even track it on occasion with no complaints. It’s been fairly reliable; the most major issues were having the ABS controller rebuilt and replacing the valve cover gaskets myself, which were not a big deal. As long as nothing catastrophic happens, I plan to keep the car for many more years.

Of course compared to a newer car, I expect this aged A6 to be a bit loose, a little less accurate, a bit more noise, etc. However I recently rode in someone’s 1999 A6 and it feels much, much tighter than my car. My understanding is that there haven’t been any non-stock mods on that car, just lots of dealer service (yikes).

That got me thinking:

1) What maintenance/parts are needed to make a used car feel as much ”like new” as possible, in terms of ride and performance? And what are the best bang for the buck projects? (e.g. I don’t care about having the new car shine and smell)

2) When does it make sense to throw in the towel, and buy a newer (used) car?

Thanks!
Vincent

Sajeev Answers:

I complain that many newer cars aren’t as tight as my Fox Body Cougar (fresh suspension with KONIs, new steering rack and shaft with needle bearings, weld in sub-frame connectors that also bolt to the seat bottoms, strut tower brace, boxed rear control arms, Dynamat, etc). Which might be why I haven’t done a new car review in a loooooong time: but then again, Imuch like Mitt Romneyhave binders full of service/parts receipts proving this Cougar knows that Performance is an Eight Cylinder Word. RAWR!!!

 

When someone says their car feels old/loose, knowing the mileage and recent service history is important. Especially since an Audi from this generation is the epitome of a modern hooptie. Well, a beautiful hooptie at least.

So let’s assume yours isn’t a garage queen with low miles. Perhaps you drive it on less than perfectly smooth roads.  And that you’ve never shown your car to a dealer, or any mechanic super concerned with fully reconditioning an older ride.  So you probably have a steering system with too much play, perished shocks, slightly saggy springs, loose ball joints, toasted control arms, bashed up bushings, etc.

Basically you need a rebuild of all worn bits in your suspension…and probably new steering bits too. New tires too? Only a mechanic who cares enough to do the right thing knows the real deal. Which means you gotta fork over lotsa $$$, honey!

Which leads me to question #2: run the hell away from this car. You will regret the moment you put a wrench on the underside, things will start setting your wallet on fire, so to speak. The once-tight A6s are somewhat fragile (compared to a boring, numb, loose mainstream sedan made to handle years of abuse) because of their complex design. And every part is too expensive considering the current (and forseeable future) value.

Unless, of course, this A6 is to you what the Cougar is to me. And then, by all means, do the right thing and empty out your wallet.

 

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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38 Comments on “Piston Slap: Rejuvenate or Deep Six the A6?...”


  • avatar

    the last generation of audis had very non-polarizing looks. If the interior is holding up, I say you keep it and drive it into the ground before buying a new car.

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    Do NOT take this thing to a dealer! They’ll see you coming from a mile away and grin. You need a quality independent mechanic, preferably one who specializes in VW’s, who can advise you on the direction you should take.

    Until you can get quality advice it’s difficult to know which direction to go. It could be just bushings or a whole new front end or just some tightening (not likely). Another thing is it probably doesn’t need to be done all at once. Until you have definitive answers you can’t know which way to go.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    I’d take a step back and think about your car, condition, and future use first. I have no problem spending bucks where others think I’m nuts – witness the Konis and Michelins installed on my then 16 year old station car. But first, how many miles and condition? Before you spend to return the car to better than new, think basics first. At this age and likely mileage, all hoses, belts, fluids, etc need to be done. Don’t spend four grand only to see an overheating take your engine out a year later. If you can do these items yourself you will save some money. Then look at basic suspension parts like SM suggested. Right now just assess the basics like bushings, tie rods, ball joints, etc. Don’t worry so much about the struts and springs because those will go if your car passes muster. Brakes solid? Exhaust? Underside rust free, or at least minimal? Once you can determine costs to get your car to this point, then consider the costs to upgrade the goodies that will make your car handle really well – springs/struts/swaybars/tires/bushings/adjustable endlinks, etc. Again, if you can do at least some of these, you will save money. When you sum all this up, is the car worth it TO YOU? If the answer is yes, go for it. And as illogical as it may sound, emotional attachment weighs heavily for some. So, consider that as well. I hope the answer comes up to keep her running…

  • avatar
    cgjeep

    I suspect the 99 A6 was never at the track and since you visit the track I also suspect that you probably enjoy on ramps and off ramps and are generally harder on the car’s suspension than others. Nothing wrong with it, is great to enjoy the car but it does take a toll. I bet the other Audi being dealer serviced has nothing to do with the tightness, rather it had an easier life. I too haven’t aged as well as some of my classmates for similar reasons. As you were quite happy with your car prior to being in another, my advice is to stay out of other Audis and get back to enjoying the hell out of your car.

  • avatar
    Variant

    I faced a similar dilemma recently with my 2002 Passat and came VERY close to buying a new-to-me used car, but then I channeled my inner Steve Lang and backed out of the deal. My situation would have me financing ~$11k on a ~$15k car; @ 4% for 36 mos, that’s about $300/mo, plus higher insurance and all the new unknowns of a used car. On the other hand, I can save that $300/mo for 6 months and get everything that it needs done, and I have a car that I know everything is up to snuff on. If you have a good indy who is willing to budget with you and do things piece-meal over a few months, even better. You need to do your own math, but my advice is it’s always better to keep a good thing going.

    BTW, if it’s a 6 spd 2.7t, you’ve got a relatively rare car that is fairly desirable in the Audi community. Any maintenance you do now will likely pay dividends when it does come time to sell.

  • avatar
    hifi

    I have a 2004 Audi S4 cabrio. While it doesn’t feel tight like a new Audi, I don’t want to give up the V8 or the manual six speed for the six cyl automatic you get in a new S5. Spend a couple grand on new shocks, suspension rubber, brakes, and tie rod ends. Get your wheels aligned and balanced. Also, tackling interior squeaks will help with the perception that the car feels tighter. And if you want your car to stay feeling new longer, don’t track it.

  • avatar
    arun

    Not sure where you are located but if you are in South Florida , I highly recommend German Car Depot located in Hollywood, SoFla. They specialize in VWs and Audis – not even Beemers or Mercs, just VWs and Audis. .

  • avatar
    ckgs

    This generation A6 will break your will and your wallet. Owning one turned me off German cars and I still haven’t gotten over it.

  • avatar
    salomervich

    Your car made me decide NEVER to buy an Audi again, mine was 2001 which was a nightmare with only 25000 mies. First the transmission went out ($5000 repair out of warranty), then the turbos started smoking, then the heater went on the fritz, finally when the quatrro system gave , I followed suit and dumped the car at half its retail value, I just wanted to run as fast as I could from it! And I suggest you do the same!

  • avatar
    bunkie

    While replacing moving parts in the suspension can improve the feel of the car, what can’t be done is to incorporate the sort of changes that make the new model unibodies much stiffer. 12 years is a long time in the automotive design world and *every* car has been getting stiffer.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    If the motor is fine it should be fine. Buy all the parts for a suspension overhaul online and take it to an independent VWAG mechanic. Should be good as new. And springs shouldn’t be saggy on this car, though now would prob be the best time to upgrade if you’ve been thinking about it. I think it could all be done for $3K… prob about what you would lose in taking a gamble on a new car with taxes, transaction fees etc

  • avatar
    highrpm

    You don’t mention the car’s past maintenance, but you should keep in mind that you may need to do a timing belt on this car soon. If you do it yourself with the idler and water pump kit, it is not very expensive. The Audi forums have nice writeups on the procedure. If you pay to have it done, you will probably spend $800 or more.

    If your suspension feels sloppy, then most likely the bushings in the multi-link control arms are worn. You can buy aftermarket kits relatively cheap. I’m remembering $150 for an entire front set but I can’t remember the name of the company – consult the Audi forums.

    Besides that, the car should hold up rather well.

    I’ll give you the same advice that Mr. Lang gives out – get on the Audi forums and learn the car’s quirks. You can pick up replacement climate control modules and many other parts through car-parts.com.

    The forums will also point you at specialty guys, like the companies that rebuild ABS modules for less than $100.

    Good luck. It’s a nice car!

  • avatar
    detlump

    I would have to say, just drive the car as is, and enjoy it while you can. Basically any suspension rebuild would be throwing good money after bad. This is not a restoration project and there are no cheap German parts. When something really expensive breaks or it just becomes too unreliable, sell or donate it for tax credits.

    What I would do is set up an online saving account and have 300/400 bucks automatically deposited in that account every month. Before you know it, you’ve got a nice down payment on a better new car or maybe enough to buy a nicer fresher used car outright. You’ll spend at least that much a month trying to renew your Audi.

  • avatar
    -Cole-

    “a beautiful hooptie at least.”

    Was waiting for this.

  • avatar
    MBella

    Depending on the level of your skills you can get the arms pretty cheap online and install them yourself.

    Here is the whole front end set for under $200
    http://www.carpartswarehouse.com/addtocart/2000_Audi/A6/Control_Arm_Kit/93-80011.html
    Add some new struts and it will drive like brand new after an alignment.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    I’d replace the motor mount too as the car will feel a lot tighter with them.

  • avatar
    oldyak

    While my situation doesn’t relate to your Audi,I drive a 1997 BMW 740iL and my shop gives me a to do list after every visit.Scheduling the most important and not often the most expensive thing next.
    It`s nice to be able to put aside funds for the next oil change to have this item repaired.

    If you could fin a shop that provided that kind of service,it would save you from unnecessary expense.

  • avatar
    Geeky1

    I was a service adviser at a shop specializing in German cars for a number of years; I saw more of these A6s than I care to remember.

    The OP failed to specify the miles on his car, but I can take a pretty good guess as to what’s going on: the ball joints and/or bushings on the front upper control arms have worn out.

    They rarely last 100,000 miles on these cars; usually they’re done by 80k or less. The car will need an alignment after they’re replaced, and if it has anything over 80,000 miles or so, I guarantee you your stock shocks are worn out even if they’re not leaking; replace them with a set of Bilstein HDs while you’re in there. It would also be worth finding out what tires are on that ’99 A6 you were in and comparing them to what’s on yours; the VAST majority of my customers put absolute crap tires on their cars, and that will definitely affect road feel-it’s also a safety issue, but most people care more about saving $100 on tires or having tires that last 30k miles instead of 15k miles than they do about cutting freeway panic stop distances by probably 20ft or more.

    Regarding how long you should keep the car and other maintenance items and stuff,VW products-ESPECIALLY the A4/Passat, A6 and A8-were, hands down, the least reliable, most difficult and time consuming to service, most expensive to fix cars that we worked on. Bar none. Mercedes and BMWs aren’t cheap to keep on the road, either, but the VAG stuff is markedly worse. If you like the car, by all means, keep it, but you should be aware that it’s not going to be as well-behaved as other cars will, especially as it ages.

    Specifically, this is what you need to be looking at:
    1. Your valve cover gaskets were probably leaking for a reason. The VAG 1.8T, 2.7T, and 2.8L engines all have major issues with the PCV system-sludge on the 1.8T and to a lesser extent the 2.7, the 2.8 doesn’t sludge up so much as the breather hoses and valves and such get brittle and break) which raises crankcase pressures and blows out cam and crank seals, timing chain tensioner seals (these engines have both a belt and a chain; one cam per bank is driven off the belt, the other cam is connected to the first by a chain), valve cover gaskets, etc. Take a close look at the PCV system; ask the parts department at the dealership for ETKA diagrams of all of the vacuum and breather hoses for the engine. While you’re at it, look at the chain tensioner seals. They’re not fun to replace (the cams have to be removed; we charged 4.5 hours), and if the PCV system is plugged I’d give it 50/50 odds that they’re leaking.

    2. If it’s an auto, VAG considered these transmissions ‘lifetime fill’; they’re not. Well, I mean, they are, in that the fluid lasts for however long the transmission can handle being used without a fluid and filter change. When it fails, you get new fluid with your new transmission. :D If you wish to avoid buying yourself a transmission, the fluid and filter should be changed at LEAST once every 60k-30k would be ideal, but the fluid is expensive and the procedure is difficult; 60k is as far as I’d push it. If it’s a stick, the fluid should be changed every 30k.

    3. The water pumps on these cars are garbage; they rarely make it to the full timing belt service interval (105k) before biting it. Expect to have to do a water pump + thermostat + timing belt and tensioner about once per 80k miles, give or take. This is something like 6 or 8 billable hours (I forget exactly, it’s been a couple years) because the whole front clip needs to be loosened and slid forward or-depending on the tech’s preference-removed entirely.

    4. You’re already experiencing the control arm issue; this will happen about once per 60-100k miles you put on the car.

    5. There are service items that everyone, including dealer techs, tends to forget about but they still need to be done. Go back and check your records to see what’s been done and compare it to this list:
    -Diff Fluid: every 30-60k
    -Fuel Filter: every 60k
    -Coolant: every 2yrs irrespective of mileage
    -Brake Fluid: every 2yrs irrespective of mileage
    -Power Steering Fluid: every 30-60k

    6. The 2.7T did not have the sludge issues that the 1.8T does, but it doesn’t hold a lot of oil and it’s got a couple of turbos so it tends to be harder on oil than some other engines. Change it every 3500 miles, use good quality synthetic oil only (Amsoil, Total, Castrol, Redline, or heavy duty diesel oil like Mobil Delvac or Shell Rotella), send an oil sample to Blackstone or someone for analysis, and adjust your interval accordingly based on their analysis.

    If anyone with a 1.8T is reading this, that advice applies doubly to your car; if you want to keep it running, you have no choice. You are going to be buying an engine sooner or later (probably sooner) if you try to cheap out on oil or push service intervals without doing an oil analysis. You’ll also want to replace your oil pump pickup tube; they have an integral filter screen that gets plugged up with sludge and causes oil starvation. We started recommending them as a regular service item at 100k intervals and believe me, with the condition they come out in at 100k and the number of 1.8s I’ve seen fail due to oil starvation between 100k and 150k, if you want to keep your car, you’ll change that pickup tube.

    Other than that stuff, the 2.7T A6s don’t really have a lot of issues. They have hydraulic engine mounts that leak and wear out around 80-100k miles, but that’s common on everything I’ve seen with hydraulic mounts. They have something of an appetite for window regulators (what german car doesn’t?), they like to kill ABS control modules, as the OP has discovered, they eat the occasional MAF or oxygen sensor, and the LCD displays in the instrument cluster fail, but that’s about it as far as electrical issues go. They’re not low-maintenance cars, and I would not consider them especially reliable, but if you like how it drives, you might as well keep putting money into it.

    • 0 avatar
      Ben

      Great reply. You sir are one of the reasons why this is such a great site and community.

      Thank you.

    • 0 avatar
      WaftableTorque

      > Other than that stuff, the 2.7T A6s don’t really have a lot of issues.

      In other words, he beats up his girlfriend regularly, kicks the dog, and screams racist remarks at visible minorities. But he was a nice guy. :)

      Great post, btw.

    • 0 avatar
      Manic

      New synt. oil after every 3500 miles seems overkill. Modern oils are better than that IMHO.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      After reading that list I am yet again amazed that the general public give the Germans a pass on quality and a large handful of them won’t walk into a domestic dealership. Perhaps as VW continues on its sales surge, that may change….

    • 0 avatar
      Maseraudi

      Great post! Now if it’s not too much too ask what do you think of the Audi Cabriolet with the 2.7 V6 engine? Thanks in advance ;)

    • 0 avatar
      dude500

      Thanks Geeky1! I probably do have the PCV issue (I’m the OP) but the hose replacement sounds like a pain in the ass and I’m not exactly sure how to check if they’re clogged. In any case, the leaks (I think now in the front cam seals) are tiny – no change to the dipstick in 3,000mi, but plenty of smoke on startup if I let the car sit a week!

  • avatar
    blowfish

    Assume u have $ to burn, u might look around the used market for a newer a6.
    front end, rear end, suspension can be very exp.
    u need to identify where is loose, any shop will follow your instructions as long as u can keep ponying up mulla.
    u should test drive as many used a6 as possible then make some informed decision.

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    Suspension rebuild will definitely make the most noticeable difference. Unfortunately, it might not make the car feel “tighter.” It will certainly drive better, but the car might still feel old.

    It’s an intangible that is hard to pinpoint, but I think after a certain point a car just feels old, and it is very difficult to impossible to fix. One culprit is crumbling insulation and loosening interior parts. I’m in a similar situation with a ’98 540, and despite replacing various suspension parts over the years, the car feels like it has had enough. At 190k miles, it has hit one pothole too many, and I’m pretty sure new bushings aren’t going to make it feel new again. Of course my car has been hit once (not totaled), so there is that.

    This depends greatly on your financial situation. If you could afford a new Audi but like your car, then do the refresh. If money is tighter, be aware that there is a better than average chance the car will screw you over with something else right after you put money into it that you don’t necessarily have to. If this is the case, enjoy as is and move on at the next big impending repair or when you can’t trust it anymore.

  • avatar
    jjf

    If it were my car I would just replace the front bushings and ball joints and call it good. That should improve the driving feel enough for you to drive it for another year or three. At some point you have to accept you have an old imperfect German car, and there will come a price point where you part ways unless absolutely in love.

    Save a copy of Geeky1′s post, and follow his maintenance suggestions to delay the expensive stuff as long as you can. When you sense something big coming up it may be time to move on.

    I’d love to see some junkyard pieces on well loved 90s German iron that got too costly to keep if Murilee is listening.

  • avatar
    flatout05

    Well said, jjf. (And as to geeky1′s encyclopedic response – wow!) The comments have veered way off topic, but I think the original poster might be amazed at the effect a new set of bushings would have.

  • avatar
    jacob_coulter

    Dump it. The suspension looseness will be the least of your worries with a 13 year old Audi.

    These cars were in the dealership all the time when they were new. I don’t think even an Audi fanboy would say you’re going to be happy with the service this car will require.

    If it was a reliable design, then it would absolutely make financial sense to replace the suspension parts, but this car is a money pit that for some reason has spared you. Don’t tempt fate.

  • avatar
    Paddan

    Let’s face it: Audis – modern ones at least – have pretty nice interiors but they otherwise suck. Next.

  • avatar
    dude500

    Thanks guys – I took a one-week TTAC holiday break and come back surprised to see my question and plenty of comments! I’m the OP and wanted to provide additional details: the A6 has ~140,000 miles and is beaten regularly on NYC metro area roads. Tires are Sumitomo HTR A/S P01. The A6 is also the 6MT.

    I’ve got to admit that I do have an attachment to this car, as it was the car that taught me about about how to do car maintenance. When I bought the car, I kind of knew that it was a maintenance hog but I told myself to try to do the labor myself. Since I sent my question to Piston Slap, I’ve done the timing belt (JHS kit + accessory tensioner), fuel filter, cam caps and oxygen sensors.

    I think the calls to change the suspension are probably the right bet. Some of the bushings looked “collapsed” for lack of a better word. Getting new shocks are probably also a good call, though in some ways I do like the floatiness given the roads! Also, new motor mounts make sense as I get a bit of a “thump” when I shift (not from dropping the clutch!). I think the above poster on PCV breather hoses is correct, as every time I fix a leak I get another one in a different place a few weeks later. Also, I must have done something wrong with the oxygen sensors as my mileage has dropped since changing (I used the ones that require splicing). Quite a list but actually I expected much worse from an old Audi – the forums really lowered my expectations!

    I think I will try doing the suspension when I get the time + money but the condition of the car now is fine (I wouldn’t hesitate to bring the car to the track). I also expect that eventually the car will have to go, but we’ll see how long it takes to get there.

    Thanks again Sajeev and the TTAC community!


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