By on March 8, 2011

Back in 2001 VW was the comeback kid . Sales had grown over seven-fold in only eight years from less than 50k in 1993 to over 350k and change. It seemed like the company was offering everything an aspiring Yuppie wanted to buy. At least here in the States. Cute Jettas and Beetles for the successful young female (and a few males). Turbochargers, stickshifts, and GTI’s for those who coveted a sport model. Diesels for the frugal and the long-term owner. Even wagons and convertibles for those who were flipping between becoming a ‘family man’ or a mid-life crisis. VW was hip and profitable… but then the market woke up.

By 2005 I started to see VW’s being traded-back en masse and wholesaled at the auctions. An article I wrote, Kiametrics, highlighted VW’s inability to make anything for the keepers among us. The turbocharged engines were sludge machines. The plastics inside the cars came apart and the cost of replacing them bordered on the usurious. Automatics were grenading themselves to such a militant degree, that it became a task and a half to just find one at the nearby junkyards. At the recycling centers and pull-a-part’s few vehicles could match the stripitude of a late model VW.

We know how this ended. The VW dealerships were left with angry and increasingly broke customers who began looking elsewhere. The question for today is… “Where did those customers go?”

Did they Toyonda themselves into a world where reliability took precedence over everything else?

Did they find the next hip car in the form of a Subaru?

Or did most of them become used car buyers? Forever financially stung by the black hole of VW depreciation.

As with all politicians and most college courses, you can ‘swag’ your way into a right answer. Extra credit is given to any answer involving Elvis or extra terrestrials. Penmanship counts. Good luck.

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126 Comments on “Ask The Best And Brightest: Where Did The VW Buyers Go?...”


  • avatar
    aspade

    Recall that around 2000 one euro was worth about 95 cents.  Today it’s worth 1.40.
     
     

  • avatar
    jeffzekas

    In the early 2000’s, my brother, Dave, bought a brand-new VW Eurovan… it basically started falling apart, from the day it left the showroom floor. He now owns a Toyota van (which he bought used, after the Volkswagen ruined him financially)… For fun and quirkiness, he bought a classic Mini Cooper and a motorcycle… More about the grief of VW owners can be found at: http://www.myvwlemon.com/ubb/Forum8/HTML/000022.html

    • 0 avatar
      rtt108

      +1 … mine was an 02 Eurovan MV.  6months later the problems began.  sold in 05 for an 05 Honda Civic which has been flawless.  The only thing worse than VW quality was the customer hostile dealers.

  • avatar
    mpresley

    The only cars I’ve generally liked were from VW/Audi.  My first 90, a 1989, was wonderful, albeit the 5 cyl engine was rather crude and underpowered.  My latest, an ’09 Passat, is a very nice mid-sized car.  But VW cannot understand the American market, and has produced a lot of ill-will over the years.  The simple fact is that the Japanese, and now the Koreans, are the “everyman’s” ticket to ride, and VW will most likely remain a niche.  Old perceptions (bad dealers and poor quality) hardly ever change.
     
    I am not optimistic for their US future, in that their push for quantity is so obsessive.  But in these days of tight budgets, who will take the chance on a VW when deep down they somehow know that the Japanese/Koreans are where value lies.  On the other hand, back in the 60 Minute days, you couldn’t give an Audi away.  Yet now Audi has turned themselves around, so who knows?

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      VW / Audi continue to sell very well, despite horrible reliability. Over the past few years, VAG has *gained* market share relative to the competition. So the idea that VW buyers have gone anywhere is odd.

      My guess is that VAG has high churn, cycling through new owners who probably don’t come back for more. That is for ever VW owner who wises up and quits, there’s a sucker born every minute.

  • avatar
    John R

    Did they Toyonda themselves into a world where reliability took precedence over everything else?
     
    Yes and no.
     
    VWs are (were?) vehicles of comprise. Reliability looks like it was compromised in the name of style and dynamics. However, there are a number of Hondas, Nissans, Subies, and Mazdas (especially) that perform well dynamically without being as burdensome financially.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    Maybe the Hyundai warranty appealed to people burned by out of warranty repair bills. People I know who went VW a few years ago complained about everything from burned out lights to AC failure, transmissions, brake repairs and dealers who shrugged like this is what to expect from German engineering, Farhfenuven turned in to Fukednotmovin’

  • avatar
    A Caving Ape

    I must own the only VW in the whole country that hasn’t been constantly broken. 130K over 10 years on nothing but scheduled maintenance (and a coilpack here and there). Despite being built in Mexico!

    • 0 avatar
      ckgs

      Uhh, coilpack failures aren’t scheduled maintenance.  This was a huge problem for VWs that I think resulted in a recall.

    • 0 avatar
      A Caving Ape

      True, but they cost $15 a pop and can be installed completely without tools… really no worse than a lightbulb going out as long as you remember to keep a spare in the trunk.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      That reminds me of the pick-up coils in Chrysler products of the 1990’s – you always kept a spare in the trunk, too. Engineer Scotty would’ve approved. Does a “Star Trek” reference apply to the above rules? Pretty thin, I know!

    • 0 avatar
      rjones

      A Caving Ape: True, but they cost $15 a pop and can be installed completely without tools… really no worse than a lightbulb going out as long as you remember to keep a spare in the trunk.
      You may be able to get spares NOW, but back in 2002 when my brand new A4 went through 4 coil packs in 6 months, you could NOT get replacements unless you had a dead one. VW refused to sell anyone spares because they were so short on stock.
      Where did those customers go?
      In my case, to Volvo. My XC70 is five years old; my first burnt-out bulb happened this week. Take that VW!

    • 0 avatar

      2002 Jetta TDI, 170,000 miles – self-maintained (except for timing belt changes) and runs on homebrew half the time. Other than a clogged EGR (a relatively easy fix at home), it has been trouble-free since day one. Go figure.

    • 0 avatar
      K5ING

      You’re not the only one.  419,500 miles and counting.  Virtually troublefree.
      http://caughtatthecurb.blogspot.com/2011/03/golf-with-insane-miles.html

  • avatar
    mikeolan

    Well around the time VW’s quality control issues hit the fan (someone please alert Bertel Schmidt, who is apparently unaware that this company was hard pressed to build an armrest) , Honda started aping Volkswagen in the positive attributes. By 2003, the Accord was heads-and-shoulders above the Passat in terms of build quality and materials quality, not to mention dynamically. The Civic went space aged but likewise featured an equal jump. The rest were stolen by Acura, whose marvelous TSX crushed Volkswagen’s upscale dreams.
     
    By 2005, nobody in their right mind would buy a Passat over a TSX or Accord. Honda has recently de-contented their vehicles and bloated them up.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    SL, you’ve nailed it.  In 2005 I traded my horrible 02 Passat for an 05 xB1.
     
    Unscheduled repair comparison:
    02 Passat V6: 12 visits in 3 years
    05 xB1: 1 visit in 6 years
     
    I’ve posted my VW woes before, but here’s a brief: 4 rotors & pads at 1 month, crank sensor at 4 months (dead car), A/C sensor (hot car), 3x electrical failure in LR door, inaccurate fuel gauge (unresolved), terrible throttle response (unresolved), headlight burnout at 2 years (fixed myself), oil burning @ 1 qt/1k miles at 3 years (told that’s normal).  I traded this beast just as the OE warranty expired.
     
    In contrast, the xB1 suffered a failed passenger window switch at 1 year which was warranted, and fixed in 1 hour.

    By the way, VW: the xB’s interior is just fine; I tire of hearing about awesome VW interiors and the superiority of “German engineering”. I think the Japanese, Korean, and American engineers are doing pretty well when I don’t have to fix their products.

    • 0 avatar
      rutgersftw

      I owned a 2006 xB for 4 years and 76K trouble-free miles, but the thing that finally did me in was the constant 4K RPM death drone at highway speed, constant 80+db road noise, complete lack of space for anything behind the rear seats, harsh ride, and maybe some other complaints finally drove me away from the car.  Great basic transportation and fun to whip around tight corners, but not so much a real car as an exciting concept brought to life.
      I traded for a CPO 07 Jetta 2.5 and it’s been a mostly positive 20K miles.  My main disappointments lie in below average fuel economy and… I guess that’s about it.  The seats are comfortable, the trunk is massive, the stereo has 10 speakers and I don’t even need to crank it up just to listen to NPR – it’s a very different car, but for $13K off the lot with 19K miles on the ODO I’m pretty happy.
      My dad has a 06 Jetta TDI with 135K miles and not a single issue yet.
       
      I would’ve found myself ponying up for a TDI or GLI in a couple of years, but VW’s decision to decontent the crap out of the new Jetta and Passat has me running for a 2012 Focus Titatnium or ST for a nice-handling, semi-plush small car.
       
      So count me in the future-former owners club, though not for reliability concerns.

  • avatar
    ckgs

    Count me in as well:  Passat to TSX in 2006
    Passat had numerous expensive repairs and I had to unload before the sludge arrived.  TSX has been in for exactly zero repairs after 100,000 miles.
    Will never go back.

  • avatar

    My answer was going to include references to a past German dictator, Sarah Palin, trans-gender people Justin Bieber and some crude sexual remarks. So outrageous was my answer, that it would have glowed if viewed under an ultraviolet light. It also would have gotten me banned.

    So instead here is my redacted answer…
    We may not know where they did go, but we certainly know where they didn’t.  Volvo struck out like a flat chested hooker. Subaru’s became the brand for people who like to munch on carpet, and Honda didn’t just get hit with the ugly stick, they got full on raped by it. Toyota was always a safe choice, but safety has always been overrated. Mitsubishi is a one horse pony show, and everyone pretty much ignored Scion after the new car stench faded.

    So whats left? Acura? pffff! Yeah, they all bought Acuras, right. Thats like settling for Red Bull, when what you really want is cocaine. No these yuppies want the good stuff. They want BMWs and Mercs. But those are expensive. So used it is then. The ones who had third degree burns from VW also insisted on reliability, so they bought Infinitys instead. Those who are gluttons for punishment bought performance-sedans and factory tunner specials from Germany. At least they had a nice-ish whip to show for all the money that was being methodical removed from their wallet. The amount of money it takes to buy, drive, and maintain an out of warranty German car with its million computers and its euro-douchbag transmitters set at full power is, well lets’s just say your gonna need to either own an oil well, or start looking at getting a job in adult entertainment.

    So these yuppis are now broke, frustrated, and the wifey has one in the oven. What to do? Buy a KIA/Hyundai. They have a great warranty, seem reliable, and ..OH, is that the new Sonata/Optima? I’ll take one in red, no black. Yeah. It’s got a turbo? SWEET!

  • avatar
    Acubra

    It is interesting how 1995-96 became borderline years for Ze Germans. All (aside from Opel and Ford, they never had a serious reputation) had old models (B5 Passat, W124 E-Class, E34 5-Series, 80 & 100 Audi) with exemplary reliability and durability record. Then in these two years all of them were replaced with disasters:
    MB and its new W210 E-Klasse, BMW E39 5-Series, Audi A4 & A6, new Passat. All suffered from electronics quirks, rust, engines troubles, suspension…
    Roughly in the same years Toyota, Nissan and Honda started assembly in EU – and quality was nowhere near “Made in Japan” original.
    I wonder what was the reason for such group play.

  • avatar
    jmo

    with exemplary reliability and durability record.

    In comparison to the Jags, Caddies, Alfa’s and Peugeots of the late 80’s early 90s yes.  But, in comparison with a 1989 LS400 they paled in comparison.

    • 0 avatar
      Acubra

      LS-400 is a different class from all discussed. And I am NOT saying that S-Klasse/7-Series were more reliable.
      As for middle class sedans, good luck finding a rust-free 10-years+ Toyonda. While Europeans are still aplenty. Actually I had a few years back in Moscow. And salt was so thick on its roads that you’d see Ladas decomposing in a year or so.

  • avatar
    redliner

    My answer was going to include references to a past German dictator, Sarah Palin, trans-gender people Justin Bieber and some crude sexual remarks. So outrageous was my answer, that it would have glowed if viewed under an ultraviolet light. It also would have gotten me banned.
     
    So instead here is my redacted answer…
    We may not know where they did go, but we certainly know where they didn’t.  Volvo struck out like a flat chested hooker. Subaru’s became the brand for people who like to munch on carpet, and Honda didn’t just get hit with the ugly stick, they got full on raped by it. Toyota was always a safe choice, but safety has always been overrated. Mitsubishi is a one horse pony show, and everyone pretty much ignored Scion after the new car stench faded.
     
    So whats left? Acura? pffff! Yeah, they all bought Acuras, right. Thats like settling for Red Bull, when what you really want is cocaine. No these yuppies want the good stuff. They want BMWs and Mercs. But those are expensive. So used it is then. The ones who had third degree burns from VW also insisted on reliability, so they bought Infinitys instead. Those who are gluttons for punishment bought performance-sedans and factory tunner specials from Germany. At least they had a nice-ish whip to show for all the money that was being methodical removed from their wallet. The amount of money it takes to buy, drive, and maintain an out of warranty German car with its million computers and its euro-douchbag transmitters set at full power is, well lets’s just say your gonna need to either own an oil well, or start looking at getting a job in adult entertainment.
     
    So these yuppis are now broke, frustrated, and the wifey has one in the oven. What to do? Buy a KIA/Hyundai. They have a great warranty, seem reliable, and ..OH, is that the new Sonata/Optima? I’ll take one in red, no black. Yeah. It’s got a turbo? SWEET!

  • avatar
    tuckaloe

    I left my APR’d 02 GTi at the Mazda dlr when I picked up an 07 Mazdaspeed 3 that to this day remains stock and still outperforms the modified GTI.   So that’s where this VW buyer went.  It was that or a WRX……I still miss VWs, there is something unique about them that speaks to me but the baggage is too much…..coil packs, MAF, rear wheel bearings, taillights, timing belts breaking, sludge.  Even new VWs have burned out taillights.  C’mon already….

    • 0 avatar
      Verbal

      What’s the deal with VW and taillights anyway?  It seems like half the Jettas I see on my freeway commute have a burnt-out taillight.  I mean, this isn’t new technology.  How hard can it be to design taillights that don’t burn out prematurely? And I’m talking about every era of VW too. This isn’t a recent phenomenon.
      Answer: VW really doesn’t care what you think about their quality.

    • 0 avatar

      @tuckaloe: Give that man a prize! The VW buyers got Mazda 3s.
       
      Another I know got a Ford.

    • 0 avatar
      redwood2

      My ’03 golf goes through tail lights faster than oil changes.

    • 0 avatar
      tekdemon

      @Verbal it’s because VW still makes some of the most horrifyingly terrible electrical systems in the automobile world…to the extent that few tail lamps can take the horror for long before committing seppuku.

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    Besides the maintenance worries, thier cars are generally expensive and not so stylish for today’s buyers.  They are kind of lost… people who aspire to German luxury cars can most likely afford to lease BMWs… the Mini took over as the cute Euro brand… no one likes Beetles anymore…

    I love my GTI, but I dont think I am in the majority for typical buyers.

  • avatar
    jmo

    The other issue is some here at TTAC would say that with a Honda you can be assured of going 20 years and 240k miles with nary an issue.  While, with a VW, you’ll have 12 issues in the first 3 years.  The reality is that after 5 or 8 years a Honda might have a repair every 12 months vs8 months with a VW.  The question then is how much is going from one issue a year to one issue every 1.3 years really worth?

    • 0 avatar
      redliner

      Ahh, but you see you missed one little detail. You might have to take your Honda in to get worked on, but barring some off-the-wall hybrid components, you can probably drive out for under $500. If you take your VW, there is no way you will be driving out of there for less than a grand.

    • 0 avatar
      ckgs

      I’ve owned both, and the math isn’t this simple.  It’s the total cost and ownership experience that really matter.  After your 3rd or 4th $1000+ repair bill for crap that shouldn’t break, you get pretty sick of the car.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      you can probably drive out for under $500

      Just did a quick check and a 2002 Passat AC compressor is $365 and a 2002 Accord AC compressor is $350.  What parts are you talking about – specifically?

    • 0 avatar
      ckgs

      Again, the the numbers are that simple.  For example:  There’s the leaky cam seal ($5 part) that requires dis-assembly of the the front of the car and about $1000.  Or the failed climate control motor ($30 part) that took 4 hours of labor to replace.  Or my favorite was when my backup lights stopped working.  Problem was a $10 switch inside the transmission that cost $500 to replace.
       
      I’m afraid you’re probably fighting an uphill battle.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      Or the failed climate control motor ($30 part) that took 4 hours of labor to replace.

      Well, how many hours of labor to replace the same part in a TSX?  Or do TSX climate control motors never fail?

    • 0 avatar
      ckgs

      I can only share my experience, but nope, not a single problem yet.
       
      I actually think this is the problem with VW.  The basic structure is rock solid, but the components…the little things…seem to fail early and often, and cost a lot to repair.

    • 0 avatar
      redliner

      Well, the Passats of that vintage commonly need to have the coil pack replaced. They usually run between $250 to $280. In addition, the local VW dealership charges $110 per hour on their labor. A similar fault in a 2002 Accord will cost you around $180 for parts and the local Honda dealership charges $90 per hour on labor.
       
      I’m not saying that the Honda will always be cheaper, but it has better reliability to begin with, and at least in my area, the labor charges are lower. In the interest of fairness, I looked up parts costs on the Accord and they are not always cheaper.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      I’m not saying that the Honda will always be cheaper, but it has better reliability to begin with, and at least in my area, the labor charges are lower. In the interest of fairness, I looked up parts costs on the Accord and they are not always cheaper.

      Exactly, no one is going to argue that a GTI is going to have more issues (on average) than a Civic Si.  I’d argue that the gap isn’t nearly as large as many here on TTAC would claim.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      After a Mercedes, a VW, a Porsche, two Audis and 2 BMWs we’ve made the switch to Honda. The VW needed axles, struts, engine mount, heater core, had a collapsed lifter issue after the dealer cheaped on the oil filter, had an A/C repair that cost about 25% as much as the car did, fortunately under warranty, all in 39K miles. IIRC, the shop said the heater core popping was caused by a bad pressure cap on the radiator. Most of the caps came from VW defective. The good shop I eventually found to work on the car had a pressure tester to check every replacement cap before it was fitted to the car, bought in bulk. I saw 3 fail before the one they put on the car passed. Our first Honda is a 2004 Acura TSX. Last year the front passenger door power lock solenoid started working erratically. After about 3 weeks, it fixed itself before we got around to having the dealer fix it. That is it for problems with Honda #1, still in service. Honda #2 is a 2007 Civic Si sedan which has now gone 4 years with nothing more than oil changes, inspections, one new set of tires, and one new set of wiper blades. Still have one BMW. Every time it goes in for an oil change, the total bill exceeds what we’ve spent on both Hondas in 11 combined years of service. On a bad day, that includes the Bridgestones now on the Acura and the Continentals on the Honda.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      @jmo: The only car worse than my 02 Passat was my 05 Odyssey, which I traded after I won a Lemon Law suit against Honda.  So I am turned off to both brands, but my Honda dealer experience was much worse than that at VW.

      Most of us don’t own that many cars in life, and we make our judgments based upon our own data (which is very little) and upon the data from others.  I know that VW and Honda build some good cars sometimes.  I know that the repair rate for most Scion owners is not 24x better than for VW owners, but that was my experience.

      Interestingly, one of the deciding factors in favor of buying the Passat was VW’s seemingly good quality record up until then.  This data seemed to change right when I got my car, and Steven Lang has just confirmed that.

      The overall data is what you’re pointing to – and it’s worthwhile – but the emperical evidence is that for many people, the VW experience goes very, very badly.  I’ve owned several Chryslers that were much better, although on average they are supposed to be worse cars.

    • 0 avatar
      dswilly

      I’m with JMO on this one. I like VW cars but will never one due to too many woes by my friend’s who did and do. As for cost of repair, I own German and Honda and the Honda is not cheap to fix and complicated to fix as a DIY’er. although the Honda has been reliable more or less,  the integrity of the car is nothing to brag about with 90k on it. Can some Honda techs jump in here? I know two and both say Honda’s are overly complex in many cases. Although that part you used as an example may be a bit cheaper on the Honda it may take an extra two hours to get to it. A friend has the absolutely basic 1999 Civic, took it to the Honda dealer for the 70k maintenance they wanted nearly 2k to replace the timing belt and the other scheduled items, really?

  • avatar
    mikey

    @redliner……Oh I so wish you had gone for your first post. I agree with you98%. Everybody is searching for the ilusive perfect vehicle. They BELIEVE they have found it with a Hyundai/Kia.

  • avatar
    changsta

    I think a lot of the people that were buying the 99.5-2005 generation Jetta because it looked “cool” dumped them for Mazda3s. Seems that way in Toronto, at least. The Passat probably got left behind for other entry level models.. 3 series, C-class, IS, G35, TSX etc.
    While I am too terrified to actually purchase a VW (I’ve had friends that had nightmarish problems with Jetta 1.8ts, 2.0s and Passat V6s), there IS something about the way a VW feels. They’ve got extremely stiff structures, which makes the car feel like a brick. the interiors, up until this latest generation of passat and jetta, really did seem a class or two higher than competing models. The plastics quality was visually great, but the ones used on the hinges were absolute crap (glove box, console lids).
    I think that the direction VW is going in will fail to bring in new consumers that expect VWs to have a “premium” feel, and alienate the current owners that demand it.
     

  • avatar
    anchke

    Yeah, my swag would be they went somewhere with a warranty, so it’s Hyundai

  • avatar
    InstantKarma

    VW lost it’s way when they decided to change direction and move up market with the Passat W8, the Touareg V10 TDI and the Phaeton.  They wanted to be the biggest, the king of the hill, forgetting that Elvis, the King, got bigger before dying.  As though the higher ups were replaced by extra-terrestrials, they changed their minds again and decided to move DOWN market.  It’s hard to build a following when you keep change who your target market is.

    (There; I working Elvis and ETs into my answer)

    • 0 avatar
      340-4

      “Hey! Look at the size of that Phaeton! That thing is huge!”
       
      “Score another one for the Tiny E!”
       
      “Well, I’m just sayin’ that’s a big car, that’s all.”

  • avatar
    JMII

    Add me to the list of (soon to be) previous Passat owners. I bought a brand new one (B5, GLX with sunroof, 1.8T, 5 speed, tan/blue combo) back in ’00 after my brother recommended it as “cheap BMW”. And for the first 3 years it was great: superior interior design and finish, torque-y turbo that still got 30 mpg, under stated looks, comfy seats, lots of features, euro-handling and feel. My wife and I loved the car. Then it started to self destruct… parts literally feel off (both interior and exterior), the interior peeled, chipped and broke, various simple items failed and proved very costly to fix (roof antenna = $300 WTF?!?). Stuff just keeps adding up: the ABS computer burnt out (common issue), the shocks are toast, the interior is total mess. VW’s infamous service department couldn’t find a coolant leak, failed to order parts on time, etc. The forums were abuzz with coil packs and sludge issues, luckily my 1.8T didn’t suffer any of these but instead had all kinds of other stupid little issues that kept reoccurring and costing us way too much.
     
    The Passat was garage kept, got synthetic oil, was well maintained and basically babied… it was only driven 8K a year (mostly by my wife) and yet squeaks & rattles like a 20 year old beater. In contrast I have an ’02 Dodge Dakota, a vehicle Consumer Reports says to avoid, yet its in near perfect shape, looks new and drives like new, it has only required minimal fixes (A/C fan, a wheel bearing, brakes… normal stuff). The contrast between the two vehicles couldn’t be greater in terms of reliability and current condition. After 8 years my wife refuses to drive the VeeDub any longer and takes my truck everywhere. She is afraid if one more light appears or warning messages appears on the dash of the Passat the whole thing will just imploded.
     
    We are previous Honda owners (two Civics plus a Prelude) and looked at TSX, however it was kind of soulless (and torque-less). Nothing Honda or Acura makes currently has my interest (too ugly). Our next vehicle will either be an Infinit, Nissan or Volvo. However my wife will NEVER, EVER (her words) own another VW product again due to our Passat experience. My brother on the other hand sold his Passat after 3 years before it fell apart and is all set to take delivery of the next limited edition Golf when it comes out next year. Personally I like VW products, but they are just not worth it long term.

  • avatar
    Sundowner

    jeez, what a bitchfest about VW.
    I had a 2008 Passat wagon that was a wonderful car and I loved until a jackass in an SUV lost control and murdered it. My wife has a 2006 Audi A3 that’s been stone reliable since now. We’ve had one major hiccup with lean condition that the dealer fell all over themselves to fix – out of warranty.
    That being said, the car I replaced my Passat with with a 2010 Jetta wagon TDI and the car tormented me with problems every single week I owned it until I sold it 10 months later. The straw that broke the camel’s back in that car was when the subframe kept coming loose, and the VW corporate engineer’s solution was to “not drive the car hard”. Great advice.  I chalk part of the problem up to VW patently terrible customer service and compound it with a car built in a factory where the workers have to duck Mexican drug cartel fire between hooking up ABS sensor connectors.
    Call me a glutton for punishment, but where VW lost my business due to bad service, Audi earned it with good service. I might look elsewhere, but a fun premium sedan that scoots, comes with a stick, and returns 30 mpg is a rare find.
    Toyotas are good cars, and I own a 2002 tacoma that I absolutely adore, but Toyota stopped making small fun cars and trucks with manual transmissions a long time ago. They’ve gone GM on me and went to big cushy cars instead.

    • 0 avatar
      ILO

      Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ are made in Mexico and are best cars in segment regarding reliability. So Mexicans has nothing to do with crap that VW puts into their cars, they have flawed process and their QA sucks. VW cuts costs where you cannot see of feel. E.g. interiors look great but it is only on surface, it is actually POS that looks good only for a couple of years. Another example  – water pump impeller is made from plastic that cracks soon and destroys itself. This kind of stuff.
      Wait until Mondeo and Focus comes to our shores. It will be interesting to watch how new decontented Jetta/Passat fares against European Fords. May be Ford is the new VW but more reliable one.

    • 0 avatar
      340-4

      “…and compound it with a car built in a factory where the workers have to duck Mexican drug cartel fire between hooking up ABS sensor connectors.”
       
      Somebody get this guy on the payroll! Comedy gold here, Jerry.

    • 0 avatar
      fincar1

      “…the subframe kept coming loose…”
      Good lord, I have never heard that one before!
      I am another one who would never buy a VW product. I should say that I noodged my father into buying a ’61 Bug when I still lived at home, and he subsequently bought a ’63; both performed admirably in the Volkswagen fashion of the time. But a few years down the road my daughter wanted this used white on white 79 Rabbit ragtop and I pointed out to her that although it was very nice, shiny, and seemed to drive fine, when one was driving straight down the road the steering wheel was at 90 degrees, and that this would be very uncomfortable for her to drive. Then a couple of years ago she had a 5-speed Passat for a loaner; I drove it and really enjoyed its performance and handling, but again the steering wheel was 90 degrees off. WTF??

  • avatar
    ern35

    Once upon a time I had friends or knew someone who actually owned a Volkswagen—now, with the exception of my youngest brother, NONE of these folks own a Volkswagen—-a telling reminder of a company with an attitude and mindset:  “We know what’s best!”

  • avatar
    carguy

    It should be noted that the VW buyers from ’95 and ’01 have moved on in life. The better question maybe is that why are young buyers no longer drawn to the VW brand? Part of it is that their cars had quality problems, the other is that their advertising is now lame and that their designs are conservative.
     
    The folks who had VWs when they were young probably now have kids and are not interested in a re-badged Chrysler minivan. I had a Golf Mk3 and it spent most of its time in the shop. I went to a Miata for more driving fun and then to used BMWs which are rock solid compared to the VW.

    Who makes cool cars for young people today? I don’t know as I’m not young but there are way too few new ideas to get anyone excited. Nissan Juke? Ford Focus?

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Only speaking from my own experience, for the last 30 years I have thoroughly researched every new vehicle I have bought. If I am interested in a particular car, I find out if it would be a good buy or not. I’ve not chosen a car due to any “cool” factor as I couldn’t afford to make a mistake. Perhaps my taste in vehicles runs to the conservative side as far as “sportiness” or “luxury” or heavy content goes, but we have had pretty remarkable service out of them. Maybe it’s how we drive, among other factors. An “enthusiast”? Yes, because I care very much about my cars, especially the ones I drive every day and I take immense pride in them. Not much of an answer, but that’s the best I can come up with because I have no experience with VW, but people I know who have owned them, liked them, but they didn’t have the problems discussed here. It’s unfortunate that the cars considered “hum-drum” turn out to be perceived – and sometimes proven to be the most reliable. I consider the Korean makes to be bottom-feeders that do nothing for me, but apparently they are pretty decent, although, I don’t plan on buying one anytime soon.

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    One thing I am getting a little tired of is the constant stories that only have to do with the Mk4 VWs from 1999-2004.  Can ANYONE pipe in with some horror stories of the Mk5 models??  Wait, just to clarify, the non-TDI ones, because the TDI had the same engine in the Mk5 that they had in the Mk4.

    We all know the Mk4 models were total crap, they fell apart, the sludge, the interior plastic, etc etc.  And I have no doubt that soured an entire generation on VW and thats why thier sales are so bad over here.  But the new ones arent that bad.

    • 0 avatar
      tn2

      I agree that many of these comments were about the Mk4.   I previously owned a Golf Mk4 and yes it was more than troublesome, burnt out lights, plastic interior pieces falling off etc.  Despite that experience, my wife and I bought a Jetta MK5 over a Honda Accord which we found to be too big for our urban existence.  So far, the Jetta has been trouble free after a year of ownership.  If you look at the data from Consumer Reports and Trudelta, the MK5 cars especially the 2.5 versions have been above average for reliability.  I know the VW enthusiasts like to make fun of this engine but it’s reliable and relatively powerful.   In my opinion, it’s the older designs like the Touareg and the rebadged Roatan which bring VW down.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    VW’s problem isn’t quality, and by that I mean that it’s not that their quality was ever really that good.  For that matter, Mercedes’ wasn’t, either.  Volvo, Saab, BMW and the French and Italians certainly sucked, but all of them really made matters worse for themselves by cutting support at the dealer level.
     
    The problem is the dealership experience, and that’s largely the fault of the home office.  When I used to talk to dealers regularly (which was about ~1998-2004) it was, notably, VW dealers who had the hardest time extracting warranty claims from VWoA.  From what I understood, VWAG (or whatever the home office was called) decided that warranty claims were far too high, and put the screws to VWoA,** who in turn did the same to their dealers.  Dealers, in their turn, didn’t bother to go to bat for the customer and just tried to make money as they bled service customers.
     
    They were never particularly good at compensating dealers, but unlike most of the other Europeans they at least had a network of parts supplies and technicians who could install them,  or at least they did until they started cutting back on warranty parts availability and frustrated techs started quitting dealers.  The result was a perfect sh_tstorm.
     
    The funny thing is, VW fans don’t seem to have picked up on this.  The mantra is always “Find a good, independent dealer.”  If VW dealers are uniformly bad, the problem is lies further up the food chain, and you never hear this for Toyota, Honda or Ford.  The dealers deserve some blame, but they’re often trying to do the best with what they have,  My understanding is that Audi dealers have been given a little more leeway as of late.
     
    Compare this to Toyota (especially Lexus) and Honda dealers, who have a lot of leeway when it comes to warranty work.  It helps that they had a quality product, but if Saturn*** has taught us anything, it’s that great service can make amends for wretched product, while wretched service usually sullies whatever good product you have.
     
    **  Yeah, there’s a good strategy.  Warranty claims too high?  Screw your dealers.  Don’t introduce quality improvements like even pre-Daimler Chrysler and Ford did
    *** The same Saturn who had CSI ratings that exceeded Lexus, despite Lexus’ making cars like the LS and Saturn making cars like the S-Series and Ion.

  • avatar
    ExPatBrit

    VW needs to offer a better warrantyand possibly free maintenance, just like Audi. Once they actually have to pay for all the “not thoroughly tested” new stuff like DSG transmissions, coilpacks, clusters etc they might actually permanently fix some of it.
    Despite some posters opinions here Audi was about dead here until the A4 arrived with a 4 year all inclusive (all maintenance included)  warranty .
    My A4 was a great car and was the cheapest car to run I have had in almost 40 years of driving. Less than $500 per year over 10 years including tires. Still had the factory clutch.
     
     

    • 0 avatar
      vbofw

      VW needs to offer a better warrantyand possibly free maintenance

      agreed and they have done this. now offering 5 years-60,000 powertrain [or 100,000 powertrain on touregs] and now give free maintenance for 3 years-36,000

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      VW offers a four year basic warranty in Canada, with a twelve year warranty on corrosion (VW Canada replaced the entire rear hatch on my 03 Jetta Wagon last year under warranty because of rust around the rear windshield, they also replaced my catalytic converter a couple of years ago as well, no cost). That’s actually not bad.
       
      I would also claim that there’s no such thing as “free maintenance.” I’ve looked over most of the supposed ‘free maintenance’ programs here in Canada, and have concluded that they just build the maintenance costs into the price.

    • 0 avatar
      william442

      Both of our GTIs of the 80s were maintenance nightmares, and the dealers were worse.
      My 2003 Audi A4 was great for the 39 months I drove it. I spent exactly zero on repairs because it did not need any. The maintenance was free. The rear tires were gone by the end of the lease but that was all. Now Audi Finance is another story.
      Because of what I have read here, I now drive an Accord in Florida.(still German In Va however)

  • avatar
    detlump

    As for the taillights, I think VW preferred a design that used a metal plate to secure the bulbs and provide an electrical connection.  In my years as a lighting engineer I wondered why VW and Volvo used this design when others were using sockets.  Over time bulbs could vibrate loose and might not actually have failed but still did not work and could trigger a bulb warning light.

    I also have a friend who loves 80s Jetta diesels.  He has said to me proudly that he can change a transmission in one after work and be ready to go the next day.  I asked him whether it was really a good thing that he was able to or needed to do that.  He didn’t have a good answer just a shrug.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I don’t know about VW, but it looks to me like if I want a Mercedes, I should go for something built before 2000.

  • avatar
    Junebug

    I have a 2008 GTI. When there was talk of DSG issues, VW sent me a letter stating they would warranty the DSG for 100K. Then I got a letter saying there was a recall and they would replace the mechatronix unit – I called my local dealer (didn’t buy from them BTW) they gave me a new Passat to drive, and did the 40K transmission fluid change for me. All I paid for was the filter.

    So where is the horror? I’ve had the car going on 3 years, I change the oil/filter myself every 5K miles and I’ve never had 1 reason (other than that recall) to take my car to the shop. Heck, even the stock tires lasted 42K miles. I’m keeping this one, it’s fast, fun and 29mpg.

    And yeah, I KNEW the car would require premium fuel and synthetic oil when I bought it. But those things aside, I am NOT having any buyers remorse.

    • 0 avatar
      jeffzekas

      Amazing story! You are probably that one-in-a-thousand VW owner that they interview for Edmunds and the VW advertisements… Heck, even back in the 70’s, the nickname for our local VW dealer was Ralph “Cut-throat” Volkswagen (real name: Cutwright– now Santa Monica VW). I am thinking, Junebug, that you should buy a lottery ticket and go gambling on the tables at Vegas… cos you have been incredibly lucky (either that, or you may be in the ranks of owners who are too embarrassed to talk about their real VW horrors… kinda like all the folks who are quietly upside down on mortgages). Oh, and one last observation: when many of the VW problems first started appearing on the internet, Edmunds took the lead in censoring any anti-VW comments which appeared in their chat rooms… which is why I stopped going to the Edmunds blog and discussion rooms… and haven’t owned a VW since 1979!

  • avatar
    Jimal

    Since with a couple minor exceptions I’ve been driving VWs exclusively since 1993, count me as one of those gluttons for punishment. We currently have a 2003 Jetta TDI that we bought new and a 2007 Passat 2.0T wagon we bought used a little over a year ago. The TDI has had couple minor quibbles over the years (the biggest pain in the arse being the glow plug harness) and light bulbs continue to be expendable items. The Passat wagon is still under warranty but the dealer has been pretty good. My previous ’03 Golf TDI had a freak bearing failure inside the transaxle that required replacement of the unit and an A/C clutch failure that I fixed myself but had to buy an entire compressor assembly to do so (I still have the compressor sitting on a shelf in my garage).
     
    Why do I like Volkswagens? I don’t know. I guess I’m just at the point that I’m familiar with them enough to do most work on my own. I have a VAG-COM, which I needed to do the rear brakes on the Passat, and I have invested in most of the specialized tools at this point. While none of the current VW lineup appeals to me, that may change. In the mean time I’d still buy something older and tinker on it in my garage.

  • avatar
    amac

    Wow. Nothing raises the dead here like a good old TTAC VW trash fest – which seems like every other day, lately.

  • avatar
    Mark_Miata

    We’re Yuppies, and we left VW for the reason that most folks here have mentioned – reliability that was a joke.  We bought a 2002 Jetta for my wife to drive, and loved it at first.  Nice roomy high-quality interior that was comfortable for both a 4’11” person and a 5’11” person, great handling (especially at speeds well over the limit on the back roads of northern Nevada), and the best crash ratings in the class.  My wife normally keeps cars for 10+ years – the Jetta was gone in less than three due to the constant trips to the shop.
     
    She now drives a Subaru Forrester.  Here in Eastern Oregon they don’t have the lesbian vibe – they are just the car you drive if you don’t want an SUV and you still want to go out in the snow.
     
    My sister is also a Yuppie.  She and her husband put up with her Jetta for longer than we did, since they live only two miles from the dealership, but now she rolls in a Honda Odyssey.  She’d have kept the Jetta if it just didn’t break down – the rep of the Honda is what sold her (plus the leather seats and the electric rear hatch).

  • avatar
    340-4

    Where did they go?
     
    They went to more reliable brands, after being cold-cocked by VW’s awful reliability.
     
    I bought a new Passat in ’01. There were strange electrical gremlins – intermittent ones.  The transmission didn’t last a year. At the dealership, the tech and service writer told me I was lucky it was under warranty. The replacement transmission was almost $8000. “If this was out of warranty, we’d have had to charge you like 11 grand for this work.” I was told.
     
    I traded it the next weekend for a Nissan Pathfinder, which, after almost ten years and 120k, has needed one, ONE MAF beyond regular maintenance.
     
    My dad had a ‘new Jetta’ in ’99 and he had it less than a year before trading it for a ’00 Maxima, which has had… wait for it… an MAF replacement.
     
    Talking with people in my town I learned of at least two others with the same transmission failure. Word travels fast. Mention VW now and you’ll find someone that will start swearing.
     
    And the Jetta is now what, $16k? Am I supposed to trust that?
     
    My ex fiancee bought a used VW New Beetle Tdi. The only reason I didn’t lock her under the steps to prevent her purchase?
     
    The inch-thick stack, STACK of warranty repairs documentation from the first owner over the first 3 years of the car’s life. You can’t believe what was replaced; I wish I’d copied them, they were hilarious. Whole wiring harnesses. Injectors. Suspension items. Tranny work. Radios. Brakes. By the time the lady traded it in at 36k, you understood her fear of continued ownership. But, the second owner had the car for 100k and had no major problems because the car was basically rebuilt during the first 3 years of its life. I wonder how much VW lost on that one single car.
     
    I could even talk about shady, crappy, poor dealership service – ours forgot to tighten the drain plug after an oil and filter change on my dad’s Jetta – we drove an hour back home with the plug loose, and it dropped out on the dirt road just 200 yards from our house. Left a trail of oil to the driveway. They tried to blame US, of course, then refused to even look at it, then said they’d look at it ONLY if we paid to have it hauled up there 100 miles. Finally they came and got it and fixed it but that was it for dad.
     
    I love the styling, I love how they feel and drive, but I’m not sure I could ever trust ’em again. Thank God I got rid of that Jetta before the 1.8T sludge problems reared their ugly heads.

    • 0 avatar
      340-4

      Holy crap. I sound like a typical, disillusioned domestic car ex-owner from the malaise era.
       
      To make it more hilarious, the car I’m most considering for my next purchase is a Chrysler product.
       
      My, how things have changed, and how they haven’t.

  • avatar
    michal1980

    I know, I know, were not supposed to attack the writers here. but WTF?! did you do any research?

    https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/01/december-sales-2010-ends-with-steady-growth/

    USA VW Sales up 21% YoY.

  • avatar
    MarcKyle64

    None of the bitching about VW reliability is new to me.  VW hasn’t really changed since the seventies.  I know it’s not quite on-topic but bear with me.
    My family LOVED VWs, we had at least 4 and maybe even 5 various aircooled models before Dad bought his new Rabbit in 1980.  Beetles, Buses, Ghias, about the only thing we didn’t own was a Type 3. Almost immediately he had to keep going back to the dealer for warranty stuff on the Rabbit.  Left headlight that mysteriously went on and off – can not duplicate. Losing coolant but not leaking it – we don’t know what’s wrong with it. Surging throttle at idle…meh.   Doorlocks that break and stay locked….oops, you must have broke it.   The dealer was useless.  I drove that POS to college for a year, I learned quite by accident that kicking the fusebox that was right under the left side of the dash by the door made the headlight work again…for a while.  Sometimes it would stay on all night, other times it might stop working 5 minutes later (you can imagine how I found out that was the way to ‘fix’ it) and I’d kick it again.  Bumpy or smooth roads didn’t matter.  We later found out why Dad’s VW was using coolant – they guy Dad sold it to rebuilt the motor and told him that one of the bolts in the head between cyls 2 & 3 was missing and coolant was getting sucked into the combustion chambers.  It came like that from the factory and the dealer never cared enough to find and fix that.
    The wife worked for a VW mechanic.  She tells me similar stories of woe. One owner of a GTI had a spot marked with tape on his dash that he would hit whenever the radio quit. She says we’re NEVER buying a VW newer than 1974 – and only if it’s not fuel injected.
     

    • 0 avatar
      jeffzekas

      Same story with us: 4 old-school VW’s and we recommended them to all our friends… my ’58 Beetle went over 300,000 miles on the original motor, with no problems… then, my uncle bought a brand-new Rabbit/Golf… nothing but endless problems, before he dumped it… he changed over to Honda. Nowadays, everyone in our family drives Honda, Toyota or Ford products.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      Ahh, you must be the guys who think the only real Porshes are the air-cooled ones. :)

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      @gslippy — Well, they are…  the new ones are just crappy status symbols…  :)

  • avatar
    John Horner

    I almost bought a Passat twice, once in 2003 and then again in 2006. Both times the absolutely horrific data out there on VW non-reliability scared me off. In ’03 I ended up with an Accord (now my wife’s car and still doing great). In ’06 I bought a TSX and remain very happy with my choice to this day. There also seem to have been a lot of unhappy Toureg owners out there dumping them for Acura MDXs when SUVs were still all the rage.
    But, I suspect that former VW owners scattered to the statistical winds of various Japanese and US nameplates.
     

  • avatar
    05lgt

    My wife had an 95 Passat VR6 when I met her.  It was NEVER right.  Oil pan/main seal leaks that could have triggered the lemon law it took so many warranty repair trips to (almost) fix.  Flame arrester valve (any one else would say PCV) that broke every time anyone but me checked the air cleaner went from a $20 part to part of a $200 assembly.  ABS that started coding after 3 years and never got fixed despite MANY part replacements that only provided months of ABS operation.   Stupid BBS wheel center pieces that fell out with such regularity that we kept spares.  AC lines that were so poorly routed that you knew it was never meant to be there.  Driving lights behind glass covers that always broke within weeks of replacement. Interior started falling apart after 5 years. When she was finally ready to replace, she said Audi, I said it would die of bullet holes on it’s first day in my driveway.  NO MORE VW’s.  (she loves her used Lexus and can’t get over how trouble free and nice it is.)

    • 0 avatar
      05lgt

      forgot the theft prevention system that locked her ignition in the first months of ownership that had to be permanently jumpered, the broken steering lock, the… I don’t want to think about it any more.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    I’ve known 3 VW owners in recent years. The first one dropped her Golf Cabriolet for a Mazda 3 and working air conditioning. Ironically, I helped her change out two tail light bulbs on the Mazda recently. Maybe she caught something from the VW. The second one bought a 2008 GTI DSG new that has indeed been a gigantic financial liability and now sits in his driveway until he reaches a settlement with VW that has been a couple years coming and stems from problems evident when the car was brand new. He is now driving a ten or so year old Toyota RAV4, as the GTI is hopelessly upside down financially. Then there is my friend with the 2010 Jetta TDI DSG wagon, also now with VW litigation experience. She wants to replace it with a Jeep Wrangler as soon as she stops commuting from SD to LA.

  • avatar
    FuzzyPlushroom

    There  are good VWs and bad  ones from this  period, just as there were in the ’90s. Yes, transaxles and electrical components were serious weak points, but that was by no means a guarantee of a terrible car. We’ve had an ’01 New Beetle (1.8T/manual) in the family since 2003, and it’s up into the high 120,000s without much trouble. Window regulators? Eerily fine. Gearbox? Fine. Sludge? None, since we use the correct coolant. Just door lock mechanisms and occasional bulbs.
     
    That certainly doesn’t mean I’d suggest that anyone rush out and buy an earlier Mk4 VW, but they got quite a bit sorted out from ’01 through ’05.

  • avatar
    406driver

    Here in the UK, VW’s reputation is much higher than in the US despite the coil pack debacle and blown-up pumps on some diesels. The Golf even appears regularly in the Top 10 based sellers, something that has never happened in the past. The premium reputation isn’t justified when you look closely but it’s a reality.
    Curious to note the comments on bulbs. In recent years there seems to have been an epidemic on UK roads of nearly new car with blown bulbs. When I looked more closely the overwhelming majority were VW Group cars. What is it about the electrical system that causes so many bulbs to burn out ? Or is it just using an inadequate supplier ? My Peugeot has had just a handful of blown bulbs in 10 years.

  • avatar
    Omnifan

    Well, my answer won’t invoke the King nor any ETs, but here we go.

    Coil packs, wiring harnesses, light bulbs……..VW’s secret is that they bought a new electronics supplier several years ago with a storied history in the auto supplier business.  That’s right, Lord Lucas.  The prince of darkness.  Brit cars have exorcised the gremlins, remember Jag’s ad slogan “We kept the best, the rest is history” ?  Now we know where they went.

  • avatar
    v65magnafan1

    changsta apparently reports from Toronto. Please let me add some info. The greater Toronto Area, with about 5.5 million people, has 15 VW dealerships. New York City and area, with about 10 million people, has 13 VW dealerships.
    VWs are very popular here.  It might be because of the large proportion of European immigrants and their children. My Italo-Canadian brother in law, for example, would buy Fiats or Lancias if he could, but he buys VWs and Audis because they are the next best thing for him.
    Yes, they handle well, and they have that solid feel, great road feel, and noises, except for the seats that may creak, and the other strangenesses that occur when engineering is cut a bit short.
    Resale value in the Toronto area is very high. And the dealers are actually human. I’ve owned five Volkswagens, but never again. I won’t buy a car that always has at least one thing wrong with it.
    Judging from the number of new Jettas I already see on the road up here, I expect VW to continue to do well–in Ontario.
    I’ve owned five VWs, but I will never own another. They’ve kept their quirks but their unique qualities have been usurped by other brands.

  • avatar
    threeer

    It really is a shame that VW has had such an issue with reliability…but having lived through the ownership of one fairly recent VW, I’d be retecent to subject myself to that again, although I severely love them.  I bought a brand new 2000 Golf and for the first 1.5 years, it was super.  Dark green metallic, sunroof, stellar interior, 5 speed…I absolutely loved how it felt to drive that little hatch.  The fit and finish on the inside and the cool blue lighting made it a true joy to drive.  Sure, it wasn’t the fastest car on the planet, but it just felt right!  And then it started to fall apart.  Quickly.  I couldn’t tolerate the regularly required trips to the repair shop and the bothersome inconvenience of not having a properly running vehicle.  Every now and then I find myself longingly looking at maybe a nice GTI (a sucker for a hatch)…but the ghost of Volkswagens past are sufficient enough to scare me off…

  • avatar
    NJ01

    I’ve been a VW owner for the past 11 years (same Jetta throughout that period). I’ve probably had a better experience than most in terms of reliability. My ’98 Jetta is the basic GL model without any frills (i.e. extra electric features that inevitably give VW owners trouble). However, the repairs I have had done have most likely been more costly that comparable Japanese cars.
    So this month I went shopping for a new car. VW was at the top of my list. I checked out the new Jettas and found them to be too “grown-up” — they’ve gotten bigger and lost the niche they carved out back in the ’90s. It’s no longer a fun, small, cool car. So I checked out the Golf. I really liked this car but I couldn’t find the combination I wanted (4 door, auto, with a sunroof). In the end, I made the jump over to a Japanese car. The cost of ownership is just so much more appealing in the Japanese car. For what it’s worth, I’m holding onto the old Jetta as a second car though.
    VW needs to get back to its roots and start producing reliable, affordable, cool cars that appeal to the masses. They need to stop pricing themselves out of contention as well. And, please, whip your dealerships into shape — having a VW serviced is equivalent to going to the dentist.
     
     

  • avatar
    Junebug

    Well, I’m not upside down in a mortgage – in fact, my house is paid for. I’m not lucky – been married twice! And have never won anything worth over 100 bucks. But maybe I “got lucky with the 08 GTI, it seems most issues are with cars 2005 and older. If VW sucked so bad why are they still in business, surely the great minds on this forum would have educated the dumb masses to the point VW would be a memory.

    I’ve heard horror stories about Honda’s, Toyota’s and others – worst car we ever had was a 1990 Pontiac Gran Prix Turbo – now that was a POS.

    • 0 avatar
      jeffzekas

      VW is still in business for the same reason that GM is still in business: “too big to fail”, so both have received massive subsidies from their respective governments.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Well, what’s interesting is that if you do a search on, say, Cars.com, for CPO cars, you will find a huge number of VWs . . . and you will see that VW’s CPO program is one of the best, in terms of scope and duration of coverage.
    Now, I wonder why that is . . . ?
    Having grown up in the era of the “original” VWs (that would be the rear-engined, air-cooled boxer 4), the reason that car was such a success was that  —  despite being an obsolete and, in some sense, dangerous design by 1960 — it was assembled with obsessive attention to detail.  IOW, the quality of the car — and the fact that it filled an unfilled niche in the US — was what sold it.
    The mystery to me is why, when VW concluded that it had to walk away from that configuration and moved into water-cooled engine FWD cars, it seemed to have forgotten that lesson.  From the beginning, the quality of those cars — the Dasher and the Rabbit/Golf — sucked, even though, when working, they were quite nice cars.
    AFAIC, the issues persisted with its upscale sister, Audi.  Although interestingly, in 1980 Audi re-launched itself in the US with a campaign that all but said, “those quality issues that used to dog our cars, they’re behind us now.”
    Speaking as an owner of 1980 Audi 5000 (100): yeah, right.  Never again (and I’m not talking “unintended acceleration,” either).  If you gave me one today, I would sell it tomorrow, for whatever I could get.

    Oh, and by the way, as our “Domestic 3” have proved for the last 30 years, it is possible to move a lot of crap metal with an extensive ad campaign. There is always a refreshed supply of new victims who graduate into car owning age and who can be lured into the showroom, seduced by the driving experience of a new, perfect car . . . and find out later that the ownership experience is far less than perfect.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      into water-cooled engine FWD cars

      Because you can’t build an emissions compliant air-cooled engine.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      jmo – then why did Porsche keep selling emissions compliant air cooled cars for 20 years after VW gave up? Europe didn’t give a flying fig about pollution until the late ’80s anyway.

      VW moved to water cooling for a number of reasons. WC cars are quieter, and various European cars were obsessing about ‘drive by’ noise regulations. The FWD packaging revolution was well along in Europe, and competing meant offering something that packaged as well as the R5, 128, ADO16, 1204, Civic, etc… So they copied what everyone else was doing, but that doesn’t explain where the quality went. When it came time for water cooled cars, VW leveraged the water cooled FWD expertise of their Audi subsidiary. Audis had always been terrible cars with advanced specifications, so VW turned the Audi 50 into the VW Polo and the Audi 80/Fox into the VW Passat/Dasher. With Audis help they also developed the Golf/Scirocco’s drivetrain. Ever since then VW’s have been as bad as Audis. It is worth noting that the last fuel injected air cooled cars were plenty problematic, so maybe the good VW engineers were long gone by the time the Golf was conceived.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Because you can’t build an emissions compliant air-cooled engine.
       
      Well not in a car anyway.  There are plenty of scooter dealers in the United States who would be happy to sell you an EPA/CARB certified air cooled scooter.  (150cc to 200cc seems to be the limit on displacement for air cooled compliance.)

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Porsche made emissions compliant 911s with air cooled engines for another 20 years after VW gave up. Europe didn’t care about emissions at all until the late ’80s anyway. The pending regulations that saw Porsche develop water cooled 928s and 924s was about ‘drive by’ noise regulations. Water cooled cars are quieter and front engined cars separate combustion, accessory, fan, and valvetrain noises from tail pipe noises.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      He was refering to the build quality, not the configuration.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      @ Steve-

      Yes, I was.  It’s certainly true that Porsche continued to build air-cooled engines that met US emissions compliance for another 10 years or so.  But, the problem with air-cooled engines is that it’s simply impossible to maintin cylinder temperatures within a narrow range, which makes controlling all of the other parameters required for emissions suppression that much harder.  And, the fact is that those VW Beetles and “air-cooled” Porsches were, in reality, oil-cooled engines.  Lube oil was used as a cooling fluid (sort of), with a temperature-activated oil coooler in the airflow of the fan.  I purchased an oil temperature gauge as part of modification of the ’70 Karmann Ghia that I once owned.  Typical summertime oil temperatures were 270 degrees and sometimes would go up to 300 degrees.  Owners were advised not to use multigrade oil in their VWs.  I used 40-weight in summer; 30-weight in winter when I lived in Houston.  I should have purchased an auxiilary oil cooler and filter kit for my car, but I sold it.

  • avatar
    LeeK

    My wife’s 2007 and 2010 GTIs have been flawless.
    A 2008 R32 however, required seven trips to the dealer for a Check Engine Light that ultimately couldn’t be cleared, despite a VW recall of all 5000 US R32 for a faulty evaporator purge valve (N-80).  It was finally dumped for a CP0 328i because we couldn’t stand it any longer.
     
    I still have a positive image of the brand and think that the Mark V Golf/Jetta helped VW climb out of the hole created by the disastrous Mark IV series with their electronic gremlins.  The new Touareg also appears to improve on the absolutely terrible quality of the first version.  VW is getting better, slowly, but the latest Consumer Reports brand quality figures still have them ranked pretty low, matched with Mercedes and slightly lower than BMW.  All the German brands remain in the bottom half of the rankings, only bottomed by lowly Chrysler.

  • avatar
    vvk

    What I cannot reconcile is why VW has stellar quality reputation all around the world if it’s so terribly unreliable. Europeans in particular always use VW as a benchmark for quality, practicality, resale value, handling, steering, etc. Honda and Toyota lag far behind.
     
    Why such drastic difference in image?

  • avatar
    highrpm

    @jmo and others with favorable opinions of VW,
    I frequent the wholesale auction lots, althought not on the same scale as Mr. Lang.  In my experience, these trade-ins show up at the wholesale auction because they have a ton of miles or they have a ton of problems. 

    Hondas and Toyotas are rare, and they usually show up only when they have a lot of miles or body damage / trashed interiors.  They rarely have any mechanical issues.
    VWs and Audis show up frequently at the auction.  Most of them look great but have major problems.  Noisy, sludged motors.  Strange driveline noises.  ABS problems.  Other electricial issues.  These are not high mileage cars.  If you know your way around these cars, then you can fix a lot of these problems cheaply (for example there’s a cheap fix for the ABS warning lights online).  But I always cringe at the thought of having to deal with such a temperamental machine as my daily driver.

     

     
     

  • avatar
    jeremie

    Most of the gripes I’m reading here are anecdotal, but the sheer volume of these complaints is staggering. As for me, I’ve had two siblings own Volkswagens, and they were total crap.

  • avatar
    cfclark

    VW/Audi owners are the only people I can ever remember saying, in the same conversation mind you, “I’d never have anything else” about their cars, and then proceed moments later to describe their latest four-figure unexpected repair bill. I must be missing something.

  • avatar
    tallnikita

    I had a 1995 Golf on lease for about 50K miles.  Not a single problem and that car went through a lot including moving my furniture, going up Mt. Washington and hiting 100mph+ on several highways.  When the lease ran out, and seeing that to get anything more decent than a basic Golf in VW would cost me almost as much as BMW (back then they had Passats listed at 30K+), and wanting to buy instead of lease, I bought Civic DX hatchback.  In those days, 2000, VW Jettas with 2.0l became famous for dying without reason on random occasions for unreplicated reasons.  Always admired VW’s designs since then and really like the Golf with its 2.5 liter but don’t think I’d buy one.

  • avatar

    Wow!  Just uttering the name VW brings out everyone in the wood work.  It seems every car “guy” has had a VW experience.  Which is part of the issue — VW appeals to “car” people because, up until recently, they managed to put together the feeling and driving experience of quality with a price that normal folks could afford without a second mortgage.  The new Jetta makes me wonder if VW has learned all the wrong lessons from the past decade by stripping its volume leader of everything that made the car unique.
     
    So, I too have a VW story.  We bought a 2000 Passat 1.8T wagon, no options and with the 5 speed manual.  My first son was 6 months old and we knew we needed space.  Our ’98 Civic was out of breath and too cramped for comfort.  I cannot tell you how much I loved that car.  Until it got totaled three years ago, it gave us precious little to complain about.  Maybe I was one of the lucky ones, but it was my first new car purchase and it never gave me trouble — no sludge, coils or weird electro gremlins in 8 years of ownership and 90K miles.
     
    The funny thing is, with kid #2, we needed something bigger — and VW had nothing for us when we looked in 2006.  We ended up with one of the last Mazda MPVs — it had the space we needed with a modicum of driving pleasure.  I think Mazdas fit some of the VW bill — solid driving dynamics at a fair price.  And better overall reliability.
     
    So, will VW grow in the US or shrink?  If it tries to out Toyonda the originals, it loses its reason to be.  If it provides that extra value in terms of build quality and driving dynamics, people will pay.  Better to focus on overall reliability and service experience than to sell new Jettas with early 90’s era technology just to compete on price.  I’m rooting for them — might even buy another one someday.  A world without VWs would be a boring one,

  • avatar
    TOTitan

    I bought a new Rabbit for my daughter in 08. It has never had any problems or malfunctions that have been noted here…not even a taillight bulb. It has been back to the dealer once for a recall regarding a fuel line routing issue, and they had had the car for about an hour. Maybe we are just lucky. I don’t know if it makes a difference or not, but our car was built in Germany.
    The reason people keep buying VW’s is for the way they drive and handle. There isn’t another car in the Rabbit/Golf class that even comes close in the way the car actually feels on the road. I hadn’t owned a VW since 1973 (a 68 squareback), but when shopping for a new car for my kid that was under 20K, I soon found that nothing else even came close in standard content and driving dynamics. Reading all of the above makes me a little nervous, so hopefully our good luck will stay.

    • 0 avatar
      fincar1

      If I was the kind of guy who buys a new car every year or two, I might take a flier on something from VW, as good handling makes up for a lot of sins afaic. I put up with a pos 1971 Opel 1900 for way longer than I would have if it didn’t handle so well…and, come to think of it, a pos Rover 2000 too. But nowadays I keep a car for a long time, so VW’s out.

  • avatar
    tpj527

    I guess I can be counted among the lucky/stupid VW owners.
    I traded a manual 94 Integra with 250,000 for a manual 02 Jetta GLS with the 1.8T that was just off lease and that I shopped around for. Used it to commute between Lancaster and Philly for two years, and I also drove it to Pittsburgh every other weekend.
    Kept up the maintenance; had three recalls that replaced things before they failed.  It has never left me stranded; it has never acted up; it’s now around 185,000 miles with the original turbo and clutch, and I am starting to do major wear item replacements myself before they fail, in the hopes of keeping it at least few more years as an occasional driver – it’s paid for, I know it inside and out, gas mileage is good, there is a wealth of knowledge on the Internet on repairs and issues, a whole lot of parts sources (new, used, OEM, aftermarket) and it is fun to drive.  And I still like the look.

  • avatar
    Ubermensch

    You can add me to the growing chorus of former VW owners who jumped ship, Subaru in my case.  My 2001 VW Passat 1.8T Wagon had most of ususal issues, coil packs, MAF, electrical issues, bulbs, control arms, ABS, shocks, rattles, etc…  Funny thing is, my replacement, a 2006 Subaru Legacy 2.5i wagon drives better than the Passat ever did.  So much for superior German driving dynamics.  However, I am a glutton for punishment as I am currently looking at replacing it with a CPO BMW 328i Wagon.  In my defense, the reliability data looks better on this model than any of the VWs.  Plus, you are getting legitimately superior driving dynamics over the Japanese competition, something I don’t think can be said for most of the current VW models.

  • avatar
    cackalacka

    Count me in as a recent newcomer and glutton. Lifetime of Japanese car ownership; when my ’90s Honda fell apart last summer I had intended to replace it with another Honda.
     
    Problem being apart from the Fit, Honda apparently doesn’t make Hondas anymore.
     
    Got a sweet deal on the ’10 GTI last summer. Apart from the Mini, nothing I test drove could hold a candle to driving dynamics.
     
    I’m well aware of what CR/TrueDelta is saying so I sprung for the extended warranty.

  • avatar
    catbert430

    My own 2002 Passat was traded on a 2008 Accord.
    I loved the Passat, but was constantly replacing expensive parts that failed too early.  I never replaced a taillight bulb, but the headlight bulbs never lasted more than a year.

    Is the Honda as lovable?  Not really, but the top of the line Accord was less money than the most basic Passat and I haven’t spent a nickel on repairs in 2.5 years.

  • avatar
    monkeyodeath

    I think VW sales were down because the company positioned itself awkwardly in the market.

    A VW was too expensive to be seen as a really affordable car, too unreliable to be considered sensible, and not really prestigious enough of a brand to make the extra cost of buying and maintaining one worth it.

    People I’ve known who have owned VW’s in the past 10 years were either a)just dyed-in-the-wool VW people or b) fell in love with the styling and bought one against everyone’s else’s best advice (it’s worth mentioning that, for whatever reason, VW styling seems to really connect with women). For everyone else, it just seemed like there were lots of other cars that offered better bang for the buck, or enough prestige to make the poor reliability seem worth it.

    And consider that the economy was by and large booming the past decade. I think a lot of people who might have otherwise been interested in a VW instead decide to splurge on a “real” luxury brand. A BMW might be as much of a pain in the ass to maintain as a VW, but at the end of the day, a VW is just a VW, and doesn’t seem as worth pouring money into as much as a “high-end” vehicle.

    I think this explains the uptick in the company’s sales as of late, too. I think there are a lot of people in this economy who can’t swing a 3-series or Audi, but want a fun car with the cachet of “German engineering”.

  • avatar
    nrd515

    A friend of mine had a horrible VW Rabbit when he was just out of high school, and 35 years later, he decided to go buy a 2009 VW Jetta to relive the horrors of that car. He forgot the joys of brake and electrical issues, and I guess he wanted them back again. The dealer, who isn’t known for being exactly customer friendly (I bought two vehicles from them, but they finally annoyed me to the point I will never come back), has actually tried to help solve the many problems the car has, but it’s looking like it’s going to be traded in on something that actually has working brake lights, and more importantly, working brakes!

  • avatar
    jeffzekas

    Okay, Mr Lang– everyone has registered their angst… so, tell us: where DID all the VW owners go?

  • avatar
    asummers

    I currently own a 2004 VW Phaeton, which I bought almost exactly 2 years ago.  I went in having done my due diligence.  The first Phaeton I looked at had a complete service history.. By that I mean an inch-thick stack of service receipts in the glove box, before 65K miles.  That scared me a little, but the vibration coming from the right front scared me more.  Maybe it was an out-of-balance tire, maybe it was a few thousand in suspension work.
    The second Phaeton I looked at (well, didn’t really look at – bought it sight unseen) was owned by a well-respected enthusiast, and the car was vouched-for by the moderator of a popular VW forum.  The only thing that ever went wrong with it in 85K was replacement of the rear wheel bearings at 71K.  All maintenance was done to the VW schedule including timing belt.  The car now has 110K miles on it, and has been perfect, and still is perfect.  Original brakes, Original batteries, original everything.  Original coil packs.  Even though there is a recall out for the coil packs I haven’t bothered.  Never had a misfire.
    I don’t understand how one car can be so perfect, and the next car off the assembly line can be so horrible.  Is it an electrical problem that routes its way through the car and destroys systems?  This is a recurring theme with VW owners I talk to.  Some are wonderful, others of the same model fall apart.  Owners of the good cars blame the bad ones on poor maintenance, but I know that’s not always true.

    For anyone who hasn’t seen where the Phaeton and Bentley Continental are made, check out

    http://forums.vwvortex.com/showthread.php?1837641-A-Photo-Tour-of-the-Transparent-Factory-in-Dresden&highlight=dresden+factory

    How can vehicles made on an assembly line like this vary in quality so much?

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