Piston Slap: The Time Value of Automotive Love

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

TTAC Commentator A Caving Ape writes:

I have a 2001 VW Jetta 1.8 with 130,000 miles on it. It has its shortcomings that I can’t fix (front drive, rear legroom), but for the most part it’s a fantastic vehicle for me. But I worry that it’s a time bomb.

I do most of the small/easy maintenance myself, and and happy to pay an independent for stuff I’m not comfortable with (timing belt, front end stuff, clutch when the time comes). This will likely be true with any car I own. I’m very satisfied with the running costs of my car, but from what I can tell I am the only person in the world with a well-functioning early 2000s VW with more than 100,000 miles. This makes me worry that it will crap out on my one day. It’s my only car so this would be very bad.

My question: should I sell it now while there’s nothing wrong with it and I can still get a few grand for it, especially since prices have picked up lately? However that would leave me with (max) 4 grand for a car, plus maybe 3 more I can comfortably part with. But what on earth can I get for $7000 that that I would love as much as my VW, that would also be more reliable? Should I just buy a civic and a motorcycle? Or are all those claims of VWs being crap just a vocal minority, and I’ll be able to keep it going a while longer?

Sajeev Answers

I love those Jettas from a styling and interior perspective, but they are truly crap. Nearly impossible to diagnose MAF sensor issues, bad window regulators, engine sludging (1.8T) even with approved maintenance, and probably a handful of other expensive items found with a second of Google searching. Dig deeper in the forums and I guarantee there’ll be more expenses running up a bar tab that a fully-depreciated Jetta simply cannot pay.

It sucks, because these are truly fun, exciting and beautiful designs. That said, if you devote a large portion of your life to be a 10-year old VW specialist you can make it work. Just be ready for it to consume your life in ways you might never imagine…not that I’d know a damn thing about that. Not one bit.

So I recommend that you sell it, get a Civic and get over the loss of German precision. Or spend much, much more buying a new one with a warranty and enjoy riding the cycle of debt.

Bonus! A Piston Slap Nugget of Wisdom:

Always consider the time value of money in anything you do. For car people, that is aimed squarely at the key(s) in your pocket. Maybe you should do more to spend less in the end, but I suspect that there’s a good reason why so many of us simply must have a new or late model vehicle in their stable. And its not just because we got a great lease deal on a 3-series to impress people.

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

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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2 of 54 comments
  • Dave M. Dave M. on Nov 07, 2011
    Its not like you just bought a Jag with 200K on it’s clock. A Jag with 200k would be the aisle over from the unicorn section.
  • PJ McCombs PJ McCombs on Nov 08, 2011

    I don't have pricing in front of me, but can think of a few characterful alternatives that you might pick up for ~$7K... - Used first-gen Mazda3? They've been around since 2004, the older ones must be cheap. - 2002-2005 Impreza 2.5RS, from back when they felt like Subarus? - 2003-2005 Pontiac Vibe GT/Toyota Matrix XRS with the bonkers 8000RPM 2ZZ? Bizarre cars, but far from bland, least of all when the revs are up. I've got a couple of friends with aging VW products (New Beetles, on the same platform) where the lack of budget for serious 100K+-mileage repairs is really starting to take a toll. Ownership is getting seriously ugly for these folks. It sounds like you've beat the odds--sell it while it's still worth something and it hasn't eaten your funds for a replacement.

  • William I feel very sorry for those who attempt to use an attack on a product as a way to deprecate an individual whose politics they disagree with. They delude themselves and mislead others.
  • Arthur Dailey Have to admit that I love that interior colour. And also like the upholstery on the seats and the inside of the door panels. And when was the last time you saw a door hanging coffee cup holder? Some here probably didn't know that such a device existed.
  • Buickman this is about cars. I miss Robert.
  • 28-Cars-Later Can we end debt slavery next? Its getting to the point where its no longer voluntary.
  • Carson D Honda and Toyota still make the best American cars.