By on January 13, 2012


Aaron writes:

Hi! I’ll try to be concise.

I have a 2003 A4 manual sedan with 78K. I wanted a wagon but couldn’t find one and was in a hurry for wheels. Well, now I found one: 2003, manual, 107K. It’s at a dealer lot. Plus it’s got some desirable performance modifications, including exhaust.

The question: what will the dealer think of a trade? If my mechanic likes it i wouldn’t object to a straight trade, maybe even a (very) little cash from me if the timing belt is new. But are wagons with sticks and rumbly exhaust desirable? What’s it worth relative to mine? It seems like the similarity of the cars (same drivetrain, options, etc) should make this comparison location- and current market- independent.

I’m going to take the car for an inspection tomorrow, and offers may be made thereafter.

Steve Answers:

It depends on the condition and the history.

On the surface you would assume that a wagon with a stick would be a less desirable vehicle. But when it comes to a sporty oriented vehicle, there are plenty of buyers willing to row their own gears and go for the ‘unpopular’ body style.

Unfortunately for you Audi wagons aren’t popular. Just expensive.

When it comes to premium brands like Audi, I always look at condition first. Why? Because when it comes to picky buyers the condition is what sells it. I can convince a buyer to move from a station wagon to a sedan if that vehicle comes with something that most others do not.

Dealer records. A clean car with a perfect history. You may chuckle at all these dealer derived cliches, but the ease of sale and extra cash these models bring is very real in the retail marketplace.

Which brings me to the prior owner for this wagon. Do you know him yet? Do you plan on getting to know him? A thorough inspection will always uncover a few things. But the most important question to consider is, “Why did the guy get rid of his vehicle?”

I would strongly suggest that you try to get in touch with the prior owner and weigh it all in. Many dealers will tell you what you want to hear. But the prior owner can tell you what you need to know.

Good luck!

Sajeev answers:

Steve covered all the dealer angles of this, except for one: modified cars are death for resale and a nightmare on floorplan costs on a normal dealership.  This car is excellent fodder for a specialty tuner/hot rod shop, because they have an appreciation and the patience to wait for the right buyer. I am sure this car is awesome, it sounds like it’d certainly ring my bell. But I will play devil’s advocate for one reason: personal experience.

Even a Hot-Rod Lincoln fanatic like myself was a little put off when a supposedly “mint, granny driven” Lincoln Mark VIII at a local Hyundai lot actually had Flowmaster mufflers upon closer inspection.  Very few grannies want to hear the rumble of “flowbastards” in their ride, no matter how sweet it may sound on a 4-cam Ford V8. It seemed like a proper granny car that was bastardized by a second owner. My gut suggested I didn’t want to be the third owner of such a machine.  Which isn’t totally relevant to your situation, but there’s more.

The mufflers made the other minor flaws (interior trim abuse) a little more worrisome. The Mark VIII I wound up owning was truly stock, had a bona-fide service history (with recent repairs on typical fail points) but had cosmetic issues the flowmaster-Mark did not have…even then, I bought it. I modded it to my tastes and was much happier. And almost 10 years later, I have no regrets. Zero.

So when you combine these things:

  • Station Wagon
  • Old Audi, no warranty (i.e. this isn’t a cash cow like a CamCord, Tacoma, etc)
  • Stick shift
  • Modifications, including a “louder than stock” exhaust

You wind up with a vehicle that’s very hard to shift off a car lot. Odds are you are one of the few people interested in this vehicle.  But, if the car is as cool as you make it sound, the dealer might have you by the short hairs. That is, if you showed any interest in the modifications.

For your sake, I hope you frowned upon those modifications. I also hope the mods don’t imply that the car was abused: many a modified Audi is driven hard, making for a powertrain that’s frightfully expensive proposition to keep running. Clutches, axle shafts, transaxles, you name it! If you haven’t already, be a regular on the forums and get good with tools and service manuals.

My advice? Unless you are totally amazed by how it sits, get a stock one and modify it later.


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18 Comments on “New or Used: Wagon + Stick = Trouble?...”

  • avatar

    I’m actively shopping for manual wagons right now (own a 5-speed Legacy wagon). I’d pay $2 Gs for that. Think about it, it’s almost 10 years old with over 100,000 miles.

  • avatar

    If you like trouble, buy it; if not run from this car as fast and far as you can. It’s a money pit. Whatever price you pay to purchase this car will be dwarfed by the price you pay to keep it running. I’ll bet the dealer acquired this car for less than $750.00. That’s right, total investment by the dealer is less than $750.00.

  • avatar

    What happened to ‘the jump’? The entire article is on the main page.

  • avatar

    I sure love sportwagons, I can see the attraction. I have an Audi 5000 wagon (Avant) and a 1973 Volvo 1800ES.
    However consider this like the desire of a beautiful mistress and the problems it can bring.

    I would believe that when all is said and done that their will be transaction costs and some maintenance costs to get the wagon.
    Use that money and more to upgrade and mildly modify your present lower mileage Audi with known history.

    It will get excited again about your present car.
    For your next purchase when the A4 wears out or when it becomes a money pit, then go for a sportwagon.

    BTW… Here are my two Audis
    Link:[email protected]/6270316159/

  • avatar

    One more question that seems unanswered still is which engine? If it’s the 1.8T(rouble), I’d be very cautious especially with modifications and 100k+ miles.

    Plus, even if you trade in your car, I doubt it’d be straight swap, especially considering how sales taxes are handled in your area.

    • 0 avatar

      Actually the later 1.8T is considered quite reliable by tuners nowadays, and has a ton of support. The gorilla in the room would be an early 2.0T.

      Get the wagon, its way cooler than the A4 sedan and that exhaust means less than nothing reliability wise. If the previous owner had oversized turbos it would be a different story, but those modifications tend to leave a trail. There would be uprated injectors, fuel pump, wastegate, etc… not stuff that you would casually remove prior to resale. This guy probably had a stage 1 upgrade and exhaust, not a big deal.

      Go to the dealer and pretend to like the vehicle but act horrified at the prospect of owning someones project. It fits right in with their belief that tuned cars don’t sell. To them, your current car is worth way more than the stick wagon, you should get cash. Also, the expensive stuff you’ll have to deal with at 110k is likely engine and drivetrain mounts, clutch, and dampers. DO NOT get OEM mounts or dampers, try softer poly or hard rubber mounts instead, and do so for the whole drivetrain, not just the engine.

  • avatar

    I like the idea of sticking with what you have and adding your own mods. Who knows how that wagon has been driven. Also, your sedan has less miles and a more retail friendly body style if you were to ever sell it.

  • avatar

    Please don’t take this wrong, but I’m amazed at the number of ‘driving enthusiasts’ looking for advice for overvalued used-up junk.

  • avatar

    Buying an Audi with more than 100k miles on it is like your piggybank playing Russian roulette with 4 chambers loaded. You already have an old-ish Audi that’s 30k miles to the good compared to the wagon. You’d trade that for extra space. The wagon’s maintenance costs will make the extra cubic feet some of the most expensive air you can buy.

  • avatar

    I’ve searched for years for this exact combination of a wagon body with a manual transmission. This past fall I finally picked up a 1998 Volvo V70 T5M. Yes, it needed some work to be reliable and the body’s beat up a bit (I think it must have been in a hail storm at one time), but I love the combination for fun utility. I’ve got 4 youngsters and with the rear facing third row I’ve got a place for the whole family plus a friend. Even in Atlanta traffic I much prefer to row my own. With my recent maintenance and even with 172k on the clock I should be able to get at least a few years of good use out of her. Wagons with manual transmissions are awesome!

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    If it was me, I’d make the money go the other direction. I.e. “I’ll take that off your hands and give you my ride if you throw in some cash — say, $1000, to boot.”

    Why? This one has significantly more miles than your ride and it’s pretty unlikely that a “tuner” is going to drive the car like grandma. And, of course, there’s the question of the extent of the modifications, how well they were done and the degree to which they compromise the reliability of the engine and drivetrain. I agree that a “sport” exhaust is relatively benign. But anything that increases the HP or torque of this engine is going to add to the punishment of the clutch. Is the clutch original? What’s the cost of replacing the clutch? And even with a bone stock car, there’s a wide range of driving styles — not even necessarily hot foots — some of which will materially shorten clutch life. So I would just factor the price of a clutch job into the price of the car.

    And I say this without regard to Audi’s reputation for reliability or lack thereof.

  • avatar

    If this is the car you really want, buy it. Life is too short and it’s only money (assuming you can genuinely afford it). But have it thoroughly checked over by an Audi specialist before you sign on the dotted line.

    My take on this sort of thing is that to the RIGHT buyer, a car like this is worth a lot. But you need to be patient, and you need to advertise to your audience. So hard to tell how some random car lot is going to price the thing.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Put me in the “I’d much rather buy an un-modified used car and then modify it myself” camp. In fact one of my favorites is to slowly modify the car as things break. Exahust need replaced? Time for a performace one. Shocks need replaced? Time for an upgrade and maybe more (sway bars, ect.) That is what I’d prefer.

    • 0 avatar
      Brendan McAleer

      This is exactly what I’ve done, and half the time the performance option is nearly the same price as good OEM options.

      A manual Audi wagon sounds like a car that’s been driven by an enthusiast. Probably driven hard, only maybe well-cared for. tick tick tick.

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