Crapwagon Outtake: 2003 Volkswagen Passat W8 4Motion

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
crapwagon outtake 2003 volkswagen passat w8 4motion

The longstanding joke around modern Volkswagens stems from the widespread illumination of the Check Engine Light — CEL, for short. Forums lament the seemingly overwhelming complexity of the modern People’s Car, all the while mocking. The four-cylinder volume models tend to get the bulk of the bashing, but when VW adds valves and cylinder heads, the complexity goes up exponentially.

Certainly, Meatloaf sang of a Mk3 Jetta in his timeless classic “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” even though the Dasher was on the showroom floor when the record hit shelves.


It’s a shame, really. Modern VeeDubs are wonderful driving cars when working right. Jack loved the big Phaeton so much he owned two. This Passat calls to me. $5500 for a midsize, all-wheel-drive wago, with an eight cylinder engine? This dad would love heading to soccer practice in the big VW, especially with a custom exhaust fitted like the one below:

Of course, if I were feeling particularly flush, this thirty-thousand-mile example for $20,000 would be tempting.

Alas, these big, complex engines come with a price. Maintenance is, at best, pricey; at worst, debilitating. Take a look at the timing chain setup. Theoretically, timing chains should require less work/maintenance than a belt, but the plastic tensioners wear. Note that this view is typically right against the firewall, meaning the engine needs to come out.

The newest cars, especially those on the MQB platform, seem much improved. Ditto the oilburners — they don’t seem to be plagued with the problems of petrol-powered Volkswagens. But, every time I’m tempted by the stunning looks of an older VW, I’m reminded of the below flowchart, found on yet another forum.

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  • Mypoint02 Mypoint02 on Jul 24, 2015

    I'm a recovering VAG addict as well. Owned two B5 A4 Quattros: one 1.8T and one 2.8V6. The 1.8T wasn't actually that bad. The issues I had with it were the annoyances like window regulators (replaced all but one), coils, MAF/temp/O2 sensors, etc. I guess it helped that I avoided the sludge monster by only using Mobil-1 and changing it every 5k miles. The 2.8 was worse for me. Much harder to work on, twice the number of sensors failing, and all of the other annoyances that I had with the 1.8T. I can't even imagine what a W8 would be like. Now I have an E39 and E46 (both I6). Cooling system overhauls every 80k miles are considered preventative maintenance, but they have been relatively trouble free otherwise.

  • Manny_c44 Manny_c44 on Jul 24, 2015

    B5.5 in the family just crossed over 200k miles. It burns some oil and the coolant needs topping off every few months but it is still nice to keep in the high revs, nice whistle and strong pull. Really enjoyable to drive even at 13 years old.

  • Jon This does not seem like anything new for Oxford. In my one visit to England 10 years ago I received a random bill from the rental car agency for a ticket long after I had come home. I was driving in Oxford, made a wrong turn, and needed to turn around. The street ended at a cross street so the only way to do so was to cross over a "bus gate" which was just some lettering painted on the street. I think it was a weekend and there was no traffic, no busses around, etc. I drove over it made my u-turn and drove back down the road I was on. I did not continue on in a bus lane or cause harm or danger to anyone. One of their cameras caught my error and sent a hefty fine. After I received it I did some research and found many folks complaining of the same thing after visits to Oxford.
  • SCE to AUX Probably couldn't afford it - happens all the time.
  • MaintenanceCosts An ugly-a$s Challenger with poor equipment choices and an ugly Dealership Default color combination, not even a manual to redeem it, still no sale.
  • Cha65689852 To drive a car, you need human intelligence, not artificial intelligence.Unfortunately, these days even human brains are turning into mush thanks to addiction to smartphones and social media.
  • Mike1041 A nasty uncomfortable little car. Test drove in 2019 in a search for a single car that would appease two drivers. The compromise was not much better but at least it had decent rear vision and cargo capacity. The 2019 Honda HRV simply was too unforgiving and we ditched after 4 years. Enter the 23 HRV and we have a comfy size.
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