Crapwagon Outtake: 2003 Volkswagen Passat W8 4Motion

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn

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.

Chris Tonn
Chris Tonn

Some enthusiasts say they were born with gasoline in their veins. Chris Tonn, on the other hand, had rust flakes in his eyes nearly since birth. Living in salty Ohio and being hopelessly addicted to vintage British and Japanese steel will do that to you. His work has appeared in eBay Motors, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars, Reader's Digest, AutoGuide, Family Handyman, and Jalopnik. He is a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, and he's currently looking for the safety glasses he just set down somewhere.

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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.

  • Ted Lulis Head gaskets and Toyota putting my kids through college👍️
  • Leonard Ostrander Plants don't unionize. People do, and yes, of course the workers should organize.
  • Jalop1991 Here's something EVangelists don't want to talk about, and why range is important: battery warranties, by industry standard, specify that nothing's wrong with the battery, and they won't replace it, as long as it is able to carry 70% or more of its specified capacity.So you need a lot of day 1 capacity so that down the road, when you're at 70% capacity with a "fully functioning, no problem" car, you're not stuck in used Nissan Leaf territory."Nothing to see here, move along."There's also the question of whether any factory battery warranty survives past the original new car owner. So it's prudent of any second owner to ask that question specifically, and absent any direct written warranty, assume that the second and subsequent owners own any battery problems that may arise.And given that the batteries are a HUGE expense, much more so than an ICE, such exposure is equally huge."Nothing to see here, move along."
  • Roger hopkins The car is in Poland??? It does look good tho...
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X The push for EV's is part of the increase in our premiums. Any damage near the battery pack and the car is a total loss.
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