By on November 12, 2015


Babies are tough. Bosses can be tougher. But the indisputable boot camp of bare knuckled stress inducers has to be a young dog that hasn’t been given the care, love, and discipline it needs and deserves.

Not even the Volkswagen Passat W8 I bought last year can compare to the ball busting doled out by an 8-month-old female boxer named Luna, a hyper-cute animal that ruthlessly channeled all of my inner Cesar Millan this past weekend, and defecated it right on the carpet.

On Monday morning, I decided to get the hell away from Luna and take my wife out for a drive.

In the car business, a drive means something different than the usual wandering down winding roads leading you to new places, faces and foods. Instead, it means you just bought a Volkswagen or some other maintenance intensive car — like a Saab or an older BMW — that requires the eye of a specialist.

This particular drive came in the form of transporting a 2008 Volkswagen Passat VR6 that cost me $3,000 plus a $160 seller’s fee at the auction.


It was a rare bird. The Passat had 108,000 miles, which is reasonable, and no check engine light — a feature that usually comes standard at these auction sales. It even had a good maintenance history.

I did my daily “hold” strategy where I make a fist to the auctioneer which means “Keep me at the price you’re asking for!” He started at $5,000, went down to $4,000, then $3,000, and everyone was anticipating a bottoming out of the bid right around $2,000 or $2,500.


I hooked the bid at $3,000. While everyone sat on their heels waiting for a lower bid, the hammer came down hard and that was that. I won for once, which was great because I managed to not buy at least a dozen other cars that afternoon.

This particular Volkswagen actually went for less money than the cheap car that came before it. A 2007 Toyota Corolla CE with 20,000 more hard riding miles, roll ’em up windows, and enough scratches and scrapes to make me think twice about wholesaling it to another dealership.

Eight years ago, the Passat VR6 was worth about $38,000. At the same time, the Corolla was worth only about $13,000. Now, Volkswagen has apparently become the Saab of the modern day world of old cars, as they hold no value once they reach eight years old.

And that serves be just great as my wife has done a direct about face from her compact car roots and fell completely in love with this larger, sporty Passat.

If you’re okay with a 2.5-liter five cylinder or, in this case, a VR6 engine, you can get an older Volkswagen for a ridiculous fraction of what was the case only six months ago. This is not a bad time to be a keeper of an unpopular car, and this high-end Passat most definitely fits that bill.

That’s exactly where the diesel hurt is going folks — older Volkswagens. An ’06 Beetle with leather and low miles would have retailed for close to $6,000 a few months ago. A couple of weeks ago, I sold it for only $4,200. Thankfully, I only had $2,200 invested in it. So long as this Volkswagen wave keeps going, I’ll be trying to buy ’em cheap and stick with the better powertrains.


That Passat needed about a half dozen minor items that added up to a visit to a local Volkswagen hobbyist. His name is Dan, but I always call him Uh-huh, because that’s pretty much all I can say to him every time he tells me something remarkably complex about these vehicles.

“Steve, this VW has a control module hidden inside the trunk that’s connected to a nebulizer which helps make the EGR breathe. Now, if anyone ever puts in bad gas or plays Celine Dion on the radio, that EGR will start plugging up and your engine will sound like a 20-year-old Civic with a shitcan muffler. Long story short, I cleaned the EGR and removed light rock from the radio. No charge!”


When I started out in the auctioneering side of the business, I learned one golden rule about cars that has always stayed close to my heart: Always rely on experts.

If you ever get burnt, at least it came from someone who knew what he was actually doing. In Dan’s case, he is the smartest and most ethical guy I have dealt with in this business, and I’ll keep on saying that so long as the blinker fluid on these Volkswagens is topped up and regularly changed.

Later that day, I had an insurance adjuster come and visit me; another expert who had lived this business for a long time. A lady had smacked into the back of my wife’s 2002 Prius, which has now experienced three accidents in three years.


At this point, the Prius looks like it got into a fight — and lost. She loves the car, but there have been way too many close calls for me to keep it in the family fleet. And with 231,000 miles on it, I’m frankly more interested in getting a check cut instead of keeping it.

The third time’s always the charm. As soon as the Prius got hit, it blared forth a piercing beeping sound on the inside, along with what Prius owners now know as the orange exclamation point of death. It turned out that this big “!” was attributable to the braking system instead of the big battery. That was the good news.

The bad news, for all of us actually, was that cars like this one from the Y2K era are on borrowed time due to all the texters, talkers, and gawkers that now occupy our roads. My wife’s love for the Prius had been shaken to the core already. On the way back from dropping off the Passat, it was completely dissolved: A 10-year-old Camry going about 40 mph blasted right through a red light and came within a couple of feet from hitting us cross side. After it evaded us, it spun a 180, trailed to the right, and smacked right into a crosswalk pole.

As I watched the Camry’s wheel cover roll along to the middle of the road, I realized the moment had come. That Prius on our driveway needed to go, STAT! I called 911. Waited for the police and paramedics, and drove back home where I got to meet an insurance adjuster who offered me two surprises.

The first was that he read my articles and already knew who I was, and the second…


A car that I never knew existed: a 2004 Ford Focus Saleen N20.

What struck me was not the hen’s tooth rarity of this car. It was the passion of the owner. This guy told me about every single major component of this Focus: engine, clutch, brakes, suspension, the nitrous system, everything. This Saleen lasted all of two years in the marketplace, but the owner’s love for this beautiful ride will definitely endure well beyond that brief time.

I used to be this passionate about everything, whether it was a 1990 Ford Mustang Police Interceptor that had been heavily modified by the local sheriff, a shitbox 1987 Volvo wagon I bought with a bale full of hay inside, or a 1988 Toyota Celica All-Trac that had once been a play mule for Toyota engineers. I used to have an enduring love for all things automotive that made me learn everything I possibly could about each machine.

I enjoyed each and every single one of them, and now I need a unique ride that will again spark that interest. My wife has found a sporty and luxurious ride for the next year or so. I’m ready to find mine. Any suggestions?

Oh, and where should Luna go?

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48 Comments on “Hammer Time: How a Smelly Dog Helped Me Buy a Volkswagen...”

  • avatar

    I had Passat like this, 2006 model purchased on the first day it became available in States. Traded in my ’03 Golf for it; one of the bigger mistakes i’ve made. Getting rid of Golf which was purchased new and never gave me any issues in 40K miles, on a car that was complete redesign in the first year of production…. While Passat had more power and space, that’s where the advantages ended. Nothing like valeting your car at the nice hotel, and watching valet drive your car away while it makes horrible clunking noises (and still with dealer tag on). I owned that Passat for all of 1 year before deciding it wasn’t for me…

  • avatar

    Luna? As in Princess Luna?

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      What’s amazing, and I’ll swear on a big holy book about this, is that my kids named Luna and she just happened to have a tag on her neck with that name before they even saw it.

      It was meant to be!

  • avatar

    Do you see this affecting new car/lease pricing, as well? VW is advertising 0/0/0 lease deals for the low $200s for Jetta and $279 for Tiguan. Should there be an expectation of better deals to come? I’d be tempted to consider a low lease rate on a manual trans base Golf…

  • avatar

    Luna , as in barking at the moon ? .

    Good catch on the VW Steve , I hope you have good use out of it .


  • avatar

    I am on the other side of the VW fiasco. We bought my wife’s 07 Rabbit 2.5 in 2013 and she will be due to replace it in a year or two. I don’t know if VW will even exist by then.

    • 0 avatar
      dash riprock

      VW will be around in one form or another. If you thought that the US government was protective about its auto industry, just wait to see how far Germany will go.

  • avatar

    Holy depreciation! $3k…wow. Recently I sold my 2010 4-cyl loaded Malibu ($28k sticker when new) with 93k miles on it to a DEALER for $9k. Two model years newer and 15k less miles, but $10k less new and a 4-cyl…and a Chevy.

    • 0 avatar
      dash riprock

      Just my sheer curiosity makes me ask what was the purchase price? In my own little world I calculate depreciation based on purchase not msrp


      • 0 avatar

        For me, sticker on the Malibu was $28,600, purchase was $22,800. Not sure what purchase on the VW would be, but you could buy the Malibu at a 20% discount off sticker at the time

        • 0 avatar
          dash riprock

          So it cost you $230 a month in depreciation assuming you owned it for the full 5 years. Not horrible in my mind. As a comparison, our Prius V, with roughly 1/3 less miles per month, has depreciated at a rate of $448 per month($13,000) after 29 months.

          Know that they future depreciation will bring the average down for the Prius and I am comparing the black book average to what was paid at the dealer.

          Retail on the Prius was $32,300ish and we paid $30,000

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      VW depreciation is steep, but individual experiences will vary. KBB (for whatever it’s worth) lists the trade-in value of this year & trim Passat with 108000 miles in midrange “good” condition as $5000. The same value for a 2008 Malibu 4-cyl LTZ is…$5000.

      An Accord EX-L 4-cyl? $6800.
      With V6? $7300.

      I’d enjoy driving the Passat more. But ownership is another issue entirely and I don’t have a Mr. Uh-huh in my circle.

  • avatar

    Luna just needs lots of exercise and some explaining what’s cool and what’s not. Your wife just needs the F-250 4X4 regular cab with a 12 inch lift and Stock wheels/tires. I mean if she’s gonna keep putting herself in harm’s way, might as well they can see her from a good block away. Then she can take the dog with her everywhere. Dogs love trucks! No behave, no truck ride!!

    But there’s not much that’s interesting in cars made this century. Trucks on the other hand…

  • avatar

    I need a meme photo.

    PASSAT FROM 2008

    -seats pic-


    That model in particular has just not aged well. And I think they’re cheap as old cars because if you’re going to money pit your way down used car lane, you may as well get an Audi. It’ll require the same sorts of fixes but have a much nicer interior and a better engine and badge.

    I have never heard of a Saleen Focus before. While it is indeed rare, I’d never let anyone photograph my car in such a disgusting interior condition. Much less use said photos for publication.

    Final thought: Which is more rare, Saleen Focus or Explorer?

    • 0 avatar

      It’s really close on which Saleen Ford is more rare. I think the Explorer is more rare by production numbers (265 Explorers to 288 Focii). God knows how many of each are out there now. At least 20 Saleen Explorers were reserved for Ford or Saleen employees, so that made availability even lower.

      • 0 avatar

        I have actually seen a Saleen Explorer, once. It was around May or June of 2011. I had a “What’s goin on here?” moment while driving. I’m sure I took a phone pic which is long gone. They aren’t something you really could miss on the road though. So much white!

        • 0 avatar

          The Saleen Explorer is better than the Saleen Focus. At least you could get a supercharged 5.0L in the Explorer. The Saleen Focus was all show and no go. The SVT Focus was way better.

          • 0 avatar

            The explorer was a floppy truck that got improved. The focus was a sharp small car that got improved. Both were good but very different. One is a dumped truck, the other a mini road racer. Better is your perception.

          • 0 avatar

            Gotta ask about 1st-Gen U.S. Foci: what was up with the TURN SIGNALS in those things?! They were loud enough to wake the dead!

  • avatar

    Are you saying that there’s something about your Prius that makes it somehow magically attract accidents, thus you need to get rid of it, or are you saying that cars from the early 2000s somehow magically attract accidents?

    And it also appears that your wife believes this too?

    That’s a really weird sense of cause and effect. If you meant “the car is getting pretty beat up and it’s got a lot of miles on it so I don’t think it’s worth putting any more money into” then why didn’t you say that?

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      I’m guessing that being in a serious near-miss causes one to think of the safety of the car you are in. I’d rather get hit in a Passat than a first-gen Prius.

      • 0 avatar

        A friend of mine used to have a 2.0T Passat of the same generation as the one in this article. He was bored to death with it, and was thinking about selling it, before he got t-boned, at the rear passenger door, by an F150 running a red light at 30-40 mph.

        The outer door skin caved in, the rear suspension bent, and I’m fairly certain the b-pillar was tweaked too. It looked bad from outside, but from inside, you’d have been hard pressed to tell the car had been in an accident, deployed airbag aside. Total intrusion from the impact was a couple inches at most, at sitting elbow level.

        Not sure how a Prius would look in the same impact, but I would certainly vouch for the Passat’s safety in this case.

  • avatar

    That Saleen Focus is a survivor for sure but damn rough. I prefer the SVT which came with actual improvements to the engine, suspension, brakes, transmission, tires, etc… if I recall correctly, the Saleen was really just a body kit and a center exhaust plopped onto a standard ZX-3.

  • avatar

    I loved our older Passat wagon with the VR6 and 5MT. I’m sure your wife will enjoy hers for quite awhile.

    Luna will be great. As DenverMike noted, she just needs to learn from you what is cool and what is not. Three, maybe four, indoor mistakes will probably cover it. Remember she’s a pup, with the attention span of a gnat. Firm, but QUICK reprimands, followed by love. No rocket science required.

  • avatar

    Love your writing. Good luck with the VW. As you know, whenever the question arises “what car should I get?” The answer is always Miata!

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      I love it! Not that I like to spread around other wayward writings. But I did write about an amazing Miata a few years back.


  • avatar

    “What car should I get”…

    I don’t know now, but in 2 years or so I have (well, my wife has) the perfect car for you:

    A 2012 Volvo C70 Inscription! Your review of same inspired the purchase, so you’ll get first dibs on this beauty. Not a scratch, dealer serviced, and currently about 38K miles.

    The best part? You’ll never see another one on the road. As you know, only 500 were imported to North America.

    Talk to you when it’s time, but thank you again!

  • avatar

    Is that a Scion iM in your driveway? How is it?

  • avatar

    “Any suggestions?”

    2003+ Jaguar XJ8. The old-look XJ is the most beautiful sedan ever and your own LT quality index is pretty keen on them.

  • avatar

    NO car suggestions, Steve, but stay away from Cesar Millan. He’s the dog equivalent of the behaviorists of the first half of the 20th century who insisted that babies and small children didn’t need loving, and should get a bare minimum of attention.

  • avatar

    Ironic… One of our lab techs just got rid of a Passat exactly like this one… She was always gushing on and on about what a great car and how they never really had any major problems (other than apparently the same EGR thing yours faced), but once it hit 110k it ended up costing them like 8 grand in engine swap, then a fan let go bunch of other stuff blew up so now she has a Kia CUV. I smirked…

  • avatar

    Steve, I think what gets that car passion going, at least for me, is the thought of getting hands on the machinery and making it better with my own effort, and then having something truly unique and special after that effort is expended. My skills are limited and my workspace even more so, but despite those limitations I really like to make my cars better. Often that is cosmetic polish — perfecting finish and rubber, restoring sad leather, getting the natural shine back after ham-fisted detailing with bad products, and so on. Sometimes it’s DIY projects within the scope of my skills, such as upgrading or replacing electrical systems (for instance, I’ve already bought all of the needed parts to upgrade my L-model Legend to automatic climate control, which I’ll do when I have time). Sometimes it can even be professionally done projects if I feel they make the car better in a way that reflects my thinking. I get excited about cars when I can imagine doing those things and loving the result.

    So… what old cars make you do a double-take? What do you always regret passing up at an auction even when the bids are ridiculously too high? What would reward an investment of time with pride? I could suggest neat old cars but I can’t tell you whether they answer those questions for you.

  • avatar
    George B

    Steve, I’d be curious if there are any cars that you enjoy that would also be excellent as a movie extra.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      Always depends on the movie. I would say a vehicle with a similar look over a long period of time would be optimal. A 1973 thru 1987 Chevy truck comes to mind. The Jeep Cherokee and Volvo wagons from the same eras can also make the list.

  • avatar

    Luna should go to the same place you took the Passat; to see a specialist. You, your wife, and the dog your kids named need to be visiting a (real, not TV) trainer. About the car… Lexus SUV? They top your reliability survey, last forever, are crash worthy, will be around long enough to learn everything about… I just don’t think you’ll ever love one. What car itch have you never scratched?

  • avatar

    Nice article. I’ve been coughing up more recently but I’ve got a long history with bargain shit boxes. That passat could be the deal of the century but it sounds like you’re aware of the potential for eye watering costs. I’d be setting aside a fair maintenance reserve every month. Or stashing some cash in the car for a cab for when (if) it grinds to an expensive halt. Such solid, well built cars. But such a bizarre pity about the diesel thing.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      I feel it’s a greater pity that VW never quite got their marketing straight when it came to the higher end of the market.

      The Passat VR6 is more expensive than the A4 of the same model year. The VW got the stronger powertrain. The Audi got the better look.

      It’s almost as if these two brands are re-enacting the Buick /Cadillac model lines of the early 90s.

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