By on March 29, 2016

 

passat wagon. image: VW

Peter writes:

Sajeev,

My daily driver is a 2004 Volkswagen Passat Wagon 1.8T M/T, purchased new, now with 147,000 miles on the clock. Despite the legends about the poor reliability of this vehicle, it’s been good to me. (By this point, they had worked out both the sludge and coil pack problems.)

My concern is its handling: when this vehicle was released, it pretty much took all the COTY awards … Car and Driver, Edmunds, even Consumer Reports had it as their top pick for years until the coil pack problems became clear. The reviews for the thing all talked about how great it handled.

Well, after 12 years and 147k miles, my car is worn and due for a lot of maintenance: timing belt, tires, and replacement of sagging cloth interior bits with junkyard leather bits in decent condition.

Realizing this, yesterday I took three potential replacements for a test drive — the Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen (lots of cash on the hood now for that one), the Subaru Outback, and the Mazda CX-5. Frankly, I had trouble telling the difference between them because all three felt so much better than my B5.

So either standards are so much better now that even my “great” B5, which was originally released nearly 20 years ago, just isn’t even decent by modern standards, or something is seriously worn out on my car. It just feels like a sloppy mess over anything but pristine pavement; no better than my wife’s 2006 Toyota Solara Convertible.

The corners pass the “bounce test” for worn out shocks, and the control arms don’t seem to give when I wiggle them while in the air. Is the chassis just worn out, or is there an unhappy medium between new and “safety hazard” that leads to such a sad feel?

While all the pending maintenance more than adds up over the sad trade in value of the car, the total is still a fraction of the price of a replacement vehicle. I know its engine has been properly cared for, and I drive it gently, so it should have plenty of life left assuming I can stand to drive the thing. How likely is it that dropping $1,000-ish on new control arms, shocks, mounts, tires, (springs?), etc., will tighten things up? I’d hate to spend that cash and discover that it was still a sloppy mess compared to a new car.

Sajeev answers:

I promise you that a suspension rebuild “will tighten things up” immensely, especially if you experience roads similar to what this journo saw when he got a Corvette press car. Even trucks with beefy suspensions get sloppy, but anything finely honed for tight handling gets punished after 10+ years and 100,000+ miles. I doubt the chassis is severely affected, but there are upgrades if so inclined. I’d jump on it.

I’m also kinda shocked (sorry) the shocks passed the bounce test: if they are original, they’re toast by now. What’s left of the gas/fluid inside has likely turned into something resembling molasses.

The $64,000 question is, will all this single-subsystem restoration be enough to wanna keep a B5 Passat, considering the lures of newer vehicles? Especially those deeply discounted VW products?

No way I can answer that for you.

[Image: Volkswagen]

Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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83 Comments on “Piston Slap: A Suspension Rebuild to Save the B5 Passat Wagon?...”


  • avatar
    MBella

    The bounce test is not the best way to test shocks. You will be surprised by how much handling improves with new ones. I wish they would just set a service interval for shocks. Once you replace everything your car will handle like brand new. Just remember to by Lemforder chassis parts and Sachs shocks if you want to keep the durability of the factory parts. Also replace your sway bar bushings and endlinks. Inner and outer tie-rod ends might also be a good idea at this point.

  • avatar
    heavy handle

    I like these cars, so I vote yes. Struts, strut mounts, control arms, motor mounts, control arms. Use good quality or original parts, because the cheap stuff will be worse than your 12 year old parts within the year.

    I assume you know a reputable VW specialist already?

    You can do this cheap if you take care sourcing parts. Your shop will cut you a deal if you do it all at once and let them schedule the job.

  • avatar
    Ubermensch

    I owned a 2001 B5 Passat 1.8T and I would hesitate to put much money into one with that many miles. I know you haven’t had many issues but I didn’t for the first half of my ownership either. I found that the ride handling balance was good for the time but the next generation of cars quickly caught up and eclipsed the B5. The 2006 Legacy wagon that I replaced the B5 with handled much better and the steering feel was worlds better. The stock dampers in the B5 seemed to wear out pretty quickly and mine ate control arm bushings which can’t be replaced other than by replacing the entire arm. That’s the downside to having that complex multi-link front suspension(4 arms and 8 bushings per side). Your car is a 2004, but it’s chassis dates back to the late 90’s and is very outdated by today’s standards.

  • avatar

    Aren’t we talking about spending more than what the car is worth fixed? Maybe double?

    I wouldn’t do it. I just scrapped a car that I did something similar too that got totaled out on the interstate due to no fault of my own. You can’t get that money back.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      It really depends how you calculate a car’s worth. What can you get for a couple grand with a known history? In most of the US, the answer is absolutely nothing.

      Your argument makes sense if you are flipping cars. If that’s the case, just do the minimum amount of work to make it salable. Don’t even change the oil.

      • 0 avatar
        Fred

        My math is something like, how much would a new car cost vs the cost to keep repairing the existing car. Throw in the hassle ratio and lust for a new car factor and you get the general idea.

  • avatar

    First, I want to reiterate Sajeev’s question and ask whether you will be happy with the car once the suspension is repaired. If so then here are my recommendations.

    The control arms on the Passat were a bit soft from the factory. I have replaced a few that looked to be in spec but comparing them to a new part you could see where they were not fully straight and had some degradation. You can get a decent full control arm kit for about $300 from places like ECS that will allow you to replace all of your control arms, lateral links, and tie rod ends.

    For struts/shocks, I recommend KYB GR-2 for a nice daily driver set. They will set you back about $70 per corner. If you are looking for increased performance, you can pick up Bilstein HD units for about $130 per corner. If you do get the Bilstein’s, I recommend getting some matching springs such as the H&R sport units which are about $200 for a set.

    While you are in there, I also recommend replacing the strut mounts since they degrade over time and run about $15 per corner. Once everything is replaced, you will need an alignment to make it all work.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      Just a word of warning, “increased performance” struts are just plain harsh on anything but the smoothest roads. It’s a mod best left to teenagers and autocrossers.
      Sachs is usually a good brand for OEM comfort and durability. Don’t forget to price-out original units from your dealer, they can be surprisingly reasonable.

  • avatar
    montecarl

    I would get a new Passat….The discount on this cars is unreal.

    • 0 avatar
      1998redwagon

      no new passat wagons available. no new passat manuals available for 2016. if he wanted a wagon and was willing to go smaller than the golf wagon is a possibility as he suggests.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        Wait, there’s not even a manual available? That’s crazy.

        Honestly, the Accord Sport, upcoming 2017 Fusion Sport, or a Mazda6 with some added sound deadening or quieter tires is much closer to a B5 / B5.5 Passat than the current Passat will ever be. The Golf family are VW’s only truly competent cars; other than that, I think the company has completely lost its mojo regarding its U.S. product portfolio. The person above has it right: you buy a Passat because it’s discounted, not because you want to.

  • avatar
    EAF

    Peter; drive it, as is, until the wheels literally fall off. Top off fuel and oil as needed. Invest the THOUSANDS in parts/labor/time/inconvenience towards a new Honda or Toyota product.

    Steer clear of any current Subaru products and always avoid VW (now more than ever!).

    • 0 avatar
      Ubermensch

      I agree on avoiding Subaru. I thought buying a Subaru would be an upgrade in reliability over the VW B5 but I was sorely mistaken. Now at only 60k miles the engine is leaking oil and I have been troubled by annoying squeaks and rattles and CELs.

      • 0 avatar
        amancuso

        I don’t get this attitude. I know plenty of people with Honda/Toyota products that have had issues. 2008 model 4 cyl accord that devoured oil like nobody’s business, a 6 Cyl Odyssey van with a power steering groaning issue the dealer calls “normal”, earlier 2000 Accords with exploding transmissions, BRAND NEW Civics with failing internal engine components (recall) among several others, and that’s just Honda being mentioned. Let’s also not forget the beige factor with Toyota products. The OP said he has gotten 147,000 miles out of his car since new. I’d call that damned good. Just refresh the suspension and go another 147,000 miles.

        • 0 avatar
          EAF

          Factor in units sold and the failure rates are not remotely porportional. Every manufacturer drags their feet on recalls with the exception of Subaru & VW, they don’t issue recalls at all! Combine this with their talent for not honoring warranty and you have one terrible ownership experience in the making.

          147k is damn damn damn impressive, I don’t see them with this type of “high” mileage in NYC. I suspect the manual transmission has a lot to do with it.

          I am in the middle of an ej25 turbo build & swap, it is going into an RS. Low mileage engine that consumes oil & leaks coolant externally. Junk. The frame is covered in rust but the owner thinks it is worth a fortune. Lol Junk. He should have bought an Evo with his “investment.”

          • 0 avatar
            1_purplr

            I would replace the struts and bushings along with the strut mounts, because they do tend to wear quickly. The amount you put into your car is, of course, entirely up to you, however, I would caution you against two things.
            1. The VW you have was riddled with problems, it was riddled with electrical issues,(as is all 90’s euro cars. But at 147K, you have far surpassed the time that those issues would plague you. It typically happens around 50-60k.
            So all in all, you have a pretty good car.
            The new cars of today will make you swoon, as they are supposed to, but as we see with Cell phones and Televisions, they also don’t last as long, I believe the term is “planned obsolescence”,where an item or items will break to force the consumer to upgrade.
            Vehicles today are more computer driven, even the manual transmission ones( if you are so lucky to find one),forcing you to buy the warranties, because they are becoming more specialized technologically, and having been a shade tree mechanic before becoming a licenced one, forcing them underground(obsolete even).
            Let’s not mention the astronomical pricing on some vehicles now.”an F150 at 60k?”
            So you know what you have and what is wrong with it,you technically can fix it, the most you will need computer wise is a competent scanner, and that alone accounts for more than a million dollars.

            2. Technically, you can still work on your own vehicle, and doing the work makes it worth the while by itself. To take your car in, you are looking at high labor rates, not because of the tedious work, but mostly because we can. Not to sound like a a-hole, but our labor rates go up because we (independent mechanics) want to be seen as legitimate, so the quality of our work, us standing behind it and the competition’s labor rate is really all we have to obtain your business.
            If you can replace your struts and shocks( front struts, rear shocks) you will save a ton. The fronts will run you 70-100 each and the rear 45-90 each, your strut mounts will run you about 35 each( high $ side). You have to pay for an alignment, that I will stand by, roughly 100, but then you know that those things are done.

            All in all, it really depends on how much you love your car. I absolutely love mine, at 197k I have put only the bare minimums to it. I have a 98 VW Passat B5 Wagon 1.8 T Manual, and will never give it up for a newer vehicle. Good luck to you!!

        • 0 avatar
          jkross22

          You think his water pump, various hoses, AC compressor/clutch, window regulators and various electronics will go another 147k miles?

          I think he’s the luckiest VW owner… possibly ever.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Water pump is a good example, I’m not sure what the maintenance schedule is from VAG but I would hope by 150K he’s already done it. He mentioned junkyard bits so it seems he’s familiar with a little DIY, so he could perhaps handle window regulators as need be. If he’s not had a history of dash lights, its a risk but he’s probably ok. AC is a luxury in a beater. Hoses are part of regular maintenance.

          • 0 avatar
            1_purplr

            1998 VW Passat Wagon B5 Manual, 197k miles, Factory compressor, waterpump, window regulators, calipers, most electrical. Have replaced ignition switch, window switch ( broke it) and wiper motor). Still factory clutch. It is all about how you care for it. 4th VW. 88 Scirocco, traded for 92 Cabrio, traded for 71 Beetle, restored and sold to a collector, now this purchased in 2008 from dad. Still running strong.

            Can’t say the same about 03 Honda CR-V ( transmission went at 101k) or the 99 Honda Accord V6,( oil pum at 93k) Or the 2006 F150 ( Rear end went and transmission at 101k. Or my favorite, 2011 Honda Pilot 101k, Tie rod ends and front diff went( $9k to replace) then at 106k Wiring harness to ECM frayed and caught fire, a TSB that was rare, says honda.

        • 0 avatar
          RS

          +1 on all of that. My neighbors have put more $$ keeping up their Accord/Odyssey/Corolla than I’ve with our Taurus and Lacrosse. I will agree that the Subaru’s take even more.

        • 0 avatar
          tabaplar

          There are definitely mixed experiences, or at least mixed impressions, with Subarus. I have friends who swear they hit 200K without any significant work, and others who have had engines (!) replaced by 100K. The newer models seem more problematic.

          It’s a similar situation with Honda.

          That said, I don’t know ANYONE with early or excessive Toyota problems. The only concern with my 2002 at 200K is suspension degradation similar to that mentioned in this post.

          I’ve considered a new car, or a suspension rebuild, but have settled on the ‘drive it until the wheels fall off’ approach.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Get something new and spend the money you would have spent on the B5 on a substantial down payment to keep your monthly payment low.

    Obviously you didn’t mind the CVT in the Outback.

  • avatar
    Frank Galvin

    You’re going to rebuild the suspension and drop a grand or two doing that, then new tires, (another $500-$700), and then have the timing belt replaced. How much is the latter going to cost? What would worry me is that once you start fiddling around replacing the worn-out parts, you’ll find other areas that need attention and the meter will really start to run. I’d trade it in and be done worrying.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Timing belt and water pump is 1200-1500, usually. I’m gonna say higher end, because you have to remove the front of the car on VAG products to do it.

      • 0 avatar
        heavy handle

        Not that old cliché!
        Getting a VW or Audi in “service position” takes an experienced tech a minute. It makes the job easier than on any East-West engine. In other words: it saves people money because techs can work faster and more efficiently.

        As far as costs are concerned, your estimate seems a bit high, but it comes down to local shop rates. I presume that the owner of this Passat knows where to get the cars serviced. You don’t keep any car for 12 years and nearly 150k without a good tech.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          So it’s a cliche, but is also true – as you confirmed with your following sentences.

          I wonder how much the dealer charges to put the car in “service position” if it’s so quick and easy and takes a minute.

          One hour? Two? “Well that’s a big job, we gotta take off the front end.”

          • 0 avatar
            Kyree S. Williams

            I got good enough with my ’97 Jetta (meaning it broke often enough) that I was able to remove the front clip in under an hour. Expect a dealer to charge three or four hours.

            Your best bet with any out-of-warranty European car is always to find a specialist or an independent shop. A friend of mine, who used to service my cars at the VW dealership, recently opened his own shop specializing in VW Group products. I know and trust him, so I go to him for maintenance and repairs, and he gives me good deals.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Speedy Kyree! I didn’t think you did much wrenchin.

          • 0 avatar
            heavy handle

            No, it’s not true. You don’t “remove the front of the car,” you move the rad and grille forward 6 inches, leaving you with more room to work than any East-West car where you are scraping knuckles between the block and strut tower.

            If anyone is charging you an hour or two just for that, go somewhere else. They are crooks, or incompetent, or both. The whole timing belt job is maybe 3 hours with the right tools.

        • 0 avatar
          chuckrs

          +1
          Local indy shop (in RI) has done 4 belt/water pump replacements on my two A4s of the same era. Current cost locally would be about $900. Service position only looks horrendous.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Okies, we’ll assume $900. Plus suspension bits needed.

            We’re at what, $3000 of money you don’t get back, and doesn’t increase sale value?

        • 0 avatar
          sfvarholy

          Changing the timing belt, water pump, and tensioner on OP’s car is probably a day/2 days of labor.

          It was 2 days and $1500 for the job on my 2006 A3 2.0T.

          No reputable indie in my city would do the job because of how long it would tie them up.

          Had to take it to dealer.

      • 0 avatar
        1998redwagon

        same car same repair was roughly 2/3rds that cost. not at the dealer.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    This sounds more like a lost cause. Too many delayed maintenance items which, even if fixed, will barely bump the used value of the car. Newer VW items exist as you mention, or one of the other alternatives.

    A Passat this old and with these miles is just a sunk cost, and there’s no point in throwing more money at it. The likelihood of encountering a major mechanical failure right after you refresh the suspension is decent, and then where are you?

    • 0 avatar
      jimbob457

      +1 Machines wear out.

    • 0 avatar
      RHD

      A complete inspection and evaluation of the car would be in order before investing in redoing the suspension. If the engine, transmission, interior and body are all sound, then it’s worthwhile.
      If new plastic parts are failing every month, the brakes need overhauling, the exhaust is rusting apart and there’s a bunch of scheduled maintenance just around the corner, then the answer will become apparent on a yellow legal pad.
      There’s also the difficult-to-pin-down reasonable life expectancy of a VW with 147,000 miles.

  • avatar
    Cactuar

    If you like the car and everything is in order *except* the bad ride, I think it’s worth refreshing the suspension. When you do this you will have the handling and comfort of a new car, but without the car payment. Don’t underestimate how great not having a car payment is…

  • avatar
    brettc

    If you do decide to put money into the B5.5, check out idparts. They deal mostly in diesel parts, but the TDI suspension components will bolt right in. They often have deals on shocks/struts as well.

    I’d personally buy something new. I bought a used 2002 Golf TDI in 2011 and had big plans for it and rebuilt all of the suspension. A year later I was sick of its lack of technology and little things that needed attention and bought a new Sportwagen TDI. I don’t like the payment, but the new car is so much better.

    • 0 avatar
      kwong

      I’m pretty much the opposite of you. In 2004, I bought a used 01 Golf TDI and love the lack of technology. 280K miles of trouble-free miles and I’ve had very little reason to open my wallet for this car…though I’ve spent nearly $5K on upgrades over the last 12 years.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Just because you replaced broken things with upgraded things does not mean all items suddenly get to fall under “upgrades” and not “repairs.”

        I knocked my 32″ TV on the floor, but I replaced it with a 52″ TV. Upgrade! Didn’t need to open my wallet.

        • 0 avatar
          kwong

          The only things that have ever failed on my car was the following:

          OEM relay 109 ($8)
          MAF sensor ($30)
          Idler pulley bearing ($125…had to replace the tensioner and serpentine belt)
          2 sets of H7 headlight bulbs ($30 then deleted DRL feature)
          1 set of taillight bulbs ($12)
          Fuel injection pump gaskets ($200)
          2 batteries (1 OEM at 125K and a Optima Red at 130K miles…($300)
          Clutch pressure plate ($300, 2 fingers broke off after 240K miles…the rest of the plate and disc looked perfectly fine)

          That’s all…I swear.

          The following is what I upgraded:

          ECM programming
          larger fuel injector nozzles
          Torsen LSD/Stage 1 clutch with SMF/12% taller 5th gear set
          H&R coilovers/R32 control arm bushings, ES rear trailing beam bushing, Autotech 28mm RSB
          GLI spindles, calipers, Hawk HPS pads

          I’m a real cheapskate, so I wouldn’t lie about spending money on my car. To date, it’s cost me $35K over the last 12yr/200K miles for the car, fuel, maintenance, upgrades, insurance, registration, & parking. When the car starts breaking down to the point where it’s hurting my wallet, I will have no problem cutting bait and running. However, 12yrs and 200K miles and ticking without any major issues.

  • avatar
    vvk

    This is a perfect example of the difference between European and American approach to car ownership. A European would have had this car’s suspension renewed twice by now, since it is common knowledge that a general rebuild is due every 60k miles (100k km.) By owner’s own admission, the car “feels like a sloppy mess” and he is questioning the need for maintenance… :) Generally, I change my shocks every 60k miles no matter what and this usually involves replacement of various other suspension components, alignment, etc.

    In this case, since the car has been reliable and trouble free, I would certainly hope that the owner sees the light of day and spends the relatively minor sum needed for required maintenance rather than spending $30k on a replacement vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      319583076

      Old advice: It’s cheaper to maintain than it is to fix and it’s cheaper to fix than it is to replace.

      New advice: 0.9% APR for up to 84 months! (wac)

      For many people, 4 figure maintenance bills present an irreconcilable cash flow problem. The answer is: buy another car that fits your cash flow.

    • 0 avatar
      RideHeight

      This American’s approach to car ownership is:

      “Drive Slower; Sh*t Lasts Longer and So Do You!”

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      “since it is common knowledge that a general rebuild is due every 60k”

      Then the manufacturer should put it in the maintenance schedule.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    In spite of my own terrible experience with a 2002 Passat V6, I’m glad yours has been better.

    Fix the car if you wish, but realize it will nickel and dime you from now on. You should determine right now what your limit will be (money, patience, hassle, safety, features, etc.).

  • avatar
    RideHeight

    Christ, man… no rust and a gorgeous greenhouse *plus* a hatch?

    I’d no’ quibble aboot a wee thin’ like handlin’!

  • avatar
    1998redwagon

    colorado red 5mt. they dont call me 1998redwagon for nothing.

    if you like the wagon i say keep it and do the rebuild. if you do not really like the wagon then move on and sell it as a fine, well cared for used vehicle.

    there is nothing on the market today that has the characteristics of this vehicle; manual, wagon, size, visibility, decent mileage.

    i spent over $1,000 on a suspension rebuild for mine and it handled much better. i should have replaced the shocks too but did not. mine is now at 238k+ and it’s my sons daily driver. to and from high school every day plus work and friends. its now a local vehicle – would not want it on the highway on long trips but it starts and runs and it got him home from the hospital when he was born over 17 years ago.

    you know the history and you know that you could not touch another used vehicle for what it would take to bring this one up to spec. you could use the maintenance $ + the sale price as a down payment on a new vehicle but then you have a vehicle payment and something you may not enjoy as much.

    • 0 avatar
      JRoth

      “there is nothing on the market today that has the characteristics of this vehicle; manual, wagon, size, visibility, decent mileage.”

      Exactly. I have the same car, but 50k fewer miles. I’ve had my eye out for 5 years, and have not seen a single car I’d replace it with. I don’t want a goddamn touchscreen, and I do want a manual. Those two items alone eliminate 95% of what’s out there.

  • avatar
    kwong

    If the B5 owner has had good luck with the car and believes the car will last another 5yr/100K miles, I’d suggest shelling out $900 on parts after a thorough inspection. I have a 01 Golf TDI with 280K miles on it and most of my suspension and brakes have been replaced with upgraded parts through the years. At 125K miles, I swapped out my blown stock shocks with a set of H&R Dunebuggy coilovers and replaced the corresponding strut mounts & bearings, while adding a 28mm adjustable rear sway bar. At 250K miles, I swapped my original brake setup with spindles, calipers, rotors, & pads from the larger GLI model. I also had my control arm bushings replaced with those from the R32/TT and replaced the rear trailing arm bushing with a poly bushing from Energy Suspension.

    My car feels great on a smooth road, but harsh at low speeds while bouncy at high speeds. Because I love the ability to raise and lower my car’s height +/- 1″ from stock with these discontinued coilovers, I’m contemplating having the dampers serviced and rebuilt with a shock dyno. I’d love to have both performance and ride quality in one setup…similar to what BMW has achieved. I plan to call a few local (50mile radius) tuners who can hopefully give me what I want for under $1K.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      “If the B5 owner has had good luck with the car and believes the car will last another 5yr/100K miles, I’d suggest shelling out $900 on parts after a thorough inspection.”

      The parts he needs will cost more than that, not including the timing belt service. And how do you plan/assume for it lasting another 5yr/100k miles? That’s a giant assumption to make. In that time, it’ll need -another- timing belt service.

      • 0 avatar
        kwong

        The $900 I was referencing was with respect to a suspension refresh (bushings, mounts, dampers, possibly springs, and installation). An inspection should be done first to determine what needs to be replaced first. I get my timing belt service with parts for around $600, but I realize I have a different motor and I have an inexpensive mechanic. Besides, a timing belt change is just basic maintenance and should be expected. For a car to last another 5yr/100K miles would be determined by a history or pattern of previous problems, how the engine performs, a compression test, etc. I don’t think that’s too much of an expectation. I have yet to own a car that didn’t last more than 20 years and 200K miles.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    As a Golf SportWagen owner, it is substantially smaller than a B5 / B5.5 Passat Wagon. Keep that in mind. And, because of the strange hump VW puts in the center of the rear occupant floorspace, it is effectively a four-seater.

    Meanwhile, I’d only keep the Passat if you knew you could get another three or four years’ worth of trouble-free motoring. Maybe have it inspected to see if anything expensive seems like it’s about to give up the ghost. If it looks like it’s going to cost you thousands more than just the suspension rejuvenation, fix it to the bare-minimum standard (plenty of people will still pay hard-earned cash for a mid-aughts VW Group product, surprisingly) and sell it.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    If it were my car I would do a complete suspension refresh with top quality parts (not $15 strut mounts or anything from no-name China sourced suppliers).

    But, and this is a big but, I do my own mechanical work. It would probably take me two full Saturdays to do the suspension work and the timing belt change going at my pace.

    Having that work done professionally would add multiple thousands of dollars to the job.

    But then again, if you like driving a manual transmission midsized station wagon, you don’t really have many new vehicle choices. The Golf Sportwagon is smaller than your Passat, but it just about the only choice if you don’t want to go the CUV/SUV route.

    Hey, maybe I should buy your Passat from you as-is for cheap money ….. :).

  • avatar
    laserwizard

    My Ford with 170k is seven years OLDER than this and still handles well – granted, I still have my original struts and springs, but I have had the tie-rod ends replaced. Brakes were done once at around 60k, and the aftermarket ones have nearly doubled that. They are due to be replaced soon.

    I see no problem putting money into a reliable older vehicle if the cost is under $1k per year – that’s just over $80 a month which is quite reasonable considering the lower cost of insurance, property taxes being next to nothing, and likely $250 – $300 more you’d spend per month just to finance something new.

    I’d spend the money, but expecting that wagon to handle well on a budget is a foolish enterprise. If you are looking for something to handle well and this vehicle is reliable, spend the money for your enjoyment. Don’t do a cost/benefit analysis since it is all based on your preferences.

  • avatar
    frozenman

    A newer vehicle with a proper stability/traction control system can literally save your ass and any riders serious injury. This is an important item often overlooked in old vs newer buying decisions. These safety systems for the most part become better over the years as well, there should be a significant upgrade over the last 11 years.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    OP, you’re in luck because 28 is going to give you the straight skinny. You don’t mention if yours is a GL or a GLS, but since all GLS models seem to be automatics, I’m going to venture to guess yours is a GL. Let’s go to the tape:

    MY04 VW Passat Wagon GL I4

    02/03/16 SEATTLE Regular $3,700 76,979 Above GREY 4GT A No
    11/19/15 FRDKBURG Regular $1,900 91,948 Above GRAY 4GT A Yes
    02/17/16 DENVER Regular $1,900 103,378 Above BLACK 4GT A Yes
    03/03/16 ST PETE Regular $1,100 120,085 Avg SILVER 4GT 5 Yes
    12/03/15 EL PASO Regular $900 144,730 Avg BLUE 4GT 5 Yes
    02/04/16 ALBANY Regular $650 157,438 Avg GRAY 4GT 5 Yes

    MY04 VW Passat Wagon GLS I4

    03/01/16 NYMETSKY Regular $1,800 90,629 Above BLUE 4GT A Yes
    03/01/16 PHILLY Regular $1,350 91,031 Avg SILVER 4GT A Yes
    03/16/16 MILWAUKE Regular $1,900 123,672 Above GREEN 4GT A Yes
    03/25/16 GEORGIA Regular $900 133,847 Avg BLUE 4GT Yes
    03/24/16 ALBANY Lease $750 151,037 Avg BLUE 4GT A Yes
    03/01/16 BALTWASH Regular $900 153,298 Avg BLUE 4GT A Yes
    03/10/16 ATLANTA Regular $1,000 157,278 Avg BLACK 4GT A Yes
    03/08/16 PHILLY Regular $400 188,692 Below GREEN 4GT A Yes
    03/01/16 ATLANTA Regular $900 190,937 Avg GOLD 4GT A Yes

    So tip top was $3700 in PNW and this example was ultra low mileage (5921 miles/year) so yours being at best average condition with over double the miles will bring a lot less. The old adage was a running and road inspected car is worth at least a grand, and this essentially seems to hold true (although some of these examples may not be in road inspected condition).

    I figure you’re sitting on at best a $1,000 car and scrap in these parts is paying $130 per car (seriously). A dealer is probably going to give you $500, because frack you. So given these realities, we’ve got some thinking to do. I say conduct a through review of the car including putting it on a lift for undercarriage inspection. Assuming the car is worth dollar one in investment, while its a gamble at those miles, if you think she’s good for another 25-50K make the necessary investments so long as they total around what the car is worth.

    Why?

    You’re the original owner and unless the clutch needs service you don’t have the risk of an automatic transmission dying on you and junking the car. Assuming the motor is in good running order and you don’t routinely face CELs I’d say you have a decent value for what it is, so what is the cost of all of those undercarriage components and timing belt? You generally can’t buy transportation for $1,000 these days, and if you do, it may not be from this millennium. If you make the investment in the car, and it doesn’t crap out on you between now and the time of sale, you will get your money back when it is sold. You might decide 5,000 miles from now, I’ve got to have X and part with her. What you’ve got now is a car with near zero equity which unfortunately is on its way to the junkyard. You can try to cash out, con someone into an example with deferred maintenance and get into debt on a new one (or trade, but on trade you’re not getting anything as dealer who wants to make a sale will always go down $500 from the fiction of “invoice”). The other option being follow scheduled maintenance, get X more time without a car payment, and put yourself in a position to sell it later for cash at a time of your choosing with the more desirable facts of “timing belt done, new shocks, tires, inspected”.

    May be cheaper to keep her.

  • avatar
    Truckducken

    Good God, man. Quit while you’re ahead! If you always sell your car while you still like it, you’ll always be driving a car you like.

  • avatar
    VoGo

    I suspect the poster is looking to us to tell him its time to put the old girl down. I would in his shoes.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    For a Toyonda, I’d follow your logic. Maybe even for one of the better GM or Ford products. But I do not trust a VW of this vintage, even a gently treated one, to continue problem-free from 147k miles. A proper suspension overhaul is going to cost you a four-figure sum, and you might well do it (and it would feel phenomenal) and then immediately have significant engine or electrical problems.

    I’m trying to decide whether to address the suspension of my own non-collectible used car which I’m irrationally attached to (a ’95 Acura Legend with 187k miles). I’ve already spent about what the thing is worth on preventive engine maintenance (timing belt, water pump, valve seals, preventive EGR and manifold cleaning) and replacement of rear control arms that were in safety-critical condition, but it really needs new struts, strut mounts, and center engine and transmission mounts to feel like it should. Do I just want “unlikely to break,” or do I want to spend more money and have it feel like new? Can’t decide, so I haven’t done anything yet.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      You have equity in the Legend (well sort of), they are a “thing” to some collectors. Do people collect, or desire, B5 Wagons? I really don’t know, which I why I caution against investing more than its worth.

      You could put 2K in it, giving you a grand total of 5Kisk invested. But 30K and several years later get 5K back out from a fellow Hondaphile (maybe). He’s not getting much more than a grand out of this one, ever.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        My Legend isn’t the kind that makes JDM “collectors” perk up. They want stickshift coupes (or maybe GS sedans), while I have an automatic L sedan. I’ve already got about as much as it could possibly be worth into it. Anything further I do is strictly for my own satisfaction.

        Looks pretty after the first real cleanup, though (as of Saturday):

        https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/26118600965/in/album-72157661695033351/

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          Very nice.

        • 0 avatar
          tabaplar

          That does look very stately. VAG is the only manufacturer carrying the torch of elegant, rational design at this point, IMO.

          I’m in a similar boat with my 2002 Toyota Highlander (in no way a ‘desirable’ car, but bulletproof and with a bit of nostalgia attached). A few thousand dollars is needed to buy it another 50K miles of relative comfort.

          It may be worthwhile financially, but as others have mentioned modern safety systems have dramatically increased occupant safety. If anything that’s what would push me to buy something new or newer.

  • avatar
    Chan

    Lots of cautionary tales here.

    I myself had a 2001 V6.

    Three months after I blew over $2000 on a front suspension refresh (which felt amazing, BTW), the AT started acting up. One month after that, the car failed to start and cranked all day long, no dice.

    Having no tools myself, I towed it in and my longtime mechanic wanted four digits to troubleshoot my car. That ended my ownership–I had better things to spend my money on than an unreliable piece of first-car nostalgia.

    Looking back, it was an impressive car–when it ran. I can rant all day about the piss-poor design, engineering and materials of the B5 cars.

    OP, only invest in the suspension if you really know your powertrain and have the tools, space and time to troubleshoot it when it goes south. Yes, I said “when.”

    • 0 avatar
      PandaBear

      This. You will never get the money back if the powertrain goes out soon after.

    • 0 avatar
      HotPotato

      Similar story here, early-2000s B5.5 V6 wagon. I will say this, though, it was the most magnificent machine I have ever piloted, in every way that matters. I spent enough in repairs for a decent used Toyonda every two years, no joke, but honest to god it was almost worth it. Classically handsome styling, perfect visibility, roomy interior in magnificent sun beige, unbelievably rigid and quiet structure, a civilized woofle of creamy-smooth power at the ready, and God’s personal suspension. I was thirtysomething and that car made me feel like the world’s most civilized and sophisticated 50 year old man, and I mean that in the best way…as if its finest qualities were rubbing off on me (turns out that was just interior paint).

      Then the wife cleared her throat and sent me a spreadsheet showing me that based on past history and the mechanic’s predictions, I was literally better off buying a Brand New Car. And it’s not hard to get good money for a pristine, low mileage, obsessively maintained Eurowagon. So I sold it.

      I figured if I ever missed it too much, I could just get one of the new late-2000s ones–after all, you could get them with the insane 3.6 V6! Soon after I got a ride in one of them, and I mistook it for a crudely decontented Jetta wagon. Hard plastic, hard suspension, hard lesson that newer ain’t always better.

      I ended up buying a Ford C-Max Hybrid–bizarrely, the vehicle that ended up driving most like the old B5.5, only with twice the fuel economy and half the torsional rigidity. It’s a torquey little potato, and much better than the V-Dub at doing proper car things, like not breaking down at 11 at night on the road to Vegas. But as good as it is, nobody is going to stand in their driveway 20 years from now, looking at their classic C-Max and sighing contentedly at how *right* it is.

  • avatar
    cbrworm

    I can’t speak to the long term reliability of the VW (I kinda can since I had a B6 A4, but I won’t bore you with that), but I just put a bit less than 2K into my 140K mile car’s suspension. It felt fine before, but there was a little bit of a clunk going over bumps that seemed to be coming from the right front strut itself. I replaced the shocks and struts, strut mounts, bearings, sway bar end links, etc. I also replaced most of the rubber isolation bits. It drives so much better, I wish I had done it 50K ago. I’m still concerned about it breaking, but until it does, it is much better to drive. This is on an ’06 Infiniti FX45.

  • avatar
    NickS

    The real question is how will the owner maintain the new vehicle when it starts needing service.

    What am I really saying is that from what I understand the owner didn’t really do the needed maintenance that should have been done at least 50-60K ago, so no-one can reliably say if this is a money pit, or a car worth saving (TB is every about 80K, so is this the first time, or the second?). This car with a solid service history is worth any service it requires so long as it still meets the owner’s needs.

  • avatar
    Kevin Jaeger

    I had this exact car when my kids were young. It was a mostly trouble-free car and we drove it for a very enjoyable 300K.

    I don’t believe you can buy anything like this car at the moment – a turbo manual wagon with lots of a space for a family of five and still handles well.

    While it never let us down it did require maintenance to keep it riding and handling well – and why keep it if it handles like an old Impala? I replaced the front control arms a couple of times and for 300K I think we needed three timing belts. I did have to replace the turbo at one point but otherwise the engine was trouble-free and still ran great when we sold it.

    But if it isn’t handling well and the interior needs upgrading I wouldn’t be inclined to spend much on it. If you really want one of these look for a mint condition one with low miles and service records showing a recent timing belt change.

  • avatar
    CincyDavid

    I’m in a similar situation with my 97 Volvo V90…205000 miles, fresh timing belt, water pump and tires last summer, suspension is getting noisy…clunks over RR tracks, etc. How far do you go with repairing these things? I’d love to get 300k out of it, but the siren call of cheap leases is appealing too…oil changes, wiper blades and tire rotations are all I would have to do, then dump it after 3 years and get something new.

    My cut-off has always been $200/mo…If I start spending more than that, on average, it’s time to bid the old car adieu. I spent $1600 last year, and so far spent $350 this year, so I’m still good from that perspective.

    A $149/mo Cruze sounds interesting…if FCA would do some cheap leases on Chrysler 200’s I might be game for that too. What to do, what to do?!?

  • avatar
    CincyDavid

    CoreyDL, I tend to agree with you, but I have to admit that a black 200s is a really attractive car. Spoke to the little Chevy store in Indiana that used to be Ande Chev-Olds years and years ago, they only have 3 new Cruze in stock, red, white and blue ones if you can believe that, all with black interiors. In my trade, a black or other dark, somber color, is my preference…the crappy CJD store on Colerain Avenue has a black on black 200s on the lot. Won’t buy a Chevy from Ron Joseph or Bob Pulte if I can help it, which limits by Chevy dealer options.

    I was driving to work this morning, tallying up all the little piddly things I need to fix on the Volvo so I can be happy with it…and the low coolant light flickered on. It’s a sign from above. It oozes coolant around the upper rad hose at the radiator…done that for years, I just top-off the overflow tank about once a month, but I guess I should add a radiator to the list.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      I think what ya need to do is head over to McCluskey, since they have dark red, brown, and black available on the Cruze.

      http://www.mccluskeychevrolet.com/new-chevrolet-cruze-cincinnati-oh

      Lawrenceburg Chevrolet is an awful dealership and you shouldn’t go there! For coolant oozing, if it’s pretty minor some radiator stop leak (non-metallic type) could fix that right up.

      • 0 avatar
        CincyDavid

        Corey, looked at the 200 for about 2 minutes yesterday…no way would I get that car. I went to Joseph Chevrolet…they had a sign advertising $129 Cruze leases…only to be told that the only one they had “just sold yesterday”, but for $199 they could put me in one that they have in stock?!?
        They were trying to pull a credit report before I even looked at a car…I high-tailed it out of there. Told the sales manager Reese that if I’m going to spend $200 a month I’ll just get another Civic and be done with it.

        I think I’m just going to keep driving my decrepit old Volvo and go on with my life. No wonder people hate car-shopping.

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