2001 VW Golf: Repair or Retire

I own a 2001 VW Golf. The temperature guage never goes above 190. The other day I watched it go above 190 and it continued to climb so I took it to the mechanic. The mechanic diagnosed the issue as a blown head gasket. I can’t drive the car for more than ten minutes before the car begins to overheat. The mechanic gave me a quote to have the head gasket replaced - $2,900. He said he wasn’t sure the car was worth the money.

A little background on the car: I’m not married to it but I do love the golf. It has 160,000 miles and up until the last couple of years it has never failed me (since I became the proud owner at 90,000 miles). I’ve put some money into over the last couple of years, fixing any issues that arise (replace the clutch, catalytic converter etc.) It has some other issues as well - the drivers window won’t open, the glove box won’t close, the paint is rusted and completely off in some places plus it semlls like something is burning all the time so I can’t keep the vents open. Like I said, I do really love the car. Over the past year it has occurred to me to move on but with the market the way that it has been lately I’ve convinced myself that it isn’t the right time to buy a car. There aren’t a lot of good options and the prices for what is available are just short of outrageous!

Furthermore, I had planned to buy a nice, “new” (slightly used) car in 5 or so years. Probably some sort of hybrid - EV. I want to wait until I have more savings and hopefully there is something that I actually want to drive. So I really just need something now to get me through another 4-5 years.

My question is do I invest the $2,900 to have the golf fixed and the additonal $$$ to get all of “quirks” fixed as well (window, glove box etc.) Or do I spend $5,000-$7,000 on a used Honda Fit/VW Golf (the only other car I can see myself driving at this time)?

Get other estimates.

1 Like

I can’t see the car but… agree with your mechanic. Time to walk away from this car. You might try to sell it as a “mechanics special”. Just be up front with all the things wrong.

1 Like

$2900 for head gasket on an inline engine? The labor shortage is real I guess. I thought under $1500 would be reasonable a few years ago.

To be fair, it is a VW, and Euro car mechanics tend to charge a bit more, and we do not know where the OP lives. It might be a cheaper repair for the same job in Virginia than California, for example.
Then again, the mechanic might not want to deal with the replacement and decided on a higher cost in the hopes the OP would go somewhere else or sell the car to the mechanic and they could flip the car for profit.

However, the choice for the OP is kinda tricky here. With today’s car market, $5k-$7k isn’t going to net one as good a vehicle as it would have a couple years ago and the OP could face a similar problem with the newer vehicle as they are with their current ride.
For now, I would take the car to another shop and see what they’d charge because $2900 does seem high when estimates I’m seeing online are nearly half that amount. Volkswagen Golf Head Gasket Replacement Cost Estimate
Heck, $3k almost sounds like the cost to have a full engine replacement if you get a salvage yard engine.

1 Like

Yes, before walking away I’d get another estimate.


Unplug the injector on the problem cylinder, unplug the oxygen sensor, and drive it to Mexico for repairs!

I just hope the mechanic arrived at the correct diagnosis

Before I condemn the headgasket, I’m making sure all the fans and the thermostat are working properly, in addition to other things

I hope he used a block tester to arrive at his diagnosis

I’ve seen a lot of “bad headgasket” diagnosis turn out to be something far simpler and cheaper

1 Like

Well, first, I would get a second opinion. Unless you have been shown clear and convincing evidence that the head gasket is the problem, this could actually be a minor problem (thermostat sticking, worn-out water pump, radiator not flowing properly, etc).

If the problem really is head gasket leakage, would use this car as an opportunity to learn DIY car repair. I would say that to do this job correctly, you would need to spend about $1000 on tools and equipment, another $500 in parts and incidentals (gasket set, bolts, radiator, coolant hoses, thermostat, water pump, timing belt kit, etc.) and another $400-500 in machine shop labor (reconditioning of the cylinder head).

So by fixing it yourself, you save about $1000, plus you gain experience, and you will have a good set of tools, which you can use again whenever they are needed.

Just reading the list of things wrong with this VW I would just let it go .

1 Like

I was thinking this myself, bcohen. If this was my car I’d first do a compression test to make sure it’s the head gasket.

It’s a simple 4 cyl so it just has one head. Buy a quality gasket. Make sure the head is not warped (from overheating) and throw it back together.

Easy for me to say, I’m 65 and been working on my own stuff for 50 years.

Another vote for a second opinion. And if you do opt to replace it, don’t rule out a Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe.

My rule is to never open up and repair a high mileage engine. If it is in fact a head gasket, either a used engine, or a new long block. Fixing this engine would only be the start of an unhappy situation. Your budget though is not really likely to produce a great used car though in the current environment so increase your budget or drop a different engine in.

Fixing a head gasket, even if quality work, can mean a new head, valve job, etc. higher compression from the valves leads to increased oil burning, on otherwise worn parts.

There are other reasons for overheating though.

2001/ 160 K miles, engine and transmission has been working well up to now? … hmmmm … .I’m guessing the mechanic is probably correct, head gasket needs replacing. As long as engine oil & filter replaced most of the time on VW’s recommended schedule over the car’s life, head gasket is likely the only engine problem. And since you have a manual transmission – good for you — transmission is probably in good shape too. So I’d be inclined to just replace the head gasket and drive on, fixing the other stuff as your budget allows. I’d put first priority on repairing the driver’s window, b/c that could be a critical safety issue.

No harm done of course to get another opinion on the diagnosis & a couple more quotes for the repair. However if your prior experience says this mechanic is a good one, me, I’d probably just schedule the head gasket job.

The head gasket btw, is just the gasket between the top of the engine and the bottom. Seems something like that wouldn’t cost very much, and indeed the gasket itself is probably only $100 or so. The major part of the cost is the labor. The top of the engine (the head) is sort of like Grand Central Station, everything going in and out of the engine goes through there. So there’s a bunch of stuff that has to be disconnected, removed, then reconnected & reinstalled, time consuming work. The mechanic may also be thinking the valves (part of the head) need some machine shop work while the head is removed, which adds some more labor expense to the job. Best of luck. I had an earlier model year Rabbit , well maintained, and it was showing head gasket signs around that same mileage.

1 Like

Just saying though, normally they will check for flatness, and probably mill the head. Then they will flux it for cracks and if still good will do a valve job causing higher compression again. A diy er would probably just put a straight edge on it and slap a new gasket on. The bolts for mine alone were $10 each but that was 30 years ago. I’ve had both done, replaced gaskets and engines. Be aware of the issues.

1 Like

Don’t be silly. Unless there is evidence of coolant contamination in the oil, there is no reason to believe that replacing a head gasket–including the proper reconditioning or replacement of the cylinder head–will result in further problems.

Once the engine has been disassembled, you can see if there is visible wear to the cylinder bores (for example, due to overheating). If you can see the factory hone marks, there is no reason to believe that the rings are worn. Similarly, unless the engine was making noise, or there are metal shavings in the oil, there is no reason to believe that the bearings are worn. If in doubt, pull the oil pan, inspect for debris, and see if you can wiggle any of the connecting rods.

I have personally done this repair on three different vehicles, and all of them are still in use to this day, with no oil consumption or other issues. Replacing the engines would have been too costly, and exceeded my abilities as a DIY “mechanic”.

1 Like

Results will vary I guess. Once you,ve got the head off though, the job is nearly half done so kind of late to close the barn door. Five year old car would be different than a 21 year old car with 160k on it. Then paying someone all the way is another dimension. Hard choice.

I have to ask what kind of testing (if any) was used to provide a head gasket diagnosis and IMO you should not plow blindly into this.
There are a number of reasons why an engine can overheat quickly without the head gasket being involved. Since you mention 10 minutes I start thinking thermostat.

For what it’s worth, I used to work with a guy who diagnosed every overheating car as having a bad head gasket. He would do this without even raising the hood or performing any test at all. I’ve seen him diagnose a failed head gasket from 40 feet away… :wink:

You might consider getting a test kit from an auto parts house. It’s cheap, easy, and might save you from flushing a bunch of money down the drain. If this mechanic did no testing then you should not put any creedence into a failed HG diagnosis.


Definately a second opinion but regardless of the mileage, a 21 year old car with rust suggests further significant expense shortly down the road.

If this is a car you rely on for work, school, etc. you may want to consider a new EconoBox now with 5+ years of reliable transportation.

Thanks all for your input - I really appreciate it. For those wondering how the head gasket was diagnosed: the mechanic found hydrocarbons in the tailpipe (up to 175). For what it’s worth if I did the repair I would take it to this mechanic. I trust them and I have consistently had them work on the car. However, I don’t think they want to do this repair and so I do believe they have priced it slightly higher.