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2002 VW Passat - Repair or Not?

Is it me or is the check engine light always on in a Volkswagen Passat??? We bought a “Certified Pre-Owned” 2002 VW Passat with 32,000 miles 3 yrs ago at a VW dealer and our check engine light has basically been on since we bought the car. Within the last year we spent over $3400 on repairs (including some routine maintenance…tires, brakes) and now our mechanic said within the next few months we will need another $3500 of repairs (including timing belt). We now have 92,000 miles on the car and are debating about getting a new car instead of doing these repairs. We still love the car, but are concerned about throwing more money at it when we could be paying off a new one. We love German style cars (like the Audi A4), but we’re thinking we’re better off with a Japanese model instead. Any advice?

You did not go into the always crucial things called details but what you do mention are considered normal wear and tear or maintenance type items
Tires, brakes, and timing belts are not the sign of a Lemon car. You would face the same issue on any make of car unless the car you bought has a timing chain.

The Check Engine Light is on for a reason. This means the car is attempting to talk to you and tell you in what general area the problem lies. This problem could have been inflicted by the previous owner.

Unfortunately, you’ve gone 3 years and 60k miles with that CEL glowing at you and what may have been a minor problem could very well have ballooned into multiple problems because of ignoring the light.

At this point there’s no way of knowing if you own a problematic car or not. Maintenance type times, parts replacement on wild guessing, and/or overpriced repairs do not qualify the car as a Lemon.

And believe it or not, Japanese cars break like all of the rest. They also have more than their fair share of Technical Service Bulletins, Recalls, and premature mechanical failures.

Europeans make good looking cars that perform well, but under all that bluster they are the least reliable vehicles on the road today. Yes, find a Japanese alternative, it will perform well and not break down on a regular basis. Any car needs to be maintained well, keep that in mind.

Thanks for your reply. Here are some of the details…any thoughts would be appreciated.

We have responded to the check engine light over the years…it seems like we fix one thing and then a few months later the light is back on…and each diagnosis for the light costs $100.

Below are the things we’ve replaced…not sure if these are normal wear & tear…maybe they are related to higher mileage and this is normal.

replaced left drive axle & serpentine belt tensioner
replaced vacuum hose & engine breather tube & elbow
replaced viscous cooling fan clutch support bearing
headlamp restoration

We now need:
Camshaft adjuster valve & knock sensor
Headlamp restoration (even though we just did this last year)
Timing belt (we know this is normal wear & tear, but have been quoted $1300 to repair)

Many auto part stores will read the CEL and give you a copy of the code(s). You want to bring that information here.

It seems like you have not been too consistent with maintenance and repairs. That is not a car that will tolerate that kind of lack of care.

As for fixing it or selling it, consider this. Any half way knowledgeable buyer will want to know about that timing belt (and water pump) and if it has not been done, they will just chop off the cost of the job from what they might offer.

BTW you don’t need to go to the dealer for that kind of work. Likely you would have saved a lot of cash by going to a good independent mechanic.

I have put in a about $3,000 in my 2002 A4 with about 100,000 miles. I’m keeping mine.