Advice on a 1984 Diesel Jetta

A friend of mine has a 1984 VW Jetta diesel with 256,000 on it. It’s in remarkable shape for the year and amount of miles. It lived its entire life in Montana, so there’s no rust and only minor paint damage (after nearly a quarter of a century you’d expect that). He says it gets about 56 mpg–up to 62 at about 65mph on the highway–and averages about 50 mpg city. He’s asking $3,000 for it. The price tag seems high, but the opportunity to drive such a high-mileage vehicle that isn’t going to cost me an arm and a leg and hopefully won’t cost a fortune in maintenance costs, seems like a good one. Can I get some advice on diesel/VW experts on whether this car would be a good investment? What should I be looking for? What questions should I ask? Are there parts/known issues that I should inquire about? Thanks in advance for your advice.

i can only think of that old saying; when a friend brings money in the door, the friendship goes out the window.

now adding to it, you’re paying what seems to be quite a bit of $$ for a 25 yr old car, you could be assured that it WILL need repairs. how will you feel, having paid top dollar, repairing it, and then trying to NOT be frustrated or angry with your old friend.

$3,000 for a 25 yr old car that has over 250K miles on it.
You have to ask yourself if this person is really your friend.

While these older diesel VWs generally keep a high resale value and are relatively reliable, I would seriously reconsider if I were you.

after pondering this for the afternoon… i think you may be happy with the purchase. but… i think in a couple of months (of repairs) you will wonder where your friend went.

I would never pay that much for a car this old with only transportation value, nor would I ever sell such a car to a friend for that much if I still wanted to keep them as a friend. A 24-year old VW is simply not worth that much, diesel or not. I love old beaters as much as the next person, but there is an inherent amount of risk in buying one and if you can afford to write off $3,000 bucks, you can probably afford a more reliable car. And you have to ask yourself where your friendship will be if you do end up having to write off this car a couple of thousand miles down the line. If this were a $500 car that was seen more as a project or an impulse purchase I’d be more comfortable with it but, to answer your question, this would not be a good investment.

I’d offer him maybe up to $1000 for it-- that’s probably about what it’s worth. However, a car is actually worth what someone’s willing to pay for it and there is a market in old diesel cars these days thanks to the whole veggie oil thing. I don’t personally think it’s worth it, but if he’s near Missoula, Bozeman or Helena he can probably get some independently wealthy counter-cultural type to pay the three grand for it.

I wouldn’t pay that much for a 80s VW diesel unless it was in exceptional condition, as verified by a pre-purchase inspection. Those are pretty high miles for a VW diesel of that vintage, realistically it will need attention at some point. Trust me, a high mileage 20+ year old car is a hobby and will require some TLC. It depends if you are looking for a hobby or inexpensive transportation.

VW makes a very reliable diesel engine. As long as you don’t expect to go from 0-60 in 12 seconds the old Jetta will be great. But, when diesel engines go out, they really go out and they are expensive to replace. I gaurantee that at about 257,000 mile this engine is going to go with a loud bang. $3,000 is really high for a car this old especially considering the very near-future total rebuild.

If it is such a great car, in this era of high gas prices and with an impending recesion, why does he want to sell it. Does he know of an upcoming expense that you dont?

Potential pricy areas include the timing belt, injectors, glow plugs, vacuum pump, etc. and nice condition or not; it’s not worth 3 grand.
I used to work on these things all of the time and other than those areas I mentioned (figure in front struts also) at 256k miles anything is possible.

If you decide to proceed with this purchase I strongly suggest you have a compression test performed at a minimum. This is very critical and requires a special tester. Hopefully you would see 550 PSI, etc on all cylinders; 450 means you’re on the downhill slide of engine life.

I see two scams here. I doubt the highway fuel mileage figure; a little too high to be realistic with the speed quoted. The city mileage figure seems to be a little high too but not by much. Considering fuel prices now, the market for diesel cars has bid prices up but I would not pay more than $2000 for that particular car and I’d have to see it and drive it first.

As was mentioned, you have to ask if this is such a good car then why is your friend selling it considering fuel prices now.

Parts are still readily available for old VW diesels.

Post your question on under the Technical Section where you can find a VW diesel forum. There is plenty of VW diesel experience there.

Actually, those old VW diesels (assuming engine is good, pump timing is correct, etc) will get 55 to 60 MPG. I would be a bit skeptical about the 50 MPG in town driving figure though.
We had a guy come in the shop one time complaining because his VW was “only” getting 57 MPG and felt there was something wrong because his buddy claimed to be getting 62 in his VW diesel.

Well, he’s talking Montana, so the “city” driving may be a bit less city like than some other places.

thats “over the hill and far away” to us easterners!

Actually, small city driving is much worse that big city driving. The speed limits are slower and, more importantly, pretty much all the trips are short. I’m in the second biggest city in Montana and I can hop in my car and drive all the way across town and it still won’t be all the way warmed up.

Wasn’t the diesel of this vintage still based on the gasoline engine? My father had a '78 Rabbit diesel that ate headgaskets like crazy. From what I heard at that time, this wasn’t unusual for these under-engineered motors.

This may explain why VW changed from 11mm to 12mm headbolts for their diesels in the very early 1980s.

Even an 88 model goes for $900 in GOOD condition. Granted, this may not be the Diesel engine, but you get my drift.|24488|40242|0|0|&Condition=Good&QuizConditions=

If you really want the car, make an offer around $1000 at most. If he’s really your friend he will do you a favor by giving you a break on an otherwise good vehicle. If not, let him sell it to a 3rd party for as much as he so desires.

I take that back, giving you a break would be more like $400-500.

$3000 for a 12 year old Jetta with 256,000 miles? He told you 62 mpg at 65 mph?

Run. Fast. And far. I wouldn’t pay $3000 for ANY 12 year old car with 256,000 miles except perhaps a Porsche 911 in real great shape. That’s way high.