Can my Jetta be saved?

Hey everyone, I’m 24 and don’t know much about cars so any assistance or advice you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

In October 2009 I bought my first car. It was a used 1999 VW Jetta VR6 with 98k miles. I thought I got a good deal. For the first couple months it ran great. Then the problems began.

First, it overheated and I ended up replacing the thermostat, the water pump and the hoses connecting the water pump. About a month later it overheated AGAIN. This time my girlfriend was driving and it ended up at a different service station because of where it overheated. They said the coolant lines had cracked and needed to be replaced.

At this point the cost for all of this has been about $1500. Keep in mind I paid $4000 for the car.

Shortly after the coolant pipes were replaced the check engine light came on and I decided to just take it to the dealership because I wanted to make sure everything was done right (neither service station was impressive and one even provided incorrect information).

I took it to the dealership and they said that the check engine light was on because the vacuum reservoir pump was cracked. Also the vacuum lines were dry rotted and needed to be replaced. They also noted that the struts had horizontal and vertical play which as I understand it is not good. And they said when they replaced the struts they would need to do an alignment as well.

All told the price they quoted for fixing the struts and vacuum pump reservoir and lines was just under $1000.

They also informed me that the car was burning oil because the piston o-rings were worn out but the mechanic said to just change the oil every 3k miles and it would be fine and that repairing the problem would be prohibitively expensive.

On a side note the AC needs to be recharged and the cabin air filter needs to be replaced which is another $200 or so.

Sorry for the long story but here’s my question: is it feasible or sensible to try and keep the car and do these repairs one at a time or am I just throwing money away? The only reason I see for not just getting another used car is that I am looking at changing jobs in the next couple of months and am wary of taking out a loan with that on the horizon.

$4000 cars nearly ALWAYS need more work. It is a rare bird to find one that has been fully maintained and is repair free irregardless of nameplate.

My advise is limp along with the car until you can afford something much newer. Personally I think anything after 7yrs or 150k miles is pretty likely to have some more expensive issues.

Lastly pay a mechanic for checkover BEFORE purchasing another car.

To keep fixing this car “properly” will mean having a real money pit. Just do the basics to nurse it along with the help of a good independent mechanic. And save up for something better and newer.

It sounds like you have had a bit of bad luck, but largely typical issues for 12 year old car with 100000 miles. Water pumps tend to fail in the 80-100k range. AC tends to develop a leak or two in that range, at a minimum requiring a recharge, and possibly more fixes. Struts - same thing, 100k is typical for replacement. The rest, well, those things fail, and lucky for me my 2001 Jetta w/ 105k has not had any of those other issues.

The question is whether you feel the expense and hassle outweighs a monthly $350 (or more) car payment and higher insurance premiums that a new economy car would bring. $350 x 12 =
$4200 per year, so its generally a better economic deal to maintain an old car unless catastrophe strikes.

Did the dealer check over the entire car? That should give some piece of mind wrt the brakes, belts, etc. But there is an awful lot to go wrong at this age. As the others said, prioritize your repairs (i.e. no cabin filter). Even then, plan to spend $800-$1000 a year as things like heater cores, AC compressor, etc may fail.

The car is a dozen years old with nearly a 100k miles and just about every problem you mention is related to normal wear and tear issues.

The biggest issue is the oil burning by the piston rings. This means an engine overhaul and this could have been caused by your continuing to run the engine while it was overheating; IF this is what happened.
An overheating car MUST always be stopped lest a 10 dollar part destroy an engine.

I’d pass on doing any repairs, coax it along for a while longer, and get rid of it.
You will probably take a financial hit but that might be a better alternative than sinking more money into it.

Some vehicles the premium isn’t all THAT much more for a brand new vehicle over, though a talk with the insurance agent is the way to go with that. The car I’m getting will cost just over $100 more for 6 months over my 11 year old car, that works out to less than $20/month extra.
With it being the VR6 model, a newer car might actually cost less to insure if they went with a lower end model like a basic Cobalt/Cavalier or Focus/Escort

If your car overheated, perhaps it was past due for a normal maintenance item such as new radiator hoses.

What did your car do to indicate new struts? If it drove and rode OK you may have spent money needlessly. Horizontal and vertical play in struts sounds a little off color to me, not impossible but I have not heard failed struts defined in such general terms.

How much oil is being burned? A little is acceptable and quite normal for many cars.

Cabin filter? Change it yourself and save some bucks.

It seems obvious that if you will buy a used car and many people must do that, you must participate more in the ownership and learn a few things to minimize expenses such as defending yourself from unnecessary work and do a few things for yourself.

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First off, thank you to everyone for your insight and comments. I really appreciate the speed with which you all have replied.

One thing I forgot to mention is that the car has started vibrating rather noticeably when it is running (the vibrations are much stronger in drive/reverse then they are in park). And I can now feel the car shift from reverse to drive. It’s a very noticeable shift as the gear change occurs.

Is this possibly related to the struts or is this evidence of some new as of yet undiscovered problem?

Also, the of the two major repairs: struts or vacuum lines/vacuum pump which do you believe should be done first?

Thanks again everyone, I really appreciate your insights and comments.