Driving "normal"

My car is in the shop, but my question isn’t about what’s wrong with it; my question is about a comment the owner/mechanic made. I drive a 2001 VW GTI with the 1.8T (turbo) engine and a manual transmission. While driving this car, I upshift around 3K RPM. I can easily go over 40 mph in this car in 3rd without straining it. 3K RPM also happens to be about where it settles at highway speeds (e.g., 75 mph while in 5th gear).

So, the comment the mechanic/garage owner made to me today was when we were discussing the diagnosis for the issue the car is having. He noted that the problem didn’t occur when one was driving “normally”, but only when one was driving it hard or – I believe this was the word he used – “crowding” the gears. The implication was that a “normal” driver would not be reaching 3K RPM. I’ll admit I accelerate quickly sometimes, but I’m certainly no speed demon and I am often out-accelerated at stop lights (something about this car makes people want to drag race me).

My question is: is it abnormal to get up to 3K RPM before shifting? Am I doing something wrong/damaging?

The mechanic is smoking something! 3k is ABSOLUTELY normal for this kind of car, I thought he was going to blame the problem on you driving too gently! I had an '83 GTI for 13 years, routinely shifted at 3+k, often at 5k, never a problem.

What problem are you having?

No, going beyond 3000 rpm is not abnormal or even bad. But that is also not the only definition of “hard driving”. Shifting poorly, slamming the pedal when or affter you shift, chronically using your gears to slow as rapidly as possible (like dropping from 5th to 2nd to hear the “chirp” and feel the inertial change), cornering as fast as possible in the wrong gears, and numerous other habits can constitute “hard driving”.

If you’re willing to provide the details on what’s wrong with the car and a bit about the car’s maintenance history and mileage, and perhaps even a bit about your driving habits, we can offer comments on the tech’s statement. Without those details we’d be second guessing the tech with any of the infornation he has. That would be foohearty and wrong.

Thanks for the replies. This week, I had 4 ignition coils replaced under recall by a VW dealer, drove it around all day, then took the car the next day to a well-reputed independent shop for its 80K mile service and state inspection (and to make sure nothing got screwed up by the dealer, who is notorious in this town).

They replaced the spark plugs, oil filter, air filter and cabin filter, checked the belts, and did an oil change (all part of the 80K mile service) plus replaced the brake pads all around (which I expected, and which was needed to pass the state inspection). They also cleared the codes off the computer (I’ve had a long-term “check engine” light problem that has never been diagnosed, here or elsewhere so I don’t pay any attention to it anymore), and told me that three of the four codes they got could have been caused by the ignition coils, but since the car was driving OK, I wasn’t going to worry about the fourth, a weak or low fuel code.

When I attempted to drive home, the car lurched when I tried to accelerate in first, then when I got it into second, it seemed to max out around 2900 RPM, by which I mean I had the gas pedal on the floor, and it wouldn’t accelerate above 30mph. And, of course, the check engine light came on again. Today they tell me that I misfired on all 4 cylinders yesterday, and they’re theorizing that it’s the fuel pump. However, they don’t have the correct gauge or nozzle to fit my car to test the fuel pressure right now; they’ll be getting it in tomorrow and will let me know how that goes. The fuel pump has made a noise for ages – it sounds like a low “thump, thump” sometimes when I’m idling – so I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the problem.

Like I said, this is a reputable shop that has always done right by me and I trust them, but knock yourselves out if anyone has an opinion – including if I should take it back to the dealer instead?


Agreed. 3k is actually abnormally low for this car. In fact, it develops peak horsepower at 5,700 RPM, so shifting it at 3,000 is actually driving extremely gently. Your mechanic is nuts.

And people want to drag race you because GTI’s are quick cars.

It sounds very possible that the fuel pump has finally passed on to the land of dying fuel pumps. It’s also possible that the fuel filter is clogged and strained the pump to a premature end. Let them check it and post the results or the fuel line pressure test.

So, I don’t see anything here that might have promted your original post. Is there more to the story?

We were discussing the problem, and the mechanic was suggesting that the reason the tech who test drove it didn’t find the problem, yet I found it as soon as I tried to drive home, was because it didn’t really happen under “normal” driving, and he seemed surprised when I said that was how I drove it, which was what prompted my original post.

He was “dancing” a bit, justifying why his tech didn’t duplicate the problem. I don’t condone the “dancing”, but the fuel pump is a good possibility as a cause of the problem and his testing the line pressure is the correct way to find out.

That was what I suspected, glad you could confirm my hunch. They have duplicated the problem today, they just apparently missed it during the post work test drive yesterday.

Another possibility to investigate for your issue with being unable to accelerate above 30mph is a plugged or melted catalytic converter. Your ignition coil problem could have caused that to happen, so if that is the case, hopefully you can get a good will break from the dealer for a new catalytic converter. The symptoms you describe are indicative of a restriction in the exhaust system, so run this by your mechanic when you have the fuel pressure tested, but do have the fuel pressure tested as well.