Helping international student fix/sell 2014 Passat before he heads home

One of my friends from overseas is selling his VW Passat and wondered if I would want to buy it. I was interested until I took a look at the car. He hasn’t run it in a while because a check engine light was on and it was running crappy. We fired it up and it has a code for a cam position sensor. It is misfiring and the exhaust smells bad. Apparently this sensor isn’t a common issue with these cars from the little research I did.

This is a 1.8 turbo so I just looked around under the hood, pulled the dipstick, etc. The car had just been running but the dipstick was completely bone dry without even a trace of oil! I am guessing that even if it was a tad low, there should still be splashing onto the stick or a mist. I personally lost interest in the car at this point because I figure the engine was run low for a while and there might be damage. I told him I wouldn’t be willing to pay much for the car which is too bad because it drives nice and looks good. Of course it might be one thrown rod from the scrap heap at this time although the engine sounded OK at idle.

I was also wondering of the cam sensor error is because the cam and valve timing rely on having the proper amount of oil. For now I told him to add oil and have it changed ASAP before doing anything else. I think he is having his oil changed today and I really wonder if the cam timing issues might be resolved with the proper amount of oil??? Could the timing be so off because of low oil that it is throwing a code and that simply having the proper oil level will resolve this issue?

I also have no experience with working on turbo cars or VW which I understand can be money pits on a good day. These cars sure lack the simplicity back when NAZI Germany marketed them as a “peoples’ car.” I am more used to American and Japanese cars personally so think this car is one to definitely pass on.

I don’t think that will fix it. I’d guess the cam sensor is a stretched timing chain issue. The hint here is the lack of oil. Low and dirty oil ruin the timing chains and guides as well as clog the passages for the variable timing.

I wohld also guess the turbo seal is failing and/or maybe the rings are carboned up.

  • Low oil level
  • Turbo

That’s a bad combination imo.

VW seems to have a bit of a reputation problem, partly a result of the diesel emissions testing thing, and by the posts here some tend to have hard to diagnose electrical problems; but I think overall they’re well-designed cars deserving of consideration. Just not this one.

Why isn’t that piece junk sitting with the rest of these pieces of junk?


The air cooled VW’s of yesteryear had a problem with fuel system leaks. In that era, many years ago, a co-worker arrives at work, saying he saw a car on the side of the road, smoke pouring out.

Manager: What kind of car was it?

Co-worker: Whenever I see a car on the side of the road I just presume it is a VW … lol …

I kinda stopped looking after seeing the low oil. I didn’t think about the timing chain being stretched but that is all a possibility given the low oil. I would like to hear how low the thing actually was when he gets it changed.

I have driven this car a year or more ago and others like it. I found it to be a nice driving car and agree that VW makes a good car but that this one is best avoided. I wonder what crap is coked/carboned up in the turbo, etc. Again, this is probably a money pit.

I think that the entire engine in that car is problematic due to low oil issues and it’s best to just avoid it like the plague.

As for VWs, I have not found them to be any more problematic than any other car and that is having worked for 2 VW dealers with multi lines of vehicles.
For every VW on a rack with an issue there was a Honda or Subaru on the next rack over.

My daughter in law bought a new VW Jetta back in 2014. It never needed to go to the dealer one time for any warranty repairs. A few sets of tires and scheduled maintenance is it. She just traded it in last year for a new VW Taos (new car bug) and so far not one hiccup out of it.

My in-laws are big VW fans and have driven nothing but over the past 15 years at least. They have been perfectly happy with them but they are always leased so under warranty usually. I just keep my mouth shut and we don’t talk cars. They do ride nice though.

Funny! That is how I used to see any Chrysler product although they seemed to have dramatically improved over the last decade or so. For a while you could almost always count on the dead Chrysler sitting on the side of the road. It was almost weekly that I heard a friend or co-worker bashing on their Chrysler product but that doesn’t seem to be the case now.

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You drove the car with no oil even visible on the dipstick?

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Doesn’t sound like this student is getting any help.

There is a difference between a camshaft sensor fault and a camshaft timing fault. A sensor fault can be an open circuit, a timing fault is a mechanical problem.

It hasn’t moved since I told him to add oil and I am not sure why he hasn’t taken care of that yet. I drove it a year ago and an referring that that experience. I told him not to start it without oil.

Ok, I see now.

I had one of my cars in yesterday for a safety inspection at a shop I trust and asked them about this situation. They said they would only buy the car at a price accounting for the complete replacement of the engine and turbo considering it was run low on oil. Also, WHY was it low on oil in the first place? Odds are it was neglected and now will be an oil burner forever.

The code I read is a P0340. He did add oil yesterday and take it to a shop. Apparently there is a whole list of other codes and pending codes that they read while it was in. Again, my mechanic told me that it basically needs a new engine, otherwise you will be chasing down one major problem after another. This isn’t the project I need but told him to put it online as a running car needing major work and see what happens.

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He talked to another mechanic. It sounds like it is common for the timing chain to go slack when the tensioners don’t get the proper oil pressure. This results in valve interference, bending the valves. The mechanic said that it probably needs a new head and timing set at the very least. Of course there was some reason it started burning oil.

I think he should just dump this and run. I did check the oil after it was added and the new oil on top of the old oil looks extremely dirty. He is from a country where others do most of this type of checking and maintenance for them so am guessing the oil was run low for a while and probably beyond a proper change interval.

What would an otherwise good condition car like this with a bad engine go for? Parts are also not available right now to fix it. Used engines are either an online scam for super cheap because it is a fake ad or as much as the car is worth. I would think someone might have one of these that got totaled in a rear end collision or be looking for a replacement transmission.

Also, how hard would it be to rebuild this engine and the turbo? He is going home pretty soon and has no mechanical ability so would have to pay for someone to do everything. Again, I think his best bet is to sell as it sits.

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Yeah sell as it sits or just give it to you to do what you want. Sounds like he pretty much used it up.

He definitely used up the ENGINE. The sad part is that the rest of the car is in good shape. I would at least buy it at current scrap prices if he really needs it gone.

Overall these cars do not appear to be complete duds. That is if you change/check the oil!

I agree. It may in fact be better $$-wise to just have it towed to an auto recycler. The recycler will offer a free tow & probably pay a few hundred dollars, and some states (Calif for example) will sometimes pay the owner add’l $$ to remove an older car from the road b/c (in theory) newer cars produce less emissions. IIRC Calif offered to pay $1500 to take my 90’s Corolla off the road. There are some restrictions, car has to be drivable & passed a recent emissions test.

Rebuilding the engine & turbo not $$-practical if shop done.

There are no “cash for clunkers” programs in Missouri! The car runs and would PROBABLY make it to a junkyard but it might be a good idea for me to have a tow chain to flat tow it if it craps out on the way there. Will he take a hit to have it towed vs. driving it in?

I did look under the tailpipe and muffler area. Black soot was EVERYWHERE so it was really burning the oil.

I called a salvage auto parts supplier as well as a NAPA distributor I have done a lot of IT work for about this and they both called me back today. The NAPA deal is the best. For $3600 they found a used engine with a turbo. The engine, valve train, and rotating assembly has a 1 year warranty while the turbo is considered an accessory like an alternator so it not covered.

It sounds like the best bet is to put a used engine in it to maximize his profits. Everyone is saying that this is a $500-1000 car on Craigslist of Facebook if the engine is bad.