CarTalk.com Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

How about a Passat?

I read a car review that Passat models from 2000-2004 were highly rated. Then I read that these cars had expensive to repair engine problems.

I’m considering a 2002 Passat with 47,600 miles, but don’t know if I’m buying someone else’s problems.

Any opinions?

Which engine, first of all?

Both the V6 and the 1.8T are very good engines, but I would not buy the latter without service records. If the oil was not changed every 5000 miles with the proper-spec synthetic, you could be in for trouble in the future with sludging and coking.

The expensive to repair engine problems are largely due to the dealers and the end users not following simple directions that are in the owner’s manual, and again, largely confined to 1.8T engines that were not taken care of.

With the proper service records, I would not hesitate to buy the 1.8T. The V6 is a solid engine as well- it’s in the '03 Passat I own.

If you want to read more on the Passat, head on over to www.passatworld.com

I absolutely love my car. I would be very sad if anything happened to it, as I have a fairly rare V6 Station Wagon with a 5 speed manual- it’s nearly irreplaceable unless I bought an Audi.

If it’s the V6 I’d take a look, but make sure the car has been well maintained. These cars started improving in reliability around 2002, but they’re still a far cry from a Japanese car and they will give you problems now and then. I usually only recommend these cars if someone really wants one, but not if the field is wide open. Is it a nightmare? No, but there are more reliable choices. Is it unique? Yes and that’s why owners put up with quirks or problems that can afflict them.

I would agree to a point, but I also believe that VWs are as reliable as the owners who maintain them.

MY '03 Passat has 110k miles on it. Here are the unscheduled repairs it has had:

1 failed fuel pump (recall item)
2 axle boots (a common problem, usually after 70k)

The key is that if you aren’t doing the work yourself (I do all my own work), you must have it done by someone competent who knows VWs well. These are cars that don’t suffer fools.

I also believe that VWs are as reliable as the owners who maintain them.

Very true.  The problems associated with them are strongly connected to poor maintenance.

Hmm, well all I have to say about VW’s is: window regulators. No amount of maintenance helps anyone with that ongoing nightmare haha. The maintenance thing goes a long way on these cars, but they do seem to have too many electrical issues and devour lots of sensors and bulbs. Other than that though I won’t knock them too much, and I actually owned one- a nice German-made 1988 GTI 16V. Still a favorite car of mine after all these years.

You are not so much buying other people’s problems so much are erratic design quality, very expensive maintenance and repairs and arrogant dealers.

Having said that, the car drives nicely, holds the road well, has good seats and good assembly quality. This gives them the good rating. Unless you are an engineer or a mechanic, and can anticipate problems,. I would stay away from this car; most people I know who have owned them have had very expensive repairs well before the time these repairs were necessary on good Japanese cars.

Even if it was reliable, routine maintenanace is more expensive than on other cars.

Consumer Reports has the 2002 (and just about all used Passats) ‘worse than average’ for reliability. Great driving cars, but more problems than most. This was the period when VW was digging themselves a hole with poor reliability. Too bad, I was a 15-year VW owner.

For what it’s worth - I owned a '72 VW Beetle for 35 years. During that time, I replaced the generator once. All other costs were regular maintenance, tire replacement, etc. - which meant a tune-up every 6000 miles and oil change every 3000 miles.

My guess is that Consumer Reports would rate the 72 Beetle as dangerous and unreliable by today’s standards (maybe even 1972 standards).

My point is, Consumer Reports uses broad generalizations and assumptions based on the fact that a lot of people don’t do regular maintenance and don’t pay a lot of attention to their vehicles until there is a problem.

So, if you are someone who takes care of your vehicle, unless you buy a lemon or some car with a documented history of specific problems, you should buy a car that you like to drive and just take care of it.

Well Consumer Reports was around back then, so I suppose you could actually look that up. However, I feel that it would have rated very highly for reliability. The VW Beetle is the car that gave VW its famous image of reliable transporation that lasted for years after the Beetle was gone-even when that wasn’t the case. However, any comparisons between a simple air-cooled car initially designed in the 1930’s and the complicated and technology heavy modern Volkswagen aren’t going to be useful. VW was a different company back then with different priorities that bear no resemblance to the modern company in design or engineering.

Consumer Reports has the most useful amount of data ever gathered by any single source on the topic of vehicle reliability. Having a sample source that I believe exceeds one million people gives them powerful consistent data. Additionally they employ quite a few statisticians, PhD’s and engineers in an effort to make sure the results reflect a level playing field and are unbiased. In fact, sometimes they won’t publish results if the sample size isn’t strong enough. Over the years I’ve found them to be remarkably consistent and right on the money with vehicle problems. A perfect example was them calling out Acura on their transmission flaws years ago as well as the electrical nightmares that plague 4th generation Jettas and Golfs.

Yes, I had an '83 GTI for 12 years, next to no problems. Those were the good old days. The late 90s to early 00s were a nightmare, with VW suffering a number of major problems. CR uses no ‘broad generalizations’ in their reliability ratings, they report their survey results. I imagine CR subscribers that own VWs and take the time to answer the survey are also likely as any to take good care of their cars.

I do like a reliable car. I like to check several sources for cumulative reliability information. I have found my Toyotas to be reliable, but I’ve always maintained them by the book. Since BMW has a very good reliability rating, I moved up to BMW. I am sincerely devoted to maintaining this vehicle and enjoying the excellence. Too bad Passat.

Good choice with the BMW. They have a fair amount of required maintenance, but once done, appear to be quite reliable. And great to drive!

I’ve got a 2003 Passat GLX wagon (2.8 L engine). It was a great car up until about 68,000 miles. A/C evaporator died, then several weeks later the water pump failed. Luckily it happened pulling into the garage. Replaced the timing belt since it had to come off for the water pump repair. For these 2 repairs, $3,000. At about 75,000 started having transmission problems. Bad torque converter replaced for $1,740. Still having a problem possibly caused by issues in the valve body. Mechanic recommends replacing transmission as more cost effective than replacing the valve body plus the torque converter again. This will cost up to $4000. By the way, the valve bodies are on back order, so this makes me think this is a common issue.

I love(d) my car - it has lots of nice features, and fit and finish are great; but now it’s sitting in the garage until we decide whether to repair it or sell it as-is (with disclosure). I will not buy a VW EVER again. Back to Toyota for me.