Jetta 2003 Safe to Drive?

So its a 2003 Jetta and I don’t know all the other specs off hand. It was running fine for about 5 months. I even drove it to Myrtle Beach with no issues. It has pretty good gas mileage. I can put 45 dollars in it and it’ll run for about a week.

Main Problems:

  1. Shifting Gears ON ITS OWN?: for awhile after I just put fuel in the tank, it would stall and shift into reverse for 2 seconds and back up while it was in drive. I don’t know what the issue is.

  2. It jerks a bit when I try to get up to speed. It has been getting progressively worse. Is this the engine dying or is this just the transmission fluid?

  3. The horn stopped working, and the volume controls on the driving wheel after my dad tried to change the fuze thinking he knew what he was doing.

  4. Apparently this one guy said that there’s residue or water in the oil or something, this guy at autozone looked under the hood.

  5. So we’ve established that there’s a blown fuse but we can’t find it. The alignment is also MAJORLY off. Before I got new tires I had to drive angling in all directions to get it to where it needed to go, I felt dizzy after awhile of driving it so I had my bf drive for me.

  6. The brake pads are squeaking and need repaired immediately. last night (after I refueled the Jetta) suddenly the red brake light goes on for no apparent reason, and there is a constant BEEP BEEP BEEP when I drive the car. Also the door is ajar light keeps flickering on randomly, after I go over a railroad track or a turn.

  7. And the check oil light was on for a week. For some reason that light isn’t coming on anymore. I need to change the oil again too.

  8. I replaced the tires AND the dead battery in December (even though I kept the car warm). I lost the custom key for the tires. Had to get the bolts cut off or something…IDK but something about the whole bolts being cut off thing makes me a bit weary, the new tires helped.

So far I’ve established: engine, brake pads, fuse (except my friend whose a mechanic couldn’t find the blown fuse) Is it even worth it to try and fix this car? It’s acting really strange. I couldn’t tell if my car was swerving on its own or because of the slick roads when I drove it home last night. I managed to ignore the beeping by blasting my stereo. Did I mention that the cup holder is IN FRONT of the CD player? Too bad the recall was in 2007.

Oh wait I forgot something…the temperature is not reaching hot, or warm, or even semi-warm. The passenger seat warmer is also now defunct.
Should I even TRY to drive this car 20 miles to get it repaired? Does anyone know how I should list the priorities of what to look at first? I need my vehicle to run. The people I bought it from said the check engine light has been on for years and they got it checked out, and it was just “On” so that’s also been on for awhile.

Safety first. or as long as there are no major safety issues. go from there.

Wow. This can’t be for real.

  1. Very strange. I strongly suggest a visit to an independent transmission shop (not a chain like AAMCO, Lee Myles, Cottman, or Mr. Transmission) Be prepared for some bad (and very expensive) news.

  2. This could be engine related, especially if maintenance has been ignored. What can you tell us specifically about the maintenance? As to the trans fluid…have you checked the level, color, and odor of the fluid?

  3. That combination of symptoms points toward the need to replace the clock spring in the hub of the steering wheel.

  4. The guy at Autozone may or may not know what he is talking about. Because the presence of water/coolant in the oil can spell a very quick death for an engine, you REALLY need to have a qualified mechanic look into this situation–today–if you expect to continue driving the car.

  5. Clearly, you need an alignment, but it is also possible that badly-worn suspension components are the cause of the problem. This is a potential safety issue.

  6. Your brakes are the most basic safety item on the car. You are sure that the brakes need TO BE repaired, but you have not done so. I am very curious about your reasoning related to this matter.

  7. You can have that same guy at Autozone read the stored trouble codes that are indicated by that Check Engine Light. Needing an oil change has nothing to do with the CEL, but it does have to do with a potential early death for the engine.

  8. I can understand being a bit WARY about possible after-effects of having to cut a lug nut off of the car, but this should not have any negative effects if it was done properly.

Overall, your car probably has no more problems than other cars that have logged almost 300k miles and (apparently) have had very lax maintenance. Whether you can drive it safely for 20 miles is something that nobody can determine from afar, but the possibility of being unable to brake and/or to steer would certainly concern me.

I believe that this car will require a major cash investment at this point in order to make it into a reasonably reliable and safe vehicle. If you don’t have the money to replace the car, then your only alternatives are to fix this one or to take public transportation. Personally, I would cut my losses and buy a replacement vehicle, and then be sure that I maintained it better than this poor tired beast has apparently been maintained.

I don’t have time right now for a detailed response, but let me make a few quick observations. If a car has transmission problems, continuing to drive it will reduce the chance that the transmission can be saved. Driving with contaminated oil can destroy an engine quickly. Driving a car that may have malfunctioning brakes can lead to someone getting killed (along with criminal charges for negligence). Driving a car that can’t be steered properly is dangerous too. If the oil light is for the oil pressure, then you’re supposed to stop the engine immediately (if it’s safe).

I’m glad you’re asking us if the car is safe to drive, but I’m afraid I have to point out that you don’t seem to recognize how serious many of these issues are and that there’s no question this car shouldn’t be driven.

I gotta agree with @lion9car, DON’T drive this car. Given the problems and 270,000 miles, I’d say its next trip is on a hook headed to the junkyard. There are so many problems on your list with difficult to diagnose, expensive solutions that the final bill will be a really big one. The transmission alone will cost more than the car is worth… and shifting to reverse ON ITS OWN is a REALLY bad thing for you, for the transmission and everyone around you. Call a junkyard, ask for $700, take whatever they offer for the thing and they’ll come and tow it away.

No offense, but posting here with this long list of problems on an 11 year old Jetta with 270,000 miles is making us feel like we’re being pranked.

I fix cars for a living. If this car came to me, I would do a courtesy test drive around the block and hand the keys back to you and find a polite way to tell you that the car probably isn’t worth the diagnostic fees to check these things out, much less fix all of them.

No it’s not a prank, and VDCdriver answered a lot of my questions. This car has only started acting up in December, like a month ago. But I took it to a repair shop and asked them questions, and they barely looked at it. And it completely passed its inspection last year, after I got the car. The alignment may have been tire related but I was told the tires needed rotating recently. The problem has just been expense and time. My bf is kind of a mechanic but I don’t trust him to do these major fixes. The brake light JUST came on last night. I replaced the windshield wipers, all four tires, battery, and got it checked out and all anyone has said is the alignment is off.

No one mentioned any of these other issues and I’ve been asking people. I’m worried that this car place I just dropped it off at is going to charge me way too much. I was hoping to go with my bf because he knows at least some about cars and can fix them so I wouldn’t get ripped off. I also had the oil changed within the past month…and I’ve been checking it periodically. The breaks should have been done a lot earlier, but it’s just been difficult to get all these things done, and I haven’t been driving it a lot on the highway for this reason. Plus we’ve had some major snowstorms so I wasn’t even able to get the car out of the driveway and had the tires replaced.

I also only recently saw the oil light come on. That was about 2 weeks ago. I didn’t know what it meant, and even asked the guy at autozone and he didn’t answer me or tell me what it meant. My bf said it was probably cold weather related. If my car has been so poorly taken care of then it shouldn’t have passed inspection and had no issues brought up to me not once. I’ve asked to have the engine checked out, and I’m beginning to think they just ignored me.

I haven’t had any actual issues driving it UNTIL YESTERDAY when it started beeping. The stalling thing went away too, IDK that was the first thing though. The car would go in reverse and I would tell people and they’d say “Are you sure it wasn’t in neutral or that you just didn’t notice” and I’m like no it actually went in reverse. They ignored me.

I feel like a mechanic should at least know what he’s talking about. People get ripped off all the time at car shops so I was trying to figure out the right one to go to. This one store in town tried to charge me 170 dollars for a new battery that cost 60 dollars at autozone and it was a better battery. Apparently my bf’s entire truck got repaired there and had the same battery installed for 70 dollars. I don’t think this is my fault.

At least u got new battery. 03 car w/250k miles? At least u looked under hood occasionally.

I think it was 170k miles. I can’t check now it’s in the shop.

Part of the problem here may have to do with the way in which you relay information in your postings. Or it could be a problem with my logical mind, which gets tied in knots trying to follow you.
Lets take the alignment issue. You mention that keeping the car straight was difficult “before the new tires.” Well new tires typically won’t address that kind of problem. It was more likely alignment (had to be WAY off) or more seriously a front suspension problem. Has anyone checked either the alignment or the front suspension?
FWIW, having the tires rotated is way down on the list of what this car needs.
And please know that telling us that “people say” you need this or that, doesn’t do us any good. Who are these people? Do they know anything? Have they inspected the car?
You lengthy list of things replaced, includes “all four tires.” The next paragraph states that you’ve had some bad snow storms and “so I wasn’t even able to get the car out of the driveway and had the tires replaced.” I’m now left scratching my head, as I have no idea whether the tires are new or not.
But FYI, know that most car companies design their products for a live in the range of 150,000-200,000 miles. With recommended maintenance and an attentive owner, almost any car can get to that lifespan. Fastidious owners can get more, but be aware that the older the car gets (or the higher the mileage) more things are going to go wrong. This means that maintenance costs will go up, and breakdowns will become more frequent.
As well intended as you may be, you are at the disadvantage of not having basic car knowledge, nor knowing the history of this well-used car. Add in the fact that you apparently have no one with car knowledge that you can rely on. I would never have recommended someone like you buy a car such as this. It is too late in the car’s life for an owner in your situation. If you can at all afford it, stop throwing good money at this car and get a newer, lower mileage model.

You could try breaking up your paragraphs, and using proper grammar. I do have basic car knowledge, but I’m not a mechanic. I knew this car was going to be high maintenance. And if you want to pick at my post, I got the tires replaced before the snow storm but I still wasn’t going to drive in it for at least a week.

Whoever sawed off the “bolts” should have replaced them and all should be “safe” with the wheels and tires. I suspect the wheels had “locking” lug nut(s) and since you didn’t have the key they had to be sawed off. The studs on the car are fine and new lug nuts should have replaced the old sawed off one’s.

VW uses a “lifetime” fluid and doesn’t provide a dipstick to check the transmission fluid level. This lifetime fluid really should be replaced but I doubt it has been touched since you said the previous owners weren’t big on maintenance. Most '03 Jetta auto transmissions don’t hold up well over time and need to be replaced or rebuilt, and that is due to the lifetime fluid concept.

Going in reverse when it should be in drive could be a problem with the gear selector being misaligned or otherwise damaged and in need of repair, or it could be a sign the transmission is going bad. The erratic shifting between gears, and not moving when in 1st gear are common signs of a VW tranny failure. My daughter experienced auto tranny problems on an '03 Jetta purchased new. The 1st one went out at about 75K miles. The second one was going bad and they traded in the car at that point.

These VW’s also have electrical problems frequently, bad switches and problems with the radio are pretty common. It sounds like the horn falls into that problem area.

You need to find a really good mechanic that specializes in European cars and even better if it is a VW specific shop. It is hard to tell you how much more money to put into repairs on the car. If the body has no rust then it could be fine to keep for a few more years.

This is a 10 year old car now, with lots of miles so you need to have a pretty healthy budget for repairs. $2,000 a year about what I’d expect in yearly repair bills.

" $2,000 a year about what I’d expect in yearly repair bills."

I agree, but if the trans needs to be overhauled/replaced, her repair budget just for this year could well exceed $4,000–or, in other words–more than the car is worth.

It’s time for a reality check. You clearly bought a well worn used car, and a car with a poor reputation for reliability and reasonable maintenance costs. You have driven it in conditions where you are clear you had very limited control of the direction you were driving, your ability to make it go forward or backward, and your ability to stop. It has tried its best to warn you with flashing lights and beeping sounds that something very bad was happening, but you still want to drive it. Wake up!

This is not the car for you. Someday soon, if you continue with this behavior, and if you are very lucky, it will break down and leave you alone in some random place. Keep your cell phone charged, because you will need it. If you are not so lucky, you will lose control of the car completely and crash. You might be seriously injured and you might hurt someone else.

It’s time to dig deep, or ask your family, or join a credit union and find out about used car loans to buy a 3-5 year old car with 35 to 50,000 miles on it. Then take the time to learn how to check the oil and the tires, and whatever other checking the maker recommends, and accept the fact that you have to do it often.

I apologize if I’ve made you uncomfortable, but you have made me uncomfortable. Driving this car, in these circumstances, is like playing with a loaded pistol, in a crowded bar, while you are drunk.

@wentwest I have to agree with you. This is only a good car for a mechanic who can fix it in his spare time with discount parts. In college I had a number of classmates who had cars like that. They often borrowed my Stovebolt 6 1948 Chevy because it was reliable.

Please dispose of this vehicle and follwow @wentwest’s advice and live a long and happy life.

Ok this is the problem. My dad bought it for me. The main issue is he won’t listen to me. I told him it’s not going to last over a year, and he ignores me. He says the lights are just an “electrical problem” and I won’t be able to buy myself a new car. Plus, the breaks do work fine at the moment, the reverse only happened for a split second after I filled up the tank when I first got it. Then it stopped doing that. It doesn’t do that anymore. It never has reversed on the road or anything, or stopped like some Jetta’s have. I didn’t pick out this car either. I was kind of disappointed to find out my dad got a “good deal from his friends and spent 6,000 on this car” that I had no idea about and surprised me with it.

I tried to list the issues, he’s just too busy with his job and now he’s flying to Thailand and it won’t be fixed by the time he gets back. My friends told me it was not going to last, and one said how his Jetta died on the road. So I’ve had suspicions before it actually started getting weird. I kept saying that I needed to get the transmission fluid checked, but now it’s how it’s my fault for not doing it sooner when he’s been traveling overseas constantly for the past year. Hopefully the mechanic will be honest and save me the trouble of having to explain this to another person who is ignoring me on the issue.


And I quote: “You’re car is safe to drive. It’s safe. You can get a ride and go pick it up at the shop today.” That’s my workaholic dad speaking. FML.