CarTalk.com Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

Looking to Buy a Beetle

Hey there!



I’m looking at buying a 2002 Turbo S Beetle from a used car lot. The car looks beautiful, but I’m a little leery because the Turbo S was only around from 2002 to 2005. Can anyone tell me why they discontinued it?

The beetle is not a very reliable car, and will be even less reliable with a turbo. Unless your know the complete maintenance history, and are satisfied that all reuired work was done, I would stay away from this car. All used cars look good on the lot; detailing is an art and science, loke applying stage make-up.

The light that burns twice as bright only burns half as long…

I’m looking at a whole bunch of online consumer reports, and I’d say 85% or more seemed to think this was a reliable car. I’m curious why you say it isn’t reliable. And thanks for helping with this, it’s the first time I’m not buying from a family member!

You say you want a Turbo S Beetle, but you’re “leery” of the car because it was only available for three years.

What? Please explain.

This model was discontinued because not enough people bought it, and it was no longer profitable. It was a corporate decision, based on the bottom line. It has nothing to do with the car itself.

Why are you interested in this car? Are you sure you know what you want?

Do some research. Check out the reliability ratings, and anything else you can think of, before you take the plunge.

I’m a former VW owner, which is why I’m not a current VW owner, but a friend of mine has a late model turbo-beetle. She hasn’t really had any major problems, except the damaged engine due to her failure to replace the timing belt.

I can’t blame that on the car.

While looking at a 2002 Turbo car, I would not be nearly as worried about what the average reliability has been reported as to the condition of the specific car.

I would be far more concerned about the current condition and the care and maintenance the car has had since it was new. At this time, those two factors are far more important than any relative reliability reports.

It is not exactly true that they stopped making Turbos. They are still in every diesel and I believe is available in most of the gasoline models. It may not be available in the Beetle, but as I have heard they may be getting ready to discontinue the Beetle model, it is rather tight inside that engine compartment, (I have one, a 2002 TDI)

I agree that how it was maintained is far more important than make/model. I’d want to be sure the previous owner(s) kept up on oil changes, fed it a steady diet of 91+ octane that it most likely requires, and has changed the timing belt.
The only sure way to tell is to pay to have a mechanic give it a used car inspection BEFORE you buy. Do NOT trust sites like Carfax, they’re pretty unreliable from the stories I’ve read on this site(one guy looked his car up and said it had been reported stolen, and he’s the original owner). If the dealership won’t let you take the car to have it inspected, then look elsewhere.

I’m sorry, but this is an extremely unreliable car. It is ‘much worse than average’ at Consumer Reports, and the turbo is worse than the regular engine. What listings are you looking at? This was the period where VW made their well-earned reputation for unreliable engines and terrible service. I am also an ex-VW owner (16 year: Scirocco, GTI), and I wish I could encourage you. I cannot.

I would also discourage you from getting any used car with a turbo. They put higher loads on the engine, and are easily mistreated. If you want more power, get a v6.

Some personal friends, who are SAE members, bought them because of their funky appeal. All had considerable problems with this car which should be re;lable, but is not. Agree with texases that this unreliability is well documented.

The Mini Cooper, designed by BMW, is a similar car, but has turned out to be quite reliable.

It’s too bad that in all of these surveys used in figuring car reliability that an exhaustive investigation could not be done on each complaint.
My feeling is that the Beetle owners yelling the loudest about it being unreliable are also the same ones who enjoy that kick in the pants feeling when the boost comes on.
You see it with SAABs also. Who’s going to whale on a car harder; a Toyota Camry driver or a SAAB driver?
My feeling is that it’s more the driver than the car.

Example, and not directly related to a car but an add-on. It involves subwoofer speakers (a pair of which I own).
In the reviews a guy claims they’re “junk, ok at best for a wimpy amp, and not worth the money”.

These speakers are liberally rated at 1000 WATTS and the guy applied a 4000 WATT amplifier to them, so…
Bad speakers or “bad driver”.

Some years back, I noticed in Consumer Reports that the Ford Maverick had a much worse repair record than the Mercury Comet. These cars, as far as I could tell, were identical except for the grille and nameplate. Since I have training as an applied statistician, this really puzzled me. I wrote to Consumer Reports and asked about this situation. The response I received was “that is the way the data came out”. This didn’t answer the question for me. Later, I found an article in Popular Mechanics where this publication had surveyed owners of the Ford Granada and the Mercury Monarch–essentially identical cars. It turned out that the average age of the Mercury owners was 7 years more than that of the Ford owners. I would guess that the owners of Ford Mavericks were also younger than those who drove Mercury Comets, and that the younger owners drove the cars harder and did less maintenance.

Back in the early 1950’s, Consumer Reports rated cars as A,B, or C in different price categories. They did say that the condition of the car was more important than the rating as a used car–a C rated car that had been well maintained could be better than an A rated car that had been abuse.

The vehicle I drive most of the time is a Chevrolet Uplander minivan. According to Consumer Reports, this is an unreliable vehicles. The only problems I have had were an intermediate steering shaft and a bad sender unit for the fuel gauge and both were taken care of under warranty with no argument. I buy a vehicle for how functional it will be for me, just as I buy speakers for how they sound to me. I don’t put all my faith in what the experts say.

Written like a true statistician.  As a professional economist I was trained and worked with statistics often. The automobile data collected by CR is subject to many issues.  While that does not mean it is worthless, it does mean use it with care.  In the case of cars, the age difference noted is just one factor.  They also rely on those who reply to their surveys and their surveys are limited (I believe) to just CR subscribers. So those factors limit results to those people and those people may well not be very representative.  Both the way they drive and maintain their cars as well as the cars they choose and how they report (I may or may not report something) 

I do subscribe to CR and I do read their reports.  I believe that if I allow for the kind of statistical problems they have and filter their reports to my abilities and background (for example they may down rate a camera because it is complex, but I have been a professional photographer while in college, so making manual adjustments is not a problem for me, I can still use their results.

Of course this is not limited to just CR, any rating or evaluation you may receive needs to be evaluated in relation to the source. If you old uncle Fred and aunt Fran who never drive over 40 mph and have never owned a car for two years, then they are not going to be a good source of information for a 20 year old college student.

I think we are saying the same thing. I subscribe to Consumer Reports and have read the publication for years. I use Consumer Reports to narrow down my choices when I make a purchase.

I had a student back in the 1970’s who, for a short paper, took the rating order of Consumer Reports on three different items: 1) automobiles; 2) Clothes washers; and 3) a third item which I can’t remember. She took the initial ratings from the Consumer Reports issues five years earlier. She then looked at the most recent frequency of repair ratings for these items and rank ordered the products from best repair record to poorest repair record. She used a rank order correlation–I think it was Kendall’s tau. The value was close to zero for automobiles, clothes washers and the third item. In other words, the initial ranking really didn’t predict the repair record.

I think that Consumer Reports now does consider the repair record in its ratings.