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Repair or replace 1999 Volkswagen Passat

I have a well-maintained 1999 Volkswagen Passat with 79,000 miles on it. I drive maybe 5,000-7,000 miles a year, nearly all city driving. The tires are almost three years old, I have the oil changed regularly.

Recently, I began having two problems. One involves shaking and squeaking in the front end, the other is that it runs rough, with nearly-constant hesitation/hiccuping. I took it to my mechanic, who was an Audi mechanic for years. He examined it and told me that the hesitation is likely due to a failing ignition coil, and thought that there was a problem with one of the strut mounts that was causing the squeaking in the front end. He said he didn’t have the setup to fix this, and suggested I go to the Volkswagen dealer nearby. (By the way, I checked, and there are no recalls on my model - I know that Passats of this generation had common problems with the ignition coils.)

I took it in today. After $150 to diagnose, they told me that the car needs a new ignition coil and spark plugs (and something else I don’t remember) to the tune of a little over $1,000. They didn’t find a problem with the strut mount, and said that the squeaking is coming from the steering. They said that they will try to find the problem on Monday.

So, let’s say that they find the problem and that it costs another 1,000 to fix, just as a hypothetical. Is it worth it?

The car is paid for, and I carry only liability insurance. My husband recently lost his job, and my income has gone down 20% in the past couple years. We can’t afford to buy a new or late-model used car. We could probably afford a used car for $4,000-$5,000.

I am thinking that I should get the Volkswagen fixed, because I know its history and I know that I have maintained it well. What do you think?

Why would you spend $4,000-$5,000 when $2,000 (your estimate) will get your car running properly again?

It’s almost always less expensive to maintain/repair a car than to replace one, and any car you buy for four or five grand is a huge gamble.

Stick with the car you know.

I suggest trying to locate an independent mechanic with VW experience. It may save you some money as compared to VW dealer prices, which are usually very high.

Keep it, fix it. As mileage accumulates, you need to replace things. VWs don’t have the best reliability ratings (you’ll read that in other posts), but that is a moot point. You own it and should maintain it in good running order. It’s a bit surprising that your mechanic can’t replace struts. This is a little confusing because your mechanic should be able to replace the coils as well. You might not need spark plugs (which engine do you have?), but they are typically replaced around 100,000 miles. Do you still have the owner’s manual or maintenance booklet? That should tell you when the plugs should be replaced. I’d wait on the plugs if the ignition cols are really the problem and VW recommends later replacement. It will take another 4 years until you get to 100,000 miles. You might also consider getting a third opinion.

You are thinking along the correct line. Any car that is 12 years old is going to require some attention. Your chances of finding a car in thd $5000 price range that doesn’t need some kind of attention is very slim.
If you can find a good, independent alignment shop or a good independent tire shop with an alignment rack, this may be the place to go for ths steering squeak problem. Years ago, I did business with an independent alignment shop. The owner once showed me his appointment book–he had clients that were dealers who had alignment racks in their service areas. This independent shop got the problem cases.
It may be that your squeaking noise is not really a safety issue but an annoyance.

I did go to a tire shop with an alignment rack, the local Goodyear shop. I’ve used them for several years now. And, as I said, the guy who runs the shop was an Audi mechanic, so I figured he’d be able to do the repair. Still, he said he couldn’t. I don’t know why.

Tell me, how would I go about finding a good Volkswagen mechanic? I do have another shop I’ve used, and they’ve always done well for me, but they don’t specialize in Volkswagens.

I’m glad to hear that you all think it’s probably a better option to fix the car. I thought along the same lines as McParadise - if I spend only $4,000-$5,000, I’m probably just buying someone else’s problems.

Is there a flashing CEL on the dash ? A common failure for this year Passat is the ICM or Ignition Control Module . You can buy one from VW on line parts suppliers for around $100 and it takes ten minutes to install . My 99 has had this problem and it’s an easy fix .
Take a look at Club B5 for Passat info .

Here’s the link for Club B5

BTW this year Passat does not have ignition coil problems - that came a year or two later .


Check your local telephone directory, under Auto Repair, and keep looking until you find a shop that specializes in VWs.

Also check “The Mechanics Files” on the CarTalk home page:

You can search by zip code and make.

I live in a small city, and there are several VW specialists here. When I drove VWs I had a great independent mechanic, and some of my friends who currently drive VWs still go to his shop, often on my recommendation.

Unless you live in the boondocks you should be able to find a VW shop. You just have to search for them. In my experience they are always more customer oriented than the VW dealer, and usually slightly less expensive.

Good luck.

I’d also say repair what you already own. $4-5K is likely only going to buy you something that’s going to need some repair when you buy it or shortly afterward. At least you know the maintenance and repairs have been kept up on the car you currently own, if you buy something else you have no idea how well it’s been taken care of. Your car only has 79K miles on it so driving it 5-7K miles a year it should last several more years. I too suggest looking for an independent garage to do the work, usually the quality of work is just as good as a dealer at a lower cost.