TDI with Really Long Crank -- Timing Belt issue?

Alright, folks, I’m stumped. I drive a 1998 New Beetle, 1.9L TDI 5 speed manual, 240k miles. She’s a precision machine, I know how to use a wrench but basically don’t know how cars work. She was going strong until a couple weeks ago. I recently drove her 1000 miles with no problems, then 200 miles from my destination she started to struggle. A leaking sound coming from the passenger’s side of the engine, low power up hills, and a somewhat long crank starting up.

After a $400 visit to the garage, I’ve got a new N75 valve and a leak in the turbo is fixed. I’ve got plenty of power back, revved it up to 4000 rpms and floored it on the highway to check. The leaking sound is gone. But the long crank is still there and getting really, really long. (10-15 seconds before she starts to run) Seems to be longer when she’s warmed up. One or two times it’s screeched at me after a second or two on the starter. (starter is new as of February)

Three people have told me to check out my timing belt, one guy told me my car is junk now since I ran it with the timing incorrect. Timing belt has at least 30k miles and 3 years on it, I don’t know the car’s history before that. I looked at the belt, and it looks to be in great shape–did I knock it out of time somehow, maybe with a forceful push start? With the new N75, this car is driving like new once she starts up, just taking forever to turn over. Please tell me I haven’t destroyed my car with neglect! Any advice welcome.

Yeah, doesn’t sound like a timing belt problem, if it was the car wouldn’t run. In addition to the above, it could be poor compression or the valves needing adjustment. Or maybe something wrong with the glow plugs - does it start better when warm?

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It’s worse when warm–and this happened to me on an 80-degree day.

It says “post withdrawn by author”–did you mean to do this? I was just looking into your suggestions!

I missed the T D I part of the post! The suggestions were gas motor specific.

Based on a friend’s experience, I’d suggest pulling the valve cover and checking for worn cams. His mechanic told him these engines wear out their cams at about your mileage.

Given the long crank time and low power on hills what I would do if it were mine is run a compression test.
The mileage is not that high for a diesel but it’s best to weed out any solid mechanical malfunction from the get-go rather than guess and throw parts. You should be looking for numbers in the 450 - 500 PSI range. Down in the 300s generally means trouble brewing.

Doing this test would require the use of a diesel compression tester as the gasoline type will not work.
I think (?) there are some inexpensive testers out there now. Harbor Freight (ugh…) or online would likely work fine. No sense in spending big money for a seldom used tool.

Tried to start her up again today–long crank over and over killed the battery, so I jumped her off another car. Perfect start, 4 or 5 clicks and she came to life, like normal. This happened over and over, while hooked up and after I disconnected her… Could this be as simple as a battery issue? Battery is in its 3rd year of life, all in cold conditions with infrequent use. I’ve let it die completely 5-10 times.

Bingo , we have a winner . If jumping works then the battery is the first suspect .


Hmmmm I thought we had an answer, but two parts stores tested my battery and said it was in good shape…

A diesel should start right up cold or hot and since it cranks for 10 to 15 seconds that rules out the battery to begin with.
Slow starting cold could be a glow plug or compression (or both) issue which I alluded to before. Slow starting hot could be a compression issue.

If the glow plug current draw is in the 40 to 50 amp range then the glow plugs should be good. If any have damaged tips this means a faulty injector.