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Used Car Buyers Nightmare! Please Help!

Here is my predicament.

I previously had a 2001 Jetta (115,000mi). I sold this one and paid half in cash and half financed a used 2002 Jetta (58,000). The old was manual and the new is automatic (for my wife to be!).

Problem! The day after I bought the car, the oil light started coming on. Every time I drove the car it would flash on and off after about 30 miles.

I took it to the seller (a VW dealer) the same week and they replaced an oil screen and filter. The problem persisted.

I took it in the second week and they replaced the oil pump. The problem persisted.

I took it in the third week and they held the car for two weeks. When I called they said they were checking on the warranty (3m/3,000mi) to see if it would cover the necessary repairs. At this point I got worried.

Now, it has been six weeks and they still have the car. I had to pressure them until they finally told me that the entire engine (1.8T) may need to be replaced! Now I am angry!

My option…try to bargain with them to get a different car of greater or equal value…or, let them replace the engine under their warranty and keep the car they fixed.

My question, is it wise to let them replace the engine (most likely will be a refurbished on) and keep the car or should I try to get into a different car. I have a feeling that I am going to loose on this one either way as they will not want to trade me a good car for a worthless one.

I did check into the lemon law and because this car is not under the manufacturers warranty anymore they say the law does not apply. Is this correct?

I feel like I should have never sold my old car…it worked great and never had any major problems. I am very fustrated because I bought this newer car to avoid these problems and I am moving out of state in a month and getting married! My time to deal with this is running out!

What would you do?

Let them fix your engine and make it right.

Lemon laws are for new cars only not used.

I had a similar situation with a used Ford Aerostar that I bought from a reputable used car dealer. The Aerostar was about 18 months old and had the balance of the factory warranty. The engine would not run smoothly for about 45 seconds after it was started in the morning. The used car dealer took it to the Ford dealer and the Ford dealer replaced the head gaskets. The car was better for about a year and then developed the same problem. The car went back to the Ford dealer and it was determined that one of the cylinder heads was cracked and enough coolant had gotten into one of the cylinders to score the cylinder wall. The Ford dealer replaced the engine under the warranty and this repair was satisfactory. I drove the vehicle to about 125,000 miles when I decided to replace it. The engine was running fine when I traded it for a Ford Windstar. From my experience, I would let the dealer replace the engine and go from there. Chances are very good that your VW will be fine.

Thanks for the reply. I do kind of want to let them fix it and go with that but my only concern is with a problem after replacement. This car is not under the manufacturers warranty. It is only under a 3month/3,000mile limited used car warranty.

Lemon laws vary by state. Which one are you in? MA is one that covers the sale of used cars by both dealers and private parties. Dealers are held to a higher standard than private parties.

The state is PA. I called the lemon law hotline and they told me that in PA it can be considered a lemon if used but only when it is still under the manufacturers warranty. They did recommend calling the Attorney General’s office of Consumer Affairs in order to file a complaint to which they will mediate between the two parties. I would rather not escalate it to that point but I also don’t want to be pushed around.

There really is nothing wrong with gettin a new engine. I would just worry if its an indication of the type of care the rest of the car had. As long as they are working with you on it, I don’t see a problem. Nothing wrong with trying to get a different car though to be done with the issue, but sounds like they are willing to stand behind the problem.

The 1999-2004 Volkswagen Jetta is perhaps the most trouble-ridden nightmarish cars of the last decade in terms of reliability. Horror stories are all over the Internet about failing engines, transmissions giving out on new cars and endless engine lights. Consumer Reports used to have it marked as the most unreliable car as well. My point? Well they might fix it and it might work out, but I’d just get a different car and avoid all the future hassles.

If you REALLY want the car, then stop by and search through their message forums. You may be able to find out if this oil light issue is an electrical/sensor issue that you can live with, or an indication of a failed engine. VW’s can be notoriously frustrating to troubleshoot even for people who work on them for a living. If the car dealer you bought it at doesn’t specialize in VW you may need to offer some advice. If the car runs great with no funny engine noises it could all just be electrical.

To the OP if you decide to hang onto this car find a recommended independent that works exclusively on Audi/VW. Your ownership will be very pleasant as some of my friends have found with VW. Dealerships offer great training to techs but the quality of techs varies drastically. The major problem with dealers is no consistency on who works on the car. An independent shop you will find the tech or few techs are really good or not worth it.


It sounds like the VW dealer is fulfilling his responsibilities as per the warranty. As you already know, this is not going to be covered under a Lemon Law, so you only have the dealer’s warranty to rely on–and they do seem to be standing behind the warranty–albeit very slowly.

As was said, these cars are known to be MUCH more trouble-prone than other makes. In addition to phantom electrical problems and internal engine problems related to lubrication issues, VWs are also prone to premature timing belt failure, which essentially turns the engine into a mass of bent valves and damaged pistons, all of which is very expensive to repair.

So, my suggestion is to accept the car once the engine has been repaired to your satisfaction and then to trade it in on a make with a well-earned reputation for reliability. A good source of information is the Consumer Reports Guide to Used Cars.

Good luck!

You didn’t menton if the car is actually using/loosing oil. If not, then I’m wondering why no one has mentioned the possibility of a faulty oil sending unit. This is an inexpensive small part that makes the oil light go on if the oil pressure drops. I had a sending unit once that caused the same problem. Replaced it and all was fine. You could also ask someone to check the engine oil pressure by hooking up a separate oil pressure meter to the engine. But I’d just replace the sending unit–a small investment and then at least you would know what the problem isn’t. One other possibility is the wire connection at the sending unit or somewhere along the line has a loose connection. Good Luck!!

Is the car a turbo? VW turbo 4 cylinders were prone to oil sludge and VW extended the warranty on the motors. I had a 2002 passat that was a nightmare. These cars also have bad auto trannys. My mom bailed out of her Jetta at 10k because of a bad transmission. Good luck.

Listen to Dave G

For the record VW turbo 4 cylinder were prone to sludge only in the Passat and Audi A4 due the mounting configuration of the engine (crankshaft fore-aft) causing the oil pan to be shrunken in size. Coupled to poor verbage on synthetic required and lax owners changing oil past 5k miles engines sludged. The 1.8T used is mounted with crankshaft(left-right) in Jetta(OP), Golf, GTI, Beetle and Audi TT is devoid of the problem of sludging even if owners are not a strict on oil changes since it has a larger and better designed oil sump.

A new engine (not re-manufactured or used) for free? It sounds like a deal to me.

If the dealer will replace the engine with a reman unit under warranty then this is a no-brainer to me. Replace the engine, keep the car, and don’t worry about it.

Without knowing the history of the car I can theorize what occurred with this car anyway. VW builds great engines and at only 58k miles the problem the engine has should not have existed.
What is probably wrong with the defective engine is that the original owner did not change the oil on a regular basis (or hardly at all) or the car has suffered an oil change problem in its past (someone changing the oil and forgetting to add the new oil).
This will prematurely wear out the crankshaft bearings, cause low oil pressure, and in turn will cause the oil light to flash on; especially when the engine is warmed up.

Often what happens is that when a car owner suffers a problem due to lack of oil changes or no oil at all, they will add heavy weight oil or an oil additive and then “dump it off” on the dealer. The dealer sends the car back for service before putting it up for sale and when the proper oil is installed the “hidden problem” may appear. I’ve seen this more than once.

Anyhoo, just some insight as to what more than likely occurred with this car and hope it helps in your decision.

Sounds to me like the dealer is trying to do the right thing. Take the engine replacement (a good refurb/reman will have a warranty) and be happy. They are offering you a perfectly reasonable solution. I don’t know why you would even hesitate.

Thank you for all the comments. To answer some questions…I don’t know if the engine would be refurbished or new. I am assuming it will be refurbished though.

I do have an update on this situation:

Well, I did some homework on the history of this car. It was bought in Edison, NJ new and driven in the area for 50,000 miles with one owner and serviced at the dealership. I contacted this dealership and obtained the entire history of repairs on this vehicle…it was 24 pages long! It turns out that the owner only had two oil changes done at the dealership. I understand that they could have gotten changes that were not recorded but there are several notes on the service history recommending the owner to do an oil change, therefore, indicating that changes were not done according to schedule.

The biggest disappointment however was learning that the car may have been in an accident. This is not a reported accident so it does not show up on the carfax report or title but the service report from the dealer reads:

Case Opened: Jan. 09, 2007
Mileage: 45,278

Comments: Air bag light is on. Many faults in system.
Front sub frame has heavy impact damage.
Advise customer not to replace front wheels and tires due to subframe damage.
Replaced tires and wheels at customer request.

Some other issues:

Case Opened: Sept, 11, 2006
Comments: Advised customer not to drive vehicle
Adjuster not working properly and could lead to internal engine damage.
Damage to adjuster as result of lack of maintenance.

Case Opened: Jan. 23, 2006
Work Done: Replaced Turbocharger
Comments: Advised customer to make sure oil changes are
done every six months of 5K miles. Advised customer to use synthetic oil

One question I have is what is the front sub frame and how serious is this concern? What hidden problems might occur?
The dealer seems to want to trade me a vehicle…a 2004 Jetta 2.0L with 42,000. The old one is 2002 Jetta 1.8T with 55,000.
I am not sure I trust the dealer and am thinking of asking for a full cash refund. At the same time, I do need a car and their deal sounds good provided I have a chance to check the full history on this car. The car may have been leased for 40,000 miles. I was wondering if this is an issue at all?

Well first off whatever you do, get rid of that nightmare you’ve got. Second, I assume the dealership you’re dealing with is not a VW dealer but a used car dealer? If that’s the case be very suspicious of this 2004 with 42,000 miles. A car of that age and mileage usually shows up as a certified pre-owned VW unless there’s a problem. Quality cars rarely wind up on used car dealer lots because new car dealers don’t let the good ones go. There’s too much profit in used cars to let great cars get auctioned off or sold to used car dealers.

If I were you I’d just see if you could get your old car and your money back and get everyone to just shake hands and part ways. That’s probably not going to happen, so the next best thing is investigating this 2004 THOROUGHLY. Heck, I’d pay a VW tech for a used car inspection before I’d buy the thing. Carfax doesn’t catch everything.

Just from what I read here I don’t think VW is the problem. The problem is the previous owner who obviously abused this vehicle into the ground. Lack of oil changes is no doubt the reason for the engine failure and the turbocharger failure to boot.

The other serious issue here is the heavy impact on the subframe. It’s unclear if the impact is collision related with another vehicle or due to the mother of all potholes, etc. Probably the former.
The subframe is the main component up front to which the engine is bolted along with suspension and steering components and yes, it’s a major, major part of the car.

Given the engine problem, the subframe issue, etc. one could safely assume the entire vehicle has been heavily thrashed by the previous owner.
My initial impression was take the refurbished engine with no question, but after this latest info my opinion has now veered 180 degrees and I think this car should be dumped immediately.

Most VWs travel many miles with few problems so don’t let this one sour your opinion completely. VW is not at fault on this one.