VW Beetle Convertible 2003 - Transmission

I bought my first new car in 2003 - a VW Beetle Convertible. I realize it looks like a clown car, but I loved it and thought it would be a great addition to my new life in Los Angeles (having moved from NYC). The car has been great over the years, with minimal problems, and I’ve been good about taking it in for scheduled maintenance.

A few years ago, I noticed an occasional lurching feeling around 15-20 mph, but it was only every now and then. I told my mechanic at VW, and he said they didn’t notice it at the shop. A few months ago, that lurching feeling came back full force. I’m no expert, but it seemed like a transmission issue, which was confirmed by my mechanic at VW. He says I need a new one.

Now I’m stuck. The car (transmission aside) is in good condition, and after seven and a half years of LA-driving, only has 40,000 miles on it. I don’t really want to sell it - but is that my best option? Do I trade it in for a down payment and lease a car? Or do I cough up all that cash and get a new transmission? It’s not a good situation! Help please!!

I would try to avoid leasing any car. That is the most expensive way of owning wheels.

I would suggest having an independent shop check it. That is, not a VW shop and not a chain shop like the quick lube places.

When you get things straightened out, make a point of having the transmission fluid change and the filter changed every 30-40,000 miles. That is the one maintenance item that breaks my rule of “Doing all the maintenance items listed in the car’s owner’s manual and no more.”

As for what to do next, give us another day or two. There are some people who know automatic transmissions much better than I, look for “transman” The bad news is that I seem to recall there was a problem with VW automatics about that time. There may even have been a recall.

Good Luck

Thank you so much for getting back to me!

I had my car checked out at Pinky’s Automotive in Hollywood (not a VW shop) and they reiterated the transmission issue. My check engine light went on prior to my going there, which they attributed to my also needing a new catalytic converter.

In between receiving your reply and going to Pinky’s, the lurching feeling remained fairly constant, and at two separate times, my RPM gauge inexplicably revved up as if I had the pedal to the metal - which I did not. Once was on a local road, and once was on the freeway - which was scary. Luckily, I’ve had access to another car (and will up until at least next week), so I’ve been able to keep my VW parked for the time being.

I wrote to VW and told them of my previous (and documented) “lurching” conversations with my service guy at the dealer, and how disgusted I was to do my research, only to find I’m one of countless 2003 Beetle drivers dealing with this huge problem. It just reinforced the fact that there should have been a recall in this situation, but VW has chosen to dangerously let its customers keep these cars on the roads.

A rep from VW called me, and said that they’d like me to have my car evaluated at my dealer. I can do this on Saturday. A family friend is a car guy, and he said he’d pick it up today and have his mechanic evaluate it as well.

I bluebooked the car and on the site it’s worth about $7500. I would love to figure out a way to keep my car, because despite all of the issues it’s having, I love it. I think after the two evaluations (dealer and family friend) I’ll know whether or not it’s financially ridiculous to hold on to it.

It’s shocking to have these issues on such a low-mileage car, and I really can’t believe how irresponsible VW has been about the problem. I probably shouldn’t be so shocked, but I am. I really appreciate your advice! Thank you.

Perhaps VW will have mercy on you and replace the transmission at a big discount…The converter, if it’s really bad, may be covered by your emissions warranty, which is good for 8 years-80,000 miles, something like that…

Have you gotten any repair estimates on the transmission? shop around, prices can vary quite a bit…A convertible Bug is worth fixing and the new tranny will add some value to the car…

For the transmission, my family friend said his guy can do it for between $1500 to $2000 (but he hasn’t looked at it yet). Pinky’s said $3500 with factory parts for the transmission. Called my VW guy (transmission replacement quoted at $7000 - which made me laugh aloud) and he said the converter is indeed still covered. Thank you for your advice!

ATTa Girl! The VW dealership will probably install a FACTORY rebuilt or new transmission for $7000 (ha ha is right). Saturday, when you meet with the rep, see if they will agree to do it for half, $3500, and if they will, jump on that offer…Pinky’s is your next best bet, as long as he will guarantee the job for a decent length of time…

FORGET the backyard guy, unless he can show you his ASE “Transmission” certification. Rebuilding European FWD automatic transmissions is NOT a job for amateurs…

A point of interest…your car was probably built in Puebla, Mexico, not Stuttgart Germany…So you do not have to pay for German craftsmanship, just Mexican labor…Maybe that will wipe that $7000 smile off their faces…Knowledge is power… Good Luck…

We actually have a Cabrio of the same vintage in our shop. Have the transmission temperature sensor checked. They often fail on these vehicles, and the bad information they give the computer will cause the transmission to act VERY erratically. Hate to see you toss a perfectly good tranny because a sensor is shot.

I took my car into my VW guy. He said he can’t find a cause for the check engine light, and that the catalytic converter is not failing. As for the transmission, he’s confirmed (again) that it needs to be replaced, and spoke to my rep at VW corporate, with my case number. They say they’ll do the whole replacement (parts and labor) for a total of $3700. That’s probably half what the car is worth (if not more than half at this point). Is it really worth it? Or do I just trade it in and move on? This is sort of putting me off Volkswagen and I’m not sure I would consider another.

If you try to trade it in with a flaky transmission you will get a heart-breakingly small offer.

I would bite the bullet and get it fixed properly.
There’s a good reason transmission replacement is half the value of a used car.

I’ll add to Mr Meehan’s advice:
In the future change the fluid every 30K miles or 3 years, whichever comes first.
That will account for low mileage stop-and-go driving like yours.
If you had changed your fluid twice in these 7 years your trans might still be going strong.

$3700 is the final answer from VW if I want to get myself a new transmission from the company itself. I called Customer Care (hah) again just to have one more discussion about it. When I asked the rep who comes up with the $3700 amount he replied, “It’s not a person. It’s Volkswagen.” I think that about sums it all up, doesn’t it?
Should I be concerned that Pinky’s said my check engine light came on because of a failing catalytic converter, and my VW guy says it came on for no reason, and that said converter is fine?
The time has come to make the decision. Drop $3700 on the tranny (and take your fluid-changing advice) or go all out and get a new car? I guess what I really want to know is if you guys think this is truly worth it, or if the transmission going is just the opening of the flood gates of more ridiculous problems. $3700 is a lot, but it’s also a lot less than a new car would cost. However it’s not less if that’s only the beginning of more very expensive problems. I’m sure you’ll all be thrilled when I stop asking questions. :slight_smile:
I did see a few posts from Transman618 about other kinds of cars, and it seems like he has a lot of knowledge about this area. Is there a way to directly have him weigh in on this as well, or only if he happens upon it? I do have to say the information and advice you guys have given me has been invaluable and it is very highly appreciated. Thank you so so much.

Since LA is the car capital of the country you should be able to find a couple of independent non-chain (avoid AAMCO, Cottman etc.) transmission shops and get estimate prices for a rebuild.

Did the Pinkey’s guy scan the computer for error codes?
Find out what the codes are and post them here. They look like P0123.

We’re all thrilled that you posted back to say how things are going.

I called Pinky’s. They said:
For my transmission, they got Gear 2 Incorrect Ratio, code P0732.
The code for the catalytic converter was P0420, and it gave that twice.
When I brought my car back to VW a few weeks ago for the full review, my service guy said he couldn’t get the catalytic converter to fail, and that they couldn’t find a reason for the check engine light to come on.
Pinky’s can still do it for $3500, but that’s only $200 less than VW’s quote.

There are lots of things other than the converter that can cause P0420.
The right way to check this out is to look at the signals coming from the O2 sensors.