Home » VW Passat Diesels Have Been Ruining My Life So I Bought A Fourth One. But This One Is The Holy Grail

VW Passat Diesels Have Been Ruining My Life So I Bought A Fourth One. But This One Is The Holy Grail

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Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results. This is a quote often incorrectly attributed to Albert Einstein. The idea is simple: If you do the same thing over and over again, you probably shouldn’t expect different a result from your actions. These words of wisdom can apply to relationships, spending, and yes, even cars. In my case, I have a knack for loving a certain car and then trying my darndest to make that car work. Sometimes, like with my Smarts, it’s easy sailing. However, when it comes to Piëch-era Volkswagens, I fail over and over again. Earlier this year, I bought a Volkswagen Passat TDI for the fourth time in four years. Each one before eventually broke, but this time, I think my holy grail and its glorious manual transmission are going to work.

This purchase happened back in April, but I completely forgot to write about it, and time just got away from me. Sadly, yesterday its predecessor was sent off to the junkyard in the sky. I wanted to pair the cars together one last time for a family photo. It’ll be a bittersweet end to a frustrating journey with one car, while my relationship with the other remains fresh.

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You did not read the lede incorrectly. This latest Passat purchase marks the fourth time I bought one of these in four years. I can explain!

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See, this one is a true Holy Grail of diesel Passats. Why? Someone went ahead and deleted the pathetic glass-like automatic transmission, dropped in a manual transmission, and then tuned it to boot. I’ve been searching for a Passat like this since 2019, and like the one ring, it’s mine.

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Why I Keep Coming Back To These Putrid Cars: A Bit Of Passat History

According to Volkswagen, the longest-lived nameplate to be emblazoned with the VW logo is not the Golf, but the Passat. It launched in 1973, a year before the Golf. Those first Passats (known as the Dasher here in America) were initially available as two- and four-door fastback sedans or three- and five-door hatchbacks. Later, the vehicle would get an additional body style in the form of a wagon.

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Volkswagen

Volkswagen notes that the first generation of the Passat benefited from being the first vehicle to be styled by Giorgetto Giugiaro, and its platform was identical to the Audi 80. More than that, those first Passats and Dashers were front-wheel-drive cars when it was rare to find that layout in European vehicles of its size class. Volkswagen says those first Passats and Dashers also marked important milestones for Volkswagen. They were the firm’s first water-cooled cars and Volkswagen’s first front-drivers. To give you some perspective, the first Dashers came with a 1.5-liter inline four making 74 ponies.

In a note about Volkswagen development, my colleague Jason once wrote:

The Passat/Dasher was also notable because we can see it as the departure point where old air-cooled, rear-engine Volkswagen was replaced by the Auto Union-derived tech that Volkswagen acquired. The Passat was a modern Auto Union/Audi, really, with a longitudinal, liquid-cooled FWD setup that then morphed into the transverse FWD formula that has dominated VW ever since. Modern VW is really Auto Union, and here’s where it started.

The American version of the Dasher had round headlights and federally-compliant bumpers. In 1982 came the Quantum, which was notable for offering Syncro all-wheel-drive based on Audi’s innovative Quattro system. In Volkswagen’s retrospective, the automaker notes that the Quantum was a slow seller because it was priced close to an Audi without an Audi’s cachet.

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Volkswagen

In 1990, Volkswagen released the Passat which many VW enthusiasts identify with. Volkswagen notes that this vehicle would be the first time the Passat nameplate would be used. It also noted the first time the Passat diverged from using an Audi platform like its predecessor. These initially came with 2.0-liter fours making 134 horsepower, getting bumped up to 172 hp by the first appearance of the 2.8-liter VR6 in 1992.

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Hitting the fast-forward button, we now arrive in 1998 at the launch of the Passat B5. The B5 was a leap forward for the Passat for several reasons. I’ll let Volkswagen explain:

The 1998 Passat was a revelation in the U.S. market, offering upscale interior appointments with the kind of design that the previous two generations of Passat couldn’t approach. Based off the PL45 platform that was shared with the Audi A4, the Passat sedan and wagon were among of a plethora of great-looking Volkswagen Group products that were signed off by design chief Hartmut Warkuss—think Audi A4, A6 and TT, along with VW’s New Beetle, Mark 4 Golf and Jetta. This was another example of platform sharing, with the Passat being closely related to the Audi A4 and A6. The car was facelifted during the 2001 model year and was available with no fewer than four engines over its lifecycle: 134-hp turbodiesel four, 150-170-hp 1.8-liter turbo four, 190-200-hp 2.8-liter V6, and the ferociously complicated and slow-selling 4.0-liter, 270-hp W8. All-wheel drive was also offered late in the car’s life.

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Indeed, one of the exciting parts about the B5 and its facelift, the B5.5, is the fact that the Passat had so many different engine choices. I’m also amused that even Volkswagen admits the W8 was a “ferociously complicated” beast. Now, the ultimate grail of the Passat B5.5 is the W8 with its unique, maintenance-intensive, and wonderful 4.0-liter eight-cylinder engine.

If you’re a diesel nut, your grail will be the 2.0-liter turbodiesel, code BHW. This engine made 134 HP and 247 lb-ft of torque. Thanks to this engine, the Passat TDI was America’s only midsize diesel car at the time. The BHW’s injection system shoots diesel directly into its cylinders at 30,000 psi, theoretically leading to a more complete combustion. Of course, since the Piëch era of Volkswagen had to be weird, this engine wasn’t found in any other car.

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It’s not a lot of power, and as you’d expect, a 0-60 sprint takes about 10 seconds. What it lacks in horsepower, it makes up in healthy torque and 40 mpg returns at the fuel pump. 40 mpg isn’t that great today, but it was pretty good for a mid-sizer in the early 2000s.

All of it was backed by the Audi B5 platform, which lends good handling thanks to a multi-link suspension connecting the front wheels with pairs of upper and lower control arms. This wagon handles better than I expected it to!

How I Ended Up With Four Of Them

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If this car is so great, how have I ended up with four of them? Well, despite some great engineering and a smart platform, these cars do have a handful of fatal flaws. As it happens, I’ve experienced basically all of them with these cars! Sometimes, I’ve had a Passat TDI with two fatal flaws at the same time. Oof.

We’ll start with my first Passat TDI. I bought it in late 2019 after my trusty Smart Fortwo seized its alternator and I couldn’t find a mechanic in my town to fix it. I put the Smart on ice and decided to buy a beater to get me through. At the time, I didn’t have an expansive car collection, just my smarts and a few motorcycles. Since I was shopping for a beater, I decided to buy a diesel car. I had long been interested in trying out diesel, but never really had the opportunity to.

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As luck would have it, an older gentleman posted a 2005 Volkswagen Passat TDI wagon to Craigslist. The listing indicated that the vehicle accelerated super slow and had a top speed of just 65 mph. Apparently, he spent over $2,000 trying to find the cause of the issue and was tired of throwing money at it. I gave him $850 and hit the road in what became my first-ever Volkswagen purchase.

I quickly realized that the car’s “slowness” was the vehicle getting into limp mode above 2,000 RPM. If you used the manual shifting option on the automatic transmission and always shifted at 2,000 RPM, you could get it to go as fast as 67 mph before triggering limp mode. Well, “fast” it wasn’t because it took over 40 seconds to reach 60 mph in this condition.

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I reached out to VW experts including readers Dieseldub and Rootwyrm. Both sent me down different troubleshooting paths. Rootwyrm ended up concluding that this car was probably suffering from the infamous VW cam lobe wear problem that takes old diesels out of circulation. Dieseldub wasn’t convinced. To him, the fact that I heard wooshing sounds during acceleration and oil sprayed all over the turbo area meant I was likely facing a split boost hose. One of the symptoms of a split boost hose is black smoke, but this car didn’t do that, and neither reader knew why.

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Doing my own research, I found that Dieseldub was right on the money. The boost hose looked fine when the car is sitting still, but when I gave the car throttle, a huge gash was revealed. Basically, the turbo was just venting boost and oil into the air. It amazed me that the previous owner took this car to a Volkswagen dealership and ended up spending over $2,000 on a new turbo, vacuum lines, and a fuel pump, and allegedly, none of the technicians identified the leaky boost hose. Maybe, like me, they checked the hose with the car parked, not while it was trying to produce boost.

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As luck would have it, an Audi-loving friend had a whole pile of boost hoses in his garage. For me, the fix would have been free and it would have taken maybe 30 minutes. Unfortunately, late 2019 and early 2020 was a tough time for me mentally. I was so depressed that I couldn’t even muster the energy or willpower to fix my car. I was so unhappy that I second-guessed what my own eyes diagnosed with the boost hose. It didn’t matter that the fix was free and net me a reliable car.

Instead, I drove the Passat in its broken state for over 8,000 miles. In early 2020, I sold it for $400 just to get it out of my life and found myself behind the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz 240D. It would take the Merc about a month before its differential started failing. Thankfully, I know this car is still out there. The new owner confirmed my diagnosis to be right on target. The transmission later began failing.

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Today, I still kick myself for getting rid of that Passat. Had I waited just a few months longer, my mental state would have risen to the point where I would have fixed it. Though, perhaps it was a fool’s errand because occasionally, the car’s automatic transmission got stuck in fourth gear, illuminating VW’s version of a transmission fault light.

Dieseldub, a VW fan and mechanic, joked that the only reason I had a working transmission was because the engine couldn’t make boost. Apparently, the automatics in these Passats, which were the only available transmissions in America, are known for catastrophic failure.

The Second Passat

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Still, that didn’t deter me. Later in 2020, I found a black Passat TDI for sale in Chicago for just $1,200. I drove out to the seller and took the car for a quick spin on Chicago’s streets. It made boost and I didn’t see any warning lights, so I gave the seller my money and left happy. I forget how many miles I drove the car before it broke, but it wasn’t many.

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First, the car tossed me an oil pressure warning light. Then the car started losing boost just like my last Passat. Just to twist the knife in further, the car started having problems getting into gears above third and it absolutely slammed itself into first gear during downshifts.

It was here I learned about the BHW engine’s fatal flaw. In order to smooth out the engine, Volkswagen added a balance shaft module. Here’s how it works:

To summarize that video, Volkswagen’s Pumpe Duse engines use chain-driven gear to drive the balance shaft. That balance shaft has a gear that drives a second balance shaft. At the end of the second shaft is a hex-shaped gear that drives the oil pump. A common failure point is the hex shaft rounding out or the balance shaft rounding out. As a result, you’ll lose all oil pressure. The best way to fix this is with a delete kit, which removes the balance shaft entirely and gives you a more reliable oil pump out of the other end.

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Unfortunately for me, my engine suffered a balance shaft failure. The engine ended up toast from this, so it didn’t matter if I fixed the boost issue or the transmission because the whole thing was trashed. I sold it to a scrapper for $400.

The Third Passat

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In 2021, I decided to buy another Passat TDI wagon, and this time I did what I thought was utilizing the lessons I had learned from the previous one. I’d spend more money for one that’s sorted and I’d make sure I’d floor it during the test drive. If it didn’t fall flat on its face, I would have found a winner.

After months of searching, I found a Passat TDI near me for $4,000. The seller was a mechanic and went down the list of maintenance. He changed the transmission fluid, installed a new timing belt, water pump, and vacuum lines. Even better, the car came with a massive folder of service records dating back from the car was brand new in 2005.

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Those service records were honestly pretty scary. The records indicated that the car had most of its electrical system replaced over time. The car also got a new transmission control module, twice, as well as other odds and ends like multiple radios, wiring, and so on. Clearly, this car was unreliable, but the original owner was devoted enough to keep fixing it and managed to drive it from 2005 to 2021, racking up 230,000 miles along the way. The last thing noted in the records was a transmission failure. The original automatic was replaced in 2018 with a rebuilt unit.

To me, this means I got a decent car. I talked the seller down to $3,500 and even started using him as my VW indy. At first, it was love at first sight. For the first time ever, I finally got to drive a Volkswagen Passat TDI wagon as it was designed to drive. There was none of that crap with a dying transmission, boost leaks, or anything like that. The car was just a new fender from perfection.

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This wouldn’t last. Six months or so after I bought the car, I decided to try to find the car’s top speed. I hadn’t done a top speed run in the car before, so I was interested. Everything was fine until the car attempted to shift into fifth gear. My forward motion was hampered by incredible vibrations followed by a bang that sounded like a gun firing next to your ear. The car entered limp mode and didn’t stop shaking until I shut it off. The transmission would never shift correctly ever again.

Scared, I put the car into storage for the winter, deciding that it was an issue for future Mercedes.

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Well, when future Mercedes became present Mercedes, I opened my storage unit and found a puddle of transmission fluid under the car. I was smart enough to put a catch pan under the car. Transmission fluid was in the pan and even worse, the fluid was shiny with metal shavings. It should be noted that the Passat TDI has a sealed transmission and it’s not particularly easy to access it for service. So, a leak in itself was alarming.

On the road, the car shifted through every gear fine, but if I tried to move with any alacrity, the transmission would fail to shift into fifth gear. Eventually, this advanced to failing to shift into fourth and fifth gear sometimes. Worse, sometimes the torque converter wouldn’t lock up. The transmission threw tons of codes for the torque converter, implausible gear ratios, and more. Doing some basic troubleshooting, I confirmed the transmission case was leaking, but due to tight quarters, I couldn’t figure out from where. What was important was the fact the transmission was full.

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I topped off the gearbox, which made no difference at all. Later, I tossed in some of that “transmission rebuild in a bottle” stuff, and that did improve shifting behavior, but the car fell on itself so much I didn’t trust it to do anything more than get me around town. As the transmission got worse, I decided to park the car with the idea of one day manual-swapping it.

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Fast-forward another year, I finally got around to starting the manual swap. It was then my indy told me he doesn’t do transmission swaps. None of the custom shops near me wanted to touch the car.

My indy thought the transmission could live a little longer with some new solenoids, but the continued heavy metal shavings suggested that the box was not long for this world.

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Things got even worse over time. In addition to the transmission, which seemed to run on D20 dice rolls, the engine stopped producing boost. The boost pipe was fine, as were all of the lines. I started tracing the issue, figuring out that the car’s N75 valve was fine as well. My best guess was that there was a leak near the vacuum pump or the vacuum pump itself failed.

One clue pointing to a faulty vacuum pump was a hard brake pedal. When the pump goes or has a massive leak, the result is hard brakes and no boost. I started going through the motions of fixing the car, then my wife lost the car’s title. We looked for the title for a month without luck. I think she accidentally threw it away.

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I ran some calculations and figured out that after replacing the title, fixing the vacuum problem, and patching the dying transmission, I’d spend as much money fixing the car as I’d make back selling it. That’s assuming I could find someone on Facebook willing to buy it. The few guys who did show up were visually terrified at how hard the brakes were.

While fixing it could have been fun, I already bought the car’s replacement. Ultimately, the car left my hands yesterday on the back of a tow truck. Turns out, the car was also missing its cats. I never noticed because the car was quiet like a stick Passat. Nobody wanted a Passat TDI with rust holes, a bad transmission, and no cats. The only people interested in this car were going to to part it out.

Looking back, while I did floor it during my test drive, the car never made it past third gear before I hit the speed limit. I wonder if fifth gear was already on its way out when I bought the car. Either way, what’s done is done. I was deeply saddened to see the car go off to the junkyard in the sky and admittedly, I already regret not wrenching more on it. Maybe I wouldn’t have made back my money, but maybe the car could have gotten back on the road again. At the very least, its good parts will keep other Passats going.

The Fourth Passat

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Earlier this year, I spotted another Passat TDI for sale a couple of hours away. This looked promising. Someone went through the work to bulletproof this car. The problematic balance shaft was already deleted and the automatic transmission? Well, it was tossed in the trash for a five-speed manual transmission from a gasoline version of the B5 Passat. I couldn’t buy it fast enough.

True to the seller’s word, this Passat has been epic. The manual transmission completely transforms the Passat TDI from a fine family car to something far more engaging and fun. Even better, the car got a tune so it’s making a little more power. Sure, the gear ratios of the gas engine box aren’t perfect. At 80 mph, the engine turns 2,500 RPM. But you know what? This car will spin a front tire on a green light. None of my previous Passats could do that!

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I found myself euphoric as I drove home from the seller. I’ve been looking for this car for four years and now I finally own it! I don’t even care that it has some issues. The car has rust in a bunch of different places, though unlike Passat 3, there are no holes yet.

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Also, its cruise control doesn’t work, traction control doesn’t work, and one of the previous owners thought it was a bright idea to do limo tint all around, including the windshield. They also installed polyurethane engine mounts. The vibration would make a Harley blush.

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The traction control and cruise control issues are due to the transmission swap and have relatively easy fixes. The tint? I could have that removed! None of the rust has crumbled through yet, so even that could be fixed.

I’m still in love with the fact that mechanically, the car is as awesome as I’ve been looking for. I even have the parts to get rid of the ugly custom grille, the broken taillights, the torn driver seat, and the iffy aftermarket headlights. I may not be able to fix a bad automatic transmission, but I can replace some lights! Only the rust will be hard to fix.

As a way to kick off fixing this car, I installed some Dieselgate-era Jetta wheels to spruce up the car’s looks.

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I think I finally found the right one. Every single fatal flaw has been solved in this one, so it’s just a matter of making it look better cosmetically and getting the cruise control back online. I can handle that. One thing’s for sure, my fourth Passat TDI wagon has demonstrated that Volkswagen should have sold these in America with a manual transmission.

Of course, I could just be insane and this thing will break in a couple of more months. That, it’s probably that…

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(Images: Author, unless otherwise noted.)

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Torque
Torque
7 months ago

I owned and daily drove VWs for 22 years (84′ GTI, 91 GLI, 98 TDI). Each bought at +100k miles.
The GTI was bought at approx. 240k miles for $500, put $800 in to getting it in great shape & then drove it for 4 years / 40 miles.
The GLI was bought for $1800 and over 6 years I put $8k in to it and drove it for 120k miles.
The TDI I bought it for $6k at 102k miles, I think I ended up spending another $6k in maintenance and drove it for 12 years and 150k miles.
Over that time what I found is that at least my VWs would fail in predictable ways at pretty damn reliable approx. miles. As an example by about 180k miles the plastic ignition switch would fail. Between 200-220k miles the bearings in the interior fan motor would fail. Approx. this same time os when you would want to replace the rubber gasket between the engine block and the externally mounted oil cooler for the oil filter. This is also what the oil filter screws into. So it goes Engine Block, rubber gasket, oil cooler and then the oil filter…
Note @Mercedes Im al.ost positive the the B5 TDI Passat 2.0 TDI motor also uses this same design IF this gasket hasn’t been replaced it Will leak at +200k miles And when it fails, ALL OF YOUR ENGINE OIL will gush out, of this happens and you catch it (i.e.get the engine turned off fast enough no harm done). It IS kind of a pain in the ass to replace due to packaging constraints, but very diy doable by anyone with some mechanical sense.

Torque
Torque
7 months ago
Reply to  Torque

Likewise wearable parts need replacing of course in my experience suspension wearable (gas shocks/struts and springs) lasted approx. 100k miles and suspension / engine / trans. mounts lasted about the same. Timing belts need to be replaced at the specified mile (and or year) limits as at least the GLI and the TDI were interference engines. And replacing the water pump and thermostat at the same time is also a damn good idea

Torque
Torque
7 months ago
Reply to  Torque

I now have 2 Toyotas as daily drivers: 2004 Sienna bought at 104k miles and a 2012 Plug in Prius. Both less maintenance than each of the VWs by about 1/2 at 1/2 the cost.

Sienna has had 120k miles added and had new gas shocks/struts/springs, radiator, a/c compressor and condenser, t-belt, water pump, thermostat, accessory belts, plugs, all fluids, I think only 1 set of front rotors & 2 sets of pads. Rear brakes disc/drums + drum parking brake rebuilt, rear pads (1x)

Prius has had 124k miles added and had… new gas shocks/struts/springs, 1.5″ lift kit, 3 of 4 wheel hubs replaced (wheel bearings were going out), front brake disc’s and pads 1x, rear pads 1x, all fluids replaced

The World of Vee
The World of Vee
7 months ago

There’s Masochism, and then there’s purposely buying 4 different B5 Passat Diesel wagons…

Last edited 7 months ago by The World of Vee
Turkina
Turkina
7 months ago

Listen, if Vader’s gotta force choke 3 Imperial Generals due to failure…
I’m just saying, maybe the strategy of collecting Diesel Passats is wrong. Maybe find another avenue for your frustrations!

Otter
Otter
7 months ago

> I think she accidentally threw it away.

I think she intentionally threw it away, and I support that decision.

Rafael
Rafael
7 months ago

While I wish you the best of luck, I have to note that you guys do Holy Grails like you’re in an Indiana Jones movie, with similar results.
“Let it go, Indiana”

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
7 months ago

> an Audi-loving friend had a whole pile of boost hoses in his garage

Doesn’t everybody?

MikeInTheWoods
MikeInTheWoods
7 months ago

Just like Col Lingus says below, I admire your work and the stories these cars produce, but having owned a handful of this era VW, I have been much happier with my Toyota trucks (1st generation only please). Also, Subarus get a rap for the head1 gaskets but I found them to be fun to slide around in and are still less fussy then owning a VW. I even owned a MK7 GTI for 8 months and PTSD VW ownership conspired to make me sell it before something went wrong. That was my last “german car curious” dance.

Fred Fedurch
Fred Fedurch
7 months ago

Syncro all-wheel-drive based on Audi’s innovative Quattro system

No. Quattro is a mechanical full time system. Syncro is a viscous on demand (engages when the front wheels slip) with input and production from Daimler-Puch in Austria.

Brynjaminjones
Brynjaminjones
7 months ago
Reply to  Fred Fedurch

“Synchro” and “Quattro” are really just marketing terms. I believe they both use a Torsen differential with longitudinally mounted engines, and both use Haldex with transverse-mounted engines.

Fred Fedurch
Fred Fedurch
7 months ago

I don’t know where you and Bryn are getting your information, but Syncro was a viscous (fluid) coupler that was part time. At least that was the system that was in my Rallye Golf.

https://photos.app.goo.gl/gzyXGqkHn2cmMH3b8

Here’s an article that explains it.

https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2016/09/syncro-nined-ennead-surprising-wheel-drive-golfs-predate-r32/

Goblin
Goblin
7 months ago
Reply to  Fred Fedurch

To quote Mercedes above, very clearly stated in the first line of the post:

The version of Syncro that was in the Quantum was a full-time system“.

Re-explained deeper, further in her post.

The source could have been simply the Wikipedia article on the Passat, B2 section:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volkswagen_Passat_(B2)

Syncro is a blanket VW name for all wheel drive, and while most have viscous couplers (I think all the Golfs and Golf derivatives do), some do not.

Jakob K's Garage
Jakob K's Garage
7 months ago

Learn to weld. It’s fun.

changedmynameasIworkinadealershipandsomeofourbrandsarentgreat
changedmynameasIworkinadealershipandsomeofourbrandsarentgreat
7 months ago

I had trouble using each of three vehicle garage regularly enough to justify 3 registration and insurance payments a year. Where do you get the time to actually experience these cars and bikes? Maybe if I had a 100km each way commute and I used a different car each day but if that was the case the last thing I’d likely want to be doing was driving on a weekend

TDI in PNW
TDI in PNW
7 months ago

I am replacing it next year but I am keeping my B7 2012 Passat TDI SEL. (114K) With the DSG, it’s not fast, but it’s peppy enough, it glides to 60 in about 8.5 while getting 42 mpg (or more), 30 in town. A fantastic range of up to 680 miles for me on average, If I took a long trip, I could push it to 800+, easy. Not having to worry about filling up has been pretty great. Passats also have just a touch of luxury. Almost zero issues (door lock got wonky), engine has been perfect. It’s just been a great car. It stays in the family.

Treat yourself to a low mileage TDI in great condition while you still can. Not sure a B6 with low miles exists.

Drew
Drew
7 months ago

@mercedes what are the diesel mechanics you recommend? I am also in the Chicago area

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
7 months ago

Enjoy your work a ton, and appreciate the hard work. Many thanks, learn a lot from you.
Not a Dr. here but did stay at a Holiday Inn. Seriously half of me admires your grit, the other half recommends a decent anti depressant, and therapy.
4 of these shit boxes? Holy crap! Do you also enjoy psychological pain?
This is like the old joke about the guy beating his head against a brick wall. When asked why, replies: “because it feels so good when I stop.”

When it comes to VAG, there is no holy grail. At least where Passats are concerned.

Brain damage, drugs and depression have prompted me to give away several great cars over the last decades. And they were all fixed quickly by new owners, and cheap fixes, like your hose deal. But I always felt better when the pain ended and a friend ended up with a good cheap ride.

Another reader said try Toyotas, and I concur 100%. They may not be as primitive now, or as easy to work on as 30 years back. But they are so damn reliable, and experiencing less pain and frustration counts a lot for me.
Currently saving for one of the new little Toyota trucks (Stout?) with hybrid power.
Will buy new and pay the Toyota tax as it will probably be my last ride involving a substantial cost. And keep my 09 Scion xB as a back up.

Life is hard enough without diving into the cat litter box over and over again.
Besides that life is too damn precious and short to go “looking” for additional problems. YMMV though?

Last edited 7 months ago by Col Lingus
Joel Allen
Joel Allen
7 months ago

Purchased a 2005 Passat TDI wagon new in 2005. Almost 170K miles on the clock and she has never seen a tow truck or failed to start. Had the balance shafts removed, water pump CV’s and timing belt done at 90K. Rebuilt front suspension and front wheel bearings last year. Would have bought the 4 motion with a 5 speed if it was available in the US. I’d settle for a 5-6sp when this one gives up.

Put a 4 Motion emblem on the back in the proper location. With proper snow tires this car is unstoppable. It keeps the highway patrol off my back in the chain control areas. Funny thing is only one person has called me out on the 4 Motion. He couldn’t figure out how I got that car in the U.S. ($35 on Ebay!)

Dieseldub
Dieseldub
7 months ago

Definitely a masochist for wanting neglected, high mileage German vehicles. haha

The BHW definitely has its couple of weak points, including wearing camshafts and especially that balance shaft issue. One also has to consider that most of these problems don’t manifest as something really bad until these cars have some serious age and miles on them.

The transmissions in particular. Those ZF-made 5HP19 boxes aren’t too bad. The real problem was VW themselves said the transmissions are “sealed for life” and never require service. “Lifetime fill,” if you will. Of course, if you ask an automotive engineer what their general target for a vehicle lifetime is, you’ll get the answer of “about 10 years or 150,000 miles.”

If you ask ZF how often you should service any of their transmissions, they will tell you every 60,000 miles is the recommendation if you want it to last a long time. Aisin will say 50,000 miles..

You’re basically buying cars like I do, so cheap they’re almost free and riddled with problems that the soon-to-be-previous owner doesn’t want to attempt to tackle any of it. Of course for me, I’m very familiar with them and fix them myself, not having to pay someone else’s labor saves a ton along with not having parts mark up.

If you take care of the little things as they come up and change your friggin oil (not just the engine’s oil) they can go a long, long time. First 2005 Passat I owned (bought back in 2013) made it to 270,000 miles and only had the transmission serviced once. And that last 70,000 miles it was tuned, I used it to haul heavy tools frequently and also towed coast to coast and back again. Poor thing didn’t owe me anything after that. lol

For ease of service, I do prefer the transverse VWs, though. Mk4s TDIs are honestly very easy to care for, and they weigh a good bit less, of course they also don’t have near as much room as a B5.5… They are ~20 year old cars at this point, though. The problems add up over time if owners don’t take care of them as they appear, but I have owned numerous versions with over 300,000 miles and they kept going. Had one customer with over 600k miles on his 99.5 Golf. Apparently VDO clusters just stop counting miles at 1 million km, no matter if it’s displaying in miles or km. haha

The transverse mount 1.9L engines don’t have a balance shaft at all, PDs included. So, that would be the BEW code in the 2004 to end of production Mk4s and BRM code in the early Mk5 Jetta sedan. It’s just the bigger 2.0L in the Passat, being longi mounted with engine mount locations that don’t absorb vibrations as effectively as the transverse cars. Pendulum-style mount systems on transverse cars are amazing at killing vibrations.

I’ve owned a couple of the newer TDIs, but I keep finding myself going back to a cheap early to mid 2000s car because they’re just cheaper and easier to fix their issues. The newer ones are nice. Very quiet, far less tractor-like as far as their engine noise. Sharper handling chassis, better brakes, more features, but I’m cheap. And I detest the added complications of the new stuff. Buying an oldie for next to free also kind of makes it a blank canvas for me with the money left over to modify and upgrade it to make it what I want, modernize it just enough.

Keep rockin’ the beaters!

SarlaccRoadster
SarlaccRoadster
7 months ago
Reply to  Dieseldub

If you take care of the little things as they come up and change your friggin oil (not just the engine’s oil) they can go a long, long time.

This right here^^

Also the quality of said oil. On this side of the pond people think whatever crap Jiffy Lube is gonna throw in there is perfectly ok, when especially with diesels requiring special VW-spec oil, it is most definitely not ok. People buy these cars that have been neglected by previous owners, cars predictably break down, and they’re all “VWs baaad!!1!”. Inept mechanics (“let’s replace the turbo instead of a leaky boost hose”), especially at VW/Audi dealers, also not helping 🙂

I love my mk7 Sportwagen, with the tune and the manual trans it’s as zippy as anything, return 40city/50hwy mpg, and it can go 140mph if you really want to. Currently at 160k problem-free miles, all it ever needed was the scheduled timing belt & WP service. The CRUA engine is an amazing feat of engineering, miles better than the older diesels.

Last edited 7 months ago by SarlaccRoadster
Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
7 months ago

My Sis had one of the first B5.5 Passat wagons – but hers was the 1.8T manual.
What a great car – lasted her almost 200K miles.
Then she gave it to a cousin and bought the first of two Jetta TDI manual Sportwagens….

BTW: “….without an Audi’s cache.”
This is a common error. The word you’re looking for is “cachet”
Very different meanings.

And yeah, depression is a bitch.
It’s a result of, for whatever reason, not making progress towards your goals.
Glad you’re doing better now
🙂

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
7 months ago

“The manual transmission completely transforms the Passat TDI from a fine family car to something far more engaging and fun.”

I got to drive the Skoda Octavia version of this car from Paris to the Lore valley in France, 5MT and all. You’re right, it was engaging and fun!

Navigating the pre-SatNav back roads of France OTOH would have been a LOT more fun with SatNav.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
7 months ago

Dear Mercedes, I am neither a VW expert nor a diesel expert. I am a business manager logical expert. I would suggest that no matter how good a vehicle is claimed to be, there will be a percentage of poor examples. And in the event you are not an expert buying the cheapest and clearly best example of the broken vehicle is a bad idea. You are immediately in pay a fortune or just sell for salvage. There is a saying in the old car market buy the best you can afford. I have a 2nd caveat if you get a lemon and want to stick with the vehicle keep the lemon. You sell a complete component of parts for $400? That is idiotic, one fender a few hoses $400 is worthless. You bought 4 of these? How much did you waste imparts that yo sold for salvage?

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
7 months ago

Polyurethane engine bushings combined with balance shaft delete is hilarious.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
7 months ago
Reply to  Vetatur Fumare

Was looking for this.
A reasonable middle ground between stock mushiness and exhausting NVH is to use new stock rubber ones and buy a poly insert to fill the voids (when available) or buy a diy poly kit from McMaster-Carr and pour them yourself. I had better luck with the softer of the two kits available

Electric Truckaloo (formerly Stig’s Chamorro Cousin)
Electric Truckaloo (formerly Stig’s Chamorro Cousin)
7 months ago

I’m not sure if you simply love Passats, or refuse to be defeated by them.

I applaud your perseverance, regardless of motivation. Great article!

Tacofan
Tacofan
7 months ago

“Every single fatal flaw has been solved in this one”

VWs will find new and interesting ways to make you eat those words.

Nick Fortes
Nick Fortes
7 months ago

The anecdotes of every VW catastrophically failing and so unreliable, I just can’t believe them. I’ve now owned 9 VW and 2 Audis, none of them ever left me stranded or were under constant repair, never had massive crucial repairs undertaken. Maybe I am lucky?

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
7 months ago
Reply to  Nick Fortes

Or just good timing in the 80s and 90s my immediate family had 4 VWs and an Audi, 3 of which were mine. None had any significant issues apart from rust on two and a failed fuel injection unit on the Audi after 10 years. The VWs were all early 80s A1 platform with K-Jetronic made in Germany.
The time of troubles started in the late 90s with the A4 platform and Mexican Jetta production.

Last edited 7 months ago by Slow Joe Crow
Nick Fortes
Nick Fortes
7 months ago
Reply to  Slow Joe Crow

I can say I never owned an A4/Mk4 and yes I have noticed a lot of the horror stories originating there. It was for me 87 Jetta, 89 Golf, 94, 97, and 98 Jettas, 97 Cabrio, 07 Passat wagon, 07 GTI. 15 Audi A3, 16 Q3, 22 GLI.

Isis
Isis
7 months ago

Man you’re approaching DT levels of masochism. Respect for shitbox fans around the world. Better you guys than me.

Dug Deep
Dug Deep
7 months ago
Reply to  Isis

Exactly! Reading this I kept wondering why Mercedes doesn’t collect Toyotas instead

Torque
Torque
7 months ago
Reply to  Dug Deep

A LOT less shitbox mechanical shannagans if you buy an old Toyota than if you buy an old vw. Remember Mercedes writes about shitboxes & their mechanical melodies for a living…
Above said Toyotas are still ice cars and have thousands of moving parts, so maintenance is still required, just not nearly as much as any equally high mile VW.

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
7 months ago
Reply to  Isis

They have clearly swapped positions.

Morgan van Humbeck
Morgan van Humbeck
7 months ago

This is the most relatable story ever written. May your newest beast serve you well

Stink E. Jones
Stink E. Jones
7 months ago

I think we’ve officially reached the point in which the term “holy grail” has been overused.
Great writeup as per usual though! I always learn something when I read your posts.

Morgan van Humbeck
Morgan van Humbeck
7 months ago
Reply to  Stink E. Jones

It’s potentially a one of one car. It’s a very specific niche that fills a meaningful gap yet is nigh on impossible to find. Just because it’s not typically desirable doesn’t mean it’s not a Grail

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
7 months ago

I think swapped to manual makes it not a Holy Grail. Holy Grail would be if they sold them with sticks for one year only, or only in Hawaii or something.

Morgan van Humbeck
Morgan van Humbeck
7 months ago
Reply to  Vetatur Fumare

That’s a great point. Yeah, I concede this is a stretch of the Grail definition. Personal Grail, maybe

AlterId
AlterId
7 months ago

Considering the repair histories of the first three, maybe “Unholy Grail” is the best term.

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