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Josh Rosenberg By Josh Rosenberg
Updated Nov. 7, 2023

Older Used Volkswagen Pros And Cons, Reliability And Mechanical Problem Watchlist

Related: How To Get The Best Deal On A "Brand New" Volkswagen

In today's very high-priced used car market, many shoppers are now looking for "older" models that have aged well as a way to save significant dollars. And a lower mileage older Volkswagen could be a viable and more economical option.

2011 Volkswagen Golf

The bottom line on Volkswagens is that performance and handling, along with energetic engines, make them just plain fun to drive. Even family sedans such as the Jetta and Passat fall into this category. They are also well-built with sophisticated German engineering.

And while Volkswagen is the #2 automaker in the world, which arguably can't be done without a strong reputation for being reliable, there are some mechanical issues to anticipate and check for before buying.

So here, we'll cover the pros and cons of of some of Volkswagen's most popular older vehicles and then address reported mechanical problems to be on the lookout for, knowing that specific mechanical issues can vary depending on mileage, maintenance history, and driving conditions, or also possibly be largely absent from regularly-maintained vehicles.

But first, and most importantly when considering an older car ...

Things To Do When Considering An "Older" Vehicle

Locate Lower Mileage Vehicles: They are certainly out there to be found with careful and patient shopping. Be willing to drive a distance if you have to.

Vehicle History and Maintenance: Ask for the vehicle history report (CarFax or AutoCheck) as well as documented maintenance and repair records. If not provided by the Dealer or private seller, it's usually best to move on.

Pre-Purchase Inspection: Have the vehicle independently inspected before making a final decision. This usually will cost in the $150-$200 range but is well worth it given the potentially thousands in savings over the long term.

Also, Always Know The Value Of Your Trade-In!

Whether you are trading or selling on your own, it's just a good idea ... even whether you are in the market or not at the moment. You can then use this important information for a number of purposes ... to negotiate with a dealer, or to know how to price your car in the retail market, or simply to know the value of one of your assets, which is always a good idea.

Getting trade-in values online tend to vary a lot from site to site. But I've found the one at Edmunds Trade-In Quotes is particularly comprehensive and accurate.

It's free, it's quick and there's no contact by any third parties. I think what helps its accuracy is the inputs will include either your plate# or VIN#. They really focus in on the specific vehicle.

Volkswagen Beetle: The Beetle is simply a legend in the automotive world and ably served drivers across the globe for decades. Whether hatchback or convertible, base or turbo, this fun-to-drive car with its classic unique design is a real pleaser.

2009 Volkswagen Beetle

The Beetle's seventh generation, it's last, was produced from 2011 - 2019. It had a coupe body shape and was able to seat five. Compared to the previous generation, it was lowered and had a longer body.

More modern features included bi-xenon headlights and LED daytime running lights, keyless ignition, a touchscreen infotainment system, climate control and a panoramic roofs, while being powered by 1.2-litre and 2.0-litre engines and a 6-speed manual transmission.

The previous generation was produced for the 1998 - 2010 model years, and while sporting a multitude of model name changes, the reality is they were quite similar, although modernized, as the years went by

Typical standard features on the base model coupe on post-2005 models, for example, included power windows, power door locks, 16-inch alloy wheels, remote keyless entry, air-conditioning, cruise control, heated exterior mirrors, leatherette upholstery, stability control, traction control, antilock disc brakes, satellite radio (2008 and newer), and a CD/MP3 stereo with an auxiliary input jack.

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Also very popular through the 2005 model year was the Beetle powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder good for 115-horsepower as well as the TDI model produced through 2006 with a 1.9-liter turbodiesel engine that produced 100-horsepower and 177-lb-ft of torque with gas mileage of about 40 mpg.

Beetle Overall Pros: Iconic design, long list of standard features, lively engines, good gas mileage.

Beetle Overall Cons: Some are tired of the aged design, cramped backseat, limited storage space.

Volkswagen Golf: The Golf (briefly renamed the Rabbit for the 2006 - 2009 model years) has long stood out in the compact car segment. And the generation produced from 2010 - 2014, its sixth, is hard pressed to be matched by any class rival for its overall refinement level and upscale amenities.

This comfortable and practical hatchback also offers a level of handling athleticism not usually available in the category.

2010 Volkswagen Golf

Prospective used Golf buyers should be aware that it is indeed priced at somewhat of a premium, but for good reason. It's cabin is at a classy, near-luxury quality level, while it also boasts an impressive European combination of smooth ride quality with an engaging drive.

And likely the best of the offerings is the TDI model due to its higher equipment level, strong engine and excellent fuel efficiency. While the base engine model is definitely powerful for the class, it's gas mileage performance suffers. There's also a high-performance Golf GTI version (see below).

The fifth-generation model (the Rabbit), was essentially the same well-engineered hatchback, but came with a single engine: a 150-horsepower five-cylinder that was upgraded to 170-horses for 2008.

We also like the fourth-generation Golfs introduced in 1999 and produced until mid-2006. This version offers a long list of standard features as well as a turbodiesel model ... extremely rare in the economy car segment.

There was also a convertible model during this production run sold under the Cabrio name.

Golf Overall Pros: Excellent build quality, upscale look and feel, strong engines, comfortable yet engaging drive, functional hatchback design, many standard features.

Golf Overall Cons: Mediocre fuel economy in non-TDI models, weak acceleration in base 2.0-liter older models, premium price.

Volkswagen GTI: With a powerful engine and brakes, a sport-tuned suspension, and additional interior and exterior features, VW took its entry-level economy car and turned it into a budget performance car.

It's 200-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine and six-speed manual transmission (standard) makes the GTI another very entertaining older Volkswagen to drive.

2009 Volkswagen GTI

The fifth generation introduced in 2006, and the sixth in 2010 (produced through 2013), are still worthy of serious consideration, especially if you can locate a low-mileage version.

The 2006 version was improved over its predecessor with a stiffer body structure, a fully independent suspension and the aforementioned 200-hp turbo engine.

Typical standard features also included 17-inch alloy wheels, bi-xenon headlights, sport seats, tartan upholstery and a 10-speaker audio system with a 6-disc CD changer and auxiliary audio jack (2007 and older models).

The sixth-generation revised the styling, substantially upgraded the interior to near "luxury car" levels and added new features ... it's really tops in its class when it comes to cabin refinement and build quality.

And on the road, while there may be more powerful rivals, this GTI's suspension offers a well-balanced combination of ride quality and sporty handling ability, resulting in impressive cornering speeds without sacrificing driving comfort over bumps and rough spots.

GTI Overall Pros: Hatchback functionality, high-quality interior (top-of-the-line post-2009), powerful turbocharged engine, excellent balance of ride quality and handling ability.

GTI Overall Cons: A bit pricey, somewhat cumbersome navigation system, some rivals are faster, some rivals have better handling.

Volkswagen Jetta: This sport sedan (and wagon in some years) is noted for its strong engines, tight suspension and responsive handling. Most models are loaded with features that give it a premium feel and there's plenty of room for passengers. Definitely for drivers looking for a more entertaining drive.

2006 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

We're big fans of the Jetta's fifth generation, produced for the 2005 - 2010 model years, thanks to a ride that is smooth and quiet yet still quite performance oriented, ample rear passenger room and an overall interior fit and finish that will definitely give you a "premium" feel.

The Value Edition and 2.5 models are powered by a 150-horsepower 2.5-liter 5-cylinder engine. This is a significant improvement from earlier base models and are very well equipped as well. For better gas mileage, the TDI trim has a 100-horsepower 1.9-liter diesel engine which boosts mpg into the 30's.

The sixth-generation Jetta debuted for 2011 and was produced through 2018. This Jetta is a solid midsize sedan offering a comfortable ride, spacious cabin, plenty of features and a fuel-efficient turbo diesel version (TDI).

With this generation, VW decided to tone down a bit in terms of some features and equipment. The result was a new Jetta that was no longer head and shoulders above many of its rivals, as well as pricier, but one that now was very competitive in its segment on the basis of price, ride quality and features.

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True to its European roots, the drive of this Jetta remained confident and capable. That said, it's less sophisticated suspension (changed to a semi-independent torsion beam from an independent rear suspension) has somewhat diminished its previous level of athleticism.

We also like lower-mileage versions of the earlier models produced during Jetta's fourth generation (1999 to 2004), which was slightly smaller and perhaps the best looking of the Jettas with its more edgy styling. Like its follower, this generation is an extremely entertaining car to drive with top-notch build and feature quality.

However, the base 2.0-liter engine was not particularly lively and offered only average fuel efficiency. Because of this, we feel those equipped with the very capable turbocharged 1.8T four-cylinder make a better choice. This engine was available in the sedan beginning with the 2000 model year and in the wagon beginning with the 2002 model.

Jetta Overall Pros: Solid build quality, gutsy turbocharged engine, high ride quality, nimble handling in upper trims, high quality interior, many safety features.

Jetta Overall Cons: Mediocre gas mileage in non-diesel models, somewhat bland exterior post-2004, tighter rear legroom pre-2005, fine but somewhat diminished post-2010.

Volkswagen Passat: The Passat has long been a favorite of car buyers looking for a little more luxury and performance than is available in the typical sedan (or wagon). With its refined styling, very capable handling and upscale feature quality, the Passat ably fills the gap between a boring sedan and the expensive luxury sedans.

Volkswagen Passat Lux (2008)

The sixth generation Passat made its debut for the 2006 model year and was produced through 2010. The drive quality in these Passats strike a nice balance. While it can be quiet and smooth with an emphasis on comfort, as we would expect from a luxury vehicle, it also has an unmistakeable 'edge' to it and displays some real athletic driving dynamics.

The seventh generation was produced from 2012 through 2019 with a facelift in 2016. This Passat possesses an engaging road demeanor thanks to its capable engines, well-tuned suspension, precision steering and very good brakes ... and all while maintaining a comfortable ride for the occupants.

While the 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine is perfectly adequate, it doesn't particularly stand out in this segment. For those who insist on more power, the 3.6-liter V6 engine would make a solid choice thanks to its capable and energetic acceleration.

In addition, the DSG automated manual transmission (standard on the V6 and available on turbodiesel models) is smooth and well-timed, making for a responsive performance whether commuting or taking on some of those back twisty roads.

Passat Overall Pros: Nice combination of ride quality and handling, upscale cabin, lots of features, athletic turbocharged version, also available as a wagon.

Passat Overall Cons: Pricey, somewhat elevated road noise, older models have less rear seat room than some competitors.

Older Volkswagen Mechanical Problem Watchlist

Older Volkswagen models are generally considered to have proven to be reasonably reliable vehicles. It's important to note that while these reliability issues below have been reported in some Volkswagen models, there are many well-maintained and trouble-free older VW vehicles on the road. Individual vehicles can be impacted by driving conditions, maintenance regularity, mileage and promptness of repairs.

Find your next car, truck or SUV on

If you are serious about buying an older Volkswagen, the following are some of the more common issues and mechanical problems that have been reported and should be checked before purchase:

Electrical Problems: Some Volkswagen models, especially those from the early 2000s, have been known for electrical issues, including problems with power windows, door locks, and various sensors.

Transmission Issues: Certain Volkswagen models, particularly those equipped with automatic transmissions, have experienced transmission problems, such as slipping gears or hard shifts.

Engine Reliability: Some older Volkswagen engines have been associated with issues like oil leaks, timing belt failures, and overheating.

Turbocharger and Supercharger Problems: Volkswagen's turbocharged and supercharged engines have been known to encounter issues with the turbo or supercharger components. This can lead to reduced performance and costly repairs.

Exhaust and Emissions System: Emissions-related problems, such as catalytic converter failures or emissions control system issues, can occur in older Volkswagen vehicles.

Public Car Auction Database

Cooling System Issues: Some Volkswagen models have been prone to cooling system problems, such as coolant leaks, water pump failures, and overheating issues.

Interior and Electronics: Interior components like window regulators, radio units, and climate control modules can be susceptible to failures in older VW models.

Timing Belt Replacement: Many Volkswagen engines require timing belt replacement at specific intervals. Neglecting this maintenance can result in severe engine damage.

DSG Transmission Concerns: Some Volkswagen models equipped with Direct-Shift Gearbox (DSG) transmissions have had reported issues, such as mechatronic unit failures and clutch pack problems.

Lastly, Suggestions For Getting The Lowest Volkswagen Price

First of all, here's a Lowest Price Used Car Buying Guide that details a very effective method.

Here's another method that identifies Price-Distressed Cars Right On Dealer Lots. These are vehicles they are so desperate to unload they would welcome your wholesale offer.

In addition, you can also try the Public Car Auctions in your own geographic area. This article reviews what to expect at open-to-the-public car auctions and how to locate them.

And for those of you who might be interested in a "brand new" Volkswagen if the price was really good, here's info on exactly How To Get The Best Price On A New Car. This works just phenomenally well.

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