Three Years and 93,000 Miles: A Summary of Problems So Far

This entry is a bit overdue. Previously, I had focused on sharing my reports here in my blog and then followed-up with a supplemental video on my YouTube channel. This time, I shot the YouTube video first and had intended to write an accompanying blog entry after the video was published. But something surprised me: The video was far more popular than anything I had ever published before. Some described it as viral, but I don’t give it that much credit. Still, surpassing 100,000 views in less than two weeks was unprecedented on my channel, as were the hundreds of comments at that point. Responding to comments (engagement) improves video rankings. So, I spent A LOT of time engaging with the viewers, which left my blog neglected. The activity pushed my list of subscribers beyond the coveted 1000 and now has nearly 2000 subscribers. The activity on that video has since leveled-off to manageable traffic. It’s time to tell readers here about my three-year anniversary with the car.

I’m going to split the report into two sections: those that were Volkswagen’s fault and those that I consider self-inflicted, annoyances, or a result of normal wear and tear. Many YouTubers jumped to the conclusion that my “problems” support their beliefs that Volkswagens are terrible cars. I disagree, of course, but I won’t turn my channel into a mudslinging page by being overly argumentative. I think the car has been fantastic, even with its issues. Many have said, “I’ve never had a problem with my [insert model of underpowered, soulless car here].” I chose the GTI for what I knew it would be with a Stage 2 tune, which is surprisingly difficult to find in other cars at the same price point as a GTI with mods. Here is a summary of issues I’ve encountered during my first three years and 93,000 miles. Take note that these are faults/failures, damage, and general annoyances:

Volkswagen’s Fault

  • Pre-Delivery Defects – The car was delivered with its suspension shipping pucks installed, a defect in the front passenger door glass, and non-functional lighting in the same door. The shipping pucks were not Volkswagen’s fault, but a (common) dealer problem via its pre-delivery inspection (PDI). It took me just a few minutes to remove them. The passenger door glass and lighting was replaced very quickly under warranty. Also, the dealer installed a set of free splash guards to atone for their “puck-up.”
  • Coolant Loss – I had reported that I needed to top-off my coolant reservoir from time to time, perhaps adding about 4-6 ounces of coolant each year. That’s not a lot of coolant, if you ask me. BUT, I was still inclined to wonder where that coolant was going. I had a seasoned VW mechanic inspect my cooling system for signs of leaks. He found absolutely nothing; a clean bill of health. I sent an oil sample to Blackstone Laboratory for analysis to rule-out a leaky head gasket or other issue. The sample was reported to be in great shape with no signs of problems.
  • Creaking Along the Driver’s Door – It took a while for this issue to surface and to discover a fix. It first manifests as a creaking sound which sounds like it’s in the B-pillar. Many, including myself, spent a lot of time trying to find loose screws or mounting tabs in the door, along the door frame, or in the interior trim surrounding the door. Of course, nothing works. Later, the source of the sound became very obvious. Over time, the 12-point bolt for the door check came loose enough to make a terrible sound as the door opened and closed. Retightening this bolt solves the issue completely. However, it worked its way loose again after about a year. A coat of thread-lock solved it permanently, I hope. VW could save a lot of headache by applying thread-lock and properly torquing this bolt.
  • Cabin Blower Failure – I’m disappointed with the relatively short lifespan of the cabin blower motor. The original blower in my Mk3 Jetta TDI lasted 13 years and 375,000 miles! Perhaps my GTI’s blower motor failure was a fluke. If it wasn’t, then at least VW made removing the blower without tools VERY EASY! Watch this video to see how.
  • Trunk Pass-Thru Carpet – The carpet on the trunk pass-thru peeled-up after a while. It seems to be a common problem among the 2017 models… and ONLY the 2017 models. VW may have used a different adhesive that year. It’s possible that I would not have discovered this flaw for much longer, had it not been for me removing my Canvasback Cargo liner, which is fastened to the edges of the factory carpet with Velcro.

NOT Volkswagen’s Fault (self-inflicted, normal wear/tear, or general annoyances)

  • Transmission Leak (that wasn’t) – My mechanic found what appeared to be a leak on the transmission when I had the clutch replaced. He could not find the source of the leak. So, we cleaned the area thoroughly and kept an eye on it. The leak did not reappear. We concluded that the transmission may have been overfilled during the PDI. Again, this was a dealer problem and not a design/manufacturing problem.
  • Premature Battery Failure – The factory Group 47 battery is suspected of being barely adequate for its application. It may have been specified to save weight or to save money. I don’t know. Regardless, I’ve added A LOT of extra electronics to my car. These devices likely add an extra burden on the battery and charging system. I replaced my battery with a larger Group 48 AGM battery. Looking back at the records for my Mk3 Jetta TDI revealed that its original battery also lasted about the same time of 2.5 years and 92,000 miles.
  • Seat Bolster and Door Seal Wear – THIS IS COMPLETELY MY FAULT – I have long legs and stiff hips. The result has been excessive wear on the door seal and seat bolster due to my entry method. I have since adjusted the way I enter the car and seem to have reduced or eliminated my seat/seal wear. I will follow-up with a seat repair write-up.
  • Parking Brake Handle Leather Wear – The leather covering on the parking brake handle is a nice touch. However, it is fastened to the handle by simply clamping the lower plastic piece of the handle to the edges of the leather. I probably could have reattached the leather. But I think it would have just come off again. It turns out that I like the look of the piano black handle without the leather. So, I tossed the leather in the trash. Some 2017 and later GTI owners have told me that their cars do not have leather on the parking brake handle. Perhaps VW decided it was a bad design?
  • Rock Chips in the Clear Bra – This is normal wear and tear. My 3M Clear Bra has done a great job of protecting my paint and headlights. I’m confident that none of the chips, even the impact that was sufficient to dent the hood, have made it through to the paint.
  • Glass Breakage – I was unpleased with the clarity of the factory windshield. But that was resolved when I managed to crack my windshield. The Fuyao glass is wonderfully-clear and apparently tougher than the factory glass. It has taken several hard rock hits with barely a chip. Later, I blew-out the rear passenger window while mowing my lawn. It was unbelievable! Not VW’s fault, though.
  • Roof Water Entry – This is more of a annoyance than an actual problem with the car. The shape of the roof and the canted windows makes it highly probable that any water that’s on the roof will wind up pouring through an open window. Even worse, the water pours directly onto the power window controls. My common sense solution is to not operate the windows until after I’ve managed to clear standing water from the roof.
  • Center Arm Rest Wear – This isn’t wear at all. Instead, it’s just the accumulation of dead skin within the fabric. Those with leather interiors will never see this problem; nor will those who don’t use the center arm rest. It’s not a terrible problem, just an annoying one. I resolved this by using an infant skull cap as a condom for my center arm rest. HAHA!
  • Scratches on the Hatch – This is self-inflicted. After all, who can expect the interior to stay perfect after hauling lumber, shelving, and other heavy cargo?
  • Bent Wheels – I don’t believe this is a design flaw. I think most agree that 18-inch wheels and potholes do not go well together. I bent the wheels on the left side of the car after hitting a pothole. In truth, I didn’t even know they were bent until I replaced the tires. So, the bend was so subtle that I didn’t notice. I had a wheel repair specialist straighten them for about $100 per wheel. He also checked the other two and determined that they were straight.
  • Steel Oil Pan Leak – This one has stirred a lot of controversy. Those who saw the video of an oily mess under my car were quick to disparage Volkswagen. But this is an AFTERMARKET steel pan that’s sealed with RTV. I’m lead to believe there is a fine line between too little and too much RTV. Too little and the pan may leak. Too much and a bead of cured RTV could break loose inside the pan and block the oil pump. While the Mk7’s plastic oil pan has its detractions, I think VW moved away from the RTV-sealed pans for a very good reason. I’m experimenting with a Mahle oil pan gasket, allegedly for the Tiguan, and will report on its effectiveness.

This looks like a long list of issues, but it’s not bad at all. The “VW problems” are all minor, with the potential exception of the coolant loss. As of right now, my GTI appears to be in perfect health, particularly for a small car that has been driven so far with as much utilitarian abuse as I’ve thrown at it. Of course, everything can be great until it suddenly is not. HAHA! Time will tell.

Going Strong,

Scott

About Scott

I grew up near Houston, TX and served in the U. S. Coast Guard for over 30 years. I have an electronics background and continue to work in the electronics engineering field. I taught myself the basics about automotive systems as well as how to perform some of my own maintenance (cars and bicycles). I became involved with Amateur Radio and computers in 1995. The explosion of technology has made my job and several of my hobbies quite interesting. My hobbies include Volkswagens, bicycling, photography, electronics, amateur radio, web management, and reptiles. Visit my websites to learn more.
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10 Responses to Three Years and 93,000 Miles: A Summary of Problems So Far

  1. Chuck Raspa says:

    Great review Scott! I’ve had my 16 ‘S’ for 3 1/2 years and haven’t had any issues(only 28,000+ miles). I am running an IS38 with the APR tune and also a number of suspension and brake mods. So fa, so good.

    • Scott says:

      Nice! I wish you were near SE Virginia so I could take a ride in that thing. I’ll stay Stage 2 unless my turbo fails on its own. At that point, an IS38 is a logical replacement since I’d already be replacing a turbo. Thanks for visiting.

  2. Thanks for the review Scott. It’s reassuring to see that you have had so few problems with your GTI. My 2018 has 20,000 miles on it so far and I plan on keeping it for as long as feasible.

    I’ve always noticed that a person’s opinion on whether a car is “reliable” or “a piece of junk” often has more to do with that individual than the vehicle in question. I’m old enough to remember when many cars really were “unreliable” and where 93,000 miles without a major system needing repair or replacement would have been considered amazing.

    • Scott says:

      I’m getting old, too. HAHA! It amuses me when people complain that, with all of our technical advances, that we haven’t made cars even more fuel efficient than they were in the 70s and 80s. Let’s see: My GTI is 3x more powerful than the original, despite having only 0.4 cubic inches of additional displacement and enough emissions control equipment to choke a shark; and still gets the same fuel economy, despite weighing almost twice as much and being loaded with creature comforts and conveniences that no one had even imagined back the 70s/80s. Given all of the new tech and sophistication of today’s cars, it seems amazing to me that more things don’t go wrong with them. Yes, we still expect more and perfection… and it better be cheap, too! HAHA! Thanks for visiting. -Scott

  3. Adam says:

    Scott,

    Thanks for all the great information on your website and Youtube channel.

    I daily drove an MK4 with the 2.0 8V to 233,000 miles. I really like that car, but I wanted something newer and more comfortable for commuting and bought a 6MT Subaru Outback. Driving the Outback is yuck – so slow and poor handling. After 3 years of ownership I am thinking of letting the Subaru go. My old VW is so much more fun to drive and I would like to own a newer one.

    Dealership websites are advertising 2019 GTI S 6MT for around $25K right now. I have never bought new, but am considering it if this is a car I could drive for at least 10 years (at about 14k miles a year). I do all my own maintenance and repairs. I understand that all cars will require work throughout their life, but I do not want an unreliable nightmare that consumes my time figuring out and repairing issues. People like to hate on VW reliability, but my MK4 never let me down or needed any work that I thought was unusual.

    I know your car has been great so far. How many miles/years do you plan to drive it?

    I did some research and found some common problems with the TSI engine. On the following list, is there anything you are concerned about? If so, is there any extra care that you are taking to prevent these issues?

    1. Failing intake manifold – carbon buildup
    2. Plastic water pump leaking
    3. Timing chain tensioner failure (maybe only on early model year TSI?)
    4. PCV valve failure – pressure buildup causes oil leaks and rear main seal failure

    Thanks for the insight

    • Scott says:

      Adam – I do not have a set mileage that I plan to drive. It all depends on whether my car develops any expensive problems, particularly repeat expenses. I have not had any of the problems you mentioned. I’m aware of the carbon build-up, but have not seen signs of trouble. My level-headed mechanic says he doesn’t even bother with intake inspections until the car has cold-start faults. I’m hoping my use of top tier fuels and regular trailer hauling will help with keeping deposits in check (or burning them off). My water pump seems to be fine; plus, there’s a revision that I think has been going on the newer cars. I have not heard of timing chain tensioner failures or PCV failures on these cars. That doesn’t mean they don’t happen; I just don’t think they’re common. Thanks for visiting.

  4. Daniel Marsh says:

    I enjoy both your posts and in particular your Youtube video on this article. I’ve begun shopping GTI’s myself, in particular the Mk7. Have any new issues came up in the roughly 5 months since you posted this? How many miles are you at now?

    • Scott says:

      Thanks for the note, Daniel. The car has been fantastic. I shared a follow-up a few weeks ago in a 100,000-mile video. See it at https://youtu.be/DuXSbqKRgTo. In short, nothing new has occurred. I just keep driving… well, not so much during the stay-at-home orders in my state. I think I’ve driven just 300-400 miles since mid-March. HAHA! Take Care!

  5. Jason says:

    Came across your videos and now your website.. Right on the money. You love your GTI as much or more than I love my GTI. MK VII 2016 70k Miles and still going strong, although I also have the coolant leak, and I can smell it on occasion, but i just add some coolant and bamm.. fixed.

    I had to replace a headlight, and my license plate light sensor comes on on occasion, but dealer quoted $214 or something to fix.. lol

    I have decided to go with the APR ECU Tune, going to do that next month and get a set of new Michelin – Pilot Sport A/S 3+ tires.

    Needless to say, thanks for posting your info on your GTI.. us enthusiasts really appreciate it.

    PS… my oil pan has never given me any problems so far.

    By the way how often do you change your oil?

    • Scott says:

      Thanks for the note, Jason! My coolant leak has been odor-free, which makes its disappearance more of a mystery. I’m just going to drive it and refill when necessary. BTW. I still haven’t added since November. So, I think it’s very minimal. I’m not looking forward to new headlights. I’ve read the AFS Bi-Xenons are quite expensive, even just for the part, when the time comes. Again, “Drive More, Worry Less.” 😉 You’re going to love that APR tune, without a doubt. I haven’t shared online yet, but I’m also running a new set of Pilot Sport A/S3+ myself. I think they’re great. As for oil changes, I may shock and offend a few with this one: I drain every 10,000 miles. Laboratory oil analysis has shown the oil to be healthy at 10k. VW’s engineers may know a thing or two. 😉 Thanks again for the visit.

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