The official diagnosis, confirmed by a shop that I trust, is that my daughter’s 2015 Launch Edition Golf needs an engine. Compression and leakdown testing confirms a major leak in the block. So, this isn’t a problem with the head gasket, a ring, valve, or anything minor. Could the engine be rebuilt? Probably. Is it something we want to tackle? Certainly not! There’s a lot of labor rate involved with a rebuild. Plus, no mechanic wants to risk finding a problem after it’s put together and reinstalled in the car. There’s a valid argument that the parts and labor to rebuild an engine is similar to the parts and labor to replace the engine with a used engine. For a little more, one could even replace the entire long block and have a mostly-new engine from the manufacturer. At least that used to be the case. So, is an old Mk7 Golf worth the cost of an engine? Let’s consider some options:
My daughters’ car is almost eight years old and has over 120,000 miles. Many would say that it’s past the time to dump the car and get something else. That might have been true as recently as three years ago. But is it financially wise at this point, especially with the way new and used car prices have escalated? For reference, her car is paid-off and she has some mods that make her happy. Her mods include projector headlights, Bilstein B14 coilovers, APR coil packs, APR Stage 1 tune, South Bend Stage 3 Endurance clutch, Baun Performance front mount intercooler, my old Baun axle-back exhaust, a GTI rear valance, wheels, and window tint. Cosmetically, it’s almost a 2-door base model GTI with common GTI mods.
Even if she were to call it quits on this car, she’d never recover the cost of her mods when selling the car, would incur costs to return the car to stock so that she could put the parts on the replacement car, and she would be less likely to find a buyer without the car having a functional engine, forcing her to sell it as a parts car for pennies on the dollar. “Part-out” is a favorite term in online discussion forums. But then she’d have to acquire another car, which would result in a car payment that she doesn’t want, and then deal with the disposal of whatever is left of her current car. I’m trying to teach her the pitfalls of debt. I spent the majority of my adulthood in debt for various things. She’ll be in debt to me for an engine, but I think that’s better than being in debt to a bank for a car!
Still, let’s do some math. As I write this, Carvana is listing 2015 Golfs with 5-speed manual transmission for between $15,000 (88,000 miles) and $17,000 (66,000 miles), plus tax, title, and license. Keep in mind that the 2015 Launch Edition Golf with manual transmission retailed for $18,990 in 2015. Odds are very good that the cars sold for $17,000 or less due to volume discounting at the dealerships. Today, the seven year old cars are disappearing quickly, even at close to new car prices. So, the sales market is still competitive (this 66,000-mile car has a sale pending). Also, I don’t think most seven year old cars are in as good of shape as her car (engine aside). Even the car shown here has chips, dents, and scratches. Surely, an engine replacement is more economical and can keep her in an otherwise great car!
When I rescued her car from the dealership, Volkswagen’s online price for a brand new long block was $5900 plus tax and shipping. Her local dealer quoted $7700. That’s a lot of money, especially when considering the dealer’s $2600 labor costs to make the swap. But her car would have a new heart and she’d control every mile with respect to break-in, warm-ups, and how hard the car is driven. A week later, the online price had escalated to $8400 plus tax and shipping! With that, a new engine was off the table and the race was on to find a suitable used engine. Given 2022’s supply chain shortages, used engine prices were increasing and engines were disappearing faster than my mechanic could source them. He eventually found a used engine with around 70,000 miles.
His proposal was to acquire the engine and then replace its timing chain, tensioners, and rear main seal. His installed price was quoted as “not to exceed $6500.” That price is much better than the $8500 quoted by the VW dealer for a used engine, not to mention the potential hassles that the dealer could present while working on a modified car. I highly doubt the dealer would include a new timing chain, tensioner, and rear main seal in their price, either. With the engine out, now is a great time to replace some parts that are likely to present a problem later. There’s no additional labor costs since everything we’re looking at will be removed from her old engine and installed on the replacement as part of the swap.
For example, we’ll replace the other three injectors so that they’re matched to the new one on Cylinder #3. Her radiator is seeping; so, we’ll replace it, too. Turbos are consumable items and hers is likely running on borrowed time at this point. Oddly enough, a GTI’s IS20 is about $500 less expensive than a 1.8T’s IS12. So, that’s a sensible replacement that should put a smile on her face. And we all know that the water pump, thermostat, and housing designs were problematic on the early cars. I’m amazed that she hasn’t had a problem already. We’ll replace those with the most recent revisions. Her coil packs and spark plugs are less than a year old. Her clutch is relatively new, too. So, they’re all good to go, too. Some of you may be anxious to spend my money and recommend new engine mounts, a differential upgrade, and who knows what else? HAHA! Well, there’s no evidence that the mounts need to go, especially now that I’m confident that she’ll be driving the car more responsibly, especially while she’s paying the debt on the engine.
So, what caused all of this? Could it have been neglect from the previous owner years ago? Maybe. She’s had the car for four years now. So, would something have surfaced before now? Could she have done something on a spirited drive? It’s possible. A good rip several months ago might have waited for months to surface, all while being forgotten. She had been letting her friends drive the car. Could one of them have “let ‘er rip?” She’s confident that they would not abuse her car. Still, “nothing drives like a loaner!” 😉 The truth is that we’ll NEVER know for sure. The good news is that the mechanic did not see obvious evidence of engine damage (signs of abuse). Regardless, she now understands why I never loan my car. My GTI will crap-out someday. I want to be certain that it was normal wear and tear or a result of my own abuse… no one else’s. I doubt that her keys will leave her sight any time soon!
The replacement engine has arrived. The the job will be placed in a work queue around other smaller jobs. I hope to see the car on the road in the next month or so. I’ll keep you posted.
Soon to Be Broke!
I suspect you’ve made the correct choice here, Scott. (I’d have done the same, for what it’s worth.) I think that I will be hanging onto my 2018 manual transmission GTI for as long as I can.
PS. I’d be interested to know what exactly went wrong? “A leak in the block” is vague. I’m assuming they must have used a bore scope to make the final determination?
Sounds like a good plan! I, too, plan to keep mine until it can go no farther. HAHA! As for the exact cause, it seems that either driver-error played a part or perhaps a component failure. My mechanic thinks the turbo may have blown an oil seal and caused the #3 cylinder to hydrolock. There was a bit of oil in the intake. But why just one cylinder? Theory so far. Thanks for posting!
Personally, I’m gonna drive my ’17 GTI Sport into the ground regardless of what I have to do to keep it running! I love my car. Thankfully, I’ve had zero issues with it and it’d be hard to part with something I’ve built the way I want it.
I suspect the reason I’ve been Stage 2 for 15k on a 65k car with stock clutch and no slips is because the first 20k were taken easy from the previous owner.
Excellent! I’m at 172,000 miles now. So, it’s tough to say how close I am to the limits of the engine. I’ll keep going until I hear strange things. Then it will be time for the chain and tensioner, I guess. Thanks for posting!