Who would have thought that a car would turn out to be the best bargain of my life? I did! Before I purchased a Volkswagen Golf TDI (diesel), I spent hundreds of hours researching. I am a research-a-holic so it didn't bother me to spend the necessary time narrowing down my choices and doing multiple test drives. I keep an eye on major items like cars, appliances and even real estate—I like to know what is going on, even if I'm not in the market to buy something yet. I can live, somewhat vicariously, on someone else's purchase of a wonderful new stove or shiny fridge. When the time comes that one of my major ticket items is wearing out, I have a good idea of what is available via the used market.
Although both common sense and most financial gurus will tell you to purchase a car used, I decided, after thoughtful analysis, to buy this one new for about $18,000. You will need to analyze your personal situation, but this car has paid for itself over and over again. With proper maintenance, I plan on it being around for many years to come. We all have our prejudices, and I have a prejudice against being broken down on the side of the road. First and foremost, I demand a certain reliability out of my vehicle. Next, it must appeal to the efficient and basically cheap side of me. And it must be F U N to drive. I actually sat down and made a spreadsheet of my vehicle options—both new and used cars.
I started by narrowing my choices. There are literally hundreds of cars available. I knew I wanted a smaller car. I prefer 4 doors and I like to haul stuff. I originally wanted a station wagon but found at the time, that there were few choices in reliable, inexpensive wagons on the market. I considered used vehicles such as the Volvo 240 wagon, Toyota Camry wagon, Mitsubishi Expo and so on. The new models I considered included Mitsubishi Mirage, Toyota Corolla and Camry, Honda Accord and Civic. Sort of as an afterthought I decided to look at Volkswagen Jetta and Golf. Although I love the Beetle, it was too impractical for my current needs.
There are websites (Edmunds, Kelly Blue Book, etc.) that will give you a "cost of ownership" but I created my own spreadsheet to figure it out with my specific information to be sure I was making an informed decision. I drive roughly 15-20,000 miles a year. I want comfort and I want reliable. I was willing to consider models that were not mainstream because I like to be different anyway. The VW Golf TDI uses diesel fuel and gets a consistent 46-48 mpg in mixed driving. I do a lot of driving in hilly areas and it has plenty of pep to get me around the slow folks, even going uphill in 5th gear. Best of all it is both comfortable and fun to drive.
When I was analyzing data, I considered the average life expectancy of the vehicles on my short list, using 250,000 miles as my benchmark, repair ratings and fuel economy. For instance, an older, used car would have been far less expensive initially. I could have paid $5000 for a high-quality car with 150,000 miles. I calculated that a vehicle that averages 22 mpg, driving 20,000 miles a year, with an average fuel cost of $3.44 per gallon will cost $3127 in fuel alone! If you buy an older model used car for $5000, perform routine maintenance, go through one set of tires and have no repairs the average cost is about $4200 per year.
The main reason I purchased the VW Golf TDI is that with the diesel engine, life expectancy is 50-80% longer. A well-maintained diesel engine can easily go 400-500,000 miles. Assuming all other factors are the same (cost, repairs, etc), this car has already saved around $13,300 over 9 years or an average of $1488 per year in fuel costs alone (20,000 miles / 42 mpg = 476.2 * $3.44/gal = $1638/year). I have maintained it religiously and it has not given me one minute of problems. I'm averaging a cost of $3600 a year with all maintenance, tires, repairs, fuel and the initial cost of the car (including interest). As more years go by, the initial cost is amortized and the average drops even lower—by the end of the life expectancy of this vehicle, I will average around $2700 per year. Over 20 years that is a savings of $30,000!
I have mentioned the importance of routine maintenance. Nothing will extend the life of your major purchases more than taking good care of them! This includes your car, your home and a vast array of appliances and electronic devices. For instance, when your brakes start squeaking, change the pads. If you wait, it will become a major job including pads, rotors and much more labor. Have a weekly, monthly and yearly checklist for your car, home and any major appliances. Companies who have fleets of vehicles do routine inspections of the systems that go wrong to ensure vehicles are repaired before minor issues cause further damage. Google your vehicle and see if there is a common problem that you can prevent.
Although I absolutely adore driving this car, I am not advocating that it is for everyone. What I am advocating is a thorough analysis of your situation, not just as it relates to cars, but all of your major purchases. Many folks waste thousands of dollars on transportation during their lifetime. Think not just what the initial cost is, but what is the long term cost? How long will you be able to stand keeping the same car before the lure of "bright, shiny, new" calls? Will you be able to resist feeling bad when others get a new car and you are driving a well maintained 15-20-year-old efficiency expert?
Note: My fuel price number is relatively arbitrary. You can use any $$ amount, just keep it consistent throughout your figures for each vehicle.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: Why do I love my Jetta TDI as much as you love your Golf TDI? Could it be for the same reasons? Were you also able to see through the nonsense of "Dieselgate?
Answer: Yes, I was. Nearly every manufacturer has been proven to be doing the same thing, VW was the first and bore the brunt of the scandal.
Question: What are the total miles on your Volkswagen Golf?
Answer: The 2003 Golf TDI is driven daily by my son these days. Total miles around 260,000. Still no major problems. The main things that have been replaced are suspension parts (he lives on a dirt road!)
Question: I enjoyed your article and appreciate your thorough research. My problem is that I can no longer get a new VW in the US. I would like the same car you have for all the same reasons, but they stopped selling them here. What do you suggest I do to obtain a Volkswagen Golf TDI?
Answer: I would purchase a used VW TDI. In fact, I am looking for a Beetle :)
Question: I have a 2003 Manual transmission VW Jetta TDI and it has 330,000 miles on it. I love it. I love diesel for the economy. What do you think about the new hybrids and electric cars hitting the market?
Answer: I love diesel technology. I do not think electric cars and hybrids are any better for the environment. They are far less powerful, and they do not have the mileage range that a diesel VW has. For these reasons, I will stick with VW!
Question: Why didn't you, the writer of this article, take into consideration the price of diesel for the longterm cost of a Volkswagen Golf?
Answer: I did take this into consideration, it is part of the calculation.
jwm470 on July 31, 2020:
I currently have 4 ALH TDI’s.
01 Jetta 415,000 miles started as auto, converted to 5-speed 200,000 miles ago. Original injectors, pump, turbo
02 Jetta 367,000 miles original clutch, pump. Wife lugged it consistently so replaced turbo and injectors.
02 Beetle all original 215,000 miles
03 Golf 375,000 original, clutch, pump, injectors, and turbo.
All going strong with preventative maintenance, proper oil etc.
Had several Honda’s before. My opinion ALH TDI’s best most reliable cars on the planet. Don’t rust as Honda did in SW MO.
Bama Bill on April 10, 2020:
I'm driving an '89 Silverado diesel with the Detroit 6.2L diesel. It only has 498,000 miles on it, and so far has only had the auto trans rebuilt as it was dripping trans fluid slightly. If it isn't "Right", I fix it! Cab holds 5 men, 8' bed rated for 1,500 lbs. No rust, starts, drives, and runs great. Rides about like new. Engine only uses a quart of oil about every 1,000 miles.Even the interior is still nice. Cost $14,000 new, and trans rebuild $2,000. ' $16,000 over 30 years. And I won't be selling it! Turned down $10,000 last year for it! What could I buy with that??? We can easily make biodiesel out or old cooking oil, or from corn. Can't do that with gasoline.
Matt on March 17, 2019:
It gives me a headache when I read peoples comments comparing their "trouble free" Honda stories. I think civics are one of the most common cars I work on at my shop. People are deluded in thinking that Honda's "will run forever." All cars suck. They all have wearing components. There is no magic. Just find a car that suits your needs and buy it, like the author did here.
I've owned cars that are on low reliability lists that were great for me and the other way around. Do the best you can to keep up on maintenance and hope for the best.
Jay Who on November 30, 2016:
You will not understand the big big difference of the VW reliability against the Japanese until you experience it. Trouble free is trouble free and I love my Hondas and Acuras for that.
No comparison, the quality of the plastics and rubbers and all materials is absolutely superior and that accounts for the big reliability difference. I love the VW design and performance. It was my love for a long time. Now the practicality, design, performance, durability, and trouble free ownership of Acura and Honda won my heart and will not loose it. Day and night...
2007 Acura MDX 171,000 miles (not selling)
2008 CRV 168,000 miles (not selling)
2016 Acura MDX 53,000 miles (my favorite)
2014 Fiat 500 pop 9,900 miles (not bad... and fun)
TheRightWord (author) from Sunny California on November 11, 2014:
@ Dan, it has been a long time since I did this calc, but I think I compared a 2001 Subaru, 1993 Volvo wagon, 2003 Mazda 3, 2003 Toyota Corolla, 2003 Nissan Sentra, 1983 Mercedes 300D, 2003 Toyota Tundra, and a few others. I drove just about every vehicle available at the time I purchased this car. I considered older cars vs newer cars and I used actual costs to purchase them from ads available at the time. I researched common problems with the vehicles and developed a "true cost to own" based on the likelihood of a certain maintenance item vs problem (i.e., if I changed the timing belt at 100k as recommended I would likely avert major damage). I've been through a few computers since then, but I'll see if I can't dig up the spreadsheet from the archives. Look for the Hub!
TheRightWord (author) from Sunny California on November 11, 2014:
@Jenny, the spreadsheet simply lists each vehicle with the following columns: MPG (estimated based on the mid-range of each vehicle), Miles you drive per year, $ per gallon for gas or diesel in your area. The formula is Miles you drive / MPG * $per gallon. Then add columns for the full cost of the car (cost, sales tax, DMV fees), estimated yearly maintenance (I used a 5 year average that included higher $ items like timing belt change), estimated tire replacements (some tires cost more). I think I'm going to write a HUB on this one.
mystixa on November 10, 2014:
Really, your going to list a plastic dipstick housing and hood insulation as problems relating to the reliability of a car? oooook. Yes as I said, niggling plastic bits, the dipstick housing is one of those, and its takes about 5 mins and $5 to replace it. If your insulation was 'disintegrated' as you say then there were other issues at play here. That componant does nothing but sit there, and touches nothing. For it to fail you must have snagged it by leaving your engine cover off and chemically harmed it by spaying chemicals and/or oil on it. Those are your problems not design problems.
The ring gear welding to the torque converter. Well that would be troubling. It is however not an entirely common problem of these cars. Rechecking the forums to verify my thoughts it appears others think of this as a reliable part when not abused.
Right now Im on TDI 4 and 5 of my own and each is at 240k plus miles. My previous 2 were sold at 220 and I know 1 is still happily driving at 330k, while the other I have no knowledge of since its sale.
It does appear with your comments specifically that 'proper maintenance' may have avoided at least some of your problems. Its hard to know for sure without knowing your habits, maintenance schedule, knowledge, and skill level.
What is obvious from your examples is that you are exaggerating the negative (dipstick plastic and hood insulation for 1 ridiculous example) and inflating the costs of repair. Treat your car better, do the suggested maintenance, and you will save money over gassers that require even more maintenance due to being more complex machines. ..and with that most people, though evidently not you, will indeed be happy.
hardlymoving from Memphis, TN on October 17, 2014:
As a loaner car for my friends, I decided to keep my Jetta TDI. Since then the Ring Gear welded on the the Torque Converter wore out. Just for fun, I got a quote from a local repair shop; $1,800. That includes a new torque converter, starter motor & labor to remove the transmission. Of course I fixed it with a friend of mine, but it took the whole day. Never, ever had to repair a car due to a worn out ring gear. Also the glove box hinge broke off. Someone on ebay had a repair kit to address this common occurrence. For some strange reason, the instrument panel LED display erratically goes on and off; that means the clock and odometer sometimes stay on. A cheap plastic blend door pin broke which meant that the temperature control knob stopped working. Again, fixed it myself. The motor oil dip stick tube, made of plastic, broke off and needed replacement. The engine hood lift support needed replacement. The engine hood insulator disintegrated and required replacement. The automatic transmission (01M type) value body required rebuilding (which I did myself) because either the cheap ribbon tape connected to solenoids disintegrated or the plastic clips on the solenoids disintegrated which would not allow a good electrical connection. Either way, the engine would jump from 1st gear to 3rd gear, rev up and drop into 2nd gear. Thought I needed a new transmission until I overhauled the valve body.
So based on the above incidents, my point is how would 'proper maintenance' 'save a lot of money' and 'you'll be happy'???
mystixa on October 15, 2014:
'hardlymoving' up there overstates the problems, their cost, and frequency. I've had multiple TDI beetles, and keep up with friends that own several TDIs as well. The items he lists for maintenance are well known and accurate, the costs are not. Someone brand new to VWs may go into a dealer and pay $1k+ for a timing belt replacement, but no one with any experience would do so. VW dealerships are nicknamed stealerships in all forums for a reason.
A timing belt, radiator flush, water pump, and new CV boots cost me $675 last summer. That has to be done every 70-140k depending on wear and your luck.
These cars have their niggling plastic bits like all others. Those Hondas out there that are renowned for their lifespans don't arrive at the old-cars home all pristine either, people just drive them to death. Do proper maintenance and you'll be happy, and save a lot of money cinoared to most other cars on offer out there as the OP calculated.
Jenny on October 08, 2014:
Would you be willing to share your vehicle analysis spreadsheet? My husband thinks I'm crazy for wanting to do this type of analysis for our upcoming car purchase. And I think it's insane to consider such a huge investment without doing it! I'm with you all the way!!!
mattdigiulio from Los Angeles on September 12, 2014:
Great article. I too am a big fan of the Golf TDI's but I've never gotten the courage to get one. I'm one of many who's heard the woes of VW ownership. But the Golf is a cute car with sporty dynamics, and the TDI makes it one of the most economical things on the road. And from your review, regular maintenance and care would make this thing a real option, even for somebody like me! Thanks for the passive encouragement. - Matt
Dan on July 15, 2014:
I'm hazy on your fuel cost savings calculation. You show your numbers for calculating your cost, but not what you're comparing it to, to get the $1488 savings. How do you arrive at the $3k and some change comparison number? Is that just the cost of regular gas? What about the diff. in mpg with, say, the gas powered Golf?
TheRightWord (author) from Sunny California on January 20, 2013:
Sounds like you need to write a Hub. During my research I found that Golf models are far more reliable than Jetta and Beetle. Golf is assembled in Brazil and Germany and for some reason does not experience the same level of deterioration that Jetta and Beetle do. As with any vehicle, preventative maintenance is key. Use a can of Seafoam (fuel additive) every 5k or so.
hardlymoving from Memphis, TN on January 19, 2013:
The TDI engine may last up to 500k miles but everything around it won't. And if you depend on VW dealerships to perform the repairs, plus the added premium of diesel fuel over high octane gas, the long term cost savings will erode. For example, the Turbocharger is good for 100 to 150k miles. Replacement Cost: $1,500 - $200. At around 150k miles, the fuel injector tips wear out resulting in smoke and reduced fuel economy and the injector pump may start leaking. 100k miles the timing belt, pulleys and water pump require replacement - $1K plus. Then there's window motor failure, water leakage to the passenger compartment from a vent tube in the sunroof, heater control knob failure due to a cheap plastic part, belt tensioner assembly failure, belt tensioner guide pulley failure, worn suspension struts, starter motor failure, soot clogged intake manifold, car won't start due to the 109 ignition relay switch failure and other items. This is everything I've experience with a TDI Jetta with 230k miles.
DeviousOne from Sydney, Australia on October 31, 2012:
Thanks for the insight. Hopefully people take the advice and information from this hub.
Miss Cheyenne Mitchell on May 21, 2012:
I love it! I hope you will return the comment regarding my short story thriller on facebook.com/Miss Cheyenne Mitchell "The Doorway". I will return the "like" on your page as well
TheRightWord (author) from Sunny California on May 21, 2012:
Thank you. I try to write what would have been helpful during my fact finding mission.
Marcy Goodfleisch from Planet Earth on May 21, 2012:
So well researched! I like that you're giving us your real-world take on owning one of these cars! Congrats on being nominated for a HubNugget! Very nice hub.
TheRightWord (author) from Sunny California on May 21, 2012:
Thank you. I've had friends ask me to analyze for them. It comes naturally to me.
Michelle Simtoco from Cebu, Philippines on May 21, 2012:
Hear ye, hear ye...your hub is a Hubnuggets nominee! Ride this way for the excitement of reading and voting!!! Yeehaaa https://hubpages.com/community/An-Invitation-To-A-...
By the way, I am amazed at how you make your decisions by researching..gosh I have a long way to go in terms of that. When it comes to car, I would like someone to tell me what's good...LOL
TheRightWord (author) from Sunny California on May 18, 2012:
Thank you. I think it's important to share our experiences, good or bad, to help others make informed decisions.
ladyjane1 from Texas on May 17, 2012:
Great and useful information thanks for sharing it. Cheers.