The most expensive, the most luxurious and the most underrated VW ever made. That’s the over-engineered VW Phaeton, or the budget Bentley in other words.
VW wanted to make a luxury car which will be better and at least that successful as the Mercedes S class or the BMW 7 series. It seems like they had a lot of money to burn so they built it. And as we all know it wasn’t a success story-at least financially, since they were losing approx. 28 000 € on every single Phaeton they sold! To top of that, they also built a brand new unique factory where they exclusively produced this car to March 2016.
Nowadays the factory is not abandoned because from 2017 the fully electric VW E-Golf is produced here. Well, that’s what I call a paradox. From a huge and heavy gas guzzling luxury car, hated by all the polar bears (yes they told me) to a small eco-friendly quiet box for the masses. One thing is for sure: Everything is possible.
However let’s go back to the Phaeton which is at the end basically a Bentley Continental Flying Spur with a VW badge on it – since they share the platform, electronics and a significant amount of more or less modified parts. So you like it or not, the Phaeton really is a luxury car-even if it has that not luxurious badge on it, and even if a lot of people recognize it as a bit strange VW Passat.
The interior of this car is the best VW could offer. So it’s spacious, all the 4 huge and comfortable seats can be massaged-heated-ventilated and electrically adjustable obviously, it has some cool features like the: hidden air vents, an airplane like gear shifter, front cup holders which can disappear or the nice wood trim on the top of the dash + the sound insulation is great as well as the build quality. Of course it’s not a Bentley interior mainly because it has more plastic in it, but with the optional leather dashboard and door panels it’s almost a Bentley inside.
Most of these cars are well equipped with various more or less important bourgeois luxury features which were mostly part of the optional equipment. But believe it or not, there are also cars which have only the neccessary working-class standard equipment with standard cloth seats.
The multimedia system in the before facelift cars is unique-since it was used only in the Phaeton and Bentley, but it’s also very outdated, you have to deal with it. But cars made from November 2008 do have an updated touchscreen multimedia system with much better graphics and a better navigation system-although this one is not special at all, since it was widely used across all the VW models.
It’s also good to know that VW slightly updated the interior several times, so for example cars made from 2014 can be equipped even with a small removable touchscreen remote control for the rear passengers, which means that they can adjust the climate control or the multimedia system.
Body, paintjob, rust protection
It’s definitely good to check the car properly for small corrosion spots which can appear on all of the doors. Specifically on the upper part of the door – under the chrome window trim and on the lower door edges too + the black lower trim on the doors can also rust from the inside.
All of this can occur mostly on cars which were used on salty roads during winter.
This Phaeton is full with electronic features, motors, sensors, units and modules so take your time and inspect everything. But there are obviously some things which require more attention:
-Like the special electronically operated air vent covers which can fail. Specifically the motor in them or some small plastic part in them can break. They have to operate smoothly, so open and close them a couple of times.
–Check also all of the window regulators mainly on older cars, since the small plastic wheel in the window regulator assembly can break. In this case the easiest solution is to buy a new regulator.
-If the car is equipped with the keyless entry feature, then test all the door handles because they can fail and the only way to fix this is to replace the door handle.
-Then check the soft-close feature on all doors, again if the car is equipped with it. The soft close motor is usually ok but a tiny micro switch in the door lock itself can fail which will turn off the soft close function.
-Obviously test the seat heating, cooling, the air conditioning and be prepared that on older cars the blower motor can fail too
-The well-known tire pressure monitoring sensor batteries will die after 5 or 6 years, so in this case you either check the tire pressure the old fashioned way or you can buy cheaper aftermarket sensors
–Pay attention to the electronically operated trunk lid which can stop working. Mostly just because of the damaged wiring harness in the plastic sleeve. The plastic tube will eventually separate, exposing the wires → and the wires can break. In this case if you are very unlucky then you won’t be able to open the trunk in any kind of civilized way. To minimize the issue with this you should occasionally put some dry lubricant on this plastic sleeve since over time there will be more friction between the sleeve and the plastic housing it slides into!
-And the lastly, check the windshield wipers if they work properly, since mainly on cars made to 2007 they can seize up because of the corrosion on the wiper mechanism. This issue usually affects only cars which are used on winter salty roads, so if you are using the car during winter then you should preventively disassemble and check this mechanism. And by the way, there are 2 separate and independent motors for the windshield wipers, so it is possible that if one of the wiper motor fails then the other will continue to operate.
“Also make sure that the battery is in a good condition and keep in mind that some of the versions are equipped with 2 batteries! The low battery voltage is not helping the electronics at all, so it’s good to use a battery conditioner if you are not using the car regularly.”
It’s of course important to check for water leaks in the interior especially in the front and rear footwell area. The water can leak in because of the clogged scuttle drain holes which are buried deep down under the windscreen plastic scuttle panel. They can be clogged which will cause water accumulating in this area and then it will leak into the interior-and into the expensive electronic modules! So occasionally remove the plastic scuttle panel and clean this area as much as you can + you can try to access these drains from under the car.
Then there are the front and rear sunroof water drains which can be clogged and can leak as well. You can clean the front drains with some edge trimmer line but if you want to clean the rear ones then you will have to remove the side parts of the headliner.
“Just stay away from a car with signs of water leaks!”
–This Phaeton is standardly equipped with the adaptive air suspension which is great and comfortable. But if the car lowers overnight then your air struts are leaking and you should replace them as soon as possible.
-Check for clunking or knocking sounds from the front suspension which is usually caused by worn drop links. The upper control arms can be more often worn as well, but you should at least visually check all the control arm bushings anyway.
-Worn wheel bearings can occur sometimes even after 80 000 km but mainly on cars made to 2006 – in this case you will hear a humming / rumbling noise which will increase with speed.
This car was available with:
- standard steel brakes
- optional ceramic brakes
The ceramic brakes are awesome, powerful and they really can withstand a lot-even more than 200 000 km. BUT they are not gonna last forever and a complete set of brand new genuine ceramic brakes costs more than $20 000. The good thing is that it is possible to convert these ceramic brakes to conventional steel brakes + if you buy a car with less than 150 000 km then you should still have a good amount of life left on the brakes.
All of the petrol engines are fairly reliable so they don’t have major problems.
-The weakest 3.2 l 6 cylinder is a simple engine which means that it is mostly reliable, unless the previous owner abused it since this engine is not very powerful and the Phaeton is a very heavy car.
-Then there is the 3.6 l unit which is equipped with direct injection. It has more power and also better fuel consumption than the 3.2 l, but it can have issues with the faulty camshaft adjustment solenoids-because of long oil change intervals. And since it has direct injection then faulty injectors or carbon build up can occur as well-usually just after 200 000 km.
“faulty, stuck or leaking camshaft adjustment valves/solenoids-P0017, P00011 fault codes or other, eventually timing chain noise + misfires or fluctuating/bouncing idle”
By the way, the 3.0 l V6 was available only in China and it can have the same issues as the 3.6 l motor.
-The 4.2 l V8 doesn’t have direct injection which is an advantage, but there are 2 things you should keep in mind.
First of all, pay attention to the plastic arms on the intake manifold front actuator since they can crack and break. But luckily you can buy aftermarket metallic arms, and replacing them is easy.
The next thing is the oil cooler coolant plastic pipe which can crack or break completely and leak coolant. The good thing is, that there is an aftermarket metallic coolant pipe available for a good price. However, the bad thing is, that if you want to fix this at the dealer then they will most probably remove the whole engine just to gain better access to the oil filter housing which is on the side of the engine-because you have to remove the oil filter housing to access the plastic pipe which is inside the housing. Although with the right tools it is also possible to replace it without removing the engine, but be prepared that this is not an easy job.
-And lastly there is the 6.0 l W12 which doesn’t have major problems, but it has much bigger fuel consumption then the other engines + you should keep bigger amount of money for the maintenance, since replacing certain parts or fixing some leaks will require either a lot of disassembling around the engine or removing the whole engine.
There are only 2 diesel engines which were available in this car:
-The first is the well known 3.0 l TDI V6 which can have a couple of issues:
-the variable intake manifold flaps can fail. In this case you get only a check engine light, so the car will drive fine. The flaps can be stuck, loose or the actuator motors can be faulty.
-check and eventually replace the crankshaft pulley mainly in cars which were used on winter salty roads! Since over time the inner part of the pulley will rust out and separate from the outer part. In this case the accessory belt will jump off so this will obviously leave you stranded.
-it’s good to keep in mind that the high pressure fuel pump has a separate belt and a tensioner. Most of the owners don’t even know that there is a separate belt for the high pressure fuel pump, so it’s good to replace these two parts preventively.
-if you are buying a car which has around 300 000 km then be prepared to replace the alternator since its lifetime is approximately the already mentioned 300 000 km
-next, the injectors can be faulty but usually just after 200 000 km. Of course they can last way over 300 000 km as well, but this depends on many different things. But all you need to know is that if you got faulty injectors then you can most of the time notice a couple of signs like the: occasional light grey smoke from the exhaust while acceleration or at idle, issues with starting the engine or also a slightly bouncing idle when the engine is warmed up.
-of course oil leaks are also gonna occur but mostly after 200 000 km or 300 000 km.
-lastly, the turbocharger is also gonna fail at some point (usually just in high mileage cars-after 300 000 km), on more abused cars obviously earlier. Replacing the turbocharger on the 3.0 TDI is not hard.
Lastly there are cases of faulty Bosch CP4 high pressure fuel pumps in these engines made from 2008. This HPFP can fail because of the different fuel used in the US or Eastern EU, and if it fails it will throw tiny metal particles in the fuel system and thus destroying all the injectors too. You can find more information about this problem in the used BMW X5 F15 review.
“Of course clogged EGR can be also an issue, but this is nothing new.”
5.0 TDI V10
-The next diesel engine is the 5.0 l V10 which is definitely impressive. IMPRESSIVE! But keep in mind that:
- this engine has 2 turbochargers which are gonna fail at some point-to replace them you have to remove the engine
- the oil leaks are inevitable and because of the lack of space around the engine you will have to remove the engine to fix some of the leaks
- if the previous owner used the wrong oil then you can with no problem expect worn camshafts + cam followers (there are 2 camshafts and to replace them you have to remove the engine) + sometimes even worn crankshaft bearings can occur-because of bad oil of course !
- to replace the starter motor you have to remove the engine too
- the water pump can leak internally-so the coolant leaks into the engine oil
So, I would not recommend choosing this engine unless you are ready to remove it or you know someone who is willing to work on it. And most importantly you should have the extra money for the repairs!! On the other side, with proper maintenance this engine can reach higher mileage too, so 300 000 km or 400 000 km for example. But again, you should keep in mind that to replace certain parts you have to remove the whole engine + if you buy an abused or a not properly maintained car then you should be prepared for the worst: excessive oil consumption and misfires because of worn cylinder walls, worn camshafts, fuel mixing with oil because of worn injector seats/seals or a destroyed engine in the near future.
All of the engines are equipped with timing chains except the 4.2 l petrol V8 and the 5.0 l V10 diesel engines.
The 5.0l V10 has actually gears instead of a chain or a belt which is an advantage, since the gears will withstand an eternity ! On the other side in the petrol V8 engine there is a regular timing belt which you have to change regularly.
Engines equipped with timing chains can have worn tensioner or the chain can be stretched, but usually just after 200 000 km (although in the 6 cylinder petrol engines sometimes even earlier). In this case you mostly get the well-known short rattle at cold start, but there aren’t many catastrophic engine failures because of this. Although if the chain rattle will become excessive over time then there is a bigger chance that the loose chain skips and destroys the engine.
But at the end of the day it’s up to you. The timing chains are located on the back side of the engine – so you have to remove the engine to replace them.
This Phaeton can be equipped with:
- 5 speed automatic
- 6 speed automatic
- 6 speed manual (only with 3.2 l 6 cylinder petrol engine-in this case the car was only front wheel drive)
But back to the automatic transmissions.
If you are buying a car with the W12 petrol engine which is equipped with the 5 speed gearbox, then it’s good find a good specialist who can rebuild it, since there are numerous cases when either the whole gearbox or just the torque converter had to be replaced even after 160 000 km! So after this mileage be prepared to have some issues with this gearbox, although regular oil changes will definitely help to extend it’s life. And actually in 2008 VW released an additional maintenance information in the US for these W12 models, which says that you should replace the gearbox oil every 30 000 km!
All in all, check the automatic gearbox properly before buying, check it for leaks and change the oil in it regularly.
“The torque converter can be worn in the 6 speed aut. transmissions as well, but usually just in high mileage cars – up to $1 100 to replace it at an independent mechanic”
The last thing you should check on cars which are used on winter salty roads is the power steering pipe which can start to rust. And since the power steering fluid is under high pressure the rusted line will break at some point and let all the fluid out, so you end up with a not working power steering.
To summarize things up: take your time and check everything, buy only a car with a proper maintenance history, pay bigger attention to the cars used on winter salty roads, change all the fluids in time and definitely keep extra money for the additional repairs.
As usual, if you have personal experience with this car or more information about it, then you can write it into comments!