From the petrol engines the most reliable are the older 1.4 l and 1.6 l naturally aspirated units (timing belt, port injection, no turbo). They can easily withstand 300 000 km or more with regular maintenance only. However it’s worth mentioning that after approx. 200 000 km or 250 000 km you can experience bigger or smaller oil consumption.
The 2.5 l 5 cylinder engine available in the US is also a great, reliable and a fairly simple unit (timing chain-usually ok, port injection, no turbo) so all I can say is: buy it if you can!
But from now on it’s gonna be nothing but downhill on a highway to hell! Well, almost.
1.2 TSI 86hp / 77 kW & 105 hp / 77 kW
1. Timing chain
The the timing chain mechanism of this engine is made from boiled potatoes basically. It’s because in plenty of cases it was and it can be worn even before 100 000 km, and in fact in the earlier cars made to 2011 it was sometimes replaced even at 30 000 km or as early as 20 000 km! So nobody knows when your chain is gonna rattle, skip a tooth or when it’s gonna damage your engine.
2011 Update: a bit positive thing is, that these engines made from mid 2011 do have an updated chain installed. However this was not enough, so in late 2011 they did another update of the chain – now they started to use a wider more durable chain (+they updated the engine block and the cylinder head too), so if you really want this engine then the best is to buy it only from 2012. But even the updated chain can get worn earlier then it should, so the best is to find a mechanic familiar with these engines who is able to measure how badly is the chain worn.
Worn chain symptoms: strange usually rattling noises from the engine at cold start – or at idle or constantly, check engine light with uneven engine running/rough idle/misfiring, but it can fail suddenly too and cause damage to the engine – bent valves and shit.
2. Turbo wastegate actuator
The next problem of this tiny engine can be with the faulty turbo wastegate actuator which will cause loss of power, limp mode, fault codes, check engine light and shit. But in this case the actuator arm can be only stuck, so before replacing the actuator itself it’s worth to first disassemble the actuator and try to free up the things.
3. Oil dilution
Interestingly, this engine is more prone to oil dilution with fuel. Here it’s good to clarify that during cold running every direct injection petrol engine lets some amount of fuel into the oil. Usually it’s just a small insignificant amount, but in this engine it’s higher since it has a longer “cold phase”- basically the engine runs rich for a longer time until it heats up properly. So if you will use this engine for very short distances only, then you can experience that the fuel will slowly get into the oil – which is not very good in the long term.
+there are numerous cases of damaged wiring of the spark plugs in early engines (this will cause misfires)
4. Some positive things about this engine
- these engines don’t have much issues with carbon build up – because there is no EGR
- engines made from 2012 have the latest chain revision which in a lot of cases can withstand 200 000 km
- measuring how much is the chain worn on this engine is easy, but you need to find a mechanic who can do it
1.4 TSI 122 hp / 90 kW
-the 1.4 l TSI with 122 hp is a much better engine, and I would even recommend it. However even this unit can have issues with the prematurely worn timing chain. In this case you can expect this issue mostly between 100 000 km and 150 000 km. But in some cases the chain mechanism can be worn even earlier than 100 000 km, again mostly in the cars made to 2011. So it’s a good idea to measure how badly is the chain worn.
1.4 TSI 160 hp / 118 kW (Twincharger)
This engine is equipped with a turbocharger and also with a compressor to achieve the very good performance. But the various possible issues of this engine are not that good as the performance:
1. Timing chain
And again let’s start with the damn timing chain, which as in the previous engine can be worn mostly between 100 000 km and 150 000 km, but there are also cases of worn chain mechanism even before 100 000 km mainly in cars made to 2011. So again the best is to measure how badly is the chain mechanism worn.
2. Compressor clutch
The next issue of this engine is related to the compressor, specifically to the magnetic clutch of the compressor which can fail even before 100 000 km causing weak engine performance since the compressor is not gonna be engaged (limp mode/loss of power, fault code: P10a9 – 04265). In this case you will have to replace this clutch which is connected to the water pump.
how to replace the compressor clutch video
3. Piston crack
But let’s move onto the most interesting issue this engine can have which is related to the pistons. Specifically the side of the pistons can crack and also break off basically, even before 100 000 km.
- misfires because of low compression
- rough idle / vibrations at idle
- loss of power
- excessive oil consumption
- a check engine light can be also present
- shuddering/jerking during acceleration or steady speed-because of misfires
- knocking/rattling noise from the engine during acceleration and later you won’t be able to start the engine at all.
If you don’t have any of these symptoms or if they are still barely noticeable (the crack can be very small in the beginning) then the best way to check for a cracked piston is to measure the compression of the cylinders. (this is cheap, fast and effective, and if the compression on one cylinder is gonna be lower than on the others, then you most probably have a crack on that particular piston)
Replacing the pistons and all the other necessary stuff(-head gasket, reconditioning of the cylinder head, new timing chain, gaskets) costs around 3 000 € – 3 500 € at an independent mechanic, so I would not recommend choosing this engine if you don’t have the extra money to fix this!
GTI – 2.0 TSI 211 hp / 155 kW
The regular GTI version is equipped with a 2.0 l TSI engine which can have a couple of problems too:
1. Timing chain
In this case again the damn timing chain mechanism can be a bit problematic. Specifically the very first weaker version of the timing chain tensioner can fail and damage your engine even before 100 000 km. However in mid 2012 VW updated the tensioner which is much better and which can withstand a longer time and actually, plenty of these cars do have already the updated tensioner installed by the previous owners. But, it’s definitely good to check visually the tensioner thru an inspection hole on the side of the engine if you don’t know which tensioner you got. There is a noticeable difference between the old and the new updated tensioner.
2. Camshaft bridge
The next problematic part of this engine is called the camshaft bridge which can occasionally cause oil starvation in the cylinder head or other damage if a small screen falls out from it. The good thing is that only the cars made to 2009 are more prone to this-since they have the earliest version of the camshaft bridge. But the bad thing is, that the cam bridge was revised more than 3 times so the screen can fall out on later cars as well !
3. Intake manifold
Then there is the plastic variable intake manifold which can be faulty. This is a complex plastic garbage with moving plastic flaps in it which can wear out and fail and shit + it can also cause vacuum leaks, so be prepared to replace it with a newer, better and more sturdy updated part. Faulty intake manifold symptoms: loss of power, misfires/rough idle, P2015 (P215) fault code, eventually check engine light.
By the way, while you are replacing the intake manifold you should also: replace the injector seals, pull the injectors out and check them for carbon build up/eventually have them tested + an intake valve carbon cleaning is also a good idea while all this stuff will be removed.
Next there is the pcv valve which can be often faulty before 80 000 mi. In this case it can break internally or it can be clogged, so in other words: it can cause a vacuum leak or it won’t let the excess pressure out of the engine. However it doesn’t really matter how exactly it can break, what matters is, that it’s good to replace it preventively since it can blow the rear main seal which starts to leak oil and that’s an expensive repair ($1 000-2 000 fix), so before buying it’s good to check for an oil leak between the engine and gearbox. (It’s very easy to replace the pcv valve, since it’s on the top of the engine)
1.8 TFSI 160 hp / 118 kW
The infamous 1.8 l TFSI was also available in this Golf even though it’s pretty rare. And that’s good, because I would stay away from it since this engine can have issues with:
- prematurely worn timing chain mechanism with a weak chain tensioner
- cam bridge screen
- intake manifold
- classic direct injection issues
- + excessive oil consumption because of piston rings/pistons
GTI edition 35, Golf R
Lastly there is the Golf GTI edition 35 and the Golf R. The best for last? Well kind of, since both of these models have a 2.0 l TSI engine which is much better than the engine in the regular GTI. It’s because this more powerful unit has a timing belt instead of a timing chain and it also has a slightly different – better intake manifold. The only thing worth mentioning is the HPFP cam follower which can get worn. + The PCV can fail too, but that’s not really surprising. So these models are a good choice unless of course the previous owner was a “racing driver”.
Other issues related to TSI engines
To finally end this journey of engine hell, I have to mention that all of the direct injection petrol engines can have often issues with leaking water pump so check the coolant level regularly!
+ Let’s not forget about the classic direct injection engine issues, so:
-You can expect a noticeable amount of carbon build up on the intake valves sometimes even at 50 000 mi / 80 000 km – but this of course depends on how was the car used. (So if it was used mostly for long distances with regular oil changes then it can be ok, but if the car was used for short distances then the carbon build up can be pretty major)
–Faulty, clogged or leaking injectors can occur /symptoms: misfires, loss of power, illuminated check engine light/
–Ignition coils can fail too, mainly if you don’t change your spark plugs early /symptoms: misfire/ (the best is to replace the spark plugs every 40 000 km)
-The HPFP can occasionally break + rarely it can leak fuel into the oil /symptoms: check engine light, limp mode/loss of power, long cranking, fault codes P0087, P053F, P0139, misfires, the engine shuts off by itself-stalling, the engine won’t start/
–Oil consumption can be occasionally present in all of these direct injection engines. Sometimes it’s caused by a faulty PCV, sometimes by clogged piston oil scraper rings – although it’s not like very common.
–Faulty turbochargers can occur, but usually just in more abused or high mileage cars.
All of the diesel engines can easily reach 300 000 km or 400 000 km, but of course they can have the regular diesel engine problems:
-The EGR valve can be faulty before 200 000 km which is not like the end of the world, but replacing it is not that easy since it’s mounted on the back of the engine
(bad EGR symptoms: limp mode, issues with starting, uneven/fluctuating idle, check engine light with P0403 fault code)
-The injectors can be faulty, but usually just after 200 000 km. However in the 1.6 l TDI they can cause issues even before 200 000 km. (4x new injectors approx. 1 600 €)
-The Bosch CP4 high pressure fuel pump can fail and in this case it will release tiny metal particles in the whole fuel system which will destroy the injectors. This issue can occur for the most part only in the US or in some parts of Eastern EU because of the different quality of the fuel, but even here it’s not like extremely common, but it can of course happen
Dieselgate software is shit
It’s good to mention the infamous emission scandal and the associated software update which should correct the emissions. Plenty of cars got this software update, but sadly plenty owners experienced strange issues after this update. These issues include:
- higher fuel consumption
- slight loss of power
- slightly uneven/more rough engine running
- more often regenerating DPF
- even sudden EGR or injector failures
Also bigger noticeable oil dilution with fuel can occur even on cars used for longer distances – so fuel gets into the oil: for example +0,5l of fuel gets into the oil after 15 000 km.
+ after the update even the aut. gearbox shifts earlier letting the engine to run a lot of times pointlessly at very low RPM which is bad for the engine and everything…
But the good thing is, that because of this emission scandal on the newest cars there still should be an extended warranty in the US for all the main parts of the diesel engine. This means that buying a later diesel engine Golf in the US is not a bad idea if the extended warranty is still valid.
HOW CAN THE 2.0 TDI DIE
If you are buying one of the more powerful 2.0 l TDI engine made to the end of 2009 which has CBAB or CBBB engine code, then at approx. 200 000 km it’s a good idea to remove the oil pan and check the 77mm oil pump drive shaft which can be worn out and later cause loss of oil pressure which is not good! All the newer 2.0 TDI engines with more than 140 hp made from 2010 have an updated 100 mm long shaft which is usually ok, but even this shaft can be worn-but just after approx. 400 000 km!
+it’s also worth to check the coolant level regularly since there are OCCASIONALLY cases of cracked EGR cooler which will slowly leak coolant into the combustion chamber
These are more or less the issues of the diesel engines, but of course if you are going to use them mainly for short distances then you can expect issues with the clogged EGR or clogged DPF filter earlier then you would like, so buying a diesel engine is not a good idea if you are doing less than 50-60km a day.
Timing chain / belt
As I already said the chain mechanism in the 4 cylinder engines can be worn anytime basically, so even before 100 000 km. That’s why the best is to either measure it how much is it worn or to replace it preventively after buying, since if the chain skips then it can easily damage the engine pretty badly – bent valves and shit.
But before buying its always good to check for a short rattling noise at cold start which indicates worn chain.
to extend the lifetime of the chain:
- replace the oil in time (after 8 000 km)
- DON’T leave the manual gearbox in gear even on a small incline – since it’s going to put unwanted stress on the chain components !
- don’t “under rev the engine” so keep the RPM upwards of 1 600 – 1 800 RPM
All the diesel engines + the 1.4l, 1.6 l and the older 2.0l TSI (GTI edition 35, Golf R) petrol engines have a timing belt which you should definitely replace with all the pulleys, tensioner, the pulley screws and with the water pump at the specified intervals in the owner’s manual. + Don’t forget that there is also the accessory belt for the alternator and AC compressor so replace that too, since if it breaks, then it can damage the timing belt and this can destroy the engine in the worst case !!!
“Replacing the timing belt with all the pulleys and water pump: approx. 600 – 700€“
+keep in mind that all of the 1.6 TDI diesel engines and some of the 2.0 TDI engines (2.0 TDI with the CLCA, CUUA engine codes) have the oil pump driven by a rubber belt ! This oil pump belt can withstand a long time and there is no official change interval for it, so it should be good for the “lifetime” of the engine. However to be on safe side you should replace this oil pump belt at the same time you replace the timing belt.
This VW can be equipped with the:
- 5 or 6 speed manual gearbox
- 6 or 7 speed DSG dual-clutch automatic transmissions
- regular 6 speed automatic transmission (US market only)
-The manual transmissions are usually reliable, just check them for strange noises and it’s good to occasionally replace the oil in them. Then of course check the clutch which should operate smoothly without any kind of strange noises, vibrations or shuddering.
Keep in mind that some of the engines – mostly the diesel engines are equipped with a Dual mass flywheel which can be worn usually around 200 000 km, but sometimes even before this mileage. In this case it can cause vibrations at idle, vibrations in the clutch pedal or metallic clattering sounds from the gearbox area.
To extend the lifetime of the dual mass flywheel you should always release the clutch calmly rather than releasing it suddenly and never let the engine to operate at low RPM – so make sure that while driving the RPM stays above 1 500 RPM !
-From the automatic transmissions the regular 6 speed is the most reliable, but sadly this gearbox was mated only to the 2.5 l 5 cylinder petrol engine
-On the other side, the 6 and 7 speed DSG dual-clutch gearboxes are not that reliable. Especially the 7 speed version can have often issues with the mechatronics even before 100 000 km + also the clutches in it can wear out (worn clutches can cause vibrations, so pay attention to this). The lifetime of the clutches of the 7 speed gearbox is approximately 150 000 km – so at this mileage you should be definitely ready to replace them + keep in mind that the DSG gearbox is also equipped with a dual mass flywheel which can wear out !
DSG bad dual mass flywheel example vid
“sometimes a simple software update can also fix some DSG gearbox issues like rough shifts for example”
If you are buying a model equipped with the 4motion 4wd system then make sure that the 4wd is working properly – so check for front wheel spin since the haldex pump can fail and in this case the car is gonna be just front wheel drive (without warning lights, sometimes there can be a stored a fault code but sometimes there is not) + it’s really important to change the oil in the differential every 50 000 or max 60 000 km and also change the filter in it which can clog and cause premature failure of the already mentioned haldex pump
(haldex pump fault code: 00448 – haldex clutch pump)
how to replace haldex fluid and filter long vid
how to replace haldex fluid short vid
To summarize things up:
- the older naturally aspirated petrol engines are the most reliable
- avoid the DSG gearbox unless you have additional 2 000 € / $2 000 to fix it
- avoid cars with performance upgrades and with questionable maintenance history
+ keep at least 1 000 € / $1 000 for the maintenance and possible repairs, but if you are buying a car with a direct injection petrol engine or with a diesel engine then keep at least 2 000 € / $2 000, and to top of that if you want the more powerful 1.4 TSI Twincharger or the GTI model then keep at least 3 000 € / $3 000
And as always if you have personal experience with this car or more information about it, then you can write it into comments!