I Thought a Dieselgate Volkswagen Would Be a Good Idea. I Was Wrong.
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As car enthusiasts, we can sometimes let our emotions get the better of our more rational minds. For example, a little over a year ago, I traded in the Ford Escape I used as a mobile detailing vehicle for a much more enjoyable Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen TDI.
At first glance, a Dieselgate Volkswagen was a good deal, especially with a six-speed manual transmission and heaps of low-end torque. I had the space for my detailing stuff, plus a stick shift and a platform with plenty of mod potential to satisfy my inner petrolhead. Unfortunately, reality crushed that fantasy in short order. If you’re considering a Dieselgate Volkswagen, let me be your warning – it’s not an easy vehicle to own, especially if you rack up miles.
How did VW fix the Dieselgate cars?
The biggest downside to buying a dieselgate-era Volkswagen is the additional emissions equipment that was part of the dieselgate fix. If you’re unfamiliar, Volkswagen used special engine modes to cheat emissions testing equipment, got busted, and caught heavy fines from the U.S. Government.
Part of that restitution was to install a new Nitrogen-Oxide (NOx) catalyst and replace the cheater software with tuning that removes the defeat mode and, theoretically, improves fuel economy.
Notably, when Cars.com tested its 2013 Sportwagen TDI long-term test car before and after the dieselgate fix, it found a 2 mph reduction in overall fuel economy. On the one hand, the VW Dieselgate fix does return better emissions, but at the expense of efficiency and performance. But in the real world, there’s more to the story.
Living with a ‘fixed’ Dieselgate Volkswagen
Over the past year, I’ve put a lot of miles on my 2014 TDI Sportwagen. Over 20,000 miles, to be precise. When you live in northern Vermont, even a trip to Costco involves an 80-mile round trip, not to mention mobile detailing and the simple joy of driving through the mountains on a day off. In those 20,000 miles, I’ve learned a few things I wish I had known before I jumped into TDI territory with both feet.
For one, the Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) and Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) systems are prone to problems and aren’t cheap to fix. Look around the forums, and you’ll find a large swath of TDI owners deleting these systems simply for reliability. In addition, there are performance and fuel efficiency benefits in these deletes as well. Not only are these deletes federally illegal, but in my state, annual inspections make them impossible to consider.
How Volkswagen’s Dieselgate fix is breaking older TDIs
Instead, I’m looking at a four-figure repair bill for emissions equipment that is now operating outside its original parameters. The existing DPF and EGR systems were designed with the original TDI software in mind.
The Dieselgate fix includes a more frequent regeneration (regen) cycle. During a regen, the system burns off collected exhaust particulates, turning them into ash so they can be blown out of the exhaust. More frequent regens increase the temperature of the DPF more often. These heat cycles often lead to a cracked DPF, which costs well over $2000 to replace.
In addition, the extreme heat cycles overheat the coolant, causing corrosion in both the heater core and the EGR cooler, which also throws a check engine light and makes the car uninspectable. That repair runs another $1,500, making the total of my repair bill between $3,000 and $4,000, depending on the shop labor rate.
Should you buy a Dieselgate TDI?
When my Sportwagen was in good shape, it was an enjoyable car to own. Aside from the spike in diesel prices last winter, it was much more affordable to run than a gas car thanks to the 40-44 mpg fuel economy. But the dieselgate fix and subsequent issues make for big repair bills that are hard to deal with. In short, if you rack up big mileage, a Dieselgate TDI is simply more trouble than it’s worth–literally.