for as long as i can remember, i’ve heard the line ‘superior german engineering.’ it’s usually been in reference to VW cars. being young and gullible, i supposed that since i heard it so much, it must be true.
then i owned a VW.
it was a 1991 passat station wagon. it was my first station wagon and i had wanted a wagon for a long time so i was pretty thrilled about that, plus my dad had always been a big VW believer so i felt some sort of pride to be following in daddy’s footsteps. but my passat turned out to be a real piece of shit. i think i owned it for less than 3 years and encountered myriad problems.
- the steering was weird and pulled at odd times and felt weird. everyone who drove it asked what was up with the steering.
- the power windows and locks only worked intermittently.
- the alternator suddenly died one time and left me stranded in a remote area of washington state.
- the power steering pump failed.
- the car developed a strange, violent bucking that would occur at the most interesting and untimely moments, usually in front of a crowd of attractive girls. i spent a lot of time on car forums doing research and at the VW mechanic but it was months before the mechanic finally found a badly corroded and mostly broken wire at the distributor.
then the head gasket began to fail. not knowing any better, i continued driving it and just kept the coolant topped up. usually it was ok but sometimes it would start running hot and then lack power, or just die altogether. one time on a very long drive in hot weather, it started doing this. i turned on the heat in the car to try to blow off some of the excess engine heat, much to jenn’s chagrin. she tried to open her window but guess what, the power window had chosen not to work that moment. so jenn stewed, almost literally AND figuratively.
then we took that same dying car on a road trip across BC’s southern interior. in hindsight, this was incredibly foolish of me. i can’t blame VW for my poor judgement here but it’s a fitting end to the saga of the passat so i’ll recount it anyway: while we sat in a traffic jam caused by a wildfire on a very hot day, the car overheated for its last time and would not start again. it was friday afternoon in buttfuck nowhere before a long weekend, and i had a fucked VW. we got towed to a garage in princeton who told us they don’t usually work on VW’s, and even if they did they wouldn’t be able to get any parts until after the long weekend. we worked out a deal where they bought my car for $100 or so and i bought a pontiac 6000 from them. it looked a lot like this.
it was the ugliest piece of shit i’ve owned but it ran well enough, and it even had working air conditioning which we were very grateful for on the remaining drive home. i still wonder whatever happened to that god damned passat of mine. it probably got fixed up just enough to give some other poor bastard a few years of headaches before they drove it off a cliff out of frustration.
anyway, that was my introduction to VW’s. it wasn’t good. then jenn and i bought a VW westfalia camper van. guess what, it had a million problems and a lot of serious design flaws. the two biggest flaws were the woefully under-powered, air-cooled 2.0 liter gas engine that was prone to overheating, and the puny non-vented disc front brakes that are barely suitable for vehicles half that vans size. guess what else, everything went wrong with that van, constantly. access to work on any and all parts of the van was a nightmare. there wasn’t an easy job on that thing. in short, i hated it. i finally sold it to some poor unsuspecting sap who hadn’t yet learned how awful VW’s and westfalias in particular are.
since those terrible firsthand VW experiences, i’ve listened to a lot of friends moan about glow plugs and turbos and poor fuel economy and carbon buildup and faulty ECU’s and head gaskets, and on and on. i don’t think i have a friend who owns a VW that hasn’t had a lot of problems with them.
meanwhile, my 27-yr old corolla wagon with 377,000 kms on it runs like a top. when i got it about 5 years ago, i replaced a leaky radiator and both the CV axles, and since then all i’ve done are brakes and oil changes. it’s a similar story with jenn’s 1992 honda civic. and it was a similar story with my 1987 4wd toyota tercel. all those old japanese cars are or were a lot more reliable than anything boasting ‘superior german engineering.’
so i don’t buy it. i think VW did a good job of telling people their shit is superior but that’s all it is: all marketing, no substance. in reality, their products are utter junk. it’s amazing how seriously people took a silly tagline, and how far that tagline has carried them.