We usually tend to keep cars for a long time, where long means more than 10 years bearing unforeseen circumstances. Traditionally, we have always gone the Japanese route, so when we picked up the VW Passat as a one year old low mileage used car, it was a bit of an unknown.
We were looking for a roomy sedan to accommodate our expanding family. We test drove the usual suspect in that segment from Toyota, Honda, Kia, and Chevrolet. Most fell short in one of the following aspects: unappealing exterior design, insufficient leg room, questionable finish or materials, or a convoluted dashboard. The VW was not our prime contender until we took it for a test drive at a local dealership. It offered more rear leg room than any of its competitors. We much preferred the classically styled interior with analog gauges over other models which featured rather non refined digital displays. The 2.5L 5 cylinder engine was not the most powerful, nor the most responsive, but it was good enough for daily driving. Once we found the right low mileage model at the right price, it took but a few hours to close the deal and drive off the lot.
Room and comfort have been the biggest winner over the last 10 years. The spacious rear seats made it easy to put in car seats and not suffer unwanted back massages from kicking feet. The vinyl seat material, or leatherette as VW likes to refer to it, has held up remarkably well. It has not faded at all even in the harsh Texas heat. It is easy to vacuum and wipe down, something that anyone with kids will appreciate instantly. And, there are almost no scratches visible after a decade of use - pretty remarkable for a daily driver. Trunk space is fantastic and gives much larger SUVs a run for their money. Distances in Texas are vast, but the Passat rides smoothly and fairly quietly on highways and makes even longer road-trips enjoyable.
Reliability has been better than we expected from a German car. We had zero incidents which required roadside assistance or towing. Once, at about the 60k miles, the Passat did enter "limp mode" as indicated by the Electronic Power Control (EPC) indicator light, which reduced the engine power but allowed us to get home safely. A bit of Internet research pointed in the direction of the throttle body, which was easily replaced with an after market part and the Passat has be running smoothly ever since. There are various videos on how to either replace or clean the throttle body. The process is straight forward and takes about an hour even when done carefully. It takes longer to remove and replace the engine cover and air intake components, than to replace the defective part.
Oil changes are only required once every year or every 12k miles, which is less frequent than several other cars in our household. VW recommends spark-plug replacement every 40k miles or every 4 years which seems excessive in my experience. We went about 80k miles with no problems or misfires before swapping them out. We did have to replace the lower control arm brushings shortly after crossing 100k miles, and will need to look at the front CV boots in the near future as they are beginning to leak.
The design with its fairly straight lines has aged graciously. The body shape of the car still looks nice next to newer Passat models and other contemporary sedans, even ten years later.
Electronics on our Passat have been a little suspect. The tail light, which thankfully are easy to change through a latch in the trunk, had to be replaced more frequently than expected, especially on the driver side. The rear-door lock / latch on the driver side is beginning to malfunction sporadically. I'm not sure if this is an electrical or mechanical issue yet, but as all other door still function properly it has not been a big deal. The XM Radio has a strange habit of "updating programing" more often than any other car we own, which is slightly annoying for the first minute of the drive as one is left in silence while waiting for the update to complete.
The Bluetooth connectivity for phone calls works just fine, however, we could never get Bluetooth audio for applications to play properly through the built in entertainment system. The system always tries to fade audio in or out, which may be fine for longer audio clips or songs, but for short snippets such as turn by turn directions it is an absolute non-starter. While on the topic of Bluetooth, here is a timesaver tip before you drive yourself crazy: To unpair an old phone you have to pair a new phone first. That makes absolutely no sense, but for some reason it is implemented this way.
More related to service, than the car itself, but on one occasion the VW dealership managed to not properly secure the oil drain plug after an oil change, and we ended up with an oil stain in our garage the next morning. It was addressed promptly by the dealership, but it was still mildly annoying for such a routine service. While on the topic of fluids, once during the 10 year period the power-steering began making strange grinding sounds. It turned out that the power-steering fluid was simply running low, which for this car is either the Pentosin CHF-11S or CHF-202. Once again, the VW service department should have caught this as this happened shortly after the yearly service when they are supposed to top-off the fluids.
If there is a design flaw for this car, then it has to be the front brakes, and in particular the front rotors. The Passat weights in at around 3200 LBS, and with a front mounted engine has a weight distribution of roughly 60% towards the front. It is not that the front brake pads or rotors don't work - they do work well enough for a family sedan. It is that the front rotors are paper thin, and with this size of car and weight distribution, the front rotors get replaced every single time the brake pads need replacement. Consequently, a simple job that most people could do in their garage over a weekend, becomes a larger and more expensive job which most will get done at the dealership.
The Passat seems to be rather heavy on brake pads, or maybe the materials VW utilized are on the softer side, but I've only had to replace brake pads more often on cars I've tracked. To add insult to injury, the Passat breaks also squeak even when not worn, especially at low speeds. There are long threads on VW forums with complaints about squeaky breaks and various suggestions how to make the problem better - none that I have tried have helped this issue much. Then again, we don't pull up to fancy restaurants or valet park the Passat very often, so not much effort has gone into fixing this.
While on the subject of brakes let's mention tires. When we picked up the Passat it came with Hankook Tires which worked pretty well. At some point we decided to only get two new tires, because of an unrepairable flat. The installer insisted on putting the new tires onto the rear axle, which is consistent with industry practices. Even though the front tires still had plenty of tread left, this setup made the Passat completely undrivable in wet weather conditions. The car would constantly lock up the front wheels and go into understeer, making it dangerous to drive in the wet. After a few of these rather unpleasant experiences, we ended up moving the newer tires to the front, and wet weather performance was restored in our case. We've since moved on from the Hankook tires to the the Bridgestone Potenza RE980AS+ tires, which offer even better handling and all season performance at a reasonable price.
Would we buy the Passat again? Absolutely! It has been our workhorse for the last decade. It easily handles our kids who manage to destroy just about anything they can get their hands on. The few quirks it has have not been deal breakers and we have become accustomed to them. While some more issues are beginning to creep up after a decade of use, the Passat still drives well and we have no desire to trade it in for anything newer at this point. Meanwhile the rest of our car inventory is as follows: An 08 Nissan Xterra which is our hauling and yard work vehicle. A 23 Jeep Grand Cherokee L has been recently added to our stable as a long distance cruiser or for when extra family is in town. We'll check in on that one in a few years and see how it holds up reliability wise. Unfortunately, the sporty 03 Nissan 350z Track is no longer around, as a drunk driver totaled it by slamming into it when it was parked on the side of a street a while ago.
OEM Part#: 07K133062A - You can find after markets parts in the $50 to $75 range as of this writitng, which are a lot cheaper than the OEM part. Of course you need make the call if you are comfortable with a non-OEM part.↩︎
Per my undertanding, both Pentosin CHF-11S and CHF-202 can be used in the 2013 Passat. I ended up using CHF-202 as that is what I was able to find at a local parts store that day.↩︎