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girlofscience's avatar

How do Volkswagen cars measure up to Hondas and Toyotas?

Asked by girlofscience (7434 points ) July 11th, 2009

Hello! For anyone who’s noticed I’ve been gone, I am back from an extended business trip during which I was so busy, I barely checked my email, let alone Fluther.

I am officially in the market for a new (new to me) car. I am looking for something extremely reliable. I know from experience that Hondas and Toyotas are the most reliable affordable cars, and I am pretty sure that everyone agrees on that front. I haven’t heard much about Volkswagens either way, but I kind of like the Volkswagen Passat. How do Volkswagen cars measure up to Hondas and Toyotas?

I am also open to other suggestions. My ideal car would be a 2003 silver Honda Civic, automatic transmission, less than 90K miles. But I’ve been having a difficult time finding that combination for less than $6,500, which is my price limit. (I am not interesting in having monthly car payments; I currently have $6,500 saved to buy a car, and I am not interested in spending any more than that.)

Basically, what I am looking for is:
– silver
– automatic transmission
– looks similar to a Honda Civic
– between 2000 and 2003
– less than 90K miles
– extremely reliable, well-made car that runs well even at 100K+
– approximately $6,500

Does a Volkswagen Passat fit what I am looking for? Are there any other makes/models I should be considering, given my criteria?

Thanks so much for the suggestions!

Question #2 coming up… :)

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32 Answers

JLeslie's avatar

If you want reliable I would go Toyota or Honda no question.

wildpotato's avatar

I have a 2000 VW Passat. Long story short: DO NOT BUY A VW!!!!!!!!! Reliability is not their strong suit, and maintenance costs a fortune. One time my battery kept dying, so I took it in to a number of garages which checked the battery, charged it up, and told me it was perfectly fine. But then it’d drain again by the following day. I finally took it into the official VW dealership, and it turns out that VWs have a special battery whose problems can only be detected by their special machine. A single cell in my battery had died, so they had to replace the whole shebang. All parts for a VW will cost you more than parts for a Honda or a Toyota. Also, the Passat has a major design flaw: the oil pan is positioned just under the bounciest part of the front end, so if you go over a pothole you didn’t see and accidentally scrape the bottom, your oil pan will probably crack. I have gone through 4 of these, and it’s a $500 fix each time because there is a bar blocking me from taking off the back two screws and replacing it myself, so I have to take it in. This design flaw is absolutely infuriating. But I hear they have repositioned the oil pan on the newer models – be sure to ask about this before you buy!

I will say this: the Passat is a little tank. If your car accidentally gets in a fight with another car, the Passat has a wonderful chance of keeping you safe. I was glad to have it just for that reason when I lived in Colorado, where people often slide out on snow and ice doing 75 on the freeway. But maybe Hondas and Toyotas are just as good in their own way; you’d have to look into this.

seekingwolf's avatar

Honda and Toyota cars run great and last forever. well, not forever…but a really long time

I have a ‘09 Honda Fit and it’s great! Very safe too. I can’t speak for automatic transmission because I drive stick but I’m sure it’s very smooth, just as my stick is.

If I need service, I can take it ANY Honda dealer…ANYWHERE in the country, which is great because I’m usually far away at college. Parts/service are at a good price too.

cookieman's avatar

Agreeing with the longevity of Hondas and Toyotas over VWs.

I have driven Hondas almost exclusively. My father, Toyotas. We used to tease each other as to which would last longer. You will easily get well over 100-thousand miles on either with very little maintenance (other than the usual stuff).

Meanwhile, I’ve known numerous people who have owned VWs. They all say they are well built, very safe, but not as reliable and, yes – expensive to repair.

And hey; Welcome back.

Harp's avatar

J.D. Power’s dependability ratings

And yes, welcome back. I had wondered why you weren’t around

girlofscience's avatar

@Harp: Cool, thanks!! Some of these rating surprise me!

Harp's avatar

Me too… Buick??!!

wenn's avatar

I have owned 2 Volkswagens. I have also driven Toyota and Honda, and VW cars are a lot more fun to drive IMO, the quality is better, they dont feel so cheap.

sure taking them to a shop will be a little more, they are a European import, duh. but if you can change the oil or filters or have a friend that can, easy peasy save yourself that money.

as far as reliablity, i never had a single solitary issue with either my 1999 or 1991 Jetta. and the 91 Jetta had well over 100K on the clock.

if you change the oil on time and take care of your car it will last. regardless of the what it is.

Jack79's avatar

I’ve never driven either a Honda or a Toyota, so I can’t tell you about those.

I had a VW Jetta for several years and a VW Vento (which is very similar to the Passat my mother drives) for the past 13 and have been extremely satisfied with it. Driven more than 250,000km with it, all over Europe, and it still runs as good as any brand new car. My huge problem with it (and the reason I want to change it) is that its windows won’t open, and it has no air-condition, which as you can imagine means I can’t drive it in the summer.

The windows problem was caused by bad workmanship at the first service it went through back in 1996, and despite various efforts (and 2 complete rewirings at some point) it has always been an issue. My uncle has the exact same model and he also had problems with the electrics. My mother’s is ok though. Generally German cars are not as good as Japanese in that area, and you’ll often have a malfuncioning CD player, or some indicator that won’t work, or some other issue of that sort. But they are smoother to drive and much steadier. If safety comes first, then I’d go with the Passat.

VW in particular has focused on designing cars that will fold around the passengers in case of an accident, protecting the human body more than anything. That means that a minor accident (such as you hitting the car behind you while parking) could actually cost more money to fix than other models, but a head-on collision would find you walking out of the wreck alive and well, which to me is more important.

As far as VWs go, you might want to consider the Bora, which often comes out in silver and is somewhat cheaper than a Passat as far as I know. There’s not huge differences between the various models except size or style. They often have the same engine.

So personally I’d recommend VW, though I don’t know how it compares to the Civic you’re thinking of buying.

ps: welcome back :)

ubersiren's avatar

Absolutely Buick. My husband and I both had Buicks for our first cars, coincidentally. The first car we bought together was a Buick. Our parents and grandparents—- Buicks! You can find them relatively cheap because nobody wants them. Nobody wants them because they’re not cute and sporty. Gas mileage is not good on the big/old ones, but newer models are comparable to other sedans on gas. They are safe, reliable, the new ones are quite attractive, and you can find them for a good deal if you look. It’ll be with you for a decade or more.

flameboi's avatar

Buy american, get a ford

casheroo's avatar

My parents had VW’s for a while, they’re great and so cute, but the maintence will get you. Same with Mazda’s. I had a gorgeous Mazda but I couldn’t afford the upkeep.

I have a Suzuki Reno now that site says it’s not dependable, but mine has been great for two years now) I just got it inspected and it has been the cheapest car yet during inspection time. I found a great site to buy parts, and get the car fixed cheaply if it needs anything.—Having a father and husband mechanic helps lol The parts really aren’t expensive to replace, and Suzuki’s are super cute. I can’t find it on their site, not sure if they stopped making them or what. But the Reno is cute, and there’s another car similar to the Reno but it has less of a hatchback and more of a sedan look. We got mine used and it wasn’t too expensive…above your pricerange, but my mother has this site that found the car (we got it pretty far away) and it was the right price and payment for us. Let me find the site.

casheroo's avatar

@flameboi I would never recommend a Ford. My husband drives my old Ford and it has cost more to upkeep it than it did to buy it. With the insane amount of tires it goes through, because only sports editions can be on it, and with the mechanical issues…I can’t see myself ever getting a Ford, or telling anyone to get one :(

patg7590's avatar

go Nissan!

Allie's avatar

I’ve had both a Toyota and a VW. VW’s are simple and I like mine, but I liked my Toyota better.
And that’s what I have to say about that.

Darwin's avatar

I had Nissan (and before that Datsun) cars in the past and now I have a VW New Beetle for my daughter to drive. Both of my Japanese cars lived at least 10 years with no major problems (except eventually being squashed flat by another vehicle). The parts weren’t cheap, but back then it was easy to do the work yourself. Both were fun to drive, relatively speaking.

Since the onset of black boxes and computer diagnostics I have only driven GM products. The trucks have lasted very well, the minivans less so, but it is more difficult to repair the cars myself. They also aren’t anywhere near as fun to drive.

My daughter’s car is a 2001 New Beetle which generally runs beautifully. A few items are over-designed (as Germans tend to do) and so are more complex than they need to be (in particular, I hate the way the hood release has to slide out so you can grab it. It is prone to getting off track and thus going under the lip of the engine enclosure, meaning you can’t lift the hood, aka the bonnet). One of the problems locally is that even the VW dealer mechanics don’t know things about the car such as the starter model has to be chosen by VIN number. However, the car cost $7000 and ran like a top for over a year before having any trouble, which isn’t bad for an 8 yo car.

The Beetle is a lot of fun to drive, I must admit. However, I see a lot of Toyota Camrys on the road that are at least as old as the VW and I understand the Japanese cars are still pretty reliable. Personally, I would probably opt for a Toyota, a Honda or a Nissan because they have a proven track record and (at least locally) the mechanics know what they are doing.

Your mileage may vary.

andrew's avatar

Totally anecdotal, but my friends with VW have all had problems with them.

That said, my Trans Am has been holding strong for over 10 years. RIP, Pontiac.

girlofscience's avatar

Interesting. Thanks for all the insight. It looks like I’m going to steer clear of the VWs.

And I am definitely not going anywhere near Fords, casheroo! You are so right about how awful they are. My boyfriend has had a Ford Mustang for about 6 years now, and we’ve put about twice as much into repairing it as the damn thing is worth… Honestly, I can’t wait for it to die so that he’ll have something much more reliable too.

My last car was a Nissan Sentra, and I didn’t have many problems with it, so maybe I would consider Nissans again too. But that’s been out of commission for months now, so we’ve just been sharing the Mustang, and we finally have enough saved up to get a second car again, woohoo!

I’ll take all of this advice into consideration!

monsoon's avatar

I had a 2001 Passat for a few years.

1. Don’t buy a VW.
2. You won’t find a Passat in that price range, I don’t think.
3. Costs’s so much to fix you’ll want to shoot yourself.

I had a family-type mechanic diagnose that I had a leak in the cooling system on my Passat, but of course you needed a special VW mechanic tool to work on it, so I HAD to take it to a VW dealer. I explained the situation to them, they took a look at it, diagnosed that it had a leak in the cooling system, and charged me a not afformentioned hundred dollars. basically that was a fee to listen to my story, glance at the car, and say “yup.” Then it cost me almost a thousand dollars to fix the leak, and they kept my car for (get this) almost three months. This, I can only guess was because of ordering parts from jupiter, or wherever VWs come from that takes three months to order parts.

Oh man I really ranted there, sorry. Anyway, don’t get a VW.

wenn's avatar

cars are expensive in general, my first car was an oldsmobile cutlass, i had 2 problems with that car, first was a issue with the transmission, dealer charged me $800 to deal with that and later on a short in the steering column, they charged me $300 to replace a wire and a fuse.

my second VW I cracked my radiator when I hit a raccoon and had to replace it, i got a nearly brand new radiator for $30 (brand new ones online were $200). no special tools required. and thats the only issue i had with either of my VW’s

so dont bash VW’s cuz you think they are too expensive to maintain, they arent. They are good cars. If you take care of your car it will last, regardless of what you have. unless its an american car, those a junk.

if you search around i sure you can find a decently priced Passat likeeeee here…. 2003 Passat V6 4Motion Auto Trans. for $6,800. its not perfect condition but it looks fine to me for the price

heres a link to a VW forum’s Passat classifieds here

janbb's avatar

We’ve had a 1999 Nissan Altima that we got used in about 2002 for our sons and its been running great. It’s been out to California and back, lived in Providence, RI, and been driven to work daily for the last three years. Not much maintenance, highly recommend.

casheroo's avatar

@girlofscience My mother mentioned today that Hyundai is doing that “cash for clunkers” thing early, apparently they give you $4,500 for any car you trade in. That might be worth looking into. We’re definitely considering it for our old Ford. You could probably get that and plue the money you saved for the car, you could get a decent used car.

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

They don’t. Go to edmunds.com and other car sites where you can look up the mechanical reliability ratings for the cars you question. That said, there are people who absolutely love their VW’s.

Darwin's avatar

@wenn – Don’t you wish that VWs still didn’t have radiators?

wenn's avatar

@Darwin i do like the old aircooled VW’s i am a bigger fan of the watercooled VW’s.

Darwin's avatar

@wenn – The air-cooled ones were so much easier to fix, however. My brother’s first car was a Microbus cobbled together from parts from three different years. My cousin’s was an old air-cooled Beetle that suffered a variety of mishaps that were easily fixed with tape and paperclips.

IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

Consumer Reports gives them the worst long-term reliability rating of any car sold in the U.S. It’s even worse than Chrysler and Pontiac.

tiffyandthewall's avatar

welcome back!

patg7590's avatar

Go Nissan!! lol

Noel_S_Leitmotiv's avatar

Volkswagen won’t give you the reliability of Toyota or Honda.

Toyota won’t be as fun or engaging to drive as Honda.

Volkswagen was founded by a fascist dictator.

Toyota was founded by a weaving loom manufacturer.

Honda was founded by a race driver.

Noel_S_Leitmotiv's avatar

@Darwin: you can thank increasingly strict emmisions standards for the extinction of the air cooled car.

OneBadApple's avatar

I’ll try not to just repeat what others above have said so well, but we’ve purchased both Honda and Toyota vehicles new a few times over the years, and have been extremely happy with their overall quality and performance.

I bought a VW Passat new in 2003, and although I loved it when everything was working the way it should, no other car I’ve ever owned (regardless of how crappy) had so many STUPID things go wrong with it. The pump which sends the windshield washer fluid broke TWICE and had to be replaced both times (only under warranty the first time). The pneumatic rod which holds up the hood, and the shaft where the oil dipstick lives both broke after the warranty expired and needed replacement. The plenum tube (which carries the sweat from your air conditioner out to the ground) kept clogging up, and on long trips began flooding under the dashboard onto the passenger’s feet, and soaking the carpeting. VW cleared it once under warranty and again after the warranty expired (charging us $50.00). It started happening again late last year, but I sold the damn thing.

Oh yes, and the “upgrade” Monsoon sound system completely crapped-out and needed full replacement at our expense.

There were several other ridiculous episodes with the Passat, but my blood pressure is already beginning to rise.

For many years I received emails from the VW dealership where I bought this “high-end” vehicle, trying to coerce me into discussing a trade-in on a new VW product. I sent them a short rant, which ended in “German engineering, my ass…”

And I haven’t heard from them since.

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