Cost-Effectiveness and Fun Factor of an ALH TDI?

Sadsack_24

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I'm looking at an 02 TDI wagon which has been gone through by a member on here; a well looked after Oregon rig with 205k on a fresh belt, fluids, pump, etc.

Is there another car you can get for well under 10k these days which delivers a better balance of fun, economy, ease and low cost of maintenance, reliability, durability, versatility, and rough/dirt road performance than an ALH TDI?

I currently run a 97 Land Cruiser which excels on rough roads, but is lacking in most of the other categories.

I do spend most of my time on the highway though, so I'm also considering a Camry with the 5fse (boring w/ auto, but incredibly chep to run and deadnuts reliable), EJ22 Subaru or EJ25 Forester/Outback with MLS head gaskets fitted (fun and good on dirt roads but not as efficient as a TDI), or maybe a 4runner but they cost too much these days.
 

Nero Morg

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OR
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2014 A6 TDI, 2001 Jetta TDI, 2014 Passat TDI
Lol well you gotta pick one or the other, stupid good fuel economy with occasional fun zippy driving, or an off road rig. Kind of hard to get both with an ALH, unless you do some sort of samurai or gen 1/2 Tacoma swap.
 

afterthisnap

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Mountain West
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Jetta wagons, ALH/CJAA
You already have the cruiser for offroading, maybe get the TDI for the highway.
Our garage has also had a rotating cast of EJ powered vehicles. Subies are all zippy in relation to the TDIs, but they are fuel guzzlers in comparison.

FWIW, we've filled the back of the older TDI wagon with gear, guns, and a dog and spent days out camping and driving on primitive/fire road. If it's dry and you're not trying to race, the TDI will hold it's own to a subie for basic car camping. Tires make all the difference.
 
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Nero Morg

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OR
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2014 A6 TDI, 2001 Jetta TDI, 2014 Passat TDI
Also how lifted it is compared to stock height!
 

Sadsack_24

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Northwest Arkansas
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You already have the cruiser for offroading, maybe get the TDI for the highway.
Our garage has also had a rotating cast of EJ powered vehicles. Subies are all zippy in relation to the TDIs, but they are fuel guzzlers in comparison.

FWIW, we've filled the back of the older TDI wagon with gear, guns, and a dog and spent days out camping and driving on primitive/fire road. If it's dry and you're not trying to race, the TDI will hold it's own to a subie for basic car camping. Tires make all the difference.
I'm short on cash at the momnet so I'd have to sell the Cruiser (at a loss in this market with fuel prices) to fund a TDI. I'm wondering if it'd be a good move before the market really implodes, but at the same time I don't wanna spend a dollar to save a dime.
 

Diesel Fumes

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Dec 30, 2008
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Creston, bc
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2003 alh tdi 5 speed
I love my tdi. I even sold my wrx when fuel prices were a non issue to get back into an alh tdi. It's great fun, doesn't require a ton of upkeep and is fun when you need it to be. And of course is cheap to drive.
 

IndigoBlueWagon

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South of Boston
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'97 Passat, '99.5 Golf, '02 Jetta Wagon, '15 GSW
It's obviously not going to be as good off-road as a body on frame Land Cruiser, but with a 2" lift they are pretty versatile.

Depending on how much you drive, you may or may not save much money with a TDI. Regardless of how well the car you're looking at has been maintained, it's a 20 year old car with 200K miles on it. Things wear out or break. As much as I love TDIs, if cash is tight a good used Camry might be a better option.
 

Sadsack_24

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Northwest Arkansas
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It's obviously not going to be as good off-road as a body on frame Land Cruiser, but with a 2" lift they are pretty versatile.

Depending on how much you drive, you may or may not save much money with a TDI. Regardless of how well the car you're looking at has been maintained, it's a 20 year old car with 200K miles on it. Things wear out or break. As much as I love TDIs, if cash is tight a good used Camry might be a better option.
they guy selling it is a member on here I think, and is pretty much going through the whole rig to make it as turn-key as possible. From what I've seen he's a respected member of the TDI community.
 

J_dude

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Jan 9, 2020
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SK Canada
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2003 1.9l “Jedi”
I don’t think there are many vehicles out there that can compare with the fuel economy of the TDI and still be as fun to drive, and from what I’ve seen these cars can do all right in mild off-road situations. You say you drive mostly highway so I think the TDI would be perfect.
 

vandermic07

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Jun 5, 2011
Location
West Central Pennsylvania
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01 Golf 5 spd, 03 Jetta Wagon
You can achieve 50 MPGs in an ALH with a 2" lift. Stock summer tires (195/65/15's). stock Winter tires get you around 45 MPG's. Offroad oversized tires ??? Id say less than 40 MPGs but someone else with experience could chime in.

I like my 2" lift with stock tires for my commute, especially in the winter. I mostly don't have to worry about bottoming out because of the short wheel base. I take it on back roads a lot. Runs good but you have to be careful and look way ahead for rocks, ruts and mushy spots. Id love to run offroad tires but don't want to take the MPG hit.
 

Sadsack_24

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Northwest Arkansas
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none as of now
Is a skid plate also a must for uneven roads? Anybody experimented with LSDs or even locking diffs to help with traction?

Also how do they compare with the old bugeye WRXs in terms of the factors listed above? I used to have an 02 bugeye and enjoyed it, though I ended up cutting my losses because of mechanical issues (I wasn't the best about maintenance back then).
 

IndigoBlueWagon

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'97 Passat, '99.5 Golf, '02 Jetta Wagon, '15 GSW
If you're driving on real trails or unimproved roads a skid plate would be pretty important.

And from what I hear about WRXs (all gens) there's no comparison between them and a TDI. How many WRXs do you see with over 200K on them? And if you do know of one, how many engines has it had? Clutches?
 

afterthisnap

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Jul 24, 2012
Location
Mountain West
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Jetta wagons, ALH/CJAA
Many think that the skidplate is mandatory for highway driving. The aluminum oilpan is right in the target zone for road debris.
IMO, If you have to install a LSD to get the offroad performance you want, then you definitely purchased the wrong vehicle for your intended purpose. Also, it seems like a LSD would be outside the "strapped for cash" aspect of this purchase.

We had 2 bugeye impezas bought and flipped over the past 2 years. Something to consider is that all these early 00 vehicles reaching the 200K mile mark which is over the hill for the EJ engines.
 

Sadsack_24

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Northwest Arkansas
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If you're driving on real trails or unimproved roads a skid plate would be pretty important.

And from what I hear about WRXs (all gens) there's no comparison between them and a TDI. How many WRXs do you see with over 200K on them? And if you do know of one, how many engines has it had? Clutches?
Yes they pretty much all have been rebuilt or replaced or rebuilt by now. The only subie engine that can approach the ALH reliability is the EJ22, and even then it's still a gasser so kinda apples to oranges.
 

afterthisnap

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Jul 24, 2012
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Mountain West
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Jetta wagons, ALH/CJAA
And from what I hear about WRXs (all gens) there's no comparison between them and a TDI. How many WRXs do you see with over 200K on them? And if you do know of one, how many engines has it had? Clutches?
Exactly!

Maybe it's different in Arksnsas, but every practically overpriced WRX out here is beat to hell and has a rod knock the seller tries to pass off as piston slap.
 

Sadsack_24

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On a more general note, you hear people say stuff like "German cars are money pits after 100k miles" and in fact I remember my mom having to sell her 02 Passat with the 1.8t engine cause it was gonna cost too much to repair.

Assuming there's truth to that notion, is the TDI an exception because of its legendary engine? Or can they get mechanically totaled because of all the other stuff falling apart? I've heard of substandard copper being used in some of the electronics; any other little gremlins like that? Are they up there in quality with a Land Cruiser or Camry?
 

Sadsack_24

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Northwest Arkansas
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Many think that the skidplate is mandatory for highway driving. The aluminum oilpan is right in the target zone for road debris.
IMO, If you have to install a LSD to get the offroad performance you want, then you definitely purchased the wrong vehicle for your intended purpose. Also, it seems like a LSD would be outside the "strapped for cash" aspect of this purchase.

We had 2 bugeye impezas bought and flipped over the past 2 years. Something to consider is that all these early 00 vehicles reaching the 200K mile mark which is over the hill for the EJ engines.
it's not hard to find/fit one is it? I think Atlas might be a good bolt-on option, at least AFAIK.
 

Diesel Fumes

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Joined
Dec 30, 2008
Location
Creston, bc
TDI
2003 alh tdi 5 speed
If you're driving on real trails or unimproved roads a skid plate would be pretty important.

And from what I hear about WRXs (all gens) there's no comparison between them and a TDI. How many WRXs do you see with over 200K on them? And if you do know of one, how many engines has it had? Clutches?
My bugeye wrx had 140k miles on it and yea the thing was done. Needed a new engine (they're cheap and plentiful though)

The non turbo boxer engines are generally good for a long time. Though do need head gaskets eventually. The turbocharged ones don't typically have longevity. Great cars otherwise though.
 

afterthisnap

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Jul 24, 2012
Location
Mountain West
TDI
Jetta wagons, ALH/CJAA
it's not hard to find/fit one is it? I think Atlas might be a good bolt-on option, at least AFAIK.
Find/Fit isn't the point; even if a LSD were sitting free in the trunk of the TDI you're looking at, it's not the missing part that's going to transform a VW into magical 50mpg low-maintainence rockrawling unicorn.
 
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afterthisnap

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I wouldn't say that skids make it more capable, but they mitigate the liability of a cracked or shattered oil pan. It's a good idea almost regardless of make/model.

Tdi pans are flat, aluminum, hung low on a tall block, and mounted transverse which makes for the largest possible target.
Subie oil pans are less flat in profile, steel and mounted longitudinally on a relatively shallow block. Even then, I've still had to weld up a hole in a ej22 pan that had a gnarly rock scrape.
 

Andyinchville1

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Apr 7, 2016
Location
Virginia
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2003 Jetta TDI wagon, 5 sp, 226K miles
HI,

Depending on your mechanical skills I would think an ALH engine into an older Forester would be a great swap ...

I've seen some mildly modded Subies do pretty amazing stuff offroad...

Hardest part would be to shoehorn in the ALH .... might have to get creative with that OR maybe a 3 cyl TDI from europe may be the ticket.

On the other hand (how hard core are you planning on wheeling?) maybe some slight mods to the wagon (lift , bigger tires , skid plate, Wave trac )_ would be sufficient?

Andrew
 

Sadsack_24

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Northwest Arkansas
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HI,

Depending on your mechanical skills I would think an ALH engine into an older Forester would be a great swap ...

I've seen some mildly modded Subies do pretty amazing stuff offroad...

Hardest part would be to shoehorn in the ALH .... might have to get creative with that OR maybe a 3 cyl TDI from europe may be the ticket.

On the other hand (how hard core are you planning on wheeling?) maybe some slight mods to the wagon (lift , bigger tires , skid plate, Wave trac )_ would be sufficient?

Andrew
I don't really do any hardcore trails, in fact the hardest trail I've done was Stony Pass up on Colorado, rated around a 6/10 on OnxOffroad and other apps.
 

vandermic07

Veteran Member
Joined
Jun 5, 2011
Location
West Central Pennsylvania
TDI
01 Golf 5 spd, 03 Jetta Wagon
On a more general note, you hear people say stuff like "German cars are money pits after 100k miles" and in fact I remember my mom having to sell her 02 Passat with the 1.8t engine cause it was gonna cost too much to repair.

Assuming there's truth to that notion, is the TDI an exception because of its legendary engine? Or can they get mechanically totaled because of all the other stuff falling apart? I've heard of substandard copper being used in some of the electronics; any other little gremlins like that? Are they up there in quality with a Land Cruiser or Camry?
If you don't do regular scheduled maintenance, they will turn into a money pit. I have 370k miles on my golf. Its getting rough around the edges but the motor is rock solid. Only left me stranded once after the bottom of my intercooler blew off. I've spent $13k over 11 yrs in maintenance. Probably $2k in screw ups that were my fault but minor in the grand scheme.

Your probably going to have to put some $$ into any ALH these days to get it running good. Sound like the former owner will be taking car of that for you. I've not had major issues with electronics.

I wouldn't compare to a Camry. Most Toyotas are no head ache, low maintenance, oil change check fluids, blah, blah. But they don't drive like a VW.

Id say if you cant do your own mechanic work and your are worried about $$. Don't get a VW. That's what I tell anyone who asks me about TDIs
 

jmodge

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Jun 18, 2015
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Greenville, MI
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2001 alh Jetta, RC2 5speed daily commuter and 2000 alh Jetta 5spd swap, 2" lift, hitch, stage 3 TDtuning w/502's backroad cruiser
https://forums.tdiclub.com/index.php?media/tent.138133/
2" of lift, stock turbo, .216 injectors and tune. Enough power to pull a small toy and gear. Still gets 47mpg highway, not sure how much towing affects mpg. I have 205/70/15 Geolander AT's, great on gravel and dirt roads, fair in the snow. Better tires for traction can be found, but it travels mostly the road. Handles two tracks good, but gearing is kinda high for sharp curves and whoop de do's in the woods. I Never leave home without a skidplate, on any of my vehicles.
That said, it just wasn't quite good enough, some places I go just require 4wd.
https://forums.tdiclub.com/index.php?media/fe6e3d2a-f74d-42c1-8f36-fccf88bdcc5b-jpeg.145427/ So I kept it, but added this
 

mittzlepick

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Mar 18, 2001
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union maine
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2004 jetta wagon (365k)2001 wagon tire burner 6spd 2003 wagon(417k)
Cheap and fun, not so cheap to make fun. My waggo has 6 speed, wavtrac, vnt 17, big intercooler, big exhaust. 180/200 hp. Up to 50 mpg previous owner put at least 5k into it. Looks and goes like hell for a 1.9 diesel
 

Sadsack_24

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Joined
Jan 19, 2022
Location
Northwest Arkansas
TDI
none as of now
If you don't do regular scheduled maintenance, they will turn into a money pit. I have 370k miles on my golf. Its getting rough around the edges but the motor is rock solid. Only left me stranded once after the bottom of my intercooler blew off. I've spent $13k over 11 yrs in maintenance. Probably $2k in screw ups that were my fault but minor in the grand scheme.

Your probably going to have to put some $$ into any ALH these days to get it running good. Sound like the former owner will be taking car of that for you. I've not had major issues with electronics.

I wouldn't compare to a Camry. Most Toyotas are no head ache, low maintenance, oil change check fluids, blah, blah. But they don't drive like a VW.

Id say if you cant do your own mechanic work and your are worried about $$. Don't get a VW. That's what I tell anyone who asks me about TDIs
I doubt it could be any worse than a Land Cruiser though, with all this overbuilt parts, some of which are even discontinued. Not to mention when you compare vs the cost of a new or preowned these days.
https://forums.tdiclub.com/index.php?media/tent.138133/
2" of lift, stock turbo, .216 injectors and tune. Enough power to pull a small toy and gear. Still gets 47mpg highway, not sure how much towing affects mpg. I have 205/70/15 Geolander AT's, great on gravel and dirt roads, fair in the snow. Better tires for traction can be found, but it travels mostly the road. Handles two tracks good, but gearing is kinda high for sharp curves and whoop de do's in the woods. I Never leave home without a skidplate, on any of my vehicles.
That said, it just wasn't quite good enough, some places I go just require 4wd.
https://forums.tdiclub.com/index.php?media/fe6e3d2a-f74d-42c1-8f36-fccf88bdcc5b-jpeg.145427/ So I kept it, but added this
No need for a skidplate when you have a beefy solid front axle lol. That's the main reason I'd wanna keep the Cruiser; everything else this side of a commercial truck just seems flimsy and under-built by comparison. It seems like the design is particularly flawed for the Jetta oil pan though from what people have posted here; were there any recalls or lawsuits over this?
 

IndigoBlueWagon

TDIClub Enthusiast, Principal IDParts, Vendor , w/
Joined
Aug 16, 2004
Location
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'97 Passat, '99.5 Golf, '02 Jetta Wagon, '15 GSW
I've owned multiple MKIV cars for the past 20 years, driven well over a half million miles in them. Some lowered. Never broken an oil pan. It's not a flawed design, it's a user problem.
 
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