MKIII TDI Reliability

Sadsack_24

Well-known member
Joined
Jan 19, 2022
Location
Northwest Arkansas
TDI
none as of now
I'm wondering what the verdict is on MK3 reliability and cost of maintenance. Would it be an upgrade from my current 1997 Land Cruiser?

The example in question is pictured below. Does it seem like a good buy for a cost-effective commuter?

 

Mozambiquer

Vendor , w/Business number
Joined
Mar 21, 2015
Location
Versailles Missouri
TDI
1998 VW Jetta TDI. 1982 VW Rabbit pickup, 2001 VW Jetta TDI, 2005 VW Passat wagon TDI X3, 2001 VW golf TDI, 1980 VW rabbit pickup,
I'm wondering what the verdict is on MK3 reliability and cost of maintenance. Would it be an upgrade from my current 1997 Land Cruiser?

The example in question is pictured below. Does it seem like a good buy for a cost-effective commuter?

They're great cars. Watch for rust on the underside, change the timing belt and run it. My brother in law has over 300k miles on his.
 

Windex

Top Post Dawg
Joined
Apr 1, 2006
Location
Cambridge
TDI
05 B5V 01E FRF
Couldn't get your page to load.

That said, the MKIII is a simpler design which is easier to maintain than many of the newer TDIs, well vetted. Most of the inherent problems have solutions detailed in these forums.

The issues now are:

1) rust, rust and more rust. The MKIII is not the best when it comes to resisting corrosion. If you find an example, make sure you inspect the body thoroughly.
2) parts availability. The AHU and MKIII are now 25 years old. Parts are becoming scarce. If you have a boneyard local to you that has any of these, stock up on window regulators, an injection pump, axles, heck buy a whole parts car if you have the space.

EDIT - managed to open the link - looks clean, but fresh paint can be deceiving. take a magnet to the rocker panels and see if it stcks evenly everywhere. Check to see if the injection pump is dry, make sure it shifts into each gear smoothly with no whining or roughness.

The 239k miles is likely legit as the cluster says "total" meaning that it has not yet rolled over 300k

and change the timing belt as soon as you get it - good idea to change the water pump at the same time, along with the t-stat and 3-way hose under the injection pump.
 

Sadsack_24

Well-known member
Joined
Jan 19, 2022
Location
Northwest Arkansas
TDI
none as of now
Couldn't get your page to load.

That said, the MKIII is a simpler design which is easier to maintain than many of the newer TDIs, well vetted. Most of the inherent problems have solutions detailed in these forums.

The issues now are:

1) rust, rust and more rust. The MKIII is not the best when it comes to resisting corrosion. If you find an example, make sure you inspect the body thoroughly.
2) parts availability. The AHU and MKIII are now 25 years old. Parts are becoming scarce. If you have a boneyard local to you that has any of these, stock up on window regulators, an injection pump, axles, heck buy a whole parts car if you have the space.

EDIT - managed to open the link - looks clean, but fresh paint can be deceiving. take a magnet to the rocker panels and see if it stcks evenly everywhere. Check to see if the injection pump is dry, make sure it shifts into each gear smoothly with no whining or roughness.

The 239k miles is likely legit as the cluster says "total" meaning that it has not yet rolled over 300k

and change the timing belt as soon as you get it - good idea to change the water pump at the same time, along with the t-stat and 3-way hose under the injection pump.
Do they have the same 1.9 engine from the later Jettas? I'd like to think it's held up well being in the South as far as rust but of course it'd be a good idea to check over the underbelly thoroughly.
 

IndigoBlueWagon

TDIClub Enthusiast, Principal IDParts, Vendor , w/
Joined
Aug 16, 2004
Location
South of Boston
TDI
'97 Passat, '99.5 Golf, '02 Jetta Wagon, '15 GSW
The AHU engine in the MKIIIs and 1.9s in later cars don't share many parts. And quite a few parts have gone obsolete. Turbos are still out there, but hard to find, Injection pumps are gone, many of the coolant hoses are NLA, suspension parts are getting limited in availability and some are gone, as are most body and trim parts. Exhaust systems are NLA.

But if you're willing to do some digging when something fails, these are great cars. Take it for a drive and make sure you like it. They don't have a lot of power and the ability to increase power is limited. They're noisier and less refined than newer cars. But if you (like me) don't mind that, they're great transportation.
 

Rig

Veteran Member
Joined
Apr 14, 2010
Location
New Mexico
TDI
1998 Jetta TDI, 210k miles
Second that parts are hard to find in some cases, especially for things that commonly go out (turbo inlet pipe *cough cough*) However, in most cases an aftermarket part can be found or fabricated. The 11mm injection pump from the newer cars fits on the AHU with some modifications so I wouldn't worry too much about that. Seals can be replaced it is just leaking.

That said, I wouldn't rather have any other car. The gas mileage combined with engine power is phenomenal. You should get low 50s for hwy driving which can't be be beat. These cars CAN get up to 200 hp when heavily modded. Mine is around 120 hp. For a small lightweight car, that is PLENTY of power. However, the stock power is only 90, so you may want to plan some upgrades if that interests you. For about $1k you can get 30-40 more hp with some fairly simple mods.

EDIT: Only other major downside to these cars is they are not meant for offroad use without modifications. You will feel ALL the bumps. Clearance is very minimal. These characteristics can be slightly altered or improved upon but it's also FWD only, so keep that in mind.

About the car you are looking at specifically.... It looks scarily good for how many miles on it. The maintenance he put into it recently looks solid though and will save you some money so the higher price is most likely worth it. Most of the things that commonly go out are likely already taken care of at that mileage. Mine is 211k and I've done A LOT of work to the car. So I think the price is good especially considering new interior upholstry, new turbo, brakes, working heater and AC, etc...

ask about the clutch - might be new at that mileage also. Good to know if it's stock, or aftermarket. If you want to mod it you may have to get a more robust clutch anyway.

ask about the injectors (ever been replaced, if so what size nozzle?), or if you the owner ever got it chipped. what turbo is it?

ask about injection pump. seals replaced? new pump?

ask about timing belt - every 60k miles, needs water pump and tensioners at the same time

ask about the the turbo inlet pipe. again, at that mileage it must have already been replaced. This is a pretty common failure.

regarding the heater, see if the blend doors have ever been patched. I don't know how the heater would be working any other way.

ask about engine work - camshaft/lifters, head, see if a compression test has been done on it, or ask for one, will give you a good idea of the health of the engine. At that mileage it is worth checking. Usually nothing that can't be fixed, but it's good to know what you are paying for.

what is the red thing next to the coolant ball? oil catchan maybe? Definitely not stock whatever it is.

The coolant ball is the wrong color. These cars need the pink G12 collant, not sure whats going on with that.

check for codes with a VCDS

check for rust on the underbody, skid plate intact?
 
Last edited:

TDIDaveNH

Left Lane Coal Roller at Large
Joined
Feb 17, 2009
Location
North Conway, NH
TDI
'97 Passat x2
First thing I'd check is pull out the spare tire and look for evidence that the car once ran WVO, auxiliary tanks were placed in the spare tire well and holes in the body made to run heated lines up forward......also if it smells like veggie, that's a deal breaker for me...it's just a parts rig after that.
 

burpod

teh stallionz!!1
Joined
Nov 27, 2004
Location
cape cod, ma
TDI
82 rabbit vnt ahu, 98 jetta vnt ahu, 05 parts car, 88 scirocco.. :/
i love the mk3's. you can find anything you need for it if you're capable. sure, you might not be able to find some "silly" things like parking brake cable guides and what-not, but with a little creativity, you can fit and will work just fine. like has been mentioned, some things that are hard to find, are easily upgraded anyways to something better if you don't mind doing a little work, and it will only make the car better. rear brakes are easily upgradeable to discs. engine rebuild parts are plentiful as are suspension components. it's really only the dinky things that you might not be able to readily find but there's always an easy solution
 

garciapiano

Veteran Member
Joined
Feb 12, 2018
Location
Southern California
TDI
1997 Jetta TDI (1Z)
Do you LOVE working on your car?
Judging from your ownership of that you own a land cruiser, I’m going to guess you at least some mechanical knowledge. But this is no Toyota.
 

Starion_slider

Active member
Joined
Dec 28, 2018
Location
CT.
TDI
1996 B4 sedan
I daily drive a 96 B4 passat over 100 miles everyday. Had it for over 10yrs now. Over 400k. I think 412k actually. GREAT cars and I cant imagine not having it as a daily BUT you better be handy with a wrench and have patience and be able to search out parts and either find a spotless one or be prepared to chop chop and weld it all back together. They are normally rust buckets….mine included. Ive replaced both side floors from firewall to bottom of rear seats. Ive also replaced basically every other wear item more than once but that being said……i’ll do it again. Motor and trans have been fine so far besides head gaskets.
 

oilhammer

Certified Volkswagen Nut & Vendor
Joined
Dec 11, 2001
Location
outside St Louis, MO
TDI
There are just too many to list....
They were stellar reliable when they were new. The issue now is age. Rust was a thing, and the ever dwindling list of parts that are no longer available and the shrinking number of used parts to chose from.

At this point, they are really going to be as much a hobby car as they would be a reliable daily driver.

The car linked looks to be a decent buy, and if you can hit the ground running and have at least some ability to maintain it, you'd certainly be likely to get your money's worth... but that car could just as easily need a couple thousand in hidden things. If it has been in Arkansas all its life, rust shouldn't be an issue.
 

IndigoBlueWagon

TDIClub Enthusiast, Principal IDParts, Vendor , w/
Joined
Aug 16, 2004
Location
South of Boston
TDI
'97 Passat, '99.5 Golf, '02 Jetta Wagon, '15 GSW
At this point, they are really going to be as much a hobby car as they would be a reliable daily driver.
This is what I've concluded about my own B4. If you don't consider it as a serious daily driver it's a fun car to own and drive. I just had replace a broken MAF wire, age got to the harness. That kind of thing will just keep happening.
 

Abacus

That helpful B4 guy
Joined
Nov 10, 2007
Location
Relocated from Maine to Dewey, AZ
TDI
Only the B4V left
Agreed. I do not have one as my daily driver but did for over 10 years (2 of them actually) and I had to work on them constantly. It was always something small but never ending. That being said, I learned a lot and it made me prouder to drive one every day, plus they're fun to drive. I'll have mine for years to come but am glad I have a different car to drive to work should the need arise.
 

Houpty GT

Veteran Member
Joined
Aug 31, 2008
Location
South Carolina
TDI
Corrado TDI, 2000 Golf, 1996 B4 Variant
That's awesome! It was hard to find an MK3 that looked that nice 10 years ago. For respect, a creampuff MK3 wins out over the MK4. Virginia is the line for the threat from rust because of road salt. If it was rust free, I would buy it once the following points are negotiated.
What is that red thing by the coolant bottle?
What is he doing with those extra hoses routed over the valve cover?
The coolant is not supposed to be green, you will commonly see heater core failure after it is used. Plan on this expense now! Carry a bypass pipe with water to prepare for when it happens.
The spare rim looks rusty. Why? The tire is useless at this point and unsafe. Mine exploded in the trunk during summer several years ago.
What is all that other electrical wiring by the battery, that is not supposed to be there?

I have owned 3 AHU powered cars and 2 ALH powered cars.

The MK3 is MORE RELIABLE than an MK4.
Blasphemy? It is the truth but the ALH worshippers will come after me with nothing but their feelings hurt. Other than the few extra years of age over the MK4, which has become less significant as most MK4's have aged very poorly, the MK3 is more reliable in nearly every aspect though more Spartan. That's just made it more reliable and truer to its VW roots. VW has a tendency to take well engineered and sorted components and change them, creating headaches. Each model is worse than the previous, so ALH can just go tease the PD and common rail folks if they are still crying by the end. Misery loves company.

Major failure points that the MK3 doesn't suffer from like the MK4 does:
dual mass flywheel
radiator fans
turbocharger
turbocharger vanes sticking
slimy soft touch interior
nozzle pressures go out sooner on the MK4 for some reason
ABS system failures
coolant migration
valve cover gaskets

So why do people love the ALH more:
There are a lot more of them available.
Quieter from the engine mounts, mass flywheel, and insulation
It is 2 to 5 years newer.
10 years ago, its styling looked cooler.
Some people like the lack of an intermediate shaft.
The biggest reason I think is that it's a lot easier to get a turbocharger upgrade

The MK4 ALH is still great and usually has better specimens for sale so buy which ever you find that is nicest.

I disagree about sharing parts. It is probably 50% the same if you went through it all. The ALH and AHU are the same functional engine. Rods, pistons, valves, camshaft and into the transmission shafts and gears up till the final drive are all the same. Up top, the injector bodies, nozzles, and most pump internals are the same. The block, head, and transmission and pump case are different. Most things on the chassis are different.

I would have no problem daily driving that MK3 for 20,000 miles per year if it is in good shape and you stay on top of your maintenance, which is easier if you do it yourself. Stay ahead of problems like coolant hoses and noisy bearings. If you are daily driving a 1997 Land Rover, expect half the problems and half the cost for this Jetta.
 

garciapiano

Veteran Member
Joined
Feb 12, 2018
Location
Southern California
TDI
1997 Jetta TDI (1Z)
That's awesome! It was hard to find an MK3 that looked that nice 10 years ago. For respect, a creampuff MK3 wins out over the MK4. Virginia is the line for the threat from rust because of road salt. If it was rust free, I would buy it once the following points are negotiated.
What is that red thing by the coolant bottle?
What is he doing with those extra hoses routed over the valve cover?
The coolant is not supposed to be green, you will commonly see heater core failure after it is used. Plan on this expense now! Carry a bypass pipe with water to prepare for when it happens.
The spare rim looks rusty. Why? The tire is useless at this point and unsafe. Mine exploded in the trunk during summer several years ago.
What is all that other electrical wiring by the battery, that is not supposed to be there?

I have owned 3 AHU powered cars and 2 ALH powered cars.

The MK3 is MORE RELIABLE than an MK4.
Blasphemy? It is the truth but the ALH worshippers will come after me with nothing but their feelings hurt. Other than the few extra years of age over the MK4, which has become less significant as most MK4's have aged very poorly, the MK3 is more reliable in nearly every aspect though more Spartan. That's just made it more reliable and truer to its VW roots. VW has a tendency to take well engineered and sorted components and change them, creating headaches. Each model is worse than the previous, so ALH can just go tease the PD and common rail folks if they are still crying by the end. Misery loves company.

Major failure points that the MK3 doesn't suffer from like the MK4 does:
dual mass flywheel
radiator fans
turbocharger
turbocharger vanes sticking
slimy soft touch interior
nozzle pressures go out sooner on the MK4 for some reason
ABS system failures
coolant migration
valve cover gaskets

So why do people love the ALH more:
There are a lot more of them available.
Quieter from the engine mounts, mass flywheel, and insulation
It is 2 to 5 years newer.
10 years ago, its styling looked cooler.
Some people like the lack of an intermediate shaft.
The biggest reason I think is that it's a lot easier to get a turbocharger upgrade

The MK4 ALH is still great and usually has better specimens for sale so buy which ever you find that is nicest.

I disagree about sharing parts. It is probably 50% the same if you went through it all. The ALH and AHU are the same functional engine. Rods, pistons, valves, camshaft and into the transmission shafts and gears up till the final drive are all the same. Up top, the injector bodies, nozzles, and most pump internals are the same. The block, head, and transmission and pump case are different. Most things on the chassis are different.

I would have no problem daily driving that MK3 for 20,000 miles per year if it is in good shape and you stay on top of your maintenance, which is easier if you do it yourself. Stay ahead of problems like coolant hoses and noisy bearings. If you are daily driving a 1997 Land Rover, expect half the problems and half the cost for this Jetta.
I agree with you on most points. The Jetta Mk3 has gone from butt-ugly to curiously retro futuristic now, which is back in vogue again. The mk4 has MUCH better aftermarket support. Different horses for courses.
 
Last edited:

oilhammer

Certified Volkswagen Nut & Vendor
Joined
Dec 11, 2001
Location
outside St Louis, MO
TDI
There are just too many to list....
I feel the A4 is a quantum leap better platform , and most of the trouble areas don't really show up usually until most of the A3s have long since fallen to pieces.

Things the ALH does not suffer from that the AHU does:

crank snout pounding itself apart
shifter bits falling to pieces (early A4s suffered this, too)
ignition switches melting
integrated EGR valve with the intake manifold (seriously, who thought THAT was a good idea?)
oil leaks (I don't think I have ever seen an AHU that wasn't an oily mess after 100k miles)
DRUM BRAKES (ha!)
door handles
seat bottoms collapsing

.... and of course, the one thing that was literally a joke, was the rat's nest of wiring add-ons and random connectors for things just floating in space, all packed into a small area above the driver foot well, because the A3 was basically just a late CE2 A2 with even more stuff kluged on that didn't fit very well.

I liked my '98 Jetta, it was a good car, but my 2000 Golf is FAR better overall, even if it has had to have a few things sorted out here and there.

I regularly maintain A4 cars that have been on the road MUCH longer and gone MUCH further than any A3 I've ever seen, and they still keep on kickin'.
 

IndigoBlueWagon

TDIClub Enthusiast, Principal IDParts, Vendor , w/
Joined
Aug 16, 2004
Location
South of Boston
TDI
'97 Passat, '99.5 Golf, '02 Jetta Wagon, '15 GSW
I was thinking this morning about how folks here don't think a 200K mile + A3 isn't necessarily a good daily driver, where we have two A4s in my family with well over 400K miles that are still excellent dailies. They are as reliable as any 3-5 year old car, maybe more reliable.

And FWIW, my B4 with 294K miles leaks no oil. At this moment. Fresh valve cover and CCV pipe recently. :)
 

ToddA1

Top Post Dawg
Joined
Aug 3, 2011
Location
NJ 08002
TDI
'96 B4V, '97 B4 (sold), '97 Jetta (scrapped)
All three of my TDIs are/were over 200+k. No issues at all.

One ended up getting sold and one got cut up due to rust. The engine and driveline had no issues.

-Todd
 

Jetta SS

Veteran Member
Joined
Oct 30, 2006
Location
Grand Bay, AL
TDI
'98 Jetta
Been my daily since 2004. My worst failure was the heater core, by far the most difficult repair I've done on the car. Plenty of minor repairs over the years due to maintenance. Solid clutch, I'm still riding on the original.
 

ToddA1

Top Post Dawg
Joined
Aug 3, 2011
Location
NJ 08002
TDI
'96 B4V, '97 B4 (sold), '97 Jetta (scrapped)
I’d think anything old is going to need a bit more upkeep, until the entire car is gone through. Once the latter occurs, it’s just routine maintenance.

My issue is/was too many cars. Since I scraped the Rotbox and sold a B4, my TDI workload has decreased.

-Todd
 

oilhammer

Certified Volkswagen Nut & Vendor
Joined
Dec 11, 2001
Location
outside St Louis, MO
TDI
There are just too many to list....
I despise rust, so that pretty much will cross off all but the most garage queened A3s from my list. I just went to Texas to buy an F250, because I wanted one that has never seen salt. Mechanicals are almost always fixable, or replaceable. But body parts that are slowly dissolving into vapor and dust, not so much.

I feel for you guys living deep in the rust belt. It must be a full time job to try and have something nice. I just did brakes on a 2012 Kia Sorento last week, from Minnesota. It was an all day adventure to get it apart. We almost refused it. Probably should have.
 

d24tdi

Veteran Member
Joined
Jan 6, 2019
Location
MT
TDI
96 B4V
In the A3 vs A4 debate I think there are also several areas where it's obvious more engineering time was given to serviceability on the A4 and its ALH/BEW engines. Yeah the A4 rad fans can fail, but they're cheap and swapping one takes about 5 minutes. Meanwhile on the A3 (and B4) there's the dumb rubber band fan belt in front of the fans, which means doing anything with those is a hassle, easiest if you can discharge the AC system to take loose the lines and back the shroud away from the rad. Annoying and unnecessarily fussy.

Changing a thermostat on the late architecture motors is likewise a 3 minute piece of cake doable without getting under the car, whereas on the 1Z/AHU it's a PITA, have to drop the belts and the PS pump, etc. Not the worst but still could/should be simpler, and it is on the later motors. The AHU/1Z inherited too many vestigial features of '70s gas engines. Intermediate shaft driven oil and vac pumps, external water pump, etc.

Rear suspension upkeep on A4 is also far easier than on A3. Again benefits from effort on serviceability. A4 shocks just bolt up, on A3 you get to tear the interior apart.

I second the comments on leaks. The early engines don't stay as clean. The later toploader oil filters are easier to deal with, topside oil changes are always nice.

Not having to drop a motor mount to change the TB on the old A3/B4 cars is admittedly nice and probably the one advantage on the older cars in terms of serviceability.

All that said -- I still am putting 3-5k a month on a B4 wagon, and those have many problems that the A3 doesn't. A3 are solid and tough cars if they don't rot away, and arguably/IMO the interiors hold up to abuse best of all the transverse chassis cars. The A4 interiors are far nicer at their best, but if an owner hammers them, they seem to be more fragile. B4 falls apart no matter what you do. A3 is all hard plastic, feels cheap, but it lasts and can look OK even if it's had a hard life. Little stuff breaks and you have to open the hood every week or two for something, but it's usually not that much wrench time for the miles. And on the serviceability annoyance stuff mentioned above, it makes a big difference if you're working on the cars all day every day, but for an owner who's only gonna do a timing belt or set of rear shocks or tstat once in 10 years, it really doesn't matter much.

So to original question definitely yes, even these 25 years on they are still viable as hardworking daily drivers and not hard to keep on the road.
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: Rig

d24tdi

Veteran Member
Joined
Jan 6, 2019
Location
MT
TDI
96 B4V
Moving from a land crusher to a Mk3 TDI, you'll save enough on fuel and upkeep (think tires alone) that any needs on an older car would be worth the effort fixing many times over.
 

oilhammer

Certified Volkswagen Nut & Vendor
Joined
Dec 11, 2001
Location
outside St Louis, MO
TDI
There are just too many to list....
I'd take a 100k mile ALH t-belt over a 60k mile AHU t-belt any day.

Speaking of fuel, I just did an inspection on a 2018 Nissan Armada (the big Stupid Useless Vehicle, 5.6L V8 and all). It had 99,856 miles on it.... so call it 100k. Four years old. 25k a year. The trip computer happily showed 13.2 MPG average. Do the math on that one, LOL.... wow....
 

Starion_slider

Active member
Joined
Dec 28, 2018
Location
CT.
TDI
1996 B4 sedan
I despise rust, so that pretty much will cross off all but the most garage queened A3s from my list. I just went to Texas to buy an F250, because I wanted one that has never seen salt. Mechanicals are almost always fixable, or replaceable. But body parts that are slowly dissolving into vapor and dust, not so much.

I feel for you guys living deep in the rust belt. It must be a full time job to try and have something nice. I just did brakes on a 2012 Kia Sorento last week, from Minnesota. It was an all day adventure to get it apart. We almost refused it. Probably should have.
😂 I just replaced every body panel on my 2000 f250 with rust free texas parts. 4 doors, bed, gate, fenders, and i did inner/outer cab corners and inner/outer rockers. She looks like factory new now. My B4 still looks good but the patched up areas from previous are starting to bubble in random spots. The floors i replaced are 10000% mint still tho. I love my vehicles too much to let them go. I’ve owned the truck 17yrs and the B4 10yrs.
 
Top