Long Term Ownership Report and Future CC Road Trip: 2014 Volkswagen Passat – All In The Family

For a while I’ve been wondering about when would be a good time to prepare a long term report on the VW Passat we purchased new in September 2014.

We’ve put a hair under 35,000 miles on it during our ownership.  We’ve become sporadic in our driving as it will sometimes sit in the garage without seeing daylight for a week.  The first month of ownership saw nearly 3,000 miles, yet only 6,000 miles have been added in the last twelve months.  That’s just the way it’s been going.

This past weekend was one of those sporadic times, with a roundtrip of just under 600 miles.  While making this trip, I realized my experiences were a nice encapsulation of the bulk of our ownership experience.

The reason for the trip was not a happy one.  Compounding my sour mood was a long-scheduled seminar hosted and taught by Mrs. Jason and Mrs. Jason Junior that weekend necessitated my going solo.

Taken April 6, 1946

The trip was for the funeral of someone I’ve mentioned periodically, my maternal Grandmother “Iris”.

Her real name was Violet and a number of various health issues converged.  In the big scheme of things she realized what many never do; she lived to be twelve days shy of her 91st birthday and she and Grandpa “Albert” lived in their own house until late this past November.

She died on Thursday afternoon and her funeral was scheduled for Saturday, with the quick turnaround not allowing Mrs. Jason sufficient time to notify attendees traveling to the seminar.  Upon learning specifics for the funeral, I loaded up the VW and headed to my parent’s house near Alto Pass, Illinois, leaving Jefferson City mid-afternoon Friday.

Before I get too far, I will make a confession.  Had my first experience with four-cylinder engines been as profoundly positive as my experience with the 1.8T in this Passat, they never would have received so much of my ire.  This engine is an amazing little powerhouse, allowing me to blast across I-70 in Missouri at hyper-legal speeds with nary a whimper.  Hell, it still accelerated great when I punched it at 75 mph so I could get around some slowpokes.  It’s as smooth at 6,000 rpm as it is at idle.

It’s in a completely different realm than the four-cylinder engines I had to endure in the 1980s and 1990s.  When making a similar trip in January 2017, upon Grandma Violet first becoming ill, I found myself tootling along at 92 mph while going north on I-55.  It wasn’t even breathing hard although my passing everything on the interstate should have been a sign of my velocity.

For being a lemon, it was running at over 80 mph

The autobahning across I-70 was invigorating.  Hitting I-64 at Wentzville was not so invigorating as I had no more than crossed the Missouri River when I encountered the typical Friday afternoon throng of traffic.  Doing so did allow me to stand on the brakes numerous times, reminding me of a prior conversation with the service manager at the VW dealer where we bought the car.  While there for an oil change, I struck up a conversation with him.  Telling him we needed to be brutally honest, I stated my awareness about the longterm reliability of VWs not being the most admired.

He agreed there are some outliers with the Passat not being one of those.  With other 1.8T Passats of this vintage hitting 100,000 miles, he said there have been no mechanical issues and rare is the time they see those in harsher uses even needing brake pads.  He also told me Mrs. Jason and I had been shrewd to purchase a base model as the abundance of electronics in the higher end cars has introduced more challenges due to their complexity.  I also learned that moonroofs can be bad news in a VW as they’ve seen instances of them leaking with water running down into the electronics behind the dash, creating all sorts of lovely problems.

That was good to know as I plan to keep this car until it’s kaput and I have to drag it to my back lot for retirement.

After the tortuously slow, stop-and-go drive through St. Louis, hitting the Poplar Street Bridge over the Mississippi River at exactly 5 pm, I arrived at my parent’s house around 7 pm.  The two-lane portion of IL 127 let me follow a number of people who were decidedly not in a hurry, including the Dodge pickup whose right LED taillight kept flickering.

The next morning I drove solo to Cape Girardeau to get Grandpa Albert for the trip to the funeral home in nearby Scott City.  Parking at the front door of his assisted living facility, I walked with him out to the car.  For someone who will be 94 in March, and whose compression fracture of a vertebra in November made his osteoporosis more pronounced, he got in the front seat without issue.  The front door of the Passat appears to swing out to a higher degree than other mid-sized cars.  He was able to enter the car, close the door, and put on his seatbelt entirely unassisted.

I took his walker (he calls it a mule) and tossed it into the trunk without issue.  The trunk has a great leftover height for walkers mules and routine items; for some items, especially coolers of any size, the opening of the Passat, like a lot of other contemporary cars, really sucks.

The trip to the funeral home was nothing I will dwell on.  Grandpa hit upon a large number of subjects, some going along with some of the stories I had thought of during my travels.

For instance, there was the time Grandma made a pointed observation.  Grandma Violet was 5’10” tall and Grandpa was 6’2″.  Once while awaiting the checker at the grocery store, a short, pudgy woman in front of them turned around and looked the two of them over in what was described as a condescending fashion.

“My, my, I bet you have taallll children.”

Grandma smiled and responded as only she could.

“Yes, our oldest daughter is 5’8″ and our late daughter was 5’5″.  Our youngest, our son, is 6’8″ tall.  None of them are fat.”

Chevrolet Impala: The Camry of the vast Midwest

There was the barbecue when Grandma needed the bottle of lighter fluid.  Picking it up, she was quickly annoyed, muttering “who leaves a tablespoon of lighter fluid in the jug?”  Trying to be some combination of helpful and mischievous, I brought Grandma’s attention to the can of gasoline in the shed.  Looking back and forth between the barbecue and the gas can a few times, Grandma took the top off the lighter fluid and poured in some gas.  The fire took off great.  I asked if she was going to tell Grandpa about the gasoline in the jug.  She said he’d figure it out.

This was too good to not include somewhere

When I was five she sent me to the garden to pick an onion.  My younger sister was three and, like younger siblings can sometimes be, was an annoying shadow.  When my sister picked a second onion, I told her only one was needed and to put it back in the ground.  Not able to do so, she starting crying and popped me in the mouth in frustration.  When I told Grandma, she had no sympathy, telling me I had earned it.

Cape’s police cars used to black, then white, now black and white. Things certainly evolve.

As an aside, our being anywhere near the garden was a rare experience because if Grandpa was anywhere near he’d holler for us to “stay out of the god damn garden!”.  If we even so much as pointed our heads that direction he’d yell from a quarter-mile away to “stay out of the god damn garden!”.  If I had to go to the pasture, it meant walking a narrow path between the garden and a barbed wire fence.  I hugged that barbed wire as I didn’t want to be accused of being in the garden.

It was so effective, when I was twenty-five years old Grandma sent me to pick some tomatoes from the garden.  All I could hear was Grandpa’s age-old admonishment.  Torn, I said “Grandma, I’m not supposed to be in the god damn garden.”  She broke out laughing and I picked some tomatoes.

Prior to the services, my mother’s younger brother “Ron” said he’d like to ride with me to the cemetery so we could both be with Grandpa.  An undertaker had parked the Passat behind the hearse during the service.  Upon its conclusion, Ron helped Grandpa into the VW while I helped with pallbearer duties.  Finishing, I turned around and took the five steps to the car.

Taken in 1943 or 1944

Ron stood there with a tight little mischievous grin and said: “Jason, you are driving a World War II veteran around in a German car.  What’s wrong with you?”

I couldn’t help but laugh and admitted to having thought similar.  Then I asked him if he noticed his nephew Brett’s VW Touareg parked two cars back.  Ron said he had.  When he got in my VW, to distract from the heaviness, Ron reminded me of his old Beetle and told me of his younger son having had a Jetta for a while.

Herein lies another fabulous trait of the Passat.  My uncle Ron is 6’8″ tall and has a very stout frame.  He will be 60 this fall and is not a small man.  When he got in I asked if he had enough room.  He was thrilled to be in such a commodious back seat.  That, folks, was a large part of what led us to the Passat – a roomy rear seat.  Even Mrs. Jason Junior extolled its virtues.

After leaving the cemetery, there was a meal for the extended family.  While there I learned my cousin Brett’s Touareg is his third late-model VW.  His first was a Jetta TDI he still uses for his lengthy commute, with the second being a Passat TDI.  The Passat was too small for their family needs, thus the Touareg.  He said he’ll never buy anything but a VW from here on out – never any real problems, a comfortable ride, and they drive great.  I fully comprehend what he says.

Right after purchasing our Passat, I kept noticing a faint crinkling sound between my shoulder blades.  Mrs. Jason, who is three inches shorter, never experienced it.  Taking it to the dealer, the service manager, who was about six inches shorter than me, could not replicate it. With me sitting there, he heard it.  A fluke during assembly had caused a vapor barrier (or some piece of plastic) to get bunched up.  Had I been taller or shorter, it may have never been realized.

Likely taken in New York City. Grandpa is top right; others identified as Enghart, Berge, Watson, Spear, and Throll

Taking Grandpa back to his apartment, I again stopped by the front door.  He easily climbed out, as he had done several times that day, while I retrieved his mule from the trunk.

I had entertained the idea of driving back home, but it was getting dark and I was tired.  I returned to Alto Pass.

I forgot to mention…my sister was there and had traveled from Cincinnati in her ’08 or ’09 Passat wagon.  She and her long-term guy friend Alan have had it for a long time.  I had forgotten she owned a VW when we bought ours.

Staying with my parents was the right thing to do; Grandpa wanted me to return Sunday morning and my mother needed to unload about things.  To inject some humor into what a been a trying day while accompanied by my trusty German steed, I told a story.  I’m telling it here to show how people management skills don’t diminish with age.

During the visitation, Grandpa’s 92 year old cousin Lucy (there were close to a dozen people over age 90 there, including these three) came and flopped down, putting her head on his shoulder.  Lucy has a reputation for her ridiculous display of boo-hoos at any funeral.  I sat down next to Grandpa after Lucy left suddenly.  Brett came up and offered to help Grandpa to the toilet.  Grandpa said he didn’t have to go.  Brett, confused, said Lucy had just told him he did.  Grandpa, annoyed, said something to the affect of “look at the source.  How else could I get rid of her?”

Sorry, I keep digressing.

Conversation with Alan revealed their Passat has 116,000 miles and the 2.0T engine.  In the time they’ve owned it troubles have been few.  There was the broken wiper arm and a $0.40 clamp that broke.  The problem was the clamp was holding something that was plumbed to the turbo, so the car sounded horrible.  Other than that, it’s been trouble free.

Alan had also purchased a 1988 VW Fox when new.  In 160,000 miles he said there were no issues.

I told Alan at the 30,000 mile oil change (a year ago) the service department noticed some very minor seepage around the rear main seal of the engine.  It was replaced under warranty.  When the bumper-to-bumper warranty was about to expire, I had taken it in for the Takata airbag recall and asked them to go over the car with a fine-tooth comb.  They happily did so, stating they had replaced the left-rear brake caliper.  Like I told Alan, I can’t help but wonder if the dealer had to charge VW something for having the car.  When I removed the wheels for inspection soon thereafter, that brake caliper looked no newer than the other three.

After visiting Grandpa on Sunday morning, I headed back to Jefferson City.  Despite it being 42 Fahrenheit when I left Cape Girardeau, snow was in the forecast.  Sure enough, the temperature steadily dropped and I encountered snow soon after exiting I-44.  Thinking about it, this was the first time our VW has ever seen snow.  If the weather is crummy, we always leave it inside and take my Ford pickup.

My fuel economy averaged 33.2 mpg for the first 500 miles of this trip, driving that included sustained high speeds, two lane roads, city driving, and some idling at the cemetery – par for the course on similar trips.  The EPA rates it at 34 mpg highway (which I have exceeded a time or two) and 28 mpg combined city/highway.  The only flaw was one I warned fellow contributor Ed Snitkoff about when he recently wrote of his father’s Passat

The Hancook Optimos are not the best tires I’ve experienced.  They are loud and have less than mediocre traction.  They will be going away this spring.

So, previously unbeknownst to me, we are now up to seven VWs in my family.  Eight, if you count the 1959 bus my dad’s dad purchased new.  Nine of you count our Passat.  Perhaps ten if dad trades off their 2011 Taurus for an Atlas or Touareg as I recommended.  He’s 74 with an artificial hip; mom’s about to be 71 and has two artificial knees.  I told him they need to think ingress and egress.

At whatever time we’ll be needing another car, I’ll be going to the VW dealer without a doubt.  The Passat has been the ideal car to see us through not only this recent event but many others.

VW just needs to start thinking about bringing the Amarok to the States.  And the 2.0T has returned to the Passat for 2018.  And the Golf wagon would be great for hauling a harp.  And I want to own a manual transmission again, with a GTI being a great candidate.

Yes, I’ll admit it.  My latent VW-ness has fully emerged and there’s a great reason why.  This Passat serves us well, with Mrs. Jason saying the car is a good reflection of us.  What more can one ask for?