It was early 2012 and while my 1996 Nissan Hardbody 4×4 was providing me excellent service still, I had pined after a nicer vehicle. I had been established in a decent professional job for a few years by this time and had thoughts of using an auto loan as a tool to build my credit further in preparation of eventually buying a home.
One contender was the 2001-2004 Toyota Tacoma but those were still very expensive for a used, older truck and was ultimately similar to the Nissan 4×4 I already had. Another route was to look at cars. One car I’ve always enjoyed was Volkswagen’s MkV (read mark five, AKA fifth generation) Jetta. I liked the variety of available engines, transmissions, trim, etc. upscale looks, perceived quality and features for the segment. It was also in my price range, available used and was a reasonable size. I liked the idea of the simplest powertrain for the sake of reliability and lower operating costs. That had me looking for a 2008-2010 Jetta with the proven and updated 2.5 liter inline five cylinder paired with a five speed manual transmission.
I started looking around for a used Jetta in my area with this criterion, but it proved surprisingly harder than I originally thought to find one. I increased my area range to include further locales and bigger markets such as Minneapolis but that only meant it would be more difficult to find the time to go up to test drive it, let alone to find a way to bring two cars back home. Another variable that muddied the waters, the MkVI Jetta had been recently released and was available in lower specifications/de-contented/lower price point to where it was pretty much on par pricewise with the Teutonic quality, higher grade MkV from VW’s bygone days of upmarket aspirations. However, I feared that if I went for the older Jetta I would have kicked myself for not going with the newer one if I could’ve. It was a truly a tough dilemma.
I don’t recall where I first found out about it but the local VW dealership in metro Des Moines had already coughed up a used, very basic MkVI Jetta and it had a manual transmission! Although this particular car used VW’s very old, very rudimentary 8 valve 2.0 liter four cylinder instead of the five cylinder, I still deemed it acceptable because it was a time-tested and proven engine. Plus, being local was a huge benefit. I test drove it, secured very reasonable financing at the dealer and drove it home. I think it had about 11,000 miles on the clock when I bought it and it was pretty much as new.
I enjoyed playing with the car a little, changing wheels to suit my taste and such. After I sold my truck, I added a roof rack to haul bikes. The car served me well and took me on various work trips to other states, Craigslist adventures, biking and camping adventures and more. It was very fuel-efficient and enjoyable/comfortable to drive, relative to the old Nissan 4×4, so it felt like the physical and economic costs of longer distances were far reduced.
One of my most memorable times with this car occurred on a snowy Sunday morning in late April 2013. A good friend of mine was back in town doing some preliminary scouting as she was moving back to town for grad school. After a coffee-fueled bunch at the local café, we took the Jetta aimlessly driving around town looking for “now renting” signs. Equal parts caffeine, a sleepless night before (not together, mind you – I had been up very late celebrating a friend’s birthday) and nervousness, excitement over seeing her again had me feeling somewhat aloof as we drove around.
The snow that day wasn’t deep – just a couple inches of that wet, heavy late-season stuff and enough to blanket things on the ground into obscurity. All these factors all played in as I pulled into the narrow gravel driveway of an old house that I knew my friend was renting. I’m not sure what I was looking to find by pulling in, perhaps I was just trying to turn around. As I started to back out of the drive, I noticed one of the other tenants was waiting to pull in. In haste and/or lack of visual guidance in the unplowed drive, I veered more to the left than I should have and felt my rear wheel go up and roll over something substantial before dropping back down. I popped out to see there was a low stump of a massive tree and I had driven/scraped against some of its roots. The driver’s side rocker panel just ahead of the rear wheel was now smashed in by an inch or two and roughly four inches long. I was disappointed in myself but took it in stride, these things happen.
Investigating the damage, the rockers on these cars are integrated into the body and not a separate piece, so I feared the bill out of pocket for such a repair professionally. I attempted to repair it myself by removing the inner splash guard and taking a hole saw to the wheel well directly adjacent to access the damage. I thought I could leverage a crowbar in there and push it out. This did not work.
Another year went on, I was getting discouraged with the rocker damage and I was also noticing/fearful of how the Jetta S was depreciating heavily (of course this might have been an overall trend on sedans in general). By this time, I had acquired a second vehicle that I could consolidate to if need be and was OK with that.
I listed the car on Craigslist and within a few days, I had an interested buyer. He was excited as it was to be his first manual transmission car, though he did not know how to drive one yet. So on the test drive I recall his wife had to drive it for him. He took delivery of the car upon payment and since there was a lien, it took a few weeks for me to get him the title. I took a pretty decent hit on the car’s value, I feel, given I only owned it for two years and maybe 25,000 miles. So be it…
I don’t feel as bad about the Jetta damage and depreciation, my passenger on that snowy April morning? She’s now my wife.