In this COAL series, we have covered a lot of ground. This installment is about the VW Passat we still own and this the next to last chapter of this series. This Passat continues to serve splendidly as the family car – except for
one (make that two) recent hiccups.
For this installment, there isn’t really an overarching story line so much as a number of free-standing vignettes. So this entry is being approached in an entirely different manner…
For decades, MacDonald Carey has continually proven himself to be correct every Monday through Friday when he says “like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives”. It’s truly scary how quickly those sands drop through that hourglass. Having hit one of those terrible, horrible, no good, very bad milestone birthdays during the course of this series, I can confidently say time continues its march at an ever accelerating rate.
When we purchased the Passat eight years ago (there has been a lot of dropping sand in those years) the salesman told us our fuel economy would be good but would improve at about the 30,000 mile mark. While this assertion seemed like so much sandbagging, it seems he was not wrong. At the 50,000 mile mark our fuel economy increased yet again. Later, in August 2021, a solo trip to Kansas City under fabulously ideal conditions yielded me a tank of 41.5 miles per gallon over 320 miles.
A subsequent tank, when piloted by my wife, netted 40.6 miles per gallon over a slightly greater distance.
Our previous record high fuel economy was just under 38 miles per gallon when all three of us took a trip to Wichita, Kansas, a number of years ago. The speed limit on I-35 to Wichita was 75 miles per hour; I drove 80 miles per hour and let the car idle a few times, which was everything wrong to achieve this 38 mpg. Yet it still did it.
Since my 1989 Ford Mustang, I have had a general trepidation and pronounced reluctance with anything having a four-cylinder engine. Why? If I put my foot in the throttle I expect a positive response now, not for the input to culminate sometime next week. Such had never been within my four-banger experience. While it took sixteen valve heads and a turbocharger to achieve this, it’s been worth the wait.
Even better, this VW seems to thrive on speed. In January 2017, I made a trip to visit my grandmother in a hospital in Cape Girardeau after she had a mild stroke. Coming back up I-55 that evening, it seemed like I was making great time. I was; I glanced at the speedometer, after slowing down, and was running 92 miles per hour. It was as smooth as silk at this speed.
My paternal grandfather rode in our Passat a number of times, including the day referenced above. Later in his life he was uncharacteristically open about his experiences in World War II, likely because he knew he had seen many sands through his personal hourglass and the experiences needed to be shared.
During one of his times in our Passat, he told me of his time at Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest and/or Berghof in Burchtesgaden (the two locations, while in close proximity, were conveyed almost as being interchangeable). He said he found several fellow soldiers sitting on the bed in Hitler’s bedroom.
My grandfather said he pointed out to them Hitler had “likely been doing Eva Braun on that mattress” and did they really want to be sitting on something with “Hitler’s pecker tracks” all over it? It seems those soldiers made a hasty retreat from that mattress.
He also told me about walking around heiling everybody that day. When a gruff sergeant asked why, my grandfather responded he was practicing just in case the Allies lost the war. The sergeant told my grandfather to quit being a smart-ass.
Grandpa said they had to soon leave because, as he put it, the English thought Hitler was nearby and wanted to bomb the place. I’ve been able to pinpoint these events as being around April 30, 1945.
Oddly, it seems some people still associate “Volkswagen” only with “Beetle”. In May, I rode to a meeting with two coworkers from other locations. The meeting was at a park a little over an hour away, so I had taken lawn chairs for us. During a conversation en route about our personal vehicles I had mentioned the VW and its various attributes.
Upon our return, they helped me put the lawn chairs in the trunk of the VW. Both were like “That’s a Volkswagen?”. It was a real-life spin on that awful “That’s a Buick?” ad campaign.
This Passat was the primary car used to teach our daughter to drive. We spent quite a few hours at a lot used by the Jefferson City public schools for driving instruction. Well over one paved acre, it is striped to replicate streets, intersections, and parallel parking.
In one area there is a rather tight Figure 8, seen here on the lower left. One of the things we did was to see how fast we could go while staying within the painted confines of this “8”. I achieved 30 mph with the tires squalling quite loudly. It was great fun.
Our Passat was the car I drove to the funerals of both my grandmothers, one in 2018 (passing just days short of her 91st birthday) and the other in 2021 (who was 100).
I would have driven it to my grandfather’s funeral in 2020 (he was 96), but I was not informed of specifics about the service until there was inadequate time for me to get there. Why? Well, Covid, of course, although nobody else was denied information about it. I have a long memory.
We bought the Passat new in September 2014. At the time, I wanted to ensure we had something more reliable (read as newer) as our parents do not live in close proximity to us and all were of a certain age. We knew health issues would appear and wanted to be poised to respond.
It was a wise move.
The backseat of our Passat is fabulously large. It was heavily complimented by my mother’s younger brother Tom when he rode in it the day of my grandmother’s (his mother’s) funeral in January 2018. Tom was 6’8″ tall and did not have a small frame. He said it was one of the best back seats he had ever experienced.
He also teased me for taking an American WWII veteran of the European theatre to his wife’s funeral in a German car. All I could say was “Ja, ja, ja!” and point out a couple other VWs in the procession. Any other time, my grandfather would have responded to such commotion with his frequent “was ist los?”. His mother spoke exclusively German with her two siblings and he had learned enough German to exploit the black market while in Germany during WWII.
Thinking about it, this Passat gets a somewhat regular routine of blasts across the state, be it for funerals or other things. We are located in roughly the geographic center of Missouri, with family in the St. Louis area and in the southeast portion of the state in Cape Girardeau, plus we often travel to Kansas City for various things.
One such round of blasts was in 2020.
In October 2020 I had surgery in the Kansas City area, giving me the unmitigated joy of undergoing medical care during Covid times. It was an outpatient surgery and I had a follow-up appointment three days later to have the drain tube removed from my neck. There had been the initial appointment and the post-operative visit necessitated another trip to the Kansas City area. This was all within a four-week timeframe.
The three hour trip for the post-operative appointment in Merriam, Kansas, was not the best trip ever. Sore, numb, having a drain tube sutured into my neck, and having a fresh incision between my ear and beard line worked well to make seatbelts and using the restroom nine kinds of unpleasant and challenging.
I knew given the Covid apprehension, my bloody drain tube, and fresh incision, stepping foot into any business establishment made me a walking controversy for at least one of the challenging items. Empty plastic jugs serve many purposes.
Despite the challenges, the Passat was a trusty servant that provided smooth and comfortable transport while I sat in the passenger seat, anxious to get the trip over. That was the only unpleasant ride I’ve ever had in our Passat and this certainly was not the car’s fault.
For blasts across the state, or anywhere for any distance, our Passat is a terrific ride. Its power and fuel efficiency are also quite welcome on such trips.
Just in the last month, our Passat has made me realize there has been a figurative changing of the guard.
When our daughter was little, she always came running to the door when I arrived home from work. Now, over the last little while, she has been driving the Passat for some work she is doing in an adjacent town. The other day I found myself running to the door when she arrived home.
To go along with this, when she was little, Mrs. Jason and I would play this Enya song to help put our daughter to sleep. Last night, I woke up to hear her playing this very song on her harp. It got me back to sleep. She had no idea this happened, but the juxtaposition wasn’t lost on me.
Several years ago I had a conversation with the service manager at the VW dealer about long term reliability. He admitted some Volkswagens have issues, but his experience was any such issues generally come about from electrical issues in cars having a moonroof or the ones having an abundance of electrical doo-hickeys. It seems the seals on the moonroofs all eventually leak and water works its way into bad places creating all the unfortunateness.
I was congratulated on my shrewdness in purchasing a base model. In his most reassuring comment he stated the dealer had seen no mechanical issues with any 1.8T engine that had passed through the shop.
Last fall, at 57,000 miles, we had the transmission serviced by an independent VW mechanic north of us in Columbia. The service manager there asked me how frequently I had been changing the oil. I told him about every 5,000 miles despite the recommendation of 10,000 miles. I admitted to the car having traveled nearly 6,000 miles since its last oil change.
He asked if I had noticed it ever using oil. I said it had whenever I ran past the 5,000 mile mark for an oil change. He said that is typical for the 1.8T. It was his recommendation to simply change the oil every 5,000 miles and never have to worry about it. He said the 1.8T cars he had seen in which the owner routinely utilized the full 10,000 mile interval resulted in palpable oil usage regardless of how recently the oil change had been performed.
So a 5,000 mile interval it is.
The following oil change, five thousand miles later and in June of this year, I noticed fluid pooled in the plastic air dam which has to be removed to access the oil pan. It was not oil and I could not find any leaks. So I called the VW shop where we had taken it last fall.
It was engine coolant. It seems VW has a problem with the plastic impellers on the water pumps of some models, this being one of them. The mechanic’s shop quoted us $1,100 for replacement, once he got parts.
Upon returning home with the car to await a parts delivery, Mrs. Jason opened the mail. One of the letters was about a class action lawsuit against Volkswagen for faulty water pumps. As part of this, VW had extended the warranty on water pumps for cars meeting certain age and mileage criteria. Calling the dealer, I discovered our Passat met these criteria. The service manager said he would have to order parts; I told him of two VW dealers in the Kansas City area I had spoken to and who had the needed parts on the shelf.
Thus I got the water pump replaced for free, saving me $1,100. The number of people who have saved money due to supply chain issues has got to be few.
That was our first recent hiccup. Since writing this in August we have had a second one about two weeks prior to this being published.
Rotating the tires several weeks before, I noticed the first signs of the tires getting flat spots. It was obvious with the occasional shimmy in the steering and thumping coming from the rear. The tires had just over 30,000 miles on them and had been rotated every 6,000 miles or so. This didn’t leave a good impression. Mrs. Jason and I decided to replace the tires prior to winter setting in.
Soon thereafter the sidewall of the right front tire blew out. Thankfully it was at low speed and close to home. After new tires, I am still $350 to the good from the water pump.
I went with a different brand, getting Continental True Contacts. I figured a German tire manufactured in the US should work well on a German car manufactured in the US. Plus Continental tires were original equipment on some Passats.
The Passat has a few quirks and attributes that seem remarkable.
I like and appreciate how the 1.8T engine has an oil cartridge on top in a very accessible area. Dare I say it makes oil changes fun? No, but I will say it does allow for something different, and nearly free of mess, in a mundane task.
Every time I squirt windshield washer fluid while the vent or air conditioner is running, the smell comes through to the inside of the car. I’ve never experienced similar in any other car.
We haul a cooler everywhere we go. The trunk opening sucks for placement of a cooler. That is likely my only complaint about the car.
The wiper blades have been the most surprising. It is likely due to the car being parked in a dark garage the vast majority of the time, thus escaping ultraviolet light, but the original wiper blades lasted eight years. I just replaced them in June of this year. They were date stamped May 2014. They still looked great and performance had not diminished. But they were old.
Has VW won a convert? Maybe, although Mrs. Jason and I are aware our options keep declining in number. The Passat, which would be a no-brainer to have a repeat performance, has been discontinued in the US. The Jetta seems too small, but maybe that’s just me. CUVs, such as the Tiguan, aren’t ruled out but don’t really excite us. We are sedan people.
It’s a dilemma, which along with an odometer reading of only 66,000 miles, means this Passat will undoubtedly still be around for a very long time. There are many sands yet to go through its hourglass.
(Author’s Note: Days of Our Lives premiered November 8, 1965 on NBC. New episodes are still being broadcast every weekday.)