• How to Buy a Used Volkswagen Jetta

    Purchasing a used VW Jetta sedan can be a bit daunting, with its various incarnations and configurations.

    When searching for used versions, bargains can be found in earlier models, but the Jetta tends to hold its value and prices tend to run higher than comparable models from Japanese or American manufacturers.

    In 1979 Volkswagen introduced the Jetta, and it was an instant success. Here was a true European Sport sedan, comparable to an Audi or BMW, at a very affordable price. The engine and suspension was based on the VW Golf, and Americans embraced the four-door sedan and bought it in droves.

    The 1st generation Jetta came with a fairly reliable 4-cylinder, and the buyer had a choice of a three-speed automatic or five-speed manual transmission. These cars are becoming rarer with age, and correspondingly some parts are harder to find.

    In 1985, VW debuted the 2nd generation Jetta, which would go on to be the most produced version at over 1.7 million units. This model was based on the new Golf and both the interior and exterior were larger. Like the 1st gen, the 2nd generation was offered as a two-door coupe or four-door sedan.

    A more aerodynamic shape was the most obvious change by VW for the 3rd generation Jetta. The 3rd Gen was sold in the US from 1993 to 1998. Gone was the two-door coupe. New was the optional 2.8 L VR6 DOHC 6 cylinder motor. The three-speed automatic was replaced with a new four-speed auto.

    1999 saw the introduction of the 4th generation, which included the station wagon version called Jetta Sportwagen. It was somewhat shorter than the previous generation, but the wheelbase was extended slightly. More engine options were made available, including the 1.8 liter turbo four-cylinder and the five-cylinder derivative of the VR6 engine called the VR5. The suspension was softened for a more comfortable ride, which was met with some criticism.

    The 5th and current generation was introduced in 2005 and has moved decidedly up-market with numerous options and gizmos. Of note are the 6 different gearboxes options including the dual clutch DSG six-speed.

    All generations of the Jetta are available with a diesel engine option, and most a turbo-diesel option known as the Jetta tdi. With more than acceptable power and an incredible fuel mileage rating of usually over 40 mpg, they have become quite desirable and command a premium on the used car market.

    Things to Consider when Buying a Jetta:

    • Not the best reliability.
    • Parts and service are quite expensive and not all independent mechanics can perform repairs.
    • Price.
    • Certain models might be costly to insure. Check the insurance quote first.

    What to look for when buying a used VW Jetta:

    • If possible, check service records. It’s important to verify that the timing belt has been replaced and oil changes were done regularly.
    • Check all electrical accessories such as power windows, locks, alarm, heated seats, wipers, even dome lights.
    • Early versions used poor quality plastics for interior pieces. Check the glove box lid, cup-holder, ashtray and armrest support. Some of these parts are getting harder to find.
    • Noise from the suspension on bumpy road may indicate bad suspension components (e.g. stabilizer bushings).
    • Look for coolant leaks.
    • Paint is a big issue with earlier models.