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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi all. I'm considering purchasing a really straight 2003 Passat Wagon (see pics). The car has 93000 miles on it. I have two hesitations that are keeping me from "pulling the trigger".
1) The car lot can't tell me conclusively whether the timing belt has ever been changed. Is there a way to tell for sure whether it has been done? There is a paper sticker on the front of the timing belt cover that is old enough that you can't read it any more - is that a clue?
2) The car stinks of partially-burned gas - as though it's running rich - although it runs well. Is there any easy way to diagnose the problem?

Any help or suggestions would surely be appreciated!
Scott in Seattle
 

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If I See a Problem I Tell Someone
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All those unknowns are just reason to lower the price. Any fault codes on the instrument cluster?
You will learn to do most if not all the maintenance needed on these Passats - unless you win the PowerBall.
 

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If you can't prove the timing belt has been changed your only option is to assume it hasn't. It's a $1000+/- job to have it done and a few hundred if you can do it yourself.

The gas smell could be from anything: someone hauled a lawn mower gas can in it, leak at the fuel pump cover in back, etc. Is the smell outside or inside?
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
I first smelled it when I was looking at the engine while it was running, then later inside the car. I don't think it's raw gas, like gas spilled from a gas can. It really does smell like partially-burned gas, as though it's running rich.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
If you can't prove the timing belt has been changed your only option is to assume it hasn't. It's a $1000+/- job to have it done and a few hundred if you can do it yourself.

The gas smell could be from anything: someone hauled a lawn mower gas can in it, leak at the fuel pump cover in back, etc. Is the smell outside or inside?
I first smelled it when I was looking at the engine while it was running, then later inside the car. I don't think it's raw gas, like gas spilled from a gas can. It really does smell like partially-burned gas, as though it's running rich.
 

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2005 Passat Wagon, 1.8T, FWD
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No warning lights on the dash.
Does the "Check Engine Light" come on when key is turned on (before motor is started)?

My first Passat Wagon had "No warning lights on the dash" because a Previous Owner had gone through the effort of removing the dash unit, opening it up and knocking the "Check Engine Light / MIL" off of the circuit board so it could never be lit up. No light = no problem.... NOT.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Does the "Check Engine Light" come on when key is turned on (before motor is started)?

My first Passat Wagon had "No warning lights on the dash" because a Previous Owner had gone through the effort of removing the dash unit, opening it up and knocking the "Check Engine Light / MIL" off of the circuit board so it could never be lit up. No light = no problem.... NOT.
Yes, the "Check Engine Light" does come on before the engine is started, then it goes off after it is started.
 

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Tips from an experience Passat rehab'r:
Hopefully your mechanic knows these (German) cars. The 100k mile mark often means the start of some heavy maintenance items (brakes, shocks, axles, ABS module, control arms, coolant leaks) and the pcv system was mentioned. Does the heater work well? Clogged cores are common.

Make sure the mechanic reports on all those items, plus the exhaust flex pipe, crankcase breather elbow, and look for oil in the spark plug wells.

Regarding the timing belt, an experienced mechanic may be able to see signs that "someone has been in here recently" vs "this has never bèen touched" in the area of the belt. A peek at the belt might reveal micro-cracking from age, if it is original. If nothing is clear-cut, your best bet will be to plan on changing the belt, tensioners and water pump soon. If you gamble and fail, you could be looking at a $4,000 repair bill.

If things check out and the price allows you to comfortably cover $3k -$5k of maintenance/repair costs over the next 30k miles, you'll probably be good for 60k miles.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Tips from an experience Passat rehab'r:
Hopefully your mechanic knows these (German) cars. The 100k mile mark often means the start of some heavy maintenance items (brakes, shocks, axles, ABS module, control arms, coolant leaks) and the pcv system was mentioned. Does the heater work well? Clogged cores are common.

Make sure the mechanic reports on all those items, plus the exhaust flex pipe, crankcase breather elbow, and look for oil in the spark plug wells.

Regarding the timing belt, an experienced mechanic may be able to see signs that "someone has been in here recently" vs "this has never bèen touched" in the area of the belt. A peek at the belt might reveal micro-cracking from age, if it is original. If nothing is clear-cut, your best bet will be to plan on changing the belt, tensioners and water pump soon. If you gamble and fail, you could be looking at a $4,000 repair bill.

If things check out and the price allows you to comfortably cover $3k -$5k of maintenance/repair costs over the next 30k miles, you'll probably be good for 60k miles.
Wow..... thanks for that lengthy answer! So given what you said, I'll bet you'd suggest finding a mechanic who's very familiar with these cars to do my pre-purchase inspection, wouldn't you?
 

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Hands-on familiarity is always helpful. Every brand has idiosyncracies and those get specific to different platforms, engines and drivetrain configurations as well.

Same goes for mechanics. They all think very highly of themselves but to quote Dirty Harry, "a man's got to know his limitations", or in this case, a man's got to anticipate another man's limitations. Best mechanic for this situation is from a reputable indie shop, that still works on this era of german cars. He or she will have seen it all. Next best is an indie shop that works on foreign cars. Next is a VW or Audi dealership tech. The least-best would be someone who only works on late-model Asian or American cars.

I'm not a pro myself, just someone who concentrates on the mechanical side of the VW B5.5 platform, more specifically, the 1.8T engine with manual transmission. I know my limitations very well and struggle with any electrical issues and American cars.
Good luck :)
 

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If you’re that concerned with the belt, just have it towed and replaced. A timing belt is $500-$650 job. Replace the water pump at that time. Metal propeller version only. I have 242k on my 03’ and have only replaced the alternator and some CV joints. By checking VIN, you can see if it was built in Germany. I got lucky.
 

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Hi all. I'm considering purchasing a really straight 2003 Passat Wagon (see pics). The car has 93000 miles on it. I have two hesitations that are keeping me from "pulling the trigger".
1) The car lot can't tell me conclusively whether the timing belt has ever been changed. Is there a way to tell for sure whether it has been done? There is a paper sticker on the front of the timing belt cover that is old enough that you can't read it any more - is that a clue?
2) The car stinks of partially-burned gas - as though it's running rich - although it runs well. Is there any easy way to diagnose the problem?

Any help or suggestions would surely be appreciated!
Scott in Seattle
I’ll say go ahead and pull the trigger man just know it’s the 1.8t although very reliable I’ll watch out for oil burning and tapping from the back side of the engine and obviously have a mechanic look it over throughly before purchase. And it’s the same color as my GLS 1.8t Sedan so I believe that’s somewhat of a rare color if I’m not mistaken.
 

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I would bet the timing belt has not been done. That being said if it is a Seattle car the maintenance records should be available at whatever dealer it came from. Usually found inside the owner book or on a sticker somewhere.
When you do the timing belt make sure to replace the thermostat, water pump and tensioner.
The smell is likely oil dripping from the rear valve seals. It drips onto the exhaust manifold and burns off. With the engine warm look around the rear of the engine for tell tale smoke.
 

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Best mechanic for this situation is from a reputable indie shop, that still works on this era of german cars. He or she will have seen it all. Next best is an indie shop that works on foreign cars. Next is a VW or Audi dealership tech.
Even worse for finding a competent technician is for a German car of the 70s or 80s. I've got an '86 560SL Mercedes roadster, which has an obsolete (non-electronic) fuel injection system that usually works well, but is a mystery to most current mechanics. Some people on the R107 roadster website have taken their cars to the Mercedes-Benz dealership, only to be told "we don't service cars that old". The B5s are still comparatively modern in many respects.
 
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