Looking to buy a MK3? Here's what to look for. - VW Forum :: Volkswagen Forum
MK3 Discussion area for the third generation Golf III and Jetta III produced from 1993 to 1999 including Cabrio models.

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post #1 of 34 (permalink) Old 03-18-2009, 08:33 AM Thread Starter
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Looking to buy a MK3? Here's what to look for.

I wrote this for Vortex but it'll do plenty good here. If it could be stickied, that would be great.

So There are always a lot of threads popping up about "I'm buying a MK3, what should i look for? What problems should i be wary of? When should I just say no?" Well kiddies, this thread is designed to answer that question.

There are a lot of things to consider when buying any car and the MK3 is no different. However VW tends to have a reputation (whether you agree with it or not) for being problematic, so I am writing this to help newer kids know what to look for before making a decision as important as buying a car.

The first thing any well-informed MK3 buyer should check for is rust. Unfortunately these cars seem to attract it like ants to honey, and it can hide in places that aren't easily seen or often thought of to check. As DJR once put it, "I think they came from the factory with rust."

# The first and easiest place to check is the rocker panels. since most didn't have side skirts this can be done easily and quickly. check around the fronts especially, towards the front fender. if the car has side skirts, your best bet is to pull them, or have the current owner do it before you get there. its a pain but its worth it. if you don't want to take the time or effort, you can use the condition of the rest of the car to guess how it is under there, if the rest of the car is pretty clean odds are you're good, but that's a gamble you'll have to decide on your own to take.

# The second place you will want to check is floors. climb under the car and look for any holes or surface rust. if there are any holes, how big are they? most of the time the holes will form towards the side of the car but this isn't always the case. some people will rivet new patches on but your best bet is to have new sections welded in if you find rust here.

# The next place you want to check is the strut towers. Pop the hood and check around them from the top of the frame rails all the way down. Don't see anything? that's a good sign but that doesn't mean you're out of the woods yet.

# If the car is stock ride height, try your best to check behind the wheels for the insides of the towers, because this is where the rot tends to start. the fender liner gaps over the tower area, so check it for any holes or surface rust.

# Is your strut tower clean? good. we're almost finished. next head to the gas cap door. this is another area of tell tale rust that the car isn't in great shape. If you're unsure how to open it (i was when i got my first mk3) just push on the right side of the door and it'll open right up. It is very common for the filler neck area behind the door to start to rust and is usually an indicator that the rest of the car could be problematic as well.

# One last spot to check-the spare wheel well. There is a tendency for these cars to leak at the tail light, usually because a bolt was left off or not tightened properly. lift up the carpet and remove the tools and spare, if included. is there any water or rust? no? then the body on this car is pretty clean.

# side note-if the car is a golf or GTI, you'll want to check the hatch while you're back here. rust tends to bubble under the paint around the window, and sometimes around the plate tub. this isn't as big of a concern because it can be replaced alot easier than the floors can but you should still check it out.

now that we've established what to look for on the body, its time to move on to the mechanics. Obviously as with any car, you want to take it for a test drive, but before you do, there are a few things you will want to check out.

# As with any car, check and make sure any power features work. pay special attention to power windows: both motors and regulators tend to go for these. take the time to put each window up and down individually. do any of them have problems going up or down? do they tick or not like to stay up? if so you could have bad regulators.

# You will also want to check the locks in the front doors (or door, depending on trim) and the hatch/trunk. sometimes the lock cylinders go bad and the key won't work, so make sure you can unlock your car before you buy it, before you lock yourself out of it.

# If the car has rear discs, check the e-brake. All VR6's, Wolfsburg Edition Jettas, as well as other models came with rear discs. pull up on it and see if it sticks or gives you trouble. If it seems fine, ask the owner if he's ever had any problems. Cars with rear discs tend to have problems with the e-brake sticking due to design flaws. If the car has rear drums, you have nothing to worry about.

Now that we've done that, start the car. but don't go anywhere yet! there's a thing or two you're going to want to check under the hood.

# exit the car and go back to the engine bay. here you are going to want to check and make sure there aren't any unusual noises. Hear a ticking? don't worry just yet- it's pretty common for both the VR6 and ABA to have lifter tick. Of the 5 MK3's I've owned, 2 VR's and 3 ABA's, all of them have done it. The main thing you're listening for here is timing chains if the car is a VR6. A VR6 that has bad chains or that needs them replaced, will sounds like someone dropped some marbles into the engine and the noise will come from the right, or driver's side, of the engine. Be sure to ask if/when they were done and how long ago. It is recommended that they get replaced every 120k. This is key because replacing these chains can be extremely costly. If the car is an ABA, just be sure to ask if the timing belt has been done.

# Also, if the car is a VR6, check the coil pack. if you can, spritz a little water on it. The reason for this is to make sure it isn't cracked which happens all too often. If you do this and it arcs, it will need repaired or replaced, which can be pretty costly.

now that this has been established, time for a test drive. If you own a VR6, most of the normal "what to look fors" apply here. however if it's a 2 liter there are few things you are going to want to check on the transmission.

# Is the car an auto? if so, be sure to take it on a comprehensive test drive utilizing all its gears including reverse. The automatics have a bad reputation and are quite known for dying. check to see how smoothly each gear is engaged, and that each gear is used. Go on the highway a little even if you can. if it hesitates or doesn't use any of its gears, its dying, or at least starting to.

# If you're driving a manual, check to make sure all the gears work correctly, the most important being reverse. give it a good drive in reverse. does it engage reverse at all, or does it grind? does it pop out of gear while you're driving, or click? if you answered yes to ny of these questions then the reverse gear could be trashed, which is all to common i these cars. don't be scared: if it clicks it could still have a lot of life left. there are people here who have continued to drive and it never gets worse than a clicking or occasional pop out of gear. If it has this, don't immediately turn away from the car, just consider it and use it as ammo when negotiating the price.

Now that i have gone over all the mk3-specific things to look for, don't forget to go over the usual stuff as well-brakes, tires, clutch, all the stuff you look at for any car.

So be sure to consider all of these things when buying a MK3, and anyone else that has something i might have forgotten, or pics of either good or bad examples, are more than welcome to add. happy hunting!


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post #2 of 34 (permalink) Old 03-18-2009, 12:03 PM
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Good write-up I should get something like this for the MK IV forum...and include an idiots DIY to uogrades for a 1.8T because people apparently cant use search or browse page 2 of the forum

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post #3 of 34 (permalink) Old 10-11-2009, 04:55 PM Thread Starter
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i decided to open this so that people can ask questions.


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post #4 of 34 (permalink) Old 11-15-2009, 09:37 PM
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i just bought a 97 jetta (4 days ago) for a few days it ran geat but after a cold night (i dont know if thats relevant) in the morning the car didint start. Inside, both oil and baterry icons were lit. I added some oil and after a few tries the car started. The car is still in warranty with the used car dealer......what should i do.??? keep on working with the car??? or ask the dealer to solve it for me..???? is this a real problem or is it just oil burned by the engine causing the level to go too down or by trying to start the car without oil i killed it????
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post #5 of 34 (permalink) Old 11-16-2009, 09:39 AM Thread Starter
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if it has a warranty, make it the dealer's problem.


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post #6 of 34 (permalink) Old 02-26-2010, 02:10 AM
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Very helpful info, thanks

Would an MK3 2.0L (in a 1998 Jetta Wolfsburg) have issues with burning oil? I know this is common in MK4's but I was looking at this 98 jetta and it only had about half on the dip stick indicator
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post #7 of 34 (permalink) Old 02-26-2010, 10:05 AM Thread Starter
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not particularly, it all comes down to age and mileage...it shouldn't be too bad.


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post #8 of 34 (permalink) Old 04-02-2010, 11:59 PM
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thanx for the info

it is really helpful

Mugsy
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post #9 of 34 (permalink) Old 04-04-2010, 09:09 PM
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is my 99 Wolfsburg an MK3 orMK4?
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post #10 of 34 (permalink) Old 04-05-2010, 12:28 AM Thread Starter
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if its a 99 WOB its most likely a mk3, but you can google mk3 and mk4 and see what yours looks like...


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post #11 of 34 (permalink) Old 06-07-2010, 10:01 PM
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I didn't know any of this when I bought my '98 Wolfsburg last week, but I think I lucked out. The body is in great shape, none of the things to watch out for apply. In fact, the only thing that I found to be true with mine is the clicking sound in reverse, which doesn't seem to effect anything yet.

1998 Jetta Wolfsburg, 5-speed 2.0
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post #12 of 34 (permalink) Old 06-23-2010, 04:22 PM
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wow, i must have lucked out as well, the only thing she's got is the clicking in reverse.

I had both oil and battery lights pop up going down the road and she died three times on a 5min drive... (95 golf model)
any advice?
would topping it off with oil help? I have not checked my fluids yet.
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post #13 of 34 (permalink) Old 07-09-2010, 12:07 AM
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Great body!

Gremlins lurk in my machine! I have yet to figure out why my german friends went with a local grounding pattern. I heart my mk3 cabby, but with a fear that she will leave me at any minute... aka the Speedo/cruise, or the door tumbler hook, or maybe even the starter switch. I suppose that I could go on about the window switches, or the regulators that bind them, maybe perhaps the fact that no matter how hard you try sometimes... that intermittent c.e.l. that begs you to change your O2 sensor that's gone bad calls to you. Again I love my MK3, but know that with love comes heartache, and with VW it comes twice as hard.


Suffering a summer w/o a chill from my 98 Cabby (at least she's not a cold hearted bitch)!
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post #14 of 34 (permalink) Old 10-06-2010, 08:02 AM
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Good and useful requirements for MK3.


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post #15 of 34 (permalink) Old 11-14-2010, 06:51 PM
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Great write up and greatly appreciated!
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