I sold my trusty Mazda 323 a few years ago and decided to switch from a Japanese car back to a European brand. This was primarily because I had become bored with the Mazda, despite its reliability and predictable servicing costs. And the Mazda was 14 years old with about 218,000km on the clock, so surely it would suffer a catastrophic failure any day.
I’d previously (two decades ago) owned a Peugeot 205 GTI and enjoyed the spirited handling and exciting ownership experience of a European car. Who would have thought you would need to drain the cooling system to replace the battery? Who knew the battery was so rare that a new one would need to be freighted over from the other side of the country? Who knew you needed to buy a special tool to remove the sump plug? But it was a fun car to drive, and I enjoy driving, so it was worth it for as long as I could afford it.
So after selling the Mazda in 2017 I took the plunge and bought a brand new 2017 Volkswagen Polo GTI with three pedals and a manual gearbox.
It was the fastest car I’d ever driven, had amazing grip, predictable steering, a snappy clutch and gearbox, yet was quiet and smooth. The driving controls were arranged in a sensible way - nice switch gear, subtle dashboard, no bright lights or blue LEDs in the cabin, and there was even the option to entirely turn off the infotainment screen. Only two things annoyed me about the car - it required the clutch pedal to be pressed down in order to start the engine, and the engine was a start-stop type which required the driver to press a button to disable it every time the car was driven. Given the broad scope for annoying anti-features in modern cars this car was pretty awesome. I bought it thinking I would keep it for at least ten years in order to stretch out the depreciation curve typical of a new car purchase. The strategy worked well for me with the Mazda so surely I could repeat it.
Unfortunatly it wasn’t to be. At the ripe old age of 30 months and 14,000km I was done with the Polo. As Dan Roth on the Wheel Bearings podcast likes to say, “Volkswagens are great cars to drive, but not to own.”
Having the rocker cover gasket and rear main seal replaced under warranty saw the car in the dealership for a week. This was followed by a leaking thermostat housing. Next was an electrical problem which required the wiring harness to the front lights to be removed from the car. When I questioned why a new car would have an electrical problem the mechanic looked up at the clouds in the sky and suggested that the problem was caused by the recent rain. Does it not rain in Germany where these cars are designed? New cars shouldn’t have any of these problems. The Mazda never had any of these problems. The Mazda never had any problems.
The warranty was running out soon and I didn’t want to be left holding a lemon. It’s one thing to be without a car for a week while it’s repaired under warranty, but something else entirely if you have to pay thousands of dollars for repairs out of pocket.
Meanwhile, I’d bought a 22 year old Toyota Hilux with 280,000km on the clock. It had come up for sale through a friend who was moving overseas and needed to sell it cheaply and quickly. $2,000. Sold. Turns out an old diesel Hilux full of rust and rattles is more reliable than a brand new Volkswagen. So I sold the Polo to a car wholesaler and caught an Uber home. A weight off my shoulders. “One owner, low kilometres, full service history, still under new car warranty” - Good luck to the next owner.
As promised, here is a quick summary of the fuel consumption and costs of the Polo.
- Average fuel economy (98 octane): 7.40 L/100km
- Total cost of ownership (purchase, rego, insurance, fuel, servicing, re-sale): $21,299
- Total cost of ownership per kilometre driven: $1.48
The Hilux marches on dutifully towards 300,000km. With the money I recovered from selling the Polo I invested in a can of white paint and covered up all the rust in the Hilux. Should be good for another ten years and hopefully by then electric cars will be a feasible proposition.