In a couple of weeks I will head out west to pick up my Honda Beat in Washington state. I could do it in any number of decent, reliable vehicles. Instead, I will set my sights on Washington in the cheapest running and driving Volkswagen Touareg that I could find on Facebook Marketplace.
If you remember, my original plan was to use my fiancée’s $600 Dodge Dakota to do the trip. The Dakota has been reliable and even takes a good beating off-road without a sweat. We’ve taken the truck on a few road trips already and it’s performed great without any issues.
But we’ve decided not to take it to Washington.
Despite our best efforts, we can’t get the darn thing to do better than 10 mpg at highway speeds. I expect 10 mpg from my bus, not from a small truck. New parts like plugs, wires and a distributor made the truck drive better, but didn’t increase fuel economy. Our mechanic concluded that the poor fuel economy is due to the old engine being pretty tired.
Thankfully, I was already on the lookout for a new vehicle to use as a cheap off-roader for the Gambler 500. (I used to use a Ford E-350 Powerstroke for this task, but it was destroyed by a bad tow and two thefts.)
After weeks of trying to buy everything from a Toyota Sequoia to even a Lincoln Aviator, I found this Volkswagen Touareg:
The ad was pretty short on info. It had pictures of body damage, but left everything else to the imagination. I scheduled a time to meet the seller and expected something that barely moved under its own power. But amazingly, it was just the opposite.
The seller showed me a stack of repair receipts. Between several expensive repairs and getting rear-ended, he was done with dealing with it. I took the Touareg for a test drive and it drove beautifully. Even better, absolutely everything from the air-conditioner to the sunroof worked.
Under the hood is Volkswagen’s famous narrow-angle V6, known as the VR6.
Here, it makes 240 horsepower and it’s bolted to a six-speed automatic transmission. It has all-wheel-drive with a center locking center differential.
The seller noted some hesitation around 50 mph, but I figured that to be a pretty minor fix. I parted ways with $1,700 and drove home.
Here’s what’s wrong with the cheapest Touareg in Chicago:
The most readily apparent problem is the rear end. It looks like Thor’s hammer was applied to the tailgate. I’ve already found a matching tailgate, lights and bumper from a dead Touareg.
Removing it seems like it’ll be a cinch. It requires opening the tailgate glass (why don’t all tailgates do this?) and undoing some bolts holding the tailgate onto its hinges.
The aforementioned “hesitation” is actually the transmission slamming itself into third gear. This issue is startlingly common with first-generation Touaregs and it’s caused by a bad transmission valve body. I reached out to my VW expert friends and sadly they confirm that I’m likely looking at a valve body replacement. I don’t trust myself with transmission work, so diagnosis and potential replacement will be farmed out to my trusty mechanic.
Other small issues include some rocker panel rust, worn brake pads and a crack in the windshield.
But those issues aside, the vehicle drives like a dream. I scored 21 mpg on the drive home and the check engine light even turned itself off.
Even though this is a lower-end Touareg, this thing is super comfortable and despite its age, still has modern features like dual-zone climate control and HVAC for rear passengers. This Touareg reminds me of David Tracy’s glorious LX470. Like the Lexus, the Touareg eats Chicago potholes without transmitting a whole lot of drama to the cabin.
If it gets us to and from Washington, it’ll become my workhorse, hauling around my Japanese kei cars and getting dirty in the Gambler 500. I see why Volkswagen people adore these things.