The Great Used Car Adventure of 2016, Episode 5
One of the first things I did after taking delivery of the 2009 Volkswagen CC I bought in our last episode was to make an appointment to have the 80,000 mile service done on the car. It had just over 81,000 on it when I bought it, and I figured that, human nature being what it is, the prior owner probably didn’t bother with the expense of performing the 80,000 mile service on a car that was about to be traded in, sold, or go off lease.
About a week after that, the fun began.
In the midst of an otherwise routine commute, I got a low-oil alarm, which ceased almost as soon as it came on. Did I perhaps have a leak? I checked the oil at the first opportunity, and the dipstick showed there was oil enough on board to reach the top of the “normal” range. It happened again a few days later, and again, and again with increasing frequency, despite the full oil pan. However, when my son drove the car, he didn’t have the same problem.
Was it a bad sensor? The shop checked the sensor and pronounced it in full working order. Some strange phenomenon of slosh dynamics in the oil pan, maybe? Hard to say for sure.
I eventually figured out that the low oil alarm was going off only in a very specific circumstance: when the car was in gear and my foot off the gas–such as when approaching a stop sign or red light–it beeped when the tachometer dropped down to about 1,750 RPM. Once it got below 1,600 or so, the alarm shut off. My son tends to coast up to a stop in “Georgia overdrive” instead of leaving it in gear, which explains why he wasn’t having the same experience.
So might it be a bad oil pump? They replaced the oil pump, but the problem persisted. Then someone thought to put a pressure gauge on the engine–the CC, like the GTI and other modern VWs, has a dashboard display programmed to alert you if the oil level is dangerously low, but no oil pressure gauge or readout.
At idle, it was reading 14.5 PSI–that’s “1 bar” for those of you still using the metric system. This is exactly half of what the VW shop manual says it should be. Rev it up to the redline, and the oil pressure stayed at 50% of specification throughout the range. In a car with a turbocharger that spins at 30,000 RPM, this is cause for concern.
After consulting someone in VW’s corporate service support office, the technician proceeded to tear down the engine, only to discover that the bearings–all the bearings, crankshaft, camshaft, every last one–were severely scored, other internal parts were worn and damaged, and there were fine bits of metal in the oil. I was right when I’d surmised that the prior owner had not done the 80,000 mile service. He or she appears to have also skipped the 70,000, 60,000, and 50,000 mile services, and probably a few more, and been more than a little casual about checking the dipstick. The result of all that neglect was that the prime mover was damaged beyond the point of economical repair. At great cost–“great” being shorthand for “way more than we’d planned on spending”–the shop installed a factory-rebuilt engine.
I’d bought the car on “as-is, no warranty” terms, so for practical purposes I had no recourse against the seller. As I said in the last episode, it performed flawlessly on the test drive, so in all likelihood the seller–and whoever else was in the supply chain between the prior owner and me–could not have detected the oil pressure problems in the normal course of things. Until the dashboard display began crying for help, nothing short of a complete field-stripping would have revealed the problem.
I learned my lesson. Next time, I go “certified pre-owned.”
So, at the end of this wild (and far too long and expensive) ride, did I end up with a car that meets my needs? I’ll give you a full report in the next episode.
–Mike (Cookie the Dog’s Owner)
Credits: the illustration at the top was found on Wikimedia Commons, and the vintage (or pseudo-vintage) repair shop graphics came from Pinterest.