Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Ultimate Survivor: 1998 Volkswagen Jetta Turbo Diesel Manual

This next car is less about what it is and more about what is ISN'T.  It isn't another late 90s Volkswagen with faded paint and oxidized plastic.  It isn't another diesel VW that doesn't run because the cost to repair is greater than its worth.  And it isn't another super slow diesel equipped with a slow shifting slushbox.  This car isn't a unicorn because of its original production volume or crazy option configuration, it is a unicorn because it survived the ravages of time with nary or door ding or hint of bumper rash.  The salvage title is the only thing holding this car back from being a $10k trailer queen.  Find this 1998 Volkswagen Jetta Turbo Diesel Manual offered for $4200 in Los Angeles, CA via craigslist.

From the seller;

cylinders: 4 cylinders 
fuel: diesel 
odometer: 50000 
title status: salvage 
transmission: manual 

I'm selling my extremely clean stick shift Jetta. Only 50k miles. If you are interested please text me at

See a better way to drive a diesel? tips@dailyturismo.com


  1. OK, educate me: What are some ways that something like this would wind up with a Salvage Title?

    1. It needed a timing chain service at the Dealership, they totaled it due to cost : )

    2. Similar situation to what my Mother went through with her 2002 Lexus RX300. It's not worth much, but she's had it forever, has really taken care of it and has good miles. A couple months back, she was in an accident and her insurance said they just wanted to cut her a check for the value of the vehicle because the amount it would cost to fix it exceeded 50% of it's replacement value. (it might have been a different percentage, but it was close to that)

      The body shop said it was structurally sound, totally fixable, etc, so she wanted to buy it back. The insurance company sold it back to her for $1,500 + kept her deductible of $500, but said they would be re-issuing a salvage title in her name. They valued the vehicle at $6,000.

      $6,000 - $2,000 = $4,000. She found her own body shop that would fix the damage for less and paid $2,000 and walked away with $2,000 in her pocket + got her SUV back.

  2. I'd say it was a theft recovery that took time to recover. Owner collected the insurance, cops found the car afterward, insurance company sold it at auction. That would be my guess as to the status of the title...

    Of course, one could call the seller and find out for certain!

  3. The reason for the salvage title is pretty obvious on this one: driver's side impact. Take a look at the photos. Clearly there has been paint work done on the driver's side doors. The blending is bad between the front and rear door. Also, look at the photo (#9) that shows the door jamb of the B-pillar. See all the damage and surface rust? That's from a side impact. The body shop only repaired the outside damage, not the damage to the structure behind the panels.

    This is a crappy car tarted up to look nice. Sorry DT, it's not close to a $10K trailer queen. I'm skeptical that it's ever worth the asking price. Plus the grille is clearly a mismatched replacement (it should be red) and the driver's seat has a lot of wear for a 50K mile car. Thank you, next.

    1. Agree, agree, and agree some more. There is so much shoddy work on this car, I don't even know where to start.
      The drivers side B pillar was almost surely bent and pulled back out. Notice the patch work on the driver side seat, in pic #9? I believe some of the Jettas of this vintage were equipped with side airbags, and it looks as if this one was deployed, and the seat repaired with mismatched material. They couldn't even bother to do the whole seat to at least make it match, which has far more wear than the odometer would indicate, making me think that either car's computer, or the instrument panel was replaced with one registering lower miles. I'm not sure what exactly would need to be changed on these cars to change the mileage.
      Picture 10: Enjoy opening your sunroof with all of the controls missing. Pretty sure the orange plug laying on the floor in picture 6 is an airbag plug. This, combined with the general misalignment and color mismatch of the passenger side dash panels and the broken steering column bits visible in a couple of the pictures, makes me willing to bet all the airbags have been triggered and either replaced or just gutted.
      I think I could give Usain Bolt a pretty good race in my attempt to get away from this car as fast as possible.

  4. The more I look at this car, the more I find. Such crappy repair work. Look at the lower left corner of the door opening in photo #5. See the red overspray on the black weatherstripping? That should have been better masked at a minimum, but really the stripping should have been removed prior to paint.

    In the same photo, see how they painted over the trigger for the dome light/door open sensor and didn't mask the striker very well? So much poor workmanship on stuff that's really, really easy for most bodyshops to handle.

    I'm not trying to tear this particular car apart, but I feel I need to make others aware of this kind of stuff so they know what to look for next time they shop for a used car. I'm not an expert, but I've spent over a decade inspecting vehicles for damage professionally. I'm able to spot a lot of repairs that many don't notice. I can tell good from bad body and paint work. This is the latter.

    1. @MegaVonza - thanks for sharing your observations. I had not gone into detail with the photos on the CL ad. You have pointed out the likely evidence, which a potential buyer might only have spotted once on site. You have pointed out how important it is to ask for LOTS of photos when dealing with a car long-distance. A couple of years ago I helped the widow of a late friend to sell his car collection. I was really glad when potential buyers asked me for specific photos. For one thing, it forced me (as selling agent) to really examine the cars, as opposed to accepting what his wife thought she knew about them. It made me able to deal more fairly with potential buyers. Anyway, thanks again for the time you spent to educate us.

  5. CL AD pic 5&6 seat electrical connection dangling & VW plastics quality shown in console rear drawer
    CL AD pic 8&9 steering column cover sprung/missing
    CL AD pic 9 B-pillar inner trim not fitted
    CL AD pic 10 missing overhead console
    in addition to other commenters thoughts on side impact, these additional issues also seem indicative of side impact and a fair number of electrical gremlin inveatigations. maybe those now largely tamed- no info in ad. why photograph the disconnected seat cable, missing ceiling console, sprung steering column covers and not address these red flags? St. column being open sure could imply an airbag deploy. Would easily make for a salvage title on its own. does the sunroof move? how?

  6. This car doesn't have 50K miles, it has 350K.

    How do we know this? Fun fact - odometers on Mk3 Volkswagen Golf and Jetta models displayed the word "total" over the mileage. Once the car rolls over 300K, the odometer starts over at 0 and the word "total" disappears from the display. Check out the picture of the cluster on this vehicle - no "total".

    Strange, but true. It's well-documented on VW enthusiast forums, for example - https://forums.vwvortex.com/showthread.php?5707284-Odometer-300k

    1. Sounds like a solid $400.00 car, then! I did not know about the "total" by the odometer. Confirmed that with a co-worker who is very VW Diesel-smart. $4,200, indeed!...not!

  7. (votes this discussion “Best of Year”)

  8. With the knowledge compiled from the comments above, a Carfax on this Jetta would be a fascinating read. The original listing seems to have been deleted, but the car has been relisted on CL for $4200 with a new batch of photos. Do you think the owner would provide a VIN (or even a Carfax) if asked?

    1998 Volkswagen Jetta TURDO Diesel

    The whole car is shady, but there's always the chance that the current owner isn't the original owner and is ill-informed or ignorant of the car's history. It's unlikely, but maybe he/she was lied to, bought it, and is selling it based on the lies they were told that they believe is truth. But realistically, that's a long shot. I think the seller is hoping for a sucker to take it off his/her hands.


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