Used Beetles are relatively low end daily drivers with typically very high total mileage, often in excess of 100,000. At the same time, most 10-plus year old vehicles have had multiple owners and correspondingly vague service records, if any.
The graph above reflects Turbo S models for sale in early 2020 and illustrates the reality of fleet condition: the average mileage is 138,000 based on this sample of 51 vehicles, and only about 1% have odometer readings under 60,000.
Careful inspection of acquisition candidates is therefore essential.
Turbo S candidates
Our project focus favors the 2002-04 Turbo S model with the 1.8T engine and 6-speed manual transmission over 2006-10 automatics with the 2.5 engine.
Finding a suitable Turbo S model is somewhat like looking for a needle in a haystack. In its introductory year of 2002, VW manufactured 5,000 Turbo S New Beetles expressly for the U.S, market (VW production numbers are very difficult to find and remain something of a company secret), and then made another 10,000 through 2004 for a fleet total of 15,000. During the entire 1998-2010 run of the New Beetle, 1.16 million vehicles were produced in the Puebla, Mexico plant. Therefore, the Turbo S represents only 1.29% of the entire New Beetle fleet (this excludes post-2010 Beetle production).
The car site Autozin posts dealer offerings and in late April 2020, 7,538 New Beetles were listed for sale of which 69 were Turbo S models — that’s 0.92% of the listings, slightly less than the expected 1.29% fleet total.
Using a regression model for vehicle fleet scrappage rates, we estimate that half of the 15,000 Turbo S fleet remains in operating condition in 2020. Of these remaining 7,500 cars, less than 2% have odometer readings under 60,000 miles (see mileage analysis above) and this indicates a core target of 150 cars.
Assuming a shipping radius of 500 miles from our location (beyond this distance the cost of transportation can’t be justified given the average value of the vehicle), the catchment area represents 20% of the total United States. This leaves roughly 30 vehicles as conveniently located low mileage candidates.
If average length of ownership of the somewhat collectable Turbo S is five years (implying that the average Turbo S has had three owners), in any given year we can project 20% of the target fleet might be up for sale. This means only a handful of nearby, low mileage, good operating condition 2002-04 Turbo S models will become available in 2020, yielding (hopefully) at least one or two good candidates during our search period of six months.
The global coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak froze the used car market so that many cars put up for sale in late 2019 remained on the market in the second quarter of 2020. This inventory backlog made it possible to search a larger than normal candidate pool, effectively extending the time horizon back at least one calendar quarter.
2004 Turbo S acquisition
After searching for four months (and viewing about a six-month inventory), the best available Turbo S given price, mileage, and overall condition was located in Eastern Pennsylvania.
This one-owner 2004 model with 51,500 miles was auctioned in December 2019 possibly as part of a trade-in deal.
A faulty voltage regulator (already replaced) may have motivated the trade-in, and corresponding “mechanical damage” was noted in the auction report.
The car appears to only have a few minor cosmetic faults — scratches on rear fenders, ruined rear seat and water-damaged headliner probably caused by a faulty sunroof drain — that pose no problem for the Ute conversion since these parts are scheduled for discard or modification anyway.
The interior is clean with some wear on the front driver leather seat. The engine bay presents visual evidence of a well-maintained vehicle. The dealer agreed to replace tires, front brake rotors/pads, and change fluids.
Quality assurance checklist
A vehicle over sixteen years old is likely to have a number of issues, hopefully all relatively minor and cosmetic.
|2004 NEW BEETLE TURBO S with 51,500 miles (adverse findings in red, ℞ indicates repair)|
|ownership history||single owner|
|VIN database check||mechanical damage notation 2019 (alternator)|
|NHTSA recall history||2 VIN-specific: airbags, brake switch|
|recall compliance||no service records|
|key fob||normal operation|
|interior panels, dash surface||minor scratches|
|dash vents||broken center air vent on right side|
|seats||front driver worn cover, rear seat damage|
|seat belts||normal operation|
|interior mold/mildew/odors||evidence of water damage|
|headliner water spots||water damage from sunroof|
|under floor mats/carpet condition||no water/corrosion|
|rubber seals||brittle headlight gasket ℞|
|body or paint blemishes||minor dings driver door, paint scratches|
|emblems||faded front emblem ℞|
|body rust, corrosion, damage||minor dents rocker panel undercarriage|
|body panel gaps, frame alignment||driver door rubs fender, misaligned|
|wheel well condition||flashlight check clean|
|wheels||curb rash right rear lip|
|tires||new, replaced by seller|
|hood alignment||worn foam cushions ℞|
|hood condition||worn sound insulator ℞|
|engine dipstick check||oil clean, proper level|
|engine bay condition||clean, no oil or coolant leaks|
|underbody sealant||no damage|
|exhaust system||clamp leak at cat converter ℞|
|CV boots||front left outer leak ℞|
|tie rods||damaged seals ℞|
|parking brake cables||corrosion, rust ℞|
|accessory power on||normal dash illumination|
|engine start||normal, no engine fault|
|ignition coils||normal operation, VW ℞ recall|
|blower fan operation||no unusual noise, scraping|
|power windows, locks||normal operation up/down, lock/unlock|
|heated seats||normal operation|
|air conditioning and heat||normal operation|
|glove box light||normal operation|
|power outlets||12v check|
|interior warning indicators||airbag warning light ℞ recall|
|rear defogger||normal operation|
|fog lights||normal operation|
|luggage compartment lighting||normal operation|
|turn signals||normal operation|
|hazard warning lights||normal operation|
|daytime running lights||normal operation|
|windshield washer||no fluid|
|windshield wipers||normal operation|
|radio (with cassette player)||normal (cassette not checked)|
|smooth engine idle||no unusual sounds|
|exhaust pipe||dissipates without white or black smoke|
|acceleration||freeway entrance to 65mph, no hesitation|
|braking||hard stop does not pull to left or right|
|suspension||no significant thump or crash, normal feel|
|steering||no turning popping sound|
|transmission||no unusual noises|
|manual clutch operation||no gear grinding, no slipping|
|check for fluid leaks, smoke, smells||warm engine, none detected|
|check for engine bay oil, coolant||leak at turbocharger oil return ℞|
|ODB2 generic||no engine faults|
|Ross-Tech VCDS scan||airbag, window adjustment|
Our 2004 Turbo S model was recalled for three issues:
NHTSA Recall Number07V063/06V183 (2006)
EXTERIOR LIGHTING – BRAKE LIGHTS – SWITCH
An incorrectly installed brake light switch may malfunction causing brake lights to behave unexpectedly. The switch was repaired by our local VW dealer at no charge.
NHTSA Recall Number 08V178 (2008)
AIRBAGS – FRONTAL – SENSOR/CONTROL MODULE
The dual-stage airbag system sensors may experience a solder joint crack on the circuit board under high temperature conditions. The result is an illuminated airbag indicator that a fallback algorithm is active that may more forcefully deploy airbags in the event of a low-severity impact.
After vehicle delivery and test drives the airbag system warning indicator remained lit. This is a chronic New Beetle issue (caused by sensors or faulty a seat belt wiring harness) that shows up as a VCDS fault code in addition to the dash indicator. The airbag sensor was subject to recall back in 2008 and the dealer replaced it at no charge.
VW recall (2010)
After suffering high ignition coil failure rates on 2001-05 New Beetle, Golf, GTI, Jetta, Passat, Audi A4 and TT models with the turbocharged 1.8T engine, Volkswagen finally launched a “voluntary” service program to inspect and, if necessary, replace all four ignition coils. The local VW dealer installed new ones (part number 06A 905 115 D) at no charge.
Wheels and tires
The 17-inch alloy wheels with a wide five-blade design installed on the Turbo S were only in production for a few years and are difficult to find now.
While there are many available substitutes, we’ll clean up the originals and see how they look. There is minor curb rash on one wheel but polished up the aluminum should present well.
There was plenty of tread left on the old tires, but they were cracked with age and must be discarded. Our replacement choice is the premium performance Vredestein Quatrac Pro introduced in 2019. These 225/45R17 tires are rated at the top of most comparisons, grip well on both wet and dry surfaces, have a very high speed rating, and should provide both excellent handling and durability for all seasons.
After 50,000 miles, the front brake rotors that receive most of the braking punishment begin to display surface imperfections that impact performance.
The Turbo S FN3 specification uses slightly thicker and larger diameter rotors (288x25mm) and replacing them is a straightforward procedure.
Front brake pads must be renewed as well. A connector for front pad wear sensing was introduced in 2001 (rear pads do not have sensors). When pad thickness reaches a VW threshold value, the circuit triggers a warning.
Front headlight gasket
The front headlight can be easily pulled up after sliding a small lever on the inside of each fender (on the left side it’s just behind the battery). The surround seal gets brittle with age allowing water to seep in and around the light assembly; this tends to fog and spot the lens. The gasket is the same on the left and right (part number 1C0941119 costing about $55 for a pair).
The faux chrome on the VW hood emblem fades over time but can be easily replaced. Heated up, the adhesive backing can be gently pulled away from the front lid; two pegs hold the emblem in the proper position.
The rear emblem faded too, but the entire hatch is surplus so we’ll happily ignore it.
Hood foam cushions
Foam cushions on both the left and right sides of the hood help seat the lid properly against the plastic bumpers.
This part — 1C0823729A left and the mirror image 1C0823730A right ($12 each) — will degrade over time as the foam material is exposed to the elements as well as frequent hood opening/closing.
Foam inserts are located at the end of the rubber gasket near the top of the hood and right below the base of the wiper cowl.
On our 2004 Turbo S model, the right cushion is badly deformed while the left one is reasonably intact; both will be replaced to insure good fitment.
Hood sound insulator
The drooping sound insulator (hood underside) isn’t a performance issue. Years of heat and vibration have taken a toll, and refreshing this $50 part (1C0863835K) and the related hood insulator clips (1H5863849A01C) will tidy up the engine bay and eliminate the risk of melting the old blanket.
Front CV boots
The left front outer CV boot is torn and needs replacement. Since the axle must be removed to address this, it makes sense to change both the inner and outer boots on both sides. A VW dealer charges about $1000 do handle this job, but the parts are only about $75.
Parking brake cables
The parking brake cables run along the bottom of the undercarriage and take a lot of road debris punishment. Our cables showed wear, broken sleeves, and some minor rust. A VW dealer charges $600 for this repair, but the parts are only $35.
Tie rod end
The bushing on one tie rod is damaged, so lubricate can ooze out and dirt can get in. A VW dealer charges about $900 to swap out the tie rods, but it is a very simple procedure and the parts cost about $25. There are different part numbers for the left and right sides.
Aftermarket clamps were used on the connecting pipe between the catalytic converter and the front muffler. Replacing them with better fitting OE VW clamps may solve the problem.
A VW dealer estimated $150 to swap out just one clamp, but we can buy two VW originals for $30.
Turbocharger oil return leak
A 1.8T turbocharger leak from the oil return pipe is a common problem caused by a worn upper gasket (VW part 058145757C); note that the lower gasket has a different part number — 058145757A — because there is a small bubble flare where the pipe returns to the oil pan.
Unless the oil leak is significant (and ours is just oozing), performance symptoms are probably not noticeable. Fortunately, this gasket can be replaced without pulling the engine and a new gasket costs just $5. The oil return line (06A145735AA) has a braided midsection so the pipe flange can be gently pulled away from the turbocharger body. A VW dealer charges over $500 to replace the oil return gaskets.
If a new gasket doesn’t stop the leak, we’ll may replace the oil return pipe and/or check the turbocharger body for seal leaks. Any turbocharger seal leak implies a much more significant repair, including the possible replacement of the entire turbocharger assembly. The valve cover gasket may also be leaking (oil can drip down from the cover edge).
Taking the newly acquired donor to the neighborhood VW dealer for these identified repairs become quite expensive — well over $2000 to complete the list above. In contrast, the components — using only genuine VW or high quality aftermarket alternatives — cost under $500 for everything we need and will take a day or two.
|airbag sensors NHTSA recall||6Q0909606H||$180|
|brake light switch NHTSA recall||1C0945511ARDW||$11|
|ignition coil (4)||06A905115D||$84|
|tires - Vredestein Quatrac Pro (4)||255/45R17||$550|
|front brake rotor 288x25mm (2)||6R0615301A||$100|
|front brake pad with sensor, set||1J0698151K||$110|
|front headlight gasket halogen (2)||1C0941119||$55|
|hood foam cushion left||1C0823729A||$12|
|hood foam cushion right||1C0823730A||$12|
|hood sound insulator||1C0863835K||$50|
|front CV boot, kit||8N0498203KT2||$75|
|parking brake cable, refresh kit||1J0609721AQ||$100|
|tie rod end (2)||1J0422811B||$100|
|exhaust clamp (2)||1H0253139D||$30|
|turbocharger upper oil pipe gasket||058145757C||$5|
|hood emblem adhesive back||1C0853617AWV9||$40|
|LESS RECALL OR SELLER PAID||-$1,035|