Friday, December 28, 2012

Blog Summary at 30,000 Miles

I was inspired to write a GTI ownership blog based on one I had seen written by a major car magazine. Their blog was a big reason I decided to pull the trigger and get the car.

My blog is mostly a journal of what goes on with the car, but I thought it might be helpful for prospective GTI owners, especially if you were concerned about reliability, dealership problems, or issues like the seats. If you're on the fence, give it a read.

At 30,000 miles, I'm still writing, but the service coverage is now over and the warranty will be up soon. There weren't a lot of surprises.

I ditched my initial dealership for poor service and found another truly excellent one (Dorito Brothers in Walnut Creek, CA). I had one initial quality issue with a broken stereo pre-set button, something that could have been resolved easily, but ended up souring my dealership relationship. I also had plenty of self-inflicted wounds by installing an after market stereo replacement.

I wouldn't do that again, mostly because of the complexity of modern electronics. Using my Vag Com cable, the GTI checks 14,000 different faults on start up. Two of those killed my battery by not being turned off when the stereo was installed.

Other than those things, and the fact that the tires seem to magnetically attract bolts, the car has held up pretty well. The GTI had the usual German car problems of rattles (finally fixed yesterday), expensive parts ($20 windshield wipers and $120 battery cables) and funky ergonomics. If you aspire towards a BMW or Mercedes, you'll certainly get that premium feeling at the parts department. You may want to save up with a Japanese car though.

It also has a "ticking time bomb" of brakes and tires needing to be replaced at around the same time (36,000 miles or so). You would certainly save a bunch of money by going with a boring, non performance oriented vehicle, especially something Japanese (even my wife's Golf will need an expensive transmission service soon), but you wouldn't have nearly as much fun. Plus the car has an excellent safety record.

I'll keep writing the blog, as before, mostly for myself, but I thought you might want to take a look if you're uncertain. As for myself, my eye is wandering a bit at this point, and if Alfa Romeo makes it back to the US, I might jump ship to something Italian. As you can see, I have a masochism streak.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

30,000 Mile Service (and then some)

Some work I got done today at 30,096 miles:
  • Oil, Lube, Rotation. In addition, they changed the brake fluid.
  • Electrical. The culprit for my dead battery was, as you might have guessed, the aftermarket stereo system. The tech went into detail on how the electrical system would bounce up to 600 milliamps, traced back to faults in the system looking for the radio.
  • B-Pillar Rattle. Fixed with "anti vibration/rattle tape" and it appears to be gone.
  • Wiper Blades. All replaced at my expense at an average of $20 per wiper

Wear Item 20000 miles 30000 miles Replacement
Brakes, Front (mm) 14 10 5
Brakes, Rear (mm) 12 8 5
Tires, Front (/32) 7 6 3
Tires, Rear (/32) 7 5 3

Looking at the wear rate of the brakes, I've probably got another 8,000 on the rear and 12,000 or so for the fronts. I've got another 10,000 miles or so for the tires as well. So it may be an expensive Summer, based on my driving patterns.

Total expense for the service was $63.87 for the wipers. They were an item I requested and the first time the blades have been replaced in 2 1/2 years.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Dead Battery

29,681 miles and the battery is dead. You could tell it was struggling for about a week before it finally gave up. I was hoping it might be the cold. Not the case. The AAA guy ran a diagnostic and believed the alternator killed it, recommending I take the car in to have it checked out.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Bolt Magnet and TPMS

I've driven the GTI about 27,000 miles and have had four tire repairs for bolts in the tread. Thankfully, each was a relatively inexpensive fix and each allowed me to get to a repair facility without leaving me stranded. Still, it seems to attract these bolts more often than my last car, although I can't, for the life of me, think of why that might be. The good news is the Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS), usually alerts me to the problem right away, the exception being one time a couple weeks ago when the "alert" was a bolt slapping loudly into the pavement.

The TPMS uses the traction control to check the rotation of the tires and alerts you when one is out of whack. It's not terribly sophisticated, but it does instill confidence, especially with low profile tires (I know, 18's aren't really low these days). When there is a problem, it's excellent in helping identify the issue, and although it won't tell you which tire is low, it will let you when your futile attempts to add air has finally failed. Let's put it this way, it's a helpful enough safety feature that I would consider it a deficiency if I had to buy a car without it. That said, the lack of climate control is one of those I still can't believe is not offered.

What else is there to report about the car? I've had no other problems or quirks of late, other than the occasional recurrence of the passenger B-pillar rattle. I noticed that using a different door seal protector (Zymol Seal) made the car incredibly quiet for a couple weeks.

I still baby the GTI quite a bit, only using Chevron premium fuel (despite this), mixing my 1Z washer fluid, and continuing with the Zaino polish with 1Z wash with wax additive on the outside. I've resisted changing anything to after market other than the Pioneer navigation system, which got the 2012 update installed this week. Different wheels would be nice, just to make it look a bit unique. A Stage 1 APR tune would be great, just to unlock the power held back by the computer. Other than that, the car is pretty wonderful in every way.

Mileage: 27,500

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Rear Shelf Rattle

The rear shelf in the GTI attaches using two prongs with a rubber surface. These rotate when the rear hatch is opened for cargo access. However, the shelf rattle constantly over every ... single ... bump.

So I picked up some sticky backed felt, used for protecting furniture. It was thicker than other felt I've found, which is good for sound insulation, but it refused to mold to the prong properly. I glued them down with super glue, which seemed to do the trick.

Mileage: 24,662

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Leaky Oil and Battery Issues

The day began with the realization that I was leaking oil. I parked someplace slightly different and noticed several circles on the driveway, one for each day since my oil change this week. So I brought the car into Dorito Brothers and they eventually got it fixed. The rookie technician hadn't torqued the oil pan bolt properly.

90 minutes later and we were back on the road, although the Pioneer system was completely dead. When I got home, I did my battery disconnect trick, which worked fine to reset the unit, although the bolt on the negative battery terminal cable was really stripped at this point.

I went shopping and found a couple "standard" bolt replacements and since the wife was back in Walnut Creek, I had her check to see if I could purchase a 10mm bolt from Dorito Brothers. It turns out Volkwasgen doesn't sell that part. You have to buy the entire $125 negative terminal cable. Later on I discovered the bolt was integrated into the cable, so that was really the only option.

Ebay came to the rescue. I wouldn't normally buy used parts, but the negative battery terminal cable is probably the simplest, brain dead easy part on the car. So $25 later and I'm waiting for my cable to arrive from Texas.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

20,000 Mile Service

I just had my 20,000 mile service and my records showed 7/32nds on my tires and 12mm front and 9mm rear remaining on the brake pads.
I can forecast when I'll need new tires based on a few numbers. 3/32nds is when the tires need replacing. The Pirelli P-Zero Nero M&S start at 11/32nds. 7/32nds wear at 20,000 miles means I've used 50% of my tires. I'm good for another year, perhaps.

The break pads started out with 14mm front and 12mm rear. Doing a bit of research, 5mm is probably a good time to change your pads. So doing more math, I've used about 22% of my front pads and 42% of my rear pads. So I'll likely need a rear break job when I get tires in another 20,000 miles.

This also seems to be the case on the Rabbits we looked at, as all the CPO rabbits seemed to have gotten a break job at around 35,000 miles.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


A recent discovery of 2011 GTI owners is the Soundaktor. This electronic device pipes resonant, synthetic engine noise through a speaker during throttle applications. It provides a throaty, resonant noise that I'll admit is not entirely unpleasant, despite being entirely fake. I suppose I should feel like it's a premium feature, as there's a similar system in the BMW M5, but as a Gen Xer, authenticity is more important. Previous model years featured a "noise pipe" that was promptly removed by everyone in the know.

A quick YouTube search found the instructions on how to unplug the device without too much trouble. I zip tied mine in a plastic bag once it was unplugged, just in case, but clearly it's a rather useless addition to the car.

The sound without the Soundaktor is more aggressive, more throaty from the little 2-liter engine with more turbo noise. I love the turbo whine, so that's a win for me. It's also quieter in the cabin without sound being pumped in. A quiet, sophisticated, cabin was a major consideration when I bought the car, so pumping engine noise into it is a major fail. So quieter overall with a more raw sound on acceleration. Perfect. Did you not think that was good enough Volkswagen?

Oh and I got my 20,000 mile service today. . 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Spoke Too Soon

And then this happened....

On the way to work the Pioneer satellite receiver stopped working once again, while at the same time the tire pressure monitor system threw up a flag. They were unrelated, as a front tire was low, but it reminded me that the dealership deflated the tires to 34 PSI from 38 PSI at the last service, which may be why my I5 adventure was more enjoyable.

The Pioneer system was successfully reset by disconnecting and reconnecting the battery, something I discussed with the Best Buy tech, as an alternative to the $50 charge of popping out the head unit. Reconnecting the battery caused all kinds of crazy in the electrical system.

The steering, traction control and TPMS lights lit up, making me wonder if the car was even safe to move, or whether I somehow shorted out the entire system with my battery trick.

The owner's manual thankfully reported this behavior as normal, recommending a short drive to reset everything. That did the trick, but I admit I was a bit concerned.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

20K Mile Road Trip

A year after I bought the car, I found myself driving down I5 on cruise control at 80 MPH, thinking the road and car were perfectly acceptable. It seemed much worse when I first got the GTI, and I told myself it was an alright road trip car on the right road trip.  I must have gotten used to the ride. The GTI was freshly washed and gassed for the week when I got the call to come visit my grandmother for the last time, 400 miles away. I didn't quite make it in time, but not for a lack of trying.

I hit the 20,000 miles mark en route, and I'm still in need of that 20K mile service visit. The GTI got around 30MPG on the way down I5 but only around 26MPG on the way back up on 101.

There were no squeaks, rattles, mechanical issues or other annoyances. The Pioneer didn't even freak out when I stalled in Orange County traffic. Last time in OC, I stalled at a toll booth and it needed a hard reset. The GTI actually drives better now than when it was brand new.

Next: Just put in another order with Autopia for some new microfiber towels and the new 1Z interior cleaner (1Z Einszett Cockpit Premium Interior Plas). If I had one complaint about 1Z, it's that all their bottles look the same: bug remover, wheel cleaner, interior cleaner, all have the same, boring grey bottle with green label.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Easiest Car Buying Experience

I felt I should mention that my experience buying the wife's Rabbit from Dirito Brothers in Walnut Creek was the easiest time I've ever had buying a car. They also have a great service department and a "showcase" dealership. Bringing the GTI in for service is what first impressed me about them, enough to know I probably wouldn't have a hard time buying a car.

I had to really struggle when I bought my car last year from Volkswagen of Oakland. It ended with a vow never to go back for any reason over something small they could have fixed with better customer service. The Dirito Brothers Rabbit was the 13th car I've bought, including some strange scenarios (Ebay From Canada, Ebay from Florida, out of state from dealers, BMW Euro delivery, friends, relatives, a loan shark, etc.).

Friday, May 25, 2012

Car Porn

Posted in the VW Vortex forum in the context of, "it's ok your car has a factory defect because she built it for you." There have been some amusing minor problems reported of late, notably a manual car equipped with paddle shifters, a leather car with a cloth door insert and a car with no rear cup holders. These are the kind of things the JD Powers people would go nuts over, but would easily get fixed for free at the first dealer visit.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

New Family Member

With 18,000 miles on the GTI, I had enough confidence to buy another one. Well, not exactly. The wife got in an accident with her Scion XB, which was totaled, and with an insurance company check in hand, we made our way to the Volkswagen dealer to buy a 2008 Rabbit.

I had spent a week agonizing over the decision of what to buy and from whom. In fact, I still regret missing the opportunity to buy a cherry 2009 Rabbit on a test drive last week, but the timing was off.

So how did I come to the decision? The only used Volkswagen Consumer Reports recommends is the 07-09 Rabbit, and I honestly couldn't deviate too far from "safe and reliable" on my wife's car for the sake of enthusiast zeal. So I started with some other cars, including a Nissan Rogue, Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester,  Volvo S60, Ford Fusion, a new Jetta and our rental car, a Toyota Corolla. Although she liked the height of her Scion XB and the chick-utes we looked at, they were out of our budget. Even an XB with side airbags, my new requirement, was as much as the Rabbit. After test driving the 2009 Rabbit, she began to dislike the floaty feel of the rental Corolla. She wanted that confident, German handling.

The 2008 Rabbit didn't feel quite as solid as the 2009, but it was adequate. It had around the same amount of miles (35,000) but with a sunroof and better seats. It was a CPO vehicle, so it has another 2-year warranty beyond the standard one, albeit with a $50 deductible. So yeah, I had enough confidence in my own car to buy another one.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Wax vs. Polish

Here are a couple photos, the first showing the car shortly after I got it with wax, and the second with polish (Zaino). The look with wax is a kind of deep, warmth. The look with polymer polish is sharp, and highly reflective. I think wax feels more traditional while polish feels kind of techno and cutting edge. The GTI looks great in polymer (either really), while a classic car would look better with wax.

The wear advantage always goes to polymer. My single coat of Zaino lasted about six months before it began to obviously wear down, while wax is good for about three months. There's no way to get around this and even super amazing $300/tin concourse wax won't extend the wear (just the look). If you don't want to detail your car often, polymer is the way to go.

It used to be that polymers required multiple coats, bonding agents followed by polishes. Nowadays, products are all-in-one. My Zaino ZFX involves annoying mixing bottles, with a few drops of the bonding agent put in a small bottle of one time use polish. But it goes on in one coat. Inefficient for sure, as there's always some left over, but much better than applying two coats of product. Competitors mix it for you and claim better product use efficiency. I believe it.

If you want long lasting protection but also the warmth of wax, you can use a polymer polish and then wax over it to your hearts content. That's kind of what I'm going to do. My new Z1 car wash soap has some wax in it, which will add protection and I'll likely use wax between washes, although the Zaino would be just as easy.

If mentioned before that detailing is a lot like miniature painting and that's very true. The key is the prep work. If you can prep the surface so it's clean and able to take the product, then even the cheapest wax will look great. A clean surface also includes not introducing scratches into the surface unnecessarily. I've been to car gathering where people swear by their detailing prowess, only to see a dizzying amount of micro-swirls because they didn't do their prep and most importantly, scratched up their car with cotton towels.

Wax: Meguiers (2 coats)

Polymer: Zaino (1 coat)

Monday, April 30, 2012

Interior Cleaning

I got my 1Z order today from, including the Blitz cleaner. I bought it for the interior, but it claims to be all purpose, usable on virtually anything. I put it in a spray bottle and followed the instructions, using a 1:20 ratio of product to water. This stuff is going to last forever.

I vacuumed the interior, just like you would if you were cleaning carpets, and took a before photo of the driver side door. Why this door? It looked the dirtiest.

I even took a photo of the towel for a true before and after test. That's not included and I'll get to that in a minute. The Blitz did a great job in removing the dusty schmutz from the armrest. It smelled like nasty carpet cleaner, so I made a point of getting it all off. Here's the after photo:

What was surprising about this was how little dirt was on the towel. Where I really saw dirt was in cleaning the rest of the car, where the passengers sat. My center armrest, door armrest and seat were relatively clean, probably from me constantly interacting with it. It was the rest of the cloth interior that was dirty, probably more dust than anything else.

Also, the two minor stains that my wife's organic herbs and spices cleaner couldn't remove were completely erased, almost before wiping it off. I think eating organic is fantastic, but if you want something cleaned or a toilet unstopped, go with the nastiest stuff you can find. Then go wash your towels in a capful of the stuff.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Gas Mileage

I love to drive, and when I say that, it means I love driving with some ... alacrity. I want to feel how the car transitions its weight in the corners. I want the apex to matter. Most of my driving is my commute, a four-lane divided highway known more for its scenery than anything else, Interstate 4 (I've been told not to call it "The Four," like a SoCal dweeb). It can be frustrating driving this rode as a commute, especially during retailer hours (what I do), as it tends to get clogged up by those looking at the scenery. It's a fantastic road to drive with lots of curves, a steep grade, rolling hills and plenty of livestock to gaze out at.

Last week I was one of those people looking at the scenery, as I was recovering from the flu. My mileage to work was a stunning 32 MPG, compared to my usual 29 MPG. That differential, 3MPG is the damage I do driving in my usual manner (it's actually a little worse on the way home due to traffic). So how bad could it be?

Let's do the math:
46.2 mile round trip commute
$4.50/gallon for premium fuel (because it is Geerrrman)
12,012 miles per year

373.38 gallons driving Miss Daisy = $1,681.21
414.20 gallons driving like I stole it = $1,863.90
Difference: $182.69 or $15/month

Besides the environmental impact of spewing 40 gallons worth of hydrocarbons into the air each year (I imagine lighting fire to a 50 gallon drum in my back yard), there is also the cost of the car itself. If I drove like Miss Daisy a standard Volkswagen Golf would have done the trick, which would have saved me another $120/month. And there's my vice, right there.

On the plus side, I've been moving my consumption down over the years, from thirsty V8's (540i, Dodge Magnum) to smooth 6's (330i, Mazda 6), even a horrible, buzzy 5-cylinder (Acura TL), and now the GTI turbo 4. I get just as much enjoyment out of that little 4 as I did the bigger engines (although that E39 540i was a dream car), while doing what little I can not to destroy the world (you can thank me later).

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Spring Detailing

Spent $100 today on auto detailing products, a small price to pay, I suppose, considering I do all my washing by hand. I figure I save about $20/month (2, $10 washes/month) this way, compared to my last car, so that's already $200 for the 10 months I've had the car. Plus, I get exercise and my car is pretty much scratch free compared to even the best automatic car wash.

So what got me on the detailing tangent? I just got back from vacation with a car covered in Spring bugs. The Zaino polymer is wearing off and the finish is in need of a 6-month clay bar treatment. The bugs have really taken their toll. A lot of the car care products I've been using are about to run out at the same time, plus I need a good cloth interior cleaner, since my passengers are slobs, apparently. They weren't eating in the car, but they apparently exude stain causing fluids.

The driver for this particular order are several products I've fallen in love with from 1Z Einszett. The first is their Kristall Klar Windshield Washer Fluid. It's insanely powerful, yet safe for paint. It's the kind of German fluid that used to come standard in new VW's, but you could never get again when it ran out because of government restrictions. Since the Einszett website was out of this stuff, the entire order ended up going to I should mention that almost all the high end stuff like this isn't available in auto parts stores. Also, in case you think this is a crazy product, this $9 bottle will likely end up lasting me a full year, and I'm one of those guys who cleans the windows constantly.

The second "must have" product has been the Einszett Anti-Insekt Pre-Cleaner. This is a product I spray on the front bumper, hood and side mirrors and then go fill my wash bucket. When I come back out, the Anti-Instekt cleaner has loosened up the bug debris without damaging the paint or polish, making it easy to clean them off without scrubbing (which damages the paint).

The other product I use in this pre-cleaning phase is a wheel cleaner. I've been using off the shelf Meguiars Hot Rims Wheel Cleaner for the wheels and exhaust tips. The stuff is nasty if you get even a whiff of it, but it works well. I figured I would give Einszett some more business with their Einszett Wheel Cleaner Feigen Reiniger.Who doesn't need their figs cleaned (I Google translated it)?

What else? My off the shelf Meguiars Gold Glass car wash soap smells like horrible 80's cologne and made me feel like a self conscious douche bag whenever I washed my car (I might be one, but don't want to feel like one). I went with a bottle of Einszett Perls Shampoo Premium Car Wash, even though I've got a quarter of the Brute-smelling Mequiars left. I don't know much about the Perls, but I'm in the mode of trusting Einszett right now.

Next I picked up Einszett Blitz All-Purpose Cleaner, for cleaning my cloth interior, and if you believe the instructions, it's also a suitable washing detergent for your microfiber towels. Love it! Lets close the loop entirely and sell me a car detailing washer/dryer. In any case, it's hard to find a good cloth stain remover for the car that doesn't smell like something horrible. My wife has some organic crap that smells like herbs and spices that does a fine job, but come on.

Finally, got a Grit Guard for my wash bucket. The concept being that it sits in the bottom of your bucket, the grit falls to the bottom, and your water remains mostly clean. This helps prevent scratches being introduced into your paint from your wash mitt. Most scratches come from detailing, so for $10, not a bad deal (can't fathom spending $20 for a bucket combo though).

All this stuff, plus a case for my clay bar ($4) that's currently stuck to the bottom of my detailing caddy, a clay bar applicator ($10) because I always drop it on the ground and swear in front of my young son, and shipping (minus a quickly Googled $8 coupon). The total was $90. A large bucket and squeegee from OSH for removing Spring bugs between washes brought the total to $100.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

More Pioneer Problems

While on one of the Orange County toll roads, I stalled out the car while fishing for change. When i started it again, the satellite radio receiver reported No Device Found.

I took the car into Best Buy once again and the tech, who is very good, I think, diagnosed it immediately as needing a "hard reset." This means he pulls the system out, disconnects power and plugs it all back in again. That solved the problem. This is the second time this had to be done and it occurred to me that I could accomplish the same task by disconnecting the battery. Cost to me: $54.

I'm hoping the issues with the Pioneer will calm down over time, but I doubt it. I may just need to be happy disconnecting my battery every six months or so.

Slicing my throat on the cutting edge of technology.....

Mileage: 16,540

Sunday, January 8, 2012

10,000 Miles

My first service appointment is Friday. It's a free 10,000 mile oil change, one of those features (I get three) that makes me want to bail due to the high level of inconvenience balanced by the low cost of doing it elsewhere.

Then again, this is the first time this car has been back to the dealer, at least officially. I told Volkswagen of Oakland to suck it after my radio issues and declined their 30 day post delivery inspection (more marketing than substance). The car won't be going back there, if I can help it. This week it visits Dorito Brothers, or Volkswagen of Walnut Creek, if you have an aversion to businesses that sound like strip clubs. I follow the VW forums and I don't know of any recalls or service bulletins for my car that would apply, but you never know.

My big concern is that they don't futz with the electronic settings I've so painstakingly programmed (reminder to get a clean back up). Then there is the car washing, which I want nothing to do with. I made up a sign, as you can see in the photo. I used to make one up for my BMWs too, the last car in which detailing became a hobby in itself (and where service became a painful chore). Car washes, all of them, screw up the paint.

Finally, I don't believe tire rotation is on the menu, and I'm not sure how I feel about that. I'm kind of against it from the stories I've heard. I would rather have reduced tread life than uneven wear and annoying noise. I'm really sensitive to road noise. The Pirelli P-Zero Nero's have been fantastic so far, and I'm told that changes after you start rotating.