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Double Take: Dueling Volkswagen B4 TDi Passats

As enthusiasts cars go, the words “TDi” and “Passat” don’t generally generate a tremendous amount of enthusiasm. Of course, that belies the entire subculture of Volkswagen enthusiasts that are diesel obsessed; but even amongst them the Passat TDi is rarely the first car they’d choose. Perhaps the exception to that is the wagon version of the B4, which offered smart looks and unbelievable fuel mileage. However, we looked at one on our Facebook fanpage, and people baulked as the price approached $15,000 on a high mile, 20 year old Passat diesel. So what’s here today then? Well, if you need a smart commuter, want to get 50 miles a gallon with a bit of sleeper style, the Passat sedan offers arguably better build quality than the Mk.2 and Mk.3 Jetta diesels did and can be had for a more reasonable budget. Today, there are two nearly identical mileage B4 TDis available on Ebay – let’s start with the older one:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1996 Volkswagen Passat TDi on eBay

Year: 1996
Model: TDi
Engine: 1.9 liter turbocharged inline-4
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Mileage: 119,508 mi
Price: Reserve Auction

Hello and thanks for viewing our auction. Up for sale is an absolute pleasure to drive. This 1996 Volkswagen Passat TDI has 119,508 MILES and gets up to 53 MPG on the highway. The sunroof gives it a sporty feel, and we just put a new set of tires on it. This car was purchased from the original owner and the carfax is clean. This car has been detailed and needs nothing but a new owner. The engine is strong and the clutch/transmission work as they should. We tried to take pics that best represent the condition of the car both inside and out which in our opinion is in excellent shape for the year. Please let us know we will be glad to take more pics for you, or you are more than welcome to come by and take it for a spin yourself. If you would like just request a video of the start up and walk around tour and we will be glad to send it. We are open seven days a week and will be glad to assist with shipping as we are a licensed dealership in Knoxville Tennessee. 865-357-2933

Condition looks pretty good overall, though there’s rust starting to peek through in the fenders and the engine bay needs a bit of cleaning. It also bothers me a bit when “One owner” cars are advertised by their second owner, but I suppose if they never registered it, it’s still technically a one-owner car? Miles are lower for a TDi and the color combination is nice overall. Still, the rust and damage to the seat are a bit concerning. Rather have something a bit newer?

This 1997, other than missing the Volkswagen decals off of the wheels, appears to be in even better shape than the 1996. With only about 500 more miles, it’s amazing to see two very similar machines available at the same time as they’re fairly rare. Again, it’s a “one owner” car that is offered by a second owner:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1997 Volkswagen Passat TDi on eBay

Year: 1997
Model: Passat TDi
Engine: 1.9 liter turbocharged inline-4
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Mileage: 119,957 mi
Price: $6,500 Buy It Now

1997 Volkswagen Passat TDI TDI

This is a very nice, Carfax 1 owner, 1997 Volkswagen Passat TDI. It is equipped with the 1.9L turbocharged, 4 cylinder diesel motor paired with a 5 speed manual transmission. It is Storm Gray Metallic with Blueish Gray cloth interior.

This Passat has many excellent features including power windows, power mirrors, power moonroof, AM/FM stereo, 60/40 split folding rear seat, front driver and passenger airbags, 4 wheel disc brakes, 3 point passive restraint seatbelts front and rear, and much more.

Cosmetically, this 1997 Passat TDI is in excellent condition for it’s age. This car has been well cared for and it shows. The Storm Gray paint is in great condition. The exterior is also free from any large dents or scratches that deter from the overall appearance. It does have some minor dents on some top surfaces. Appears to be too random and few to be hail. Perhaps under a nut tree. The interior is free from any rips, tears, large stains, excessive wear, or discoloration in the carpet or any of the seats. This is also a NON-smoker vehicle free from any foul interior odors.

Mechanically this Passat is also in good condition. We have completed a thorough inspection and completed the necessary maintenance to ensure a good driving and safe vehicle. The timing belt was inspected and appears to be in good condition with life left. There is indication of it being replaced at 82K miles. Tires are Hankook Optimos with 10/32 tread remaining on all 4 corners. The CEL is currently on in the vehicle. It does not effect the drive ability of the car. Buy with confidence that you are receiving a very nice vehicle.

Older Volkswagen with a check engine light, you say? Color me surprised! Some of these CEL codes are fairly easy to fix, and others are a major headache and expensive. The Storm Grey is a great color and the interior seems to be overall in better shape than the 1996. While the CEL is a concern, I’d rather have a car that I needed to chase mechanical gremlins down than one that I needed to fix rust on, and if this car was rust-free it would be the one I chose. While $6,500 sounds like a lot for a 17 year old Passat, the reality is that the diesel community has kept the value of these cars quite high and that’s not an unreasonable sum to get into an older TDi. If you drive a lot, the fuel savings alone may be worth the purchase!



  1. shmcquilkin
    shmcquilkin April 19, 2014

    If maintained well, these both have plenty of life left in them. A big issue is carbon buildup in the intake just prior to the intake manifold where the EGR system dumps in recirculated exhaust gasses. Akin to atherosclerosis in heart disease, this buildup constricts incoming fresh gas flow from the interooler, robbing the engine its breath. The cleaning is a very messy job, and a PIA due to the EGR system, which many delete (living with CEL or recoding the ECU to omit). Please do not attempt to perform the manifold cleaning with it on the car (sadly, having happened on occasion on other forums). A reputable Euro garage will have done this before (but ask to confirm of course), probably worth it if you don’t spin your own wrenches.

    To check the clutch on the manuals, go down the road in 1st-2nd, right to 4th and hit the throttle. The torque band climbs at ~1800 rpm and will spin an ailing clutch connection.

    They need to have the turbo spooled frequently, too, (driven in a spirited way when warmed up) to clear the variable vanes on the exhaust side of the snail, as well, of carbon. These rigs *need* to be driven hard to maximize boost, clean the system, and keep the rings seated. They pull well, stock, from 2500-3500rpm and just an ECU chip and larger injectors will wake it up into a very competent DD with supreme mileage. Throw in an LSD diff in the tranny and they become all-season reliable, regardless of snow depth (esp. with studded snows).

    If broken in properly, and using full synthetic oil, these will go for 300k+ miles. I knew of one with >500k on original head gasket, clutch changed once.

    Ask if they’ve run biodiesel. If so, change out all fuel lines (melts rubbers). If you plan to run biodiesel, do the same. Ask about WVO, too. If attempted, stay away! Too many issues! (been there, done that…)

    Here is a post of mine from a while ago detailing a B4 Passat TDI variant (wagon) that I helped sell after finding on a back road in central Maine, which may provide some more info:

    N.B. – the wagons have a nearly 26 gallon tank, and if in tune, these can get over 1200 miles on ONE tank of fuel!

    Both of these seem to be good investments for the ome tinkerer. Plenty of parts and online support available. A LOT of life left in them. Huge trunks. Great for frugal families, and those new to tunining, hobbiests. These two look to be nice, base examples. I’d go for the manual.

  2. Carter
    Carter April 20, 2014

    Excellent writeup and input, thank you shmcquilkin!

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