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A Year’s Worth of VW Phaeton Running Costs

Jim Yu October 29, 2012 Used Car Reviews

This Sunday will be my one-year anniversary of Phaeton ownership. It has been, for the most part, beyond bliss. The ride, the refinement, the engineering– are all beyond words. Given the complexity of the car and VW’s less than sterling reputation, especially with electrical issues, I was afraid. But so far, touch wood, the ownership experience has been uneventful.

I bought the car with 38,792 miles in November 2011 in Arizona and promptly drove it back to the San Francisco Bay Area via Las Vegas (about 850 miles).  Today, it does not quite have 51,000 miles.

1. Insurance. Strangely, I literally pay a couple dollars more a year for the 2005 Phaeton than my 2004 Acura TSX.

2. Fuel. This has been breathtaking. I get around 14 to 16 miles per gallon in the city and the low 20s on the highway. It takes premium and has a 23.66 gallon (90 liter) tank. I like to drive my cars until the low fuel light is on. And with gas costing $5 a gallon recently, well, you can do the math. I learned for the first time that many pumps, to prevent credit card fraud, stop dispensing gas at $75.

3. Repairs and maintenance. Here is a spreadsheet. The car came with a transferrable extended warranty/service contract that expires in the summer of 2013.

*$50 was reimbursed by AAA.

**Due to a frozen tie rod, they were unable to perform the alignment.

***With some patience, elbow grease, and strategic thwacks of a hammer, they were able to unfreeze the tie rod and align the wheels.

****Includes oil change and brake fluid change.

*****The extended warranty company would only pay for labor at $70 per hour. I paid the difference.

As you can see, it’s pricey. But it’s not as bad as I had feared. It’s definitely a lot more than what it cost to run my four-cylinder TSX. I believe that with regular maintenance and a bit of luck, the Phaeton should bring many more years of fun, comfort, and luxury.

The next issue I will have to address is replacing the windshield wiper blades. I swear, according to the manual, the first step to changing the wiper blades is accessing the Infotainment system….

Image source: Jim Yu

Currently there are "62 comments" on this Article:

  1. BobWellington says:

    Definitely not too bad. Just give it a little longer. *snickers*

  2. Devin says:

    I swear, according to the manual, the first step to changing the wiper blades is accessing the Infotainment system

    How the what? Does it pump out sweet tunes as you change the blades?

    • Maxichamp says:

      The wipers are recessed for aerodynamics. You go to the Infotainment system and set it to "Wiper blade change mode" and the wipers will sweep up and stay horizontally for ease of change.

      • Devin says:

        I was going to make a joke about how the first step is queuing up Changes by Bowie, but then I remembered that it was a German car.

        So clearly the first step is queuing up Wind of Change by Scorpions.

  3. mr. mzs zsm msz esq says:

    Hey so I was pretty close, yippie! Looks like you got a good one here, congrats! But is there a battery only for the starter or was that starter and battery?

  4. Rob says:

    I bought a 97 BMW E36 M3 with 155k miles in August 2011. Since I've put about $2500 worth of maintenance items (mostly front end suspension work, including upgraded front sway) in about 10,000 miles. I've done all the work myself, so I have saved a lot. I don't think you did too bad. The M3 has been completely reliable and gets about 23 mpg in mixed driving.

  5. Mikey says:

    I dont see whats pricey about it. All but one entry in your spreadsheet is general bought-a-used-car stuff not bought-a-weird-car-with-needs. I would get out now if you're worried.

    My jag xjr has been way better than i expected but I'm still $4k into it in 3yrs 25k miles, despite doing 90% of the work myself. Figure 6k at the dealer, 10k if I include the SC they would replace rather than repair. That's just the nature of owning uncommon cars that were expensive new.

    • Maxichamp says:

      It's pricey as compared to an average automobile. It's probably also pricey for the typical Hoon, as they no doubt do all the wrenching at home.

      • mdharrell says:

        Looking at your spreadsheet, I must say I've never paid to have a windshield chipped. Usually I've had other people volunteer to help, though, so I didn't have to do it all myself.

      • 68monk says:

        It's cheap compared to other VWs… After sinking $4K in a year into a 2002 Jetta (fun with sensors), I will never buy a VW again.

        • Maxichamp says:

          Holy schnikees. How old was it when this happened?

          • 68monk says:

            Was in 2010. As previous owner of 3 VWs (DE and BR built) I had heard that the ones made in Mexico had significantly lower build quality and electrics…but it had under 80K mi and was so recently built… yeah. Even with VAG-COM on a laptop to do some DIY work it was beyond me, had to get towed twice due to IP sensor going wonky, plus a phantom radio short, faulty ABS sensor, coolant temp sensor and probly a dozen things I am currently forgetting!

            • Maxichamp says:

              Maybe I can make a post out of this re VW electrical anecdotes. If you feel like it, let me know the details about that VW's problems by emailing me at milhousevanh at gmail. Thanks! If you have a picture of the car, even better.

  6. OA5599 says:

    Nearly half the cost was replacing the tires at 46K miles. Presuming those were the factory-installed tires that got removed, that's reasonable tire wear (especially considering the alignment was bad) and the tires were resonably priced.

    I'm more interested in knowing what you get with a $137 oil change at an independent shop or why anyone would replace a battery someplace that charges $191.

    • MVEilenstein says:

      Came here to ask about the $140 oil change. I get mad at $40.

      • Maxichamp says:

        It takes 8 quarts and requires a vacuum to extract the old oil. I don't know if that's because it doesn't have a drain plug. Apparently, removing the oil filter involves the removal of heat shields, air filter box, and miscellaneous ducting.

    • Maxichamp says:

      3 of the tires were original and had a fair bit of tread left. The 4th was a replacement and had a low load rating. I think that was the cause of my alignment issues. So I replaced all four.

    • Maxichamp says:

      As for the battery, it cost $120. I noticed after I paid and left the dealer that they tacked on $70 to check the battery. Not worth arguing as the Phaeton died while waiting in line outside the dealer to get the window fixed. At that point, we didn't know if it was a dead battery or something else.

      The dealer is open until 9:30 pm, which was when I picked it up. I was so tired and ready to go home that I didn't bother looking closely at the bill.

      ETA: I did not want to change the battery myself due to the explosive charge attached to the terminal.

  7. SSurfer321 says:

    With just about $1000 in tires, you're really looking at $1000 for one years maintenance. That's incredibly affordable for a german luxo-barge!

  8. mdharrell says:

    "I swear, according to the manual, the first step to changing the wiper blades is accessing the Infotainment system…."

    For MGBs (at least the early ones), the first steps in replacing the windshield are to disconnect the battery and drain the engine coolant. It turns out that pulling the windshield frame involves dropping the dash, which means dealing with the instruments, including removing the spirit bulb for the temperature gauge from the block.

    "The ride, the refinement, the engineering– are all beyond words."

    I can say the same for everything I own….

  9. Van_Sarockin says:

    Can you further extend the warranty, or get a third party warranty? You probably haven't seen the last of the electrical equipment failures.

  10. Scandinavian Flick says:

    Not too bad, considering I spent twice that on tires alone for the GTO in equivalent time. (albeit twice the mileage) Just goes to show what a difference regular maintenance makes. (combined with not driving like a twat)

  11. rennsport964 says:

    It's interesting (if not ridiculous) that you find pumps stop dispensing at $75, given that they put a $100 hold on your credit card.

    • Devin says:

      Every pump is different. Where I'm at the max hold seems to be $125, but it's a rural area with lots of trucks so they may have set it higher.

    • OA5599 says:

      It depends on the station and the card. The second-nearest station to me cuts off at $50, and one a block away from them will go to $100 with a major credit card or (according to signs on the pump) $150 with their in-house card. I have a 35 gallon tank and a fuel gauge that doesn't calibrate well, so I tend to buy gas where I can fill the tank all the way up (to be able to use the trip odometer as a fail-safe), though even the $100 cap doesn't quite get there anymore.

  12. mnm4ever says:

    I do not think you should count tires or alignments, those are normal repair/replacement items, unless they become excessive obviously. $137 for an oil change is probably pretty reasonable for a 12-cyl that uses full synthetic. I would pay $60-80 for my 4cyl GTI, which is why I do my own oil changes.

    But the electrical gremlins appear to already be starting with the window regulator and the starter battery (?)… beware of future gremlins, thats where this car will differ from the TSX.

    • Scoutdude says:

      Assuming it was the original starter battery getting 7 years out of it. According to trade publications the average age of batteries turned it as cores is 5 years. With some mfgs (Honda and Toyota I'm looking at you) you are lucky to get past 3 years on the OE battery since they spec out the lowest quality batteries.

      The reason for a starting battery and a system battery is for a couple of reasons With 12 cyls there are always 2 on the compression stroke so it needs more cranking power. (On the plus side you can turn a 12 cyl slower and have it start as the more cyls you have the lower the self sustaining rpm.) The problem is that with the high amp draw of the starter the starting battery's voltage can sag significantly that can cause the computer and fuel pump to brown out , in the case of the computer reboot, for the fuel pump it may not be able to achieve the proper voltage.

  13. P161911 says:

    You really should change your insurance to zero deductible comprehensive. Free windshields and repairs at minimal extra cost.

  14. dolo54 says:

    Couple of suggestions: First, do not drive until you see the fuel light. Typically fuel pumps are cooled by the fuel itself and heat up when the fuel is on empty. Also sediment that collects in the bottom of your tank over time can be pushed into the system when it gets that low. This actually just happened to me, ran the car til the fuel light came on and got a clogged injector. Luckily injector cleaner and some high rpm blasts down the highway cleared it.

    Second, if you can find a reliable 3rd party mechanic (probably one who works on German cars like Mercs and Beamers) you will save a lot in the long run. As opposed to going to the dealer.

  15. skitter says:

    For some sort of perspective, here is what I have spent in the past twelve or so months on a 1992 Accord, currently with 225,000 miles:

    November '11: New alternator belt, new valve cover gasket, new plug wires.

    $112 (Did I buy some tools in there too?)

    March: New brake disk, new wheel bearing, new distributor rotor, 1hr shop time to remove and press bearing, disk.

    $123

    June: Repair A/C prior to 5,000 miles in two weeks. For safety: defog and transport of 16 100Ah LiFePO4 batteries. Converted from R12 to R134 at some point, but I have no memory of it ever working. New reciever dryer, new condensor, recharge, performed by a mechanic

    $476

    Replace Orginal Radiator and cap after being warned of its condition by the A/C shop.

    $88

    3 jugs of Honda brand coolant.

    $61

    Replace totally random original heater core hose failure that made me think I'd botched the radiator install (and cheaped out on the other hoses.)

    $16

    Last Week

    Replace distributor. Car sputtered, stalled, and when restarted, had a continuous check engine light and would not exceed 3000RPM. My crank/cam position sensor went out, and you have to buy the whole distributor. Honda brand parts, because I want this one to take me through 400k.

    $195

    Today

    Replace Original Clutch Cylinders. Pedal on floor. Bled and nursed it for a couple of days. Clutch side was leaking, and fell to pieces when I removed it today. Dealer brand parts because I don't want to do this again in a year. That was even before I did the repair, and all major steps were cramped, blind, rusted, sharp, hot, strained, and unserviceable in every other way. The car scratched and bit me many times, and I eventually lost my patience and said some choice words about aspects of the design. Concerned hoons recommended we see a mechanic, but we managed to work it out.

    $123

    1 year total: $1106. When it rains, it pours. Take it out to two and there's a repeat of the disk/bearing on the other side at about the same price, a battery at $103, tires at $428, timing and alternator belts at $36, distributor seals at $14. In three years there are brake pads and maybe $150 in a coil and igniter. Call me deluded, but I will continue replacing one part at a time, genuinely believing that now it's set for another 20 years, as well as it's cheaper and better than spending the same money on another car. Spring will probably see me replacing the original injectors and EGR valve, and seeing to the Honda rear fender rust. A couple of years will be new rings along with a bottom end rebuild, and I'll pay someone for the next timing belt job.

  16. name_too_long says:

    I was hoping they'd be horrific so I could finally lay this temptation to rest. But ~$2k including tires really isn't too bad.

  17. vwminispeedster says:

    Jim, where do you take your German Bentley for service?

  18. Johnny Dixon says:

    3 + 1 tires? Is this a four wheel drive system that allows you to have tires of slightly different rotating diameters, or is there some very expensive transmission/ differential work to be seen in the future?

  19. muthalovin says:

    Finally got around to reading this. Good God, the operating costs have not dissuaded me from looking for one. Shit. I WAS COUNTING ON YOU!

  20. Dennis Aukld says:

    I have been interested for some time now in purchasing a Phaeton 12 Cyl. I googled maintenance questions and came across your input. That was, (I believe) some time ago. Is your impression still that a W12 Phaeton is (or is not) a good car to purchase? Having spent what I consider too much maintenance dollars on upkeep of an Audi, and going to a Lexus, I am concerned about the experience you had. Would appreciate posting and a direct response to my email address, dennis.auld@comcast.net

    Thanks,

  21. Val says:

    I bought a 2004 Phaeton and I have to say its the worst car ever. I'm 50 years old, have owned all sort of cars and never owned one that breaks as much as this one. I've spent over $12,000.00 on repairs and there's no end in sight. All TMPS sensors replaced together with the controller and light still always goes on. Rear door lock doesn't work. Engine overheats. Replaced belt and water pump and engine temperature sensors and still overheats in need of another water pump. Numerous suspension parts were replaced. Headlights were replaced several times. Rear license plate bulb is in need of a new harness. I can go on and on. I was warned by my auto dealer friend not to buy it but I didn't listen. Take my advice, these are the worst cars ever made on the planet. VW Phaetons are junk if there was ever junk made.

  22. Val says:

    Ohhh yes, one other thing. Another friend of mine owns a Phaeton as well and his repair bills never stop either. If you want a money pit then buy one of these. This car is the craziest car and nothing comes close to it as far as maintenance costs, not even close. Never mind that I bought a new radiator, new auxiliary fans, fuel injector, etc. These cars are notorious for overheating in the Winter time, how strange. So now I'm about to replace the water pump for the second time in 1 year and its not a cheap proposition. Stay away from VW and Phaeton in particular. My rear shade doesn't go up and down, center vent door doesn't open up for air to blow out. I can't spend $25,000 fixing everything. Parts are extremely expensive for VW Phaeton and labor as well.

  23. Siva says:

    I bought a used 2006 Phaeton. I have replaced almost everything, and the total bill is over $25,000 in two years. Fortunately, when I bought it, it came with extended warranty and covered about $15,000. Now, the warranty ran out. To buy another extended warranty, it will cost $7,000 – 8,000. I just spent another $1,600 for the rear brake and batteries. Now there has been a draw on the battery, and it will cost $400 just for diagnosis. There are a few problems with Phaeton: 1. It is a luxury car and hand made with extensive computerized / complicated parts. This alone makes it prone for problems. 2. They do not sell a lot. Then, you have limited experience in identifying and fixing the problems. Also, parts become expensive because of a lack of economy of scale. 3. They do not have many mechanics who have experience in fixing Phaeton. One dealer has a certified technician but they have never seen a Phaeton until I drove in. They do not know how to fix it, use your car as trial and error, and charge you when they are learning.

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