Our Cars: Say Hello to My New/Old Audi Wagon

Let me say first off that I love my two daughters dearly. Part of my undying affection for them has been the desire to make sure that each one drives a car that is both safe and, well… interesting. That has meant that for the last year and a half the two of them have shared a fabulously funky ’98 Volvo V90 wagon which now sports a sticker on its extraordinarily vertical rear glass that says ‘No One Suspects the Volvo.’ It’s true! That’s a car that is creaky, sometimes clunky, and which quirkily diverts the A/C from the dash vents to the defroster whenever you dip anything more than a toe into the throttle, but which has also provided (touch wood) more than 8,000 miles of service without letting either of them down.
Now that the two of them are set on divergent paths for the near term—the younger one set to start a Jet Propulsion Laboratory summer internship, and the older for her first post college job—the sharing of a single car is no longer a viable plan. That has meant that we’ve had to add to our corral—seven cars and counting—with a new to us 1999 Audi A6 Quattro Avant. Come on and get acquainted if you are so inclined.

General Patton seems to approve
General Patton seems to approve

I purchased the car form a distant relation through marriage who also happens to be a co-worker at my day job at the Daily Planet. For the past year she had been regaling me with the problems she had been having with the car, all of which had conspired to make it un-drivable as an elusive emissions system issue kept preventing it from passing California’s bi-annual smog test.
The issues were eventually quelled long enough for the car to pass the test and she mentioned to me that she was now looking to get rid of it before the insurance came due in July. She was considering donating it to one of those donate your car to charity programs, but sadly for charity, I stepped in first.
You know how women always gravitate toward the ‘bad boy’ seeing their socially aberrant behavior as both enthralling and a challenge for them to change? They know for a fact that they can remold them into the perfect gentlemen they really want but still with that dangerous past that makes them interesting. You’ve heard about that, right?  Well, I’m the same way about cars.
There’s a lot to like here too. The ’99 A6 came with the 2.8-litre 200-bhp V6 with its funky 5-valve head. Backing that up is a Tiptronic five-speed automatic and of course it has rock solid Quattro AWD. Another thing it has is factory dual exhausts and I realized recently that I’ve never owned a car with factory dual exhausts before. Yay me! It’s solid and squeak-free and sports only 127,000 miles on the clock.
We went out to see the car in the light of day and to take it for a spin a couple of Saturdays ago and the first thing that we were told was that the CEL had decided to make a return visit. Fortunately, I always carry my OBDII reader and iPhone app with me wherever I go (no, seriously, I do) and I was able to pull the code—P0442 EVAP Small Leak—and clear it without issue. The other problem with the car was that the A/C was shooting blanks. Nothing but hot air emanated from the vents no matter what the setting. Figuring that could be a few dollars to fix or many hundreds, I struck a deal for about $175 below KBB for the car and the deal was done. Why you might ask would I buy—even fairly cheaply—so complicated a car with a couple of glaring faults right out the door? Well, you see, I figured I could fix them. And like those women on the arms of bad boys, I was eager for the challenge.
Yes, the one in front wants to be a rocket scientist. And she will be one day!

First off, that A/C. I knew that the most likely, and cheapest issue was a discharged system. I emptied two full cans of R134, another of seal rejuvenator and leak detector, and a fourth of A/C lube into the system the afternoon we got home. And you know what? It worked. The A/C is now as cold as a taxman’s heart. I’ll keep an eye on its performance but to be honest I have a number of cars that always require a little boost before summer gets into full swing.
Another issue with the car was the milky headlights that affected their performance and made the car look old enough to wear the waistband of its pants above its belly button.
Yes, I have the cap for the headlight washer too!

Fortunately, I had a 3M headlight kit and a cordless drill just laying around, so I decided to tackle them as well. As you can see below, the intermediate stages of the process are not all that encouraging.
After three separate sandings, first with 600-grit, then 1,000, and finally a grey pad that’s supposed to be made out of magic, the final polishing revealed that the plastic lamps had returned to crystal clarity. The kit also included a UV protection wax that I applied so hopefully the lights will stay this way for a while. If you’ve ever thought about doing this to your own car I highly recommend it. I was so impressed with the results that I used the remaining pads and polish on my wife’s Sienna, which is a model that’s afflicted particularly badly with the headlight yellowing issue.
Other issues with the car include some scratches in the paint on the curbside, and a center console cup holder that’s both woefully inadequate for its purpose and that stubbornly refuses to retract so it taunts us constantly with its lack of functionality.
Still to be dealt with is that CEL illuminating emissions code—I’ve had to clear the lamp once more in the week we’ve had the car—but luckily that doesn’t impact the performance or threaten a breakdown. I’ve taken the first step and have ordered a new gas cap as it’s the most likely cause of the code. I also need to consider whether or not to take the car out of commission for a week and send the IP out to have the LCD display replaced. That’s $150 from a guy on eBay and I haven’t yet decided if it’s worth it.
Could you live with that?

Other than that, the car is in excellent condition and drives like a champ. It came with ALL the service records since new—we are only the second owner—and those include replacement control arms in front, new timing belt and water pump 20K ago, a new MAF and more. Overall it’s been a car that has required a caring owner and I can say that so far it has had one. I will attempt to continue to keep it living the lifestyle to which it has become accustomed, at least as much as my wallet will allow.
So that’s our new old car and one that I’m entrusting will be reliable enough to keep my kid on the road and not drain my bank account doing so. I’ll be asking your opinion on my decision in today’s Hooniverse Asks, so keep a thought about that. For me, I’m loving living in a world of wagons!
Images: ©2016 Hooniverse/Robert Emslie, All Rights Reserved

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  1. Alff Avatar

    Good find. From a needs perspective, I’m exactly where you were with two college-age kids on divergent paths. Hmm… who do I know with an old Audi? Also, I don’t know what it is about college girls and goofy poses. My sophomore does it every time.

    1. dukeisduke Avatar

      Even high school girls, with the “dab” craze now. SMH.

  2. Desmo Avatar

    $150.- to fix that MMI-Display??? These gadgets cost new about € 50.- in Germany. (thats $ 60)

    1. Rob Emslie Avatar
      Rob Emslie

      Yeah, it’s not the hardware that’s the issue. It’s the desoldering and re-soldering off the tiny multi-pin connector that’s a little above my skill set at the moment.

      1. CraigSu Avatar

        Have you checked with BBA Reman about the display? I’ve used them for my Saab SID and I know they offer Audi parts as well.

        1. Rob Emslie Avatar
          Rob Emslie

          I will check them out. Thanks!

          1. CraigSu Avatar

            Hmmm, you may want to contact that guy on eBay after all…

  3. Sjalabais Avatar

    You have two lucky girls! Looks like a great find and you know how to fix it. All the small stuff, display included, wouldn’t bother me. I’m currently about to get som bare metal scratches fixed, but plastic bumpers…are for bumping.
    What about the five other cars? There’s a Sienna, and a British two seater, if I recall it correctly…what else?

    1. Rob Emslie Avatar
      Rob Emslie

      Right now we have the Van, an old Ford Five Hundred, the Volvo V90, the Audi, the ’71 240Z, a ’74 Jensen Healey project, and a ’61 Austin Healey Sprite project. Luckily, I have a looooong driveway and a four-car garage.

  4. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

    Not a bad choice of ride. These things still look fresh.
    One day I’ll fix the Driver Information System display on my A4. Right now I find it quite entertaining when it blurts out a deafening bleep but doesn’t tell me if I’m overheating or just need to replace a bulb.
    Good entertainment.

    1. mad_science Avatar

      I would love to be able to modify them.
      “Nuclear launch detected”

      1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

        “I can’t let you do that, Dave”

        1. Alff Avatar


      2. Tomsk Avatar


  5. roguetoaster Avatar

    Thirty valve V6
    Slow, thirsty, unreliable
    Why not twin-turbo?

    1. Alff Avatar

      I can think of two.

    2. Tomsk Avatar

      The 2.7T? There are enough horror stories about them to fill a bookshelf. Or five.

  6. chevysrock39 Avatar

    That issue with the volvo is pretty common – on my 940SE It was a $4 vacuum check valve under the hood – but it could be more complex than that. I also had to cap off 1 vacuum line under the dash, and the only functionality lost is full defrost – it would only let you split between defrost and feet.

    1. Rob Emslie Avatar
      Rob Emslie

      I have replaced both of the one-way check valves on the firewall side of the HVAC vacuum system, but that hasn’t had any effect on the problem. I do now pull and test all of the little black and white valves from junked cars every time I’m on the lot.
      I’ll dig into the problem eventually as I have to pull the dash out and replace the heater core. That’s not a job I am looking forward to.

      1. Alff Avatar

        One of the worst chores in all of automotive repair.

        1. mzszsm Avatar

          Made worse if there is a hornets nest under there too.

          1. Alff Avatar

            Those were only standard equipment in old Volvos. I think it was Swedish law.

        2. Sjalabais Avatar

          Legend has it that every time a heater core is born in Sweden, they perform a Viking christening and build a car around it.

  7. ptschett Avatar

    Juniata College, eh? Small world; my sister went there.

    1. Rob Emslie Avatar
      Rob Emslie

      It’s a great school!

  8. salguod Avatar

    Sounds fun! My 2 college age daughters (number 3 will be a HS senior next year) drive less interesting cars, well at least one of them does. Oldest has my old 2005 Mazda3 hatch, the middle has a 1998 Escort 4 door. Both are 5 speeds, however. Much like yours, they (and my 318ti) give me ample wrenching opportunities.

    1. Sjalabais Avatar

      Do they have any interest in being in your company and learning then? My GT-R+F150 SVT+BMW diesel+600hp drift car-neighbour tends to wrench with his two year old nearby. I have buckets of respect for that, and I’m sure this boy will grow up with gasoline in his blood.

      1. salguod Avatar

        The youngest did at one time, but doesn’t seem to now. The older two never did, unfortunately.

  9. Mike Smith Avatar
    Mike Smith

    I think that MFD fade-out issue must be fairly common across VAGs of that era. Same thing happened on my ’03 Passat.

  10. Ross Ballot Avatar
    Ross Ballot

    Good luck with it! Always liked these. You reminded me I need to buy a headlight restorer kit for the VX…

  11. Randy Poropatich Avatar
    Randy Poropatich

    Great find on the wagon. We just gave our 16 year old my wife’s 96 A4 with the older 2.8. We have had the car for 18 years and 216K miles. Never a problem, I do 90 percent of the maintenance, the only issue was when I replaced the heater core and evaporator, I still have nightmares about splitting the case open. Also, when you change the transmission fluid, have someone else do it. Trust me.
    As far as the headlights go, replace them. I used the same kit and had limited results. As for the dash display goes, the ebay company that others have mentioned do great work.

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