When the first generation Audi S3 launched in May 1999 it was somewhat overshadowed by another one of the company’s other cars, the TT Coupe. However, the S3 soon established itself as one of the best cars in Audi’s lineup and one of the best performance hatches available at the time.
Today the S3 has become somewhat of a forgotten classic. While it is still fondly remembered, prices for the car haven’t gone stratospheric like some other performance vehicles from the period. This means that if you want a fun to drive late 90s/early 2000s classic and are on a bit of a budget, the Mk1 Audi S3 may just be the car for you.
In this Mk1 Audi S3 buyer’s guide we are going to be giving you all the information you need to know when searching for and inspecting one of these cars. Much of the info in this guide also relates to the standard A3 Mk1 models as well, so if you are looking for one of those you may find this buyer’s guide useful.
How To Use this Audi S3 (8L) 1999 – 2003 Buyer’s Guide
To begin with we will be looking at the history and specifications of the first generation Audi S3. We will then dive into the buyer’s guide section of this article and will finish off with some more general car purchasing advice (how to get the best deal, general questions to ask, etc.). As this is a very detailed guide we recommend that you use the table of contents below to skip to the section you want to read.
Table of Contents
History of the Mk1 Audi S3
Throughout the eighties and some of the nineties, Audi was known for producing bigger, more luxurious vehicles and high-performance all-wheel drive sports cars. While they did produce some smallish cars in this period (Coupe, etc.), the last true compact family vehicle the company sold was the Audi 50 that ended production in 1978.
This would change in 1995 when Audi announced the A3. Many in the motoring world at the time believed that the A3 would simply be a “sawn in half” A4. This is what BMW had largely done with its Compact range of cars. However, Audi and its parent company, Volkswagen, would take a different route. While the A4 was based on Volkswagen Group’s B5 (PL45) platform, the A3 would be built around the brand new A4 (PQ34) platform. This new A4 platform would also be used on cars such as the Audi TT Mk1, the Volkswagen Golf Mk4, the new Beetle and much more.
The A3’s modern styling and chunky appearance was well received by the motoring press and potential buyers at the time. At the top of the range Audi offered the car with a 150 PS (148 bhp) 1.8-litre turbocharged engine that also made an appearance in the new generation Golf GTi.
Despite favourable reception to the A3, some enthusiasts were disappointed by the lack of an all-wheel drive model. Audi had become known for its all-wheel drive performance cars and many felt that the A3 was the perfect candidate for such a system. Luckily for them Audi answered their calls with the S3 three years later.
The S3 Makes Its Debut
Audi finally got around to launching the high-performance version of its compact family car in May 1999. The new S3 was given the same 1.8-litre 20-valve turbocharged engine found in the Mk1 Audi TT, but there was a catch. The decision was made to detune the S3’s engine to 210 PS (207 bhp) down from 225 bhp so as to not detract from the appeal of the coupe TT.
Despite being slightly down on power compared to the TT Mk1, the S3 quickly gained an avid following. The car was simply brilliant to drive, being sophisticated and smooth around town, and then coming alive on the right piece of tarmac. This was in stark contrast to many hot hatches at the time that were excellent to drive fast, but a bit of a pig around town.
The only thing that really detracted from the S3’s excellent ride for a performance Audi was the optional 18-inch wheels that some owners selected. Those that kept the smaller 17-inch rims found that the ride quality was much more agreeable to everyday driving.
While overall reception was generally good for the S3, some in the motoring world felt a bit disappointed that the car wasn’t like the Lancia Delta Integrale, a vehicle that was more hardcore and engaging to drive. There were also some complaints about the
Unlike the A4 which used Torsen-style all-wheel drive, the S3 featured a Haldex system, despite still being badged as a Quattro. This raised some concerns with potential buyers and some in the motoring press. They questioned how the S3 could be a ‘true’ Quattro if most of the time power was being sent to just the front-wheels. However, when the S3 hit the road and driving tests were conducted their concerns were soon alleviated.
More Features & Changes
Along with the addition of a more powerful engine and all-wheel drive system, the S3 also received a number of other changes and additions. The suspension and chassis were reworked to provide better responsiveness for spirited driving. However, many owners have wound up installing aftermarket suspension to provide better performance and driving engagement.
On the inside the S3 was given Recaro leather seats as standard, but half leather, half Alcantara colour-coded seats were also an option as well. There were some other slight trim changes as well with the most notable being special door cars and minor changes to the digital clock on the dashboard.
A Bose sound system could be included as an optional extra, along with a glass sunroof, auto dipping rear view mirror, heated seats, parking assist, cruise control, six CD autochanger, Satnav a luggage net and more.
Unlike many hot hatches today, the exterior changes on the S3 were quite subtle. A more squared off body kit with flared arches gave the S3 a slightly more purposeful appearance. Audi’s engineers and designers also fitted Xenon headlights, twin chrome exhaust tailpipes and fog lamps.
The S3 Gets a Facelift for the 2000 Model Year
Audi gave the S3 a bit of a facelift for the 2000 model year. They fitted new one-piece headlight and indicator units, new front wings, different rear light clusters and some minor alterations to the interior trim.
Audi Increases Power
With the planned introduction of the V6 version of the TT, Audi decided to give the S3 a boost in power to 225 PS (222 bhp) for the 2002-2003 model years. Audi felt that the 250 PS (247 bhp) VR6 TT was far enough away from the S3 that a boost in power would not detract from the top-of-the-line TT’s sales figures.
S3 Mk1 Sales and Production End
The S3 quickly proved to be a sales success and would spur on Audi to create future generations of the car. It was sold in a range of different countries and areas including the United Kingdom, Europe, Australia, Mexico and more. However, the car was never officially marketed in the United States.
Audi S3 Mk1 Specifications
|Year of production||1999 – 2003|
|Layout||Front-engine, Haldex all-wheel drive|
|Engine/Engines||1.8-litre 4-cylinder turbocharged|
|Power||210 PS (207 bhp/154 kW) @ 5,900 rpm 225 PS (222 bhp/165 kW) @ 5,900 rpm – 2002 onwards|
|Torque||280 Nm (206 lb-ft) @ 2,200 rpm|
|Brakes Front||312 x 25 mm ventilated disc|
|Brakes Rear||256 x 22 mm vented|
|Wheels Front||17-inch Avus alloys 18 inch 9-spoke RSTT alloys|
|Wheels Back||17-inch Avus alloys 18 inch 9-spoke RSTT alloys|
|Tyres Front||225/45 R17 225/40/ R18 (with optional 18-inch wheels)|
|Tyres Rear||225/45 R17 225/40/ R18 (with optional 18-inch wheels)|
|Suspension Front||Independent, McPherson, coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|Suspension Rear||Independent, McPherson, coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|Weight||1,375 kg (3,031 lbs)|
|Top speed||238 km/h (148 mph)|
|0 – 100 km/h (62 mph)||6.8 seconds|
Audi S3 1999 to 2003 Buyer’s Guide
With the history and specifications out of the way, let’s dive into the buyer’s guide section of this article. The S3 Mk1 is generally reliable if maintained well, but as with pretty much all off Audi’s cars they can be very expensive to fix when they go wrong. This is only made worse by the fact that many of S3s have got into the hands of people who couldn’t afford or be bothered to maintain them properly.
Arranging an Inspection of a First Gen Audi S3
Below we have listed some things to keep in mind when setting up an inspection of a Mk1 Audi S3:
- View the first generation Audi S3 in person if you can – Buying used cars sight unseen is becoming more common, but it is generally best to view a vehicle in person before handing over any money. A physical inspection of a used Audi S3 Mk1 may reveal some hidden issues that could be quite expensive to fix. If you can’t view the S3 yourself, get a reliable friend or third party to do so for you.
- Bring a friend or helper with you if you do a physical inspection – A second pair or eyes and ears can be extremely useful when conducting an inspection of a used car. This is because the second person may be able to spot something you missed, and they can help you test the vehicle. Additionally, they can give you their thoughts on the first gen Audi S3 and whether or not they think it is a good buy.
- Look at the Audi S3 at the seller’s house or place of business if possible – This is a good idea as it gives you a chance to see where the Audi S3 Mk1 is regularly stored/garaged. If it is always parked on the streets out in the elements it is far more likely to have bodywork issues such as rust, paint fade, chips, etc. Additionally, by doing this you can get a look at the roads the S3 is regularly driven on. If they are really rough and full of potholes the suspension, steering, wheels and tyres may have taken a beating.
- Inspect the first gen Audi S3 in the morning rather than later in the day – This will depend on you and the seller’s schedule, but we do recommend viewing the S3 in the morning if possible. Inspecting a used car in the morning gives the seller less time to clean up any potential issues such as a big oil leak and less time to pre-heat the vehicle.
- Ask the seller not to drive or warm up the car prior to your arrival if possible – A warm engine can hide a multitude of sins, so be cautious.
- If the Audi S3 Mk1 is being sold at a dealer, don’t let them know you are coming to see it – While this is not always possible depending on how the dealer operates, it can be a good idea. If the dealer knows you are coming it gives them a chance to clean up any potential issues and pre-warm the engine.
- Try not to inspect a used Audi S3 in the rain – Water can cover up a number of different issues with the bodywork and paint. If it does happen to be raining when you inspect/test drive a Mk1 Audi S3, try to go back for a second viewing before making a decision on the car.
- Be cautious if the seller has just washed the car – This is largely for the same reason as above, but some sellers will also wash the engine bay and underside of a vehicle to hide an issue (or anywhere a leak/issue may occur).
- Get the seller to move their Audi S3 8L outside if it is in a garage or showroom – Lighting in places such as garages and showrooms can cover up issues that direct sunlight may have revealed.
Buying a Used Audi S3 Mk1 with Problems
In this guide we are going to try and steer you in the direction of buying the cleanest first generation Audi S3 you can find. However, there is absolutely nothing wrong with purchasing an S3 with issues, as long as you find out what they are before purchase and are happy with the cost of repair (find some quotes to repair/replace before handing over any money).
Use this guide work out what common issues to look out for, and if you do find any problems, use them to get a discount. Be mindful of the fact that the problems you find could be more extensive and expensive to repair than first envisioned, so it can be a good idea to add a bit more to any quote you receive.
Where to Find an Audi S3 8L for Sale
Your general auction sites (TradeMe, Craigslist, eBay, etc.) and dealer websites are going to be the best place to start your search for a first generation Audi S3 for sale. If you are looking for a really good example you may want to look at more specialist classified/auction sites. However, the chances of you finding an S3 Mk1 on these specialist sites will be quite a bit lower, especially as road-going S3 8Ls in good condition are quite rare.
Along with the above you can also have a look to see if there are any Audi or A3/S3 owners clubs in your area. Facebook is a good place to start searching for these clubs/groups and we also recommend that you do a Google search for clubs in your local area as well. The people in these sorts of groups tend to be very knowledgably about their cars and usually look after them better. Here are some examples of S3/Audi clubs:
Audi World – Website dedicated to all Audi cars with a used car section and active forum.
Audizine – Not as active as some other sites, but still plenty of A3/S3 owners with lots of great advice.
Audi S3– Forum/website dedicated to all versions of the Audi S3.
How Much Does an Audi S3 8L Cost to Buy?
The sale price of a second hand first generation Audi S3 will depend on a number of different factors from its condition, mileage, model year, where it is being sold, how it is being sold (auction, fixed price, etc.) and more. For example, a 2003 Audi S3 in excellent condition and with very little mileage on the clock is going to be worth a lot more than a 2000 model year car that has seen a lot of action.
Prices for Mk1 Audi S3s in the United Kingdom at the time of writing sit around the £3,000 to £7,000 mark, with some being priced higher and some lower. This is similar pricing to the S3 Mk1s we found in our local market of New Zealand and over the pond in Australia. The S3 Mk1 can be a bit more expensive in the United States due to the fact that they were never sold there new and are extremely rare in the country (There are some in the United States like this example).
As prices will change overtime we recommended that you jump on your local auction/classifieds and dealer websites to see if there are any S3 Mk1s for sale. If you do find some, use the prices from those cars to get a rough idea of how much you need to spend to get yourself a first gen Audi S3. It can also be a good idea to add around 5 to 10% of the purchase price to your budget for any unexpected expenses.
Will the Audi S3 Mk1 Be a Future Classic
We already feel that the first generation S3 is a bit of a modern classic. Will it command as high a price as some other sports cars and hot hatches from its period? Probably not, but if you are looking for something that is a bit desirable and don’t want to break the bank, an Audi S3 8L could be just what you are looking for.
How To Spot a Fake/Replica Audi S3 8L
A very small number of regular 1.8T Audi A3s have been turned into fake/replica S3s (you can see a couple of examples in this thread), so here is a bit of a checklist of the main changes Audi made for the real S3:
- Flared wheel arches to accommodate wider track
- Subtle side skirts
- More powerful 1.8-litre turbocharged (K04 turbo) engine (210 PS and 225 PS on later S3s)
- 6-speed manual gearbox (A3 TQS models came with a 6-speed gearbox from 2001 onwards, so keep that in mind)
- Different suspension
- S3 has a harsher ride and is a bit more jerky when driving due to how the boost comes on
- Twin tailpipes
- Special black piano wood interior and colour coded trim (on some S3 models)
- 312 x 25 mm ventilated discs at the front
- S3 badges (however, these can easily be bought and stuck on a regular A3)
- VIN and log book information
It is generally pretty easy to tell if a car is a real S3 Mk1 or not upon closer inspection, so we wouldn’t really except to come across anyone trying to palm off their replica S3 as the real deal. However, there is always a possibility of it happening, so check the car thoroughly.
Checking the VIN
The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is a series of characters and numbers that manufacturers such as Audi assign to a vehicle at production. It can be used to find out information about a particular car, such as where it was manufactured, the model, year of manufacturer and more. Audi’s VIN was laid out like this for new American cars at the time:
Digit 1: Country of manufacture
- W = Germany
Digit 2: Manufacturer
- A = Audi Germany
Digit 3: Vehicle Type
- U = passenger car
Digit 4, 5, 6
- Should be ZZZ for S3 models
Digit 7 and 8: Model
- 8L = A3
Digit 9: check digit
Digit 10: Year of Manufacture
- 2 = 2002 for example
Digits 12-17: Sequence number of production/serial number
Note: The characters and numbers for other market and other year S3s may differ slightly.
The VIN can also be entered into a VIN checkup/decoder website that may contain information such as whether or not the Audi you are inspecting has any money owing on it or if it has been written off at any point. Most of these VIN checkup websites/services are region limited, so keep that in mind.
Where to Find the VIN on an Audi S3/A3 8L?
You should be able to find the VIN in the following locations:
- VIN/Chassis plate/sticker – Usually located on the side of the offside suspension housing. A secondary plate/sticker can sometimes be found in the boot compartment on the inside of the offside wing.
- On the centre top of the bulkhead – This is located at the back of the engine bay and usually sits under a plastic cover.
- Base of the windscreen – This may not always be visible depending on whether or not the windscreen has been replaced at some point.
While the 1.8-litre turbocharged engine fitted to the S3 has a bit of a reputation for reliability issues (quite a few TT Mk1 owners have issues as well), the truth is that this power unit is actually quite robust and reliable if maintained well. However, a big percentage of these cars haven’t been maintained well, resulting in the aforementioned reliability issues that some owners talk about. With this being the case, good service records should be one of your primary areas of concern when it comes to the engine and other parts of the car.
To begin your inspection of an Audi S3 Mk1’s engine, move to the front of the vehicle and lift the bonnet/hood. Inspect the hinges and catch for any damage/issues. If they look like they have been replaced it could be a sign that the S3 has been in an accident. Additionally, make sure that the bonnet strut holds the bonnet well and has not failed. It is not a major issue if it has failed as a new one isn’t too expensive, but it is always worth bargaining on these sorts of problems. Following that, check for the following:
- Cleanliness – If the engine bay looks like it has been through hell and back and is full of strains, leaves and other detritus, it is never a good sign. This sort of issues shows that the seller/owner probably doesn’t care about their S3 that much. On the other hand, a completely spotless engine bay can also be a warning sign as well. The owner may have washed the engine and surrounding components to hide an issue such as an oil leak. Additionally, if the seller has pressure washed the engine bay it can force water into places where it shouldn’t go. This is especially bad for electrical components, where a problem due to water ingress may not be immediately noticeable.
- Obvious issues – Have a good general check over of the S3’s engine bay for any standout issues such as a big oil leak, broken or missing components, etc.
- Modifications – The first generation Audi A3 and S3 have been and still are quite popular with tuners. There isn’t a problem with a modified vehicle, but a lot of mods are done poorly, are not suitable for the car, and/or can lead to increased wear/reliability issues. If the S3 Mk1 you are looking at has been modified, be cautious and try to find out exactly what has been done to the car.
Checking the Fluids
We always recommend that you try to check the fluids (engine oil, coolant, etc.) as the condition of them can tell you quite a bit of information about particular S3’s current health and how it has been maintained. If the engine oil and other fluids have not been changed regularly and/or the wrong fluids have been used it can lead to premature wear and possibly even component/engine failure.
Inspect the engine oil closely, watching out for any metallic particles or grit which could be a sign of major engine problems such as bearing failure. The metallic particles could also be caused by a recent engine rebuild or a relatively harmless issue, but it is always best to ere on the side of caution.
It can be a good idea to get the oil analysed, especially if you are looking for a really good example. This will help you determine the condition of the oil and whether or not there is any ‘foreign’ material in it. Testing the oil will also help you work out whether or not the Audi S3 Mk1 can go further between oil changes or if it needs more frequent changes.
Remember to have a look for any foam, froth or milky looking oil. These problems could be caused by a range of different issues from condensation in the oil, to an engine that has been overfilled with oil, or possibly even a blown head gasket or turbo problems.
When should an Audi S3 Mk1 Have its Engine Oil and Filter Changed?
Audi recommends replacing the engine oil and filter every 16,000 km (10,000 miles) or every 12 months. Many owners feel that this is a bit long between changes and like to do it at half that distance, especially as the S3 Mk1 is now getting a bit long in the tooth and there have been a number of complaints/reports of oil sludging issues with the 1.8T over the years (more on that below).
Oil Pressure Issues
Over the years there has been a ton of conversation in the Audi community about oil pressure problems with the 1.8T that was fitted to a wide range of the company’s cars (including the S3). The problem is usually caused by excessive amounts of sludge build-up due to the design of the engine and turbocharger arrangement that causes the oil to breakdown. When the oil breaks down due to excessive heat it forms solid particles that can eventually merge together.
This sludge build-up is further exasperated when the engine is run hard and then turned off immediately. Additionally, problems got even worse when Audi changed the recommended service interval for the oil from 8,000 km (5,000 miles) to 16,000 km (8,000 miles). This is why we mentioned above that many S3 owners prefer to replace the oil and oil filter at the 8,000 km mark.
Oil pressure issues with the S3 can occur sporadically and under different driving conditions. One car may show the oil pressure warning light during hard acceleration, while another car may only show it on hot days or during engine braking.
If you do notice any oil pressure issues, be very cautious. While a simple oil and filter change may fix the problem, more serious repairs such as bearing failure, oil pump failure, turbo failure, etc. may be necessary as well. If you are still interested in the car, but are concerned about the oil pressure it is a good idea to take the car to a mechanic/specialist to verify what the pressure actually is.
You can read an extremely detailed guide on the problem here on Audizine. It does seem to be more of an issue on longitudinally mounted versions of the 1.8T (the S3’s engine is transversely mounted), but it is still an important problem to watch out for on these cars.
Common Oil Leaks from an S3 Mk1
Here are some of the main areas to watch out for when it comes to oil leaks on the first generation Audi S3:
- Valve/timing/rocker cover gasket – This is a fairly common issue on the 1.8T, especially at the rear of the engine. If the leak is bad enough it can trickle down the engine and onto the exhaust manifold, leading to a smell of burning oil. A leaking valve cover gasket isn’t a major problem as it is a relatively simple fix and the part is cheap.
- Turbo pipes – The oil pipes for the turbo at the back of the engine can leak, however, it is fairly unlikely and if you see a leak around here it is more likely due to the valve cover gasket.
- Rear main seal – If the rear main seal is leaking it can lead to clutch slippage and/or a leak around the rear of the engine. Replacing a rear seal is expensive due to the labour involved, so if you do notice a leak make sure it is not from this area.
- Oil pressure sensor – The oil pressure sensor is known to leak on 1.8T engines If this occurs the oil will usually collect in the undertray. Unfortunately, it is a bit of a pain to replace the oil pressure sensor due to its location.
- Oil filter – This is something that can occur on a lot of cars, especially if the wrong or a poor quality filter has been used.
- Dipstick tube – The tube for the dipstick can go brittle with age and snap off, leading at an all mighty oil leak. Not a massive problem to fix as long as the S3 was not run when it was significantly down on oil.
Remember to check for oil leaks both before and after a test drive. Check the ground for any oil leaks and when you return park in a different spot and recheck for any leaks. If you can’t find the source of the leak be very cautious. While it may be something simple like a timing cover gasket leak, it could be caused by a much more serious problem that could take many hours of labour to find.
Ask the Seller About Their S3’s Oil Consumption
Talk to the seller about how much oil their Audi consumes/burns between changes. While they probably won’t be completely honest it is still worth asking the question. According to Audi anything up to around 1-litre per 2,000 km (1,200 miles) is normal. If you get an inkling that the S3 consumes a lot more oil than this it could be caused by a range of different issues from the wrong weight of oil, turbo issues and more.
Checking for PCV (Positive Crankcase Ventilation Issues)
Keep an eye out for the following symptoms as it could be a sign of a bad PCV valve:
- Rough/lumpy idle (this could also be spark plug issues, etc.)
- Hesitation during acceleration
- Excessive oil consumption and worse fuel/gas mileage (probably not going to be able to tell during a short test drive)
- Leaks from the PCV hose assembly
Below we have listed some steps you can take to check the PCV system:
- Try remove the oil cap with the engine running – the oil cap should be easy to remove
- Check how the engine is running –with the oil cap off the engine should start stumbling due to there being a vacuum leak. If the engine starts surging immediately it could have a PCV issue.
- Put some plastic/cling wrap or a post-it-note over the valve cover – If the item you are using gets blown off forcibly or sucked in, the car probably has a PCV issue. A normal functioning system should provide some light suction against the valve cover.
The PCV valve is located under the manifold in a T-piece pipe and looks a bit like a black hockey puck. It is cheap to source, but unfortunately a bit of a pain to install due to its location.
If you believe the Audi S3 Mk1 you are looking at has issues with the PCV valve be cautious. This is because if left it can lead to a build-up of excessive amounts of pressure in the crankcase, resulting in a failure of the rear main seal and other issues. It can be a good idea to check when the valve was last replaced as if it was over 50,000 km (30,000 miles) ago, a precautionary replacement could be a good idea.
Does the Audi S3 8L Have a Timing Belt or Chain?
The 1.8T engine inside the first generation Audi S3 uses a timing belt/cambelt and not a chain. According to some older Audi service manuals, the service interval is every 160,000 km (100,000 miles) for the timing belt on 1.8T engines. However, it is now generally recommended that you replace it much earlier at around 100,000 km (62,000 miles).
It is very important that you check that the belt has been replaced at or before the earlier service interval as they are a known weak point of the engine (especially the hydraulic tensioner).
The S3 Mk1’s 1.8-litre motor is an interference engine, so if the belt or tensioner fails it can lead to the valves hitting the top side of the pistons. This will almost certainly lead to catastrophic engine damage and a very, very expensive repair bill.
Another thing to keep in mind is that if the timing belt and other timing components haven’t been replaced at the recommended service interval it shows that the S3 hasn’t been maintained well. If the owner couldn’t be bothered with such an important part of servicing an Audi S3 Mk1, what else has been neglected?
If the timing components need to be replaced or need to be replaced soon, make sure you use it as a bargaining point if you still want to purchase the car.
What Else Should be Replaced with the Timing Belt on a First Gen Audi S3
- Tensioners and idler bearings – these are just as likely to fail and if they do they can lead to belt failure/misalignment.
- Water pump – Replacing the pump with the timing belt is a good idea as pump failure is quite common around the 100,000 km (62,000 mile) mark.
- Timing cover gasket and cam chain tensioner gaskets – Both of these are known to start leaking around the 120,000 km (75,000 mile) mark and above. The timing cover gasket is the most likely to leak, but it is a good idea to replace the chain tensioner gaskets as well.
Bad Battery and/or Alternator
If the engine won’t turn over or really struggles to do so, it is probably a sign of a failing or failed battery. Check when the battery was last replaced as if it is fairly new it may be a sign of another issue such as a failing alternator, earthing issue and more (new batteries can fail but it is pretty unlikely).
If the alternator has failed it can also lead to the illumination of the battery warning light and in some cases other warning lights as well (ABS, etc.). Another thing to watch out for are any strange growling, buzzing or whining noises that could indicate a problem with the alternator (could also be something like the water pump).
Fuel Pump Relay Issues
When you open and get in the car, listen for the sound of the fuel pump priming. If you don’t hear such a sound and the car won’t start or struggles to start it could be a sign that the fuel pump relay needs to be replaced. A fault with the fuel pump relay will also lead to some fault codes as well, so it is a good idea to get them checked if possible.
This should be one of your primary areas of concern as a failure here can lead to catastrophic engine damage. Here are some things to watch out for:
Failing Water Pump
As we wrote earlier, it is generally recommended that the water pump be replaced with the timing belt on a first gen Audi S3. However, the pump can fail before (especially the plastic impellor, so keep an eye out for the following symptoms:
- Coolant leaks – could be a slow or fast leak
- Whining and/or chuffing sounds
- Overheating – It is a good idea to go for a reasonably long test drive as you may not notice the S3 Mk1 overheating during a short test drive.
- Steam or smoke – Be on the lookout for any steam or smoke from the front of the car. If you notice this problem it is best to walk away.
Some owners recommend switching to a metal impellor pump from the OEM plastic one. While this does significantly reduce the chance of impellor failure on an S3 Mk1, quite a lot of metal pumps leak around the shaft due to seal failure. Another downside of metal impellor pumps is that if the impellor does fail (very unlikely but could happen) it can send metal pieces around the system, leading to significant engine damage.
Testing the Water Pump
You can test the S3’s water pump by switching on the heater as high as possible. The heater core requires proper function of the water pump for it to work correctly. If the pump isn’t working, fluid won’t be forced through the system.
When you switch on the heater you should feel a blast of hot air. This should continue if the S3’s water pump is working correctly. If the warm air stops/gradually reduces it is a sign that hot fluid is not being cycled through the system and the S3 Mk1’s water pump is not functioning correctly.
Thermostat failure is a reasonably common issue on first generation Audi S3s. Its not a massive problem to replace it, but it can be a bit tricky. If the thermostat has failed, you will probably notice that the temperature gauge is a bit erratic and often sits on the cooler side (should normally sit bang on 90 degrees). Thermostat failure can also lead to coolant leaks as well.
The thermostat can also fail is the water pump impellers fail and the engine overheats. The pieces of the plastic impeller can travel through the system and get caught in the thermostat, preventing correct operation.
Coolant Temperature Sensor Failure
The early black temperature sensors for the coolant were known to fail. Audi introduced an updated, more reliable part that is green in colour. However, the sensor can still fail which can lead to poor running and an erratically behaving temperature gauge.
Look for Air Bubbles in the Coolant
It is a good idea to check for bubbles in the coolant. There may be a few when the engine is getting up to temperature, but there should be none once the car is warm. Bubbles indicate that air has entered the system at some point, which can lead to overheating.
Air can get into the cooling system through several different ways from something like a bad radiator cap to air pockets in the radiator and possibly even a blown head gasket.
The coolant expansion tank is located on the left side of the engine bay. It is a spherical container and can sometimes be partially covered by a plastic cover. Make a mental note of the coolant level or take a picture of it before a test drive. Re-check it again during and after a test drive. It is perfectly normal if the coolant level rises slightly during/following a drive, but if it rises a lot or drops significantly there is an issue that needs to be addressed.
The coolant level sensor can fail with time and indicate low coolant. Sometimes cleaning the sensor can fix the problem, but a full replacement may be needed (involves a whole new header tank). Another thing to check is the cabling for the switch which can become loose and give the impression that the sensor is failing.
Along with the coolant level, make sure you have a good look for any coolant leaks both before and after a test drive. After you have come back from a test drive, switch the Audi S3 Mk1 off and let it sit for around 10 to 15 minutes. Following this, recheck for any coolant leaks. If you don’t notice any but smell a sweet aroma, the car probably is leaking coolant from somewhere (especially if you notice a drop/change in the coolant level).
Make sure you check for leaks around the expansion tank, coolant lines (particular around the clamps) and other cooling system components you can get a look at (radiator, etc.). Look for any crusted coolant as well, which may indicate a past or present leak. If the radiator and/or water pump have not been replaced in a long time they could very well be the cause of a leak.
Head Gasket/Cooling System Failure
Head gasket isn’t as common on the 1.8T as some other engines, but it can still happen, so watch out for the following:
- Bubbles in the radiator or coolant expansion tank
- White and milky oil
- Spark plugs that are fouled (if you or a mechanic can get a look at them)
- Low cooling system integrity
- Smell of coolant from the oil
- Sweet smelling exhaust
- White smoke from the exhaust pipe (especially if you see lots of it)
- Steam from the front of the first generation Audi S3
Make sure you check as much of the exhaust system as you can get a look at. Exhaust problems can be expensive to fix and they can leave you down on power, putting a damper on the excitement of driving one of these cars.
Rust is something to watch out for, especially around the welds as they are not usually the same grade of metal as the main body of the exhaust components. A good quality aftermarket stainless steel exhaust shouldn’t rust, but we would still look for the problem.
Rust problems on exhausts usually occur due to corrosive unburnt fuel or exhaust gases mixed with water vapour in the system. This is why cars that are driven on shorter trips tend to suffer from rusted exhausts more than those that do a lot of highway miles. The moisture and corrosive substances remain in the muffler as they are not burnt off during a short trip, leading to rust formation from the inside out.
If you hear any low rumbling, scraping or rattling noises it could be a sign of exhaust issues. Ticking noises are often a sign of a leak, especially if they change with an increase or decrease in rpms.
Catalytic Converter (CAT) Issues
The first generation S3 has a total of two CATs and if either one of them fails you could be up for a very expensive repair bill. Lots of track days or regular spirited driving can lead to premature catalytic converter failure, so keep that in mind. Here are some signs of CAT failure:
- Smell of sulphur or rotten eggs from the exhaust
- Reduced acceleration and sluggish engine performance
- Excessive heat under the Audi S3 Mk1
- Dark smoke from the car’s exhaust
- CEL (Check Engine Light)
- Emission test failure
Be cautious of any Audi S3 8L running a decat system as depending on where you live in the world the car may not be road legal.
The bolts that hold on the heat shield for the CAT also rust and breakoff, which can lead to a rattling sound.
Aftermarket Exhaust Systems
A number of aftermarket systems from the likes of Miltek, Supersprint and more are available. If the S3 you are looking at has an aftermarket system, try to find its brand/manufacturer and check any reviews. If it seems like a cheap, poorly reviewed one it could cause trouble. Additionally, if the owner has cheaped out on an exhaust upgrade, you should be asking yourself what are poor quality components have been fitted to the car.
Rough idle/running is a fairly common issue on these cars that can be caused by a range of different problems. Here are some of the main ones:
If you notice lumpy cold running or idle and low boost problems there is a good chance that it could be the diverter valve. It can also lead to inconsistent boost and compressor surge that will sound like fluttering when you let of the throttle pedal. Some fluttering is normal but if it is really loud or delayed the diverter valve is probably on its way out.
This component can be tested by removing the valve and pushing up on the diaphragm. You then place a finger over the vacuum tube on top. If it stays in place it is fine, otherwise it needs to be replaced.
Bad coil packs are a widely reported issue on various different Audi and VW cars that use the 1.8T. This became more of an issue when Audi switched from Hitachi to Bosch coil packs which are more prone to failure. If the coil packs are bad on the Audi S3 8L you are looking at you may notice the following issues:
- Rough idle and misfires
- An unexplainably louder-than-usual engine
- Lack of power
- A significant drop in RPMs while accelerating for no apparent reason
- Stuttering above around 3,000 rpm
- A blinking or intermittently activating check engine light
- An active fuel/gas warning light when the vehicle has plenty of fuel/gasoline
- Smoke from the exhaust emitting intermittently, instead of in a steady stream
Replacing the coil packs yourself isn’t a major issue and isn’t too expensive, however, Audi likes to charge handsomely for the job. Some owners even keep a spare set of coil packs in their car for an emergency.
MAF & Intake Issues
Another common reason for bad idle on a first generation Audi S3 is a failing/failed mass airflow sensor (MAF). If the MAF has failed you may notice the other symptoms we have listed below:
- Illuminated Check Engine Light (CEL)
- Illuminated Traction Control Light – this is a big one that indicates the MAF has failed
- Car enters limp mode and bogs down
- Lack of boost or and/or erratic boost behaviour
These symptoms could also be a sign of a boost leak in one of the hoses for the turbocharger. Additionally, any other leak in the intake components can cause these sorts of issues, so be mindful of that.
You can test if the MAF is the issue by disconnecting it. This will make the car use the default MAF values, so if the engine starts to run better the MAF is faulty.
What Should the Idle Speed Be on a First Gen Audi S3
The Mk1 Audi S3’s 1.8-litre engine should idle around the 750 – 850 rpm mark. It is perfectly normal for the idle speed to be higher when the engine is first started, however, it should soon drop to the range we just listed.
If you do notice any particular issues with the car’s idle (hunting, low engine speed, etc.), you are probably not going to be able to work out the exact cause of the issue during a short inspection. If the idle issue was a simple fix, the owner of the Audi TT probably would have got it sorted before putting the car on the market.
Bad Engine Mounts
The engine mounts will eventually fail, so watch out for the following:
- Engine movement – Rev the engine and see if it moves excessively. Also check how the engine is at idle and check for any movement while looking from underneath the car.
- Excessive vibrations/shaking – Often most noticeable at idle. In some cases, you may even notice the body of the car moving.
- Clunking, banging or other impact sounds – These sorts of noises could indicate that the engine is moving slightly due to a failed mount
Replacing the engine mounts isn’t too expensive, but remember to use the problem to get a bit of a discount. Keep in mind that the engine vibrations could be caused by another issues as well.
Aftermarket options from the likes of Vibratechnic are available as well. While aftermarket mounts can bring some benefits, they can also make the ride a bit harsher and introduce more cabin vibrations.
Smoke from an Audi S3
If you notice a whole load of smoke when the S3 starts up or anytime during the inspection/test drive it is probably best to walk away. A small amount of vapour when the engine is first switched on is perfectly normal, especially in winter. This is just condensation in the exhaust and should eventually go away.
It can be a good idea to get the seller to start the Audi S3 Mk1 for you for the first time. This way you can see what comes out the back as the engine starts up. Additionally, if the seller revs the balls of the S3 when it is still warming up you know they haven’t treated it well. Below we have outlined what the different colours of smoke can indicate:
As we have already mentioned above, a small amount of white vapour on engine start is usually just condensation in the exhaust.
If you notice lots of white/greyish smoke it is usually a sign that water/coolant has made its way into the cylinders due to a blown or leaking head gasket. Give the exhaust a good whiff and if it smells sweet, it is probably coolant. If the smoke is very thick and doesn’t dissipate quickly it could be sign that the block or cylinder head is cracked/broken. This colour smoke can also indicate that the turbo has failed, especially if there is no sweet smell.
This colour smoke could be caused by a whole range of things including warn pistons rings, valve seals, turbo issues and more. To test for this colour smoke during a drive, get somebody to follow you while you are driving the Audi S3 Mk1. Take the engine through its rev range and see what comes out the back. If you don’t have a helper, get the owner to drive for a bit while you look out the back (good chance to see how they drive as well).
This sort of smoke is usually a sign that the engine is running too rich and burning too much fuel. There are quite a few things that could be causing this issue from something like dirty intake components to incorrect spark timing, problems with the injectors, and more. If the exhaust smells of fuel, the engine is almost certainly running too rich.
If the S3 is modified it is not uncommon to see a few puffs of black smoke from the exhaust during acceleration. This is usually because they are running ricker and/or the new ECU mapping isn’t quite right.
What Are the Signs of a Failed Turbocharger on an S3 Mk1
The K04 turbocharger fitted to the first generation Audi S3 is known to be pretty tough. However, nothing lasts forever and many of these cars are starting to get up there in terms of mileage, so watch out for the following:
- Strange rumbling, whistling or high-pitched metallic sounds – when the turbocharger is at full boost (drive at a slow speed and then accelerate moderately up to high rpms).
- Distinctive blue or grey/whitish smoke – This happens when turbocharger’s housing cracks or if the internal seals become worn. The smoke will become more apparent when the turbocharger is in use, so get somebody to follow you and check while you are test driving an Audi S3 Mk1. If there is a problem the smoke should appear around the 3,000 rpm mark or above. White/greyish smoke could be a sign that the turbo has failed catastrophically. Either way, it is probably best to avoid any first gen S3 with serious smoking issues.
- Burning lots of oil – It will be hard to get an accurate picture of this during a test drive, but try to glean some information from the owner. Some oil consumption is to be expected, especially as these cars are getting on a bit, but excessive amounts indicates a problem.
- Slow acceleration – Does the Audi S3 8L you are test driving feel particularly slow? If it does it could be a sign that the turbochargers are failing or have failed. It is important to note that modified and unmodified cars will feel a bit different in terms of speed.
- If the boost pressure comes on late – Boost should come on from around 3,000 rpm or a bit before if the engine is under a hard load. If boost starts coming on much later than late or if it doesn’t come on at all there is a problem.
- Check Engine Warning Light – Could be caused by turbo issues or something else.
Buying an Audi S3 8L With a Rebuilt or Replaced Engine
We don’t see anything wrong with buying a used car with a rebuilt or replaced engine, as long as the work was carried out by a competent Audi specialist or mechanic.A rebuild is probably preferable for us as there is a greater chance of knowing the history about the engine. A replacement engine could have been pulled from any old S3 and you probably won’t be able to find out its history.
Be very cautious of home rebuilds as many home mechanics have more ambition than skill, however, there are some very good ones out there. If the work was done by a business/specialist, find out exactly who did the work and check any reviews (give them a call as well if you are really serious about the car as they may be able to tell you a bit more about it).
Radical engine swaps can be okay, but they are more likely to be an absolute nightmare and you don’t want to buy somebody else’s unfinished project.
We tend to recommend that you avoid fresh rebuilds or engine swaps with only a couple of hundred miles on the. This is because an S3 Mk1 that has travelled 10,000 km (6,200 miles) on a rebuild is more of a known than one that has only gone a short distance since the work was carried out.
If possible, we suggest that you get a compression test done prior to purchase. A compression test can help you determine whether or not there is problem with the engine, however, it won’t necessarily tell you exactly what the problem is. If the owner doesn’t want a compression test to go ahead it suggests that they are tying to hide something from you.
Some owners will get a compression test done before sale and put the results in the advertisement. The most important thing with the results is to make sure that they are all roughly the same (within around 10% of each other).
The six-speed manual gearbox fitted to the first generation Audi S3 is known to be pretty tough, however, with a lot of aggressive driving issues can arise. The selector fork rivets for the transmission can break, so if the car won’t go into first or second it could be suffering from this problem. If this has occurred a new transmission may be needed, so we would probably walk away.
When shifting, make sure that the gearbox is not overly loose or sloppy. Remember to test the gearbox at both low and high engine speeds. If any one of the gears pops out during acceleration it could be a sign of some of a range of different issues. A simple fix may be all that is needed, but it could also be something much more serious and expensive.
Don’t be too concerned if the transmission feels stiff when the S3 Mk1 is first started. It should start to loosen up as the car warms but still remain relatively firm.
Watch out for synchro wear, especially as these cars promote enthusiastic driving and many of them have been thrashed hard. Problems can occur on both upshift and downshifts. The synchros themselves aren’t too expensive to source, but the labour required to rebuild the transmission can be eye wateringly expensive.
Some owners find that the synchros can grind a bit naturally as they are quite slow, especially on second and third. Some owners have had luck fixing this by swapping out the original transmission fluid with Redline 75W-90.
It is a good idea to see how the clutch and transmission performs during a hill start. Additionally, lift off after accelerating hard in second, third and fourth. If you notice any strange rattling noises it could be a sign that the gearbox bearings are in a bad way.
Clutches should last anywhere from around 100,000 to 160,000 km (62,000 to 100,000 miles), however, this does largely depend on how the Audi S3 Mk1 has been treated and driven. If the first gen Audi S3 you are looking at has been repeatedly thrashed with lots of hard starts, the clutch will probably not last as long as it could otherwise.
Modified first gen S3s running lots more power should have an uprated clutch. If the S3 Mk1 you are looking at does have an aftermarket clutch, make sure you are happy with how it feels. Non-standard clutches can be quite heavy, making regular everyday driving a bit uncomfortable. Here are some tests to conduct to make sure that the clutch is working as intended:
Clutch Engagement – The first step is to make sure the engagement is good. To do this put the Audi S3 Mk1 you are inspecting into gear on a level surface and let the clutch out slowly. It should engage around 7 to 10 cm (2.5 to 4 inches) from the floor. Engagement that is early or too late indicates a problem.
Clutch Slippage – The best way to test for this problem is to shift into a gear that is too high for the speed you are going. You should notice that the engine bogs down a bit (don’t do this on a regular basis). The next thing to do is to accelerate. If you notice that the tachometer goes up out of relation to the speedometer and/or you notice jerkiness it suggests that the clutch is slipping.
Clutch Drag – Get the Audi S3 8L on a flat surface and press the clutch pedal to the floor (do this while you are stationary). Rev the car hard (once it is warm) and see If it moves. If the car does move, the clutch is not disengaging when you shift and parts will wear prematurely.
Clutch Shudder – This is usually noticeable when you accelerate from a stop. A small amount is perfectly normal, but an excessive amount is a sign that the release bearings need to be lubricated.
Failing Clutch Slave or Master Cylinder
If the pedal feels very inconsistent and sometimes goes all the way to the floor without engaging properly it could be down to a bad slave or master cylinder. The slave cylinder cannot be replaced with the gearbox in place, so most owners recommend that you replace the clutch and flywheel when doing the slave cylinder (not cheap). Another sign of slave or master cylinder failure is leaking clutch fluid. This can be a slow leak or a very fast leak.
Clutch Pedal Switch
If you notice that the S3 Mk1 overrevs when the clutch pedal is depressed it is almost certainly a bad clutch switch. Sometimes the clutch switch can be readjusted to fix the issue, but there is no guarantee this will work. The switch is located directly above the clutch pedal (blue part).
Broken Clutch Pedal
This is a commonly reported issue on first generation Audi S3s. A plastic part fails and can lead to a stuck clutch pedal, leaving the driver stranded. This should be an obvious problem to spot and can be fixed by following this fantastic guide on audi-sport.net.
It is very important that the Haldex system has been serviced properly. The oil should have been replaced every 32,000 km (20,000 miles) and the filter should have been replaced every second oil change (64,000 km/40,000 miles). Quite a lot of owners like to do the filter with every change of oil, which we see as only a good thing.
The main things that can fail here are the pre charge pump and the Haldex controller. You are not really going to be able to tell if there is a problem unless you take the car to Audi or a specialist. However, if you do notice lots of wheelspin it indicates that there could be a problem.
Some owners like to upgrade the Haldex controller to a performance one. This sends more power to the rear wheels proactively upon hard acceleration. The standard unit sends around 90 percent of the power to the front wheels until they start to lose grip, at which point power is transferred to the rear.
Check for Leaks from the Transmission
Have a look for any leaks from the transmission or Haldex system (Haldex uses a yellow coloured fluid). Most of the time a leak will be caused a failing gasket, but it could also be a sign of a more serious problem as well.
Suspension and Steering
The most common issues you are going to come across here are worn front suspension top mounts, worn track rods and wishbone bushes, and failing/worn anti-roll bar collars. If the top mounts have gone you will probably here some knocking sounds from the front. The anti-roll bar collars can also cause produce a similar noise and usually the whole bar has to be replaced. If the springs have been replaced at any point, check to see of the rear anti-roll bar was done as well.
Another fairly common issue in rust prone countries is corroded rear springs. If the corrosion gets bad enough it can lead to the springs snapping at the base.
If the Audi S3 Mk1 you are driving feels floaty or nervous it could be suffering from some sort of suspension issues. Remember to visually inspect as much of the suspension and steering componentry as possible. Use a torch/flashlight and a mirror to get a good view of hard to see areas. Watch out for any rust or damage as well (could indicate that the Audi S3 has been in an accident).
Suspension Component Checklist
Here is a bit of a checklist when it comes to the steering and suspension components on an Audi S3 8L. If you notice any of the following it is a sign of a problem:
- Dipping and swerving when the brakes are applied
- Excessive Rear-end squat during acceleration and rear end wobble over bumps
- Tipping during cornering
- High speed instability
- Delayed or longer stopping distances
- Uneven tyre wear
- Excessive bounce after hitting a bump or when pushing down on the suspension (trailing arm bushes)
- Sagging or uneven suspension
- Knocking, clunking or creaking sounds during a test drive – usually the bushings or wheel bearings. Sometimes these sorts of noises can also be a sign of bad shock absorbers as well.
- Rattles – drive over some bumps – there should be no noise from the suspension components (however, you may hear some rattles from something in the cabin).
- Clicking sounds (especially at full lock)
Check the Wheel Alignment
It is important to check the wheel alignment on any used car. Find a nice flat and straight section of road and see if the S3 pulls to the right or left. Poor wheel alignment can lead to problems such as excessive and/or uneven tyre wear, leading to more frequent tyre changes. Additionally, it can even make an Audi S3’s driving experience less enjoyable and safe.
If the wheel alignment is really bad it is a sign of an owner who probably doesn’t care much for their Audi S3 8L as they probably should have got it sorted before putting the car on the market.
Most of the time a simple realignment is all that is needed, however, in some cases bad wheel alignment can be a sign of serious suspension/steering issues or even accident damage.
If the wheels are covered in curb damage it is a sign that the S3 Mk1 has been owned by somebody a bit careless. Most curb damage can be repaired (at a cost), but if it is really bad a new wheel or set of wheels may be required.
Make sure you check for any dents or buckling to the wheels, especially if the S3 is running the larger 18-inch rims. If you notice this sort of problem the car may require a new wheel.
When it comes to aftermarket rims make sure they are from a good brand and are suitable for the S3. If the car is fitted with aftermarket wheels, check with the owner to see if they still have the originals. Owning the original wheels will only add value to the car and if they don’t have them use that to get a discount.
There are now a whole host of different tyres you can choose from that can improve the feel and handling of an Audi S3 Mk1. If the car is running different sized tyres to the originals, try to find out what size they are and check to see if they are suitable online. Apart from that check the tyres for the following:
- Amount of tread – If there is minimal tread left try to get a discount as you will need to get the tyres replaced in the near future.
- Uneven wear – Wear should be even between the right and left tyres on the Mk1 Audi S3. Additionally, make sure wear is even across the tyre itself.
- Brand – They should be from a good or well-reviewed brand – if they are from a poorly reviewed brand it suggests that the owner has cheaped out on maintenance.
- Same tyre – In terms of tyre make, type and tread pattern on each axle (preferably on all four wheels) – mismatched tyres can lead to poor handling performance, increased wear and may even be dangerous.
- Pressure – It can be a good idea to check tyre pressures when conducting an inspection. If the tyre pressures are wrong it can cause the car to pull to the left or right during acceleration. Incorrect tyre pressures can also lead to increased wear and fuel consumption as well.
We aren’t going to go into too much detail here as there are simply too many options to discuss. If the Audi S3 Mk1 you are looking at is running aftermarket suspension, try to find out the brand and check any reviews. Additionally, make sure you are happy with the ride quality as performance suspension can often be quite hard and uncomfortable for regular everyday driving.
One of the most common brake issues is a cracking brake vacuum pipe. This pipe connects the brake servo to the inlet manifold and uses hard plastic that cracks around the joints. A lot of A3s were recalled for this issue but S3s didn’t get this treatment as far as we are aware. If the S3 Mk1 you are looking at is suffering from this problem you may notice the following issues:
- Incorrectly functioning or intermittent servo assist
- Erratic idle and/or uneven power from the turbo – this is because the engine is sucking air through the cracked hose and the MAF has adjusted for the extra air.
The brake vacuum pipe is located to the side of the brake fluid reservoir, behind the heat shield. If you are looking in the right place you should find a black hose that connects onto the brake servo. Pay particular attention to the 90 degree elbow join as this is the most common point for failure.
Another common brake fault is with the brake light switch on the pedal (not the brake lights at the rear). If this has failed the Haldex system probably won’t work because it is getting a signal that indicates that the brakes are on. Additionally, you may also get a “brake pads warning” on the Driver Information System (DIS). Replacing the brake light switch isn’t too expensive, but if you notice problems with the Haldex system as well be cautious. While a replacement of the switch may get the Haldex system back in working order, it could also be not functioning due to a more serious and expensive problem.
You should find that the standard brakes are more than adequate for regular road driving. If the brakes feel weak or spongy it is a sign of an issue, which could be anything from a bad bleed, pad problems and more.
Check the brakes under both light and hard braking conditions. Do some repeated high to low-speed runs to make sure everything is working as intended. If you notice any squealing, rumbling or clunking sounds when the brakes are in use it could simply be caused by poorly adjusted/worn pads or something more serious.
A shuddering or shaking through the Audi S3 Mk1’s steering wheel when the brakes are applied is probably a sign that one or more of the discs are warped. This usually becomes first apparent under high-speed braking and is more likely to occur if the S3 has been regularly tracked/driven hard.
Make sure the handbrake works as intended and see how it performs on a steep incline (if you can find one).
Seized calipers are a possibility, so watch out for the following on the S3 8L you are looking at:
- Car pulls to one side (may even happen when the brakes are not in use)
- Car feels low on power as if the parking/handbrake is on (could also be a sign of diff issues)
- Brakes get extremely hot and produce a distinctive acrid smell and in some cases smoke
- You find that the Audi S3 Mk1 doesn’t want to move at all
- Loud thud-like noise when pulling away for the first time
Remember to do a general visually inspection of the brakes, looking out for disc damage, pad life, corrosion, modifications, etc. A small amount of surface corrosion on the discs is perfectly normal and should go away with a bit of use. If the pads and/or discs need to be replaced make sure you get a discount (especially if the discs need replacing). Don’t forget to check that the brake fluid has been replaced every two years.
The best and simplest way to increase braking performance is to fit some good quality brake pads (Ferodo DS for example). If you want to go further some owners fit big brake kits. The Leon Cupra R’s Brembo brakes are quite a popular option, but there is a bit of work involved in getting them fitted.
If the S3 you are looking at has aftermarket brakes, note down the brand/manufacturer and check to see if they are suitable for the car. Also ask the owner to see if they still have the original brakes as well. More powerful aftermarket brakes could be a sign that the S3 Mk1 has been on regular track days/thrashed a lot.
Bodywork and Exterior
This should be one of your primary areas of concern as an issue here could drain your wallet of thousands of dollars.
Like with many performance cars, a large number of Audi S3 Mk1s have been crashed into things, wound up backwords through a hedge and more. Here are some of the signs of accident damage that you need to be aware of:
- Misaligned panels or large panel gaps – Inspect around the bonnet/hood and make sure everything lines up correctly as Audi’s quality control on the A3/S3 series was pretty good. Check the door, bumper and boot/trunk panel gaps. If the panel gaps on one side look quite different to the other side, it could be a sign that the S3 Mk1 has been in an accident.
- Doors that drop or don’t close properly – If the doors drop or don’t open/close properly the Audi S3 you are looking at may have been in an accident or there may be some other sort of other issue with the door hinges.
- Inconsistencies such as waving, rippling or different coloured panels – Indicates a respray which may have been conducted as a result of accident damage or rust.
- If the bonnet/hood looks like it is popped when it is not – This may indicate that the S3 8L you are inspecting at has been crashed into something (even a light knock can cause this problem).
- Damage to the mounting supports for the headlights or surrounds of the taillights – This can be very difficult to fix on any car and is a good place to check for any accident damage.
- Bent or broken parts underneath the car – While inspecting the underside, check to make sure everything is straight. Look at the suspension and steering components as well. If the parts are different on one side compared to the other or much newer, it may be a sign that the Audi S3 8L has been in an accident.
- Rust in strange locations – Can be a sign of accident damage.
- Paint runs or overspray – Could be a factory issue but is far more likely to be caused by a respray job. Check the seller’s shoes as well as we went to look at a used car once and the terrible respray job matched the specks of paint on the owner’s boots (more of a joke, but once you’ve seen it once you can’t help yourself during future inspections).
- Missing badges or trim – Could be due to repair work (body shop couldn’t find replacements) or a number of other things (stolen, etc.).
Be cautious of sellers who try to cover up accident damage. While most people will try to downplay an incident and the resultant repairs, some may even claim their S3 hasn’t been in a crash when it clearly has.
If there has been some accident damage and/or repairs, try to get an idea of the severity of the incident. Light to moderate damage that has been repaired by a skilled body shop/panel beater is normally fine. However, if the Audi S3 Mk1 has been in a serious incident and received major damage it is probably best to walk away.
If the owner can’t tell you much about the accident/damage it may have happened when a previous person owned the vehicle.
Unfortunately, rust can be quite an issue on these cars, especially know that they are getting quite old. Rust is almost always worse than it first appears on the surface, so if you see any be cautious. Here are some of the main places that rust can occur on a first gen Audi S3:
- Roof rail – The sealant that runs along the weld line joining the roof to the quarter panel eventually breaks down. This allows for water ingress and as a result, corrosion forms. Audi fixed this problem under warranty but now you could be looking at quite a big bill to get it sorted.
- Lower section of the doors – This usually occurs behind the lower trim. Once again this was fixed on a number of cars under warranty, but now you get be up for an expensive bill (depending on the severity).
- Arches – Have a good look around the arches as a number of S3 8L owners have experienced rust here.
- Wheel wells – if you remove the plastic wheel arch liners you will often find a substantial amount of dirt and dampness that accelerates rust formation. If possible, try to get a look behind these wheel arch liners or get a mechanic to do so for you. Periodically cleaning and rust proofing this area will go a long way to prevent rust formation.
- Sills – make sure you look under them and check with the doors open. Sort of ties in with the above point.
- Jacking points – If the car has been impurely jacked it can lead to damage and corrosion.
Other areas of the car can also suffer from rust issues, so check the whole car thoroughly. If you do notice any corrosion, it may be a good idea to take some photos and check with a competent body shop/panel beater to find out roughly how much the problem will cost to fix.
Factors That Can Make Rust More Likely on an Audi S3 Mk1
- The Audi S3 has spent time in countries or areas with salted roads (UK for example)
- The vehicle has spent time in countries or areas with very harsh winters (often linked with the above)
- Vehicle is often parked/stored by the sea for significant periods of time
- Always kept outside (never garaged)
- The S3 8L is regularly driven in winter (garaging the car and not driving it in the winter will reduce the likelihood of rust issues)
- Accident damage (stone chips or more significant damage)
- Rubbing body parts
- Old or no underseal
It is a good idea to check with the owner to see if rust protection has been applied at fairly regular intervals, especially if the S3 Mk1 is located in a country with salted roads.
We also recommend that you ask the seller/owner if regular washes of the underbody have been carried out during winter if you live in a country with salted roads. This can go a long way to prevent rust formation and if they have done it, it shows that they probably care quite a bit about preventative maintenance
Looking for Rust Repairs
It is not only important to look for present rust, but you should also keep an eye out for signs of past rust repair (mismatched paint, paint overspray etc.). Watch out for any areas that may have been resprayed or cut out and replaced. You should also check the service history and with the owner (however, don’t trust what the owner says completely as they may be trying to hide something from you).
Use a magnet on steel sections of the car (cover it with a cloth so you don’t damage the paintwork) or a coating gauge thickness tool such as this one to find any areas that may have been repaired.
The plastic headlights/headlamps can cloud over and fade with age, so check their condition. Restoration is possible, but it really depends on the overall condition of the lights. This is a common issue on a lot of older used cars and isn’t really a specific S3 problem.
A common problem here is broken glovebox lid hinges, so check that the glovebox operates correctly. Replacement glovebox lids are available, but some owners have had luck fixing the broken hinge or hinges with a bit of glue (glovebox needs to be removed).
Apart from the glovebox lid hinges, do a general check over of the interior for any wear, broken or missing parts/trim, rips, stains and more. Inspect the seats thoroughly as if they need to be rebolstered it could be quite expensive.
More than a few S3 Mk1s will have cracked leather seats now. While shallow cracks can be somewhat fixed, deeper cracks in the leather will require a complete replacement of the material.
Make sure that the seats are nice and firm and that all of the adjustments work as intended. If the seats move during acceleration or braking it is incredibly dangerous and will be an MOT/WOF failure.
Make sure you check the carpets and rest of the cabin for any dampness or signs of a leak. Water can play havoc with the electronics if it gets in the wrong place and can lead to a nasty smell as well. Feel around the carpets and turn over the floor mats. If you see water residue on the bottom of the floor mats it could be a sign of a past of present leak. While it is pretty unlikely, a leak from a strange place could also indicate accident damage.
Make sure you have a look at the headlining above the driver’s seat. If it is a slightly different colour it may be a sign that the Audi S3 8L you are inspecting has been owned by a smoker. A smell test will also help you determine whether or not this is the case as well. While you are looking at the headlining, check to see it is firmly attached and hasn’t started to droop.
Have a look at the speaker grills and bottom of the door cards for damage due to people climbing in and out. See if the complete toolkit and spare tyre parts are present as many S3s are now missing them.
Electronics, Locks and Other Things
Inspect the headlights as the sensors on the nearside suspension front and/or rear can fail, along with the motors within the headlights themselves. If this happens you will notice that the lights point towards the ground. If only one Xenon is pointing down it suggests that the motor has failed in that headlight and the sensors are fine.
Another thing to inspect is the Driver Information System (DIS). Quite a lot of S3 8L owners have experienced pixel failure on the display. If the problem isn’t too bad it is possible to take apart the DIS and repair the LCD. However, in most cases a new DIS is going to be needed.
If you notice that the ESP and/or ASB light flashes on when lightly touching the accelerator or brake it could be down to a failed yaw sensor. The flashing warning light is often accompanied by a strange grinding, mechanical sound. In really bad situations the car’s braking performance can be massively impacted and the ABS pump can kick in unnecessarily. This problem needs to be sorted as soon as possible as it is can be incredibly dangerous. Turning the traction control off should prevent the ESP and brakes from acting erratically, but obviously that is only a temporary fix to get you home.
Sometimes the switch for the hazard button can break. This leads to the indicators flashing all the time (obvious issue but something to be aware of).
Don’t forget to check all of the windows and door locks. If you find that the one or more of the windows won’t close it is probably down to the plastic clips that run and down on the regulator.
If no warning lights appear during start-up it may be a sign of an issue or that they have been disconnected. Alternatively, if they stay on you need to investigate the issue further and possibly take the car to an Audi specialist to find out what is causing the warning light before purchase.
Don’t forget to check that the air conditioning works as intended and that plenty of cold air comes out of the system. If it doesn’t, don’t let the seller convince you it just needs a re-gas as it may be something like the compressor (expensive fix).
General Car Buying Advice for an Audi S3 8L
How to Get the Best Deal on an S3 Mk1
This information applies to both dealers and private sealers. Knowledge is power and it can save you a lot of money when purchasing a vehicle.
1. Research heavily – Prior to starting your search for an Audi S3 Mk1, figure out what specs and condition you are happy with. Do you want a low mileage, last year S3 or do you not mind an older car that has travelled a bit further.
2. Shop around – It is always best to shop around a bit before you make a purchase. Audi sold a fair few of these cars, so there are plenty out there in different levels of condition and mileage, so don’t limit yourself to one seller, dealer, area or auction platform.
3. Go look at and test drive multiple S3 Mk1s if possible – While good S3 Mk1s are getting harder to come by, It is a good idea to test drive as many cars as possible This will help you determine what makes a good and what makes a bad Audi S3 8L.
4. Adjust your attitude – Never rush into a purchase. If you are desperate to buy a car you are more likely to get ripped off. Take your time when looking for an S3 for sale and only go for promising looking cars (unless you are looking for a project vehicle).
5. Use any issues with the car to your advantage – Take a mental note of any issues you find with the vehicle. When it comes to discussing the price, use these problems to try and drive down the price. For example, if the car needs new tyres or brake pads make a point of it and try to get the seller to reduce the price.
6. Don’t trust the owner completely – While some owners/sellers are honest about their cars, many will lie to get a quick sale. Take in what the owner has to say but back it up with a thorough inspection.
7. Go between sellers/dealers – If you are looking at multiple Audi S3s, let the owner/seller know. This way they will know that you have other options and they may try to undercut the price.
8. Be prepared to walk away – If you are not happy with the deal, simply walk away. You may miss out on the car or the seller may get back to you with a better offer.
Mileage vs Condition
Mileage vs condition is always a hot topic for debate, but we feel that it is always better to buy on condition and then on mileage. Lots of owners make the mistake of believing that they are preserving their car by not driving it. In reality, this is completely false and not driving a vehicle can actually do more damage than good.
Short distance trips do not allow the engine to warm up properly, which can lead to increased component wear and reduced engine life.
Rubber seals and plastic parts will fail regardless of mileage and can even deteriorate quicker on cars that don’t get used often. Letting a car sit will not prevent rust or stop the electronics from failing.
Service History and Other Documentation
It is incredibly important to check any vehicle’s service history and any additional paperwork that goes along with it. While the servicing doesn’t need to be done at a dealer, it should be carried out by a competent Audi specialist or mechanic (especially for major repair work). Home mechanic work is okay, but it is much harder to gauge the competence of a home mechanic than checking reviews for established businesses.
The service history will give you a good idea of how the S3 Mk1 you are inspecting has been maintained. In addition to this, receipts and paperwork for modifications (if the car has any) can help you determine whether they have been done by an experienced tuner or a bad one.
If the owner can’t or won’t let you see the service history, you should probably pass on the vehicle. A complete service history will only add value to any vehicle your purchase and will make it easier to sell the car in the future.
Additionally, you can check websites such as CarFax (USA) and CarJam (NZ) for more information about the car you are thinking of purchasing. These sort of websites can be incredibly useful, but there is usually a cost associated with them.
Questions That You Should Ask the Seller/Owner
- How often do you drive the car?
- When was the last service and who was it serviced by?
- How much oil does it use?
- What oil do you use in the car?
- What parts have been replaced?
- Has the timing belt ever been replaced? If so, what was the reason for the replacement?
- When were the coils, spark plugs, leads changed?
- What’s the compression like?
- What modifications have been made to the vehicle?
- Has the vehicle overheated at any point or has the head gasket failed?
- Has the car been in any major or minor accidents? Is so, what repairs were made?
- Is there any money owing on the car?
- Have you got any information on the previous owners and how they treated the vehicle?
- How are the speakers
- Is there any rust?
- Has rust been removed at any point?
- When were the brake pads replaced and have the calipers seized at any point in time?
- Where do you store/park the car usually?
There are loads more questions you can ask the seller, but we feel these are some of the most important.
Things That Would Make Us Walk Away from an Audi S3 8L
Here are some things that would make as walk away from one of these cars. While you may be happy with a vehicle with these problems, we are not.
- Overheating problems or blown head gasket
- Significant Crash Damage or poorly repaired roof
- Money owing on the car
- Modifications with no paperwork or carried out by a poorly reviewed tuner
- Excessive amounts of power
- Bad compression
- Bad resprays
- Significant rust problems
- Engine swaps with non-standard engines
- Significant track use
- Major engine or transmission issues
- Owner who is not forthcoming with information (could be trying to hide something)
Notes on the Owner
The owner is one of the most important things to think about when viewing any vehicle. You need to ask them plenty of questions when inspecting their Audi S3 Mk1 (however, don’t trust their answers completely). Remember, it is your problem if you wind up buying an absolute lemon. Here are some things to watch out for.
- How long have they owned the vehicle? If it is less than 6 months it tends to suggest that the car needs major work done to it that they can’t afford. It also could be a sign that they deal cars as well.
- Do they thrash the car when it is cold or continually launch the vehicle? If so, you are better to walk away.
- Why are they selling the vehicle? Could be a genuine reason or they may be trying to offload their problem onto an unsuspecting buyer.
- What sort of area do they live in? Is it a good area or a complete dump?
- How do they respond when you ask them simple questions?
- Do they know anything about the S3 and the model they are selling?
- What can they tell you about previous owners?
- Do they have lots of cars on their drive? If they do it may mean they are a dealer.
- What is their reaction when you ask them about money owing on the car? Tell them you are going to do a check and see how they respond.
- What is their reaction to you asking for details for HPi check?
- How do they react if you ask to do a compression test on the vehicle?
- How do they respond when you ask them to show you the service history and paperwork for the car?
If you get a bad feeling about the owner, you are better off moving onto another Audi S3 Mk1.
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