Used VW Touareg Reliability – My Experience

NB: This article was published a while back, but there were repeated issues with getting it to display correctly so I have republished. Apologies if you have already read it! 

Few things in life are as tempting as the idea of scoring yourself a used luxury car at a massive discount to the original purchase price.

While logic dictates that a used car purchase should be something “plain”, practical, and with the smallest potential for problems (like a Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic) the Automotive Gods love nothing more than to dangle tempting – potentially financially ruinous – fruits in the face of petrolheads across the world, in the form of cars that once cost the Earth and which now can be purchased cents on the dollar compared to what they cost new.

Take the Volkswagen Touareg, for example.

In the mid 2000s, the Touareg was VW’s flagship luxury SUV, combining excellent off-roading bona fides with style and creature comforts. Sharing a platform with the Porsche Cayenne and the Audi Q7, the Touareg was the most rugged of the three and was intended to be a genuine rival to the Range Rover in terms of its blend of off-road and on-road capabilities.

Touaregs were expensive when new (consult our used VW Touareg buyer’s guide for more information) and as with most European cars – particularly luxury ones – suffered horrendously in terms of depreciation.

This means that you can now pick up a VW Touareg on the second hand market for a mere fraction of what it cost the original owner new.

My Story

Enter yours truly, one of the editors of this humble site.

I was on the market for a new (to me) car at the time, and came across a Trademe.co.nz classified listing for a 2006 VW Touareg at a dealership not far from my house.

In this article I am going to share my personal experience as to whether or not the VW Touareg is reliable as a used buy. Please note that this isn’t a scientific survey – it is one man’s opinion based on his own, documented experiences. Your mileage may vary!

Why Did I Pick The Touareg?

At the time my wife and I had just got a new dog, and I wanted a car that would be practical for taking a growing dog out, as well as have the ability to tow if needed, and transport my bike on a towbar mounted carrier. I also wanted something with four wheel drive as road conditions in the South Island of New Zealand can be challenging in winter months, and 4×4 allows for the car to be used as a ski vehicle.

Finally, the Touareg is a safe car for its age and type with an abundance of airbags and lots of protection for the occupants (somewhat less safe for those it might crash into, of course).

The car also needed to be something that my wife could drive in an emergency, e.g. if her car was unavailable due to repairs.

As I don’t do a lot of mileage, the fuel economy side of the equation was not such an issue.

I went along one Sunday afternoon and checked out the Touareg, taking it for about a 40 minute test drive before negotiating a deal with the dealership, paying in the end around $10,750 for the car, a three year aftermarket warranty, and the install of a more modern stereo system and reverse camera. It wasn’t the best deal in the history of cars, but not terrible either – and well within the budget I had to spend, as I had initially been looking at cars in the high teens to low twenties.

I couldn’t find any accurate information on what these Touaregs cost new in New Zealand at the time of sale, but I did find an Australian website that claimed a similar model sold new for around $80,000 AUD in 2005/06. Considering the Australian dollar is stronger than the New Zealand dollar, and Aussies tend to get a better deal on everything price-wise, I would expect that the Touareg, as specified, must have retailed for around $85,000 in New Zealand in 2006 – but if anyone knows the accurate figure please let me know.

Therefore, my used Touareg cost me about 12.5% of the new purchase price of the car. Talk about painful depreciation!

I liked how the Touareg drove on the test drive, and although it wasn’t the tidiest example it wasn’t bad either. It had clearly been owned by a family with kids (owing to the fact you could see there was more trim damage in the rear of the cabin than in the front, caused presumably by Jr pulling on things while on boring road trips) and the car was sold with a near-new service and Warrant of Fitness check, which is an NZ vehicle safety compliance check that is required every year for cars made after 2000, and every six months for older vehicles.

At the time of purchase, the car had around 138,000 KMs on the clock, and was originally imported from Japan where it had been sold new. ~140,000 kms is not Star Trek mileage, but certainly not low mileage either.

As far as trim/spec goes, the Touareg is a humble 3.2 V6, with steel suspension. It does have leather seats, however.

Here is the offending vehicle – my 2006 Volkswagen Touareg with 3.2 V6 engine and steel suspension.

Is The Volkswagen Touareg Reliable?

Long story short, no – at least not in my personal experience.

In fact, it has been a bit of a “dog” in terms of reliability, to say the least. I feel like a cast extra on an episode of Hoovie’s Garage, if you’re familiar with that popular YouTube channel (where he buys cars that have a propensity for going horribly wrong, basically) or maybe even an unwitting participant in a Top Gear cheap car challenge.

I would estimate that for at least half the time I have owned this Touareg there has been something wrong with it, either minor or major.

This is the only car I’ve ever owned that has had so many issues in such a space of time.

VW Touareg Problems – What Does Wrong On The VW Touareg & How Much To Fix It All

Here’s a laundry list of everything that has gone wrong with my 2006 VW Touareg in the 9 months I have owned it, including a breakdown of repair costs (bearing in mind these repair costs are all in New Zealand dollars, and I haven’t done the repairs myself as I am not particularly astute when it comes to mechanical work … I am the Jeremy Clarkson of the Garage Dreams editorial team).

As you will see, some of these items are maintenance issues and some are required repairs.

  • Less than 12 hours after collecting the car from the dealer, a check engine light showed up on the dashboard. Unfortunately I didn’t have an OBD scanner to read the code, but the dealer arranged for me to take the car into their preferred auto electrician. It turned out that the throttle body sensor had failed, which required the replacement of the entire throttle body.
    • Cost: $0 to me (dealer covered) but the car was driven with a CEL for almost 6 weeks while they sourced a throttle body. I was not supplied with the invoice as the work was conducted between the dealer and the mechanic, but I suspect this repair was anywhere in the region of $500-750 had I been required to pay for it privately and at a standard rate; I assume the dealer gets a preferential deal.
  • Not too long after buying the car, I noticed that the air conditioning was rather weak on hot days. I had a full re-gas of the air conditioning system as well as a comprehensive inspection/service.
    • Cost: $503.13
    • NB: If you live in a colder climate or don’t care about AC, then this is a cost that could have been avoided … it wasn’t a breakdown per se but rather something I opted for.
  • There was no service history for the transmission, so I decided to have that serviced professionally. Once again this isn’t strictly required but a good idea to prolong the life of the vehicle. Transmission servicing seems to be one of those areas of car servicing/maintenance that is most commonly overlooked by many owners, either because they buy into the argument that most modern transmissions are ‘sealed for life’ (ask early 2000s Volvo owners how that worked out for them) or because they just don’t want to incur the expense.
    • Cost: $500.66
  • Shortly after purchase, I noticed a bit of squealing coming from the front brakes. The brake specialist recommended replacement of the front disks and pads.
    • Cost: $695.75
  • The biggest issue in terms of reliability came about 3 months after purchase, when I drove the car on a nearly 7 hour road trip down the South Island of New Zealand. About 3 hours from the destination, while cruising along, the car flashed up a brake error informing me to drive the car to the nearest dealer. However, brakes still worked fine but as a precaution I chose not to turn off the car when we made a brief rest stop in the little town of Omarama. Once we arrived in Queenstown I switched the car off in an event center carpark while my wife went to collect something for an upcoming event. On starting the car back up, the error message was gone but I was unable to drive the car more than a metre or so without the front left wheel locking up and the car being basically impossible to drive. I managed to crawl it to the far corner of the car park and get roadside assistance, who were unable to fix it there and then but towed the car to their yard. The car was then driven back almost 4 weeks later on the back of a flat bed transporter truck, meaning I had to borrow a car off a family member in the interim. I was worried at first that the stepper motor for the 4WD system had failed, but the VW main dealer (where I insisted the car was inspected and repaired) determined it was a failed ABS sensor and repaired the issue at the car dealer’s expense. The dealer also offered me an additional six months of their warranty coverage at no cost.
    • Cost: $500 for the dealer to pay for the brake sensor repair under their dealer warranty. The intangible costs? This disaster ruined a nice weekend away with my wife, which had been planned for quite some time. It has also shaken our confidence in using the car for longer journeys.
    • Side note: Who on earth at VW thought it was a good idea to have a brake sensor that can lock a wheel in place in the event of a failure? Why not disable the ABS and tell the driver to drive slowly and brake gently until the issue is repaired, so at least you could hobble the car home. If anyone reading knows of a way to disable this functionality in an emergency, then I will be eternally grateful if you let me know how to do it.
  • About a month ago, the passenger side (left hand side) headlight started flickering intermittently. I took the car in to a specialist headlight shop who determined the bulb was failing, and quoted me for a new bulb plus removing hazing on both headlight units. This turned into a bit of a nightmare. Firstly, when I left their shop the headlight with the replaced bulb was still flickering – it turned out that the replacement bulb was also defective. I took the car back and they fixed that. On the way home I got an error saying that the headlight unit had failed, this time on the right hand side (driver side) of the car. I took the car back to the shop once again and the entire headlight unit was hanging out of the socket at its maximum travel; it turns out that they had not correctly restrained the headlight unit after removing it to clean the lenses. In fact, the shop had broken the headlight retention bracket trying to rush the repair! Googling around this appears to be a common problem with the 7L Touareg; the headlight retention bracket/bucket as a stupidly-designed worm gear that needs to be turned with a special tool to lock and unlock the headlight. Rather than applying some penetrating oil to lubricate the mechanism when attempting to lock it back up, the technician had just used brute force and sheared off the “handle” that turns the worm gear, and had then shredded some of the gear teeth by using mole grips to try and turn what was left of the gear. Their solution was to then cable tie the unit back in place and attempt to restrain it. This has worked somewhat, but the connection isn’t 100% as the driver light (which did work perfectly) now flickers occasionally. To make matters worse, I was driving down the motorway about a week later, got on the brakes to avoid someone stopping in front of me, and the left hand side unit came out as well … it turns out the shop had never restrained that one either. By this point I had little faith left in the workmanship of that shop, so decided to attempt to re-lock the headlight unit with the assistance of my dad and brother (the other editors on this site, both of whom are far more practical than I ever will be). In the end we were successful here, but couldn’t re-engage the driver side as that has had the worm gear drive broken off!
    • Cost: $414 for a replaced passenger side headlight bulb and polished lenses. Several hours of time wasted one afternoon locking the passenger side bracket back in place and checking everything works. To buy a new bracket for the driver’s side will be around $350 from a VW dealer, as every wrecked car I have found online encounters the same issue when the wrecker tries to remove a used part. I am hoping to try and get the money back from the headlight specialist here as they have left my car in worse condition than when I brought it in!
  • Warrant of fitness/control arms – The latest instalment in the VW Touareg reliability saga saw me taking the car in to my trusted VW independent specialist for a service and new Warrant of Fitness. The car failed its warrant on account of there being play in one of the control arms and a ball joint, requiring replacement of both control arms, and a fresh wheel alignment. At the same time the mechanic also noticed that the front brake hoses were perishing, which were also replaced. These are both wear and tear issues, but still a bit of a kick in the teeth and an unwanted cost.
    • Cost: $2123.36

The total cost I have spent to date, including the dealer costs as I would have had to cover these on a private sale car?

$5302.24, of which $3537.36 was for required repairs to get the car roadworthy and compliant with all relevant legislation (including a guesstimate of the dealer’s cost to repair the throttle body sensor issue, at the lower end of the scale, as I’m assuming the dealer gets a preferential rate from the auto shop) and $1764.88 has been more preventative maintenance such as transmission servicing, which I wouldn’t classify as being such a problem as some owners may be happy to drive around without these preventative measures and take a punt, or be more than capable of DIYing at a lower cost.

When you consider that this means I’ve spent as near as makes no difference 50% of the purchase price on repairs and maintenance over the first 9 months of ownership, it’s quite an eye-opener!

Receipts to date for servicing and repairs on my used VW Touareg. Are VW Touaregs expensive to maintain? If my experience is anything to go by, then yes they are.

Why Haven’t I Claimed More On The Aftermarket Warranty?

One thing you might be wondering is why I haven’t claimed more on the aftermarket warranty?

Unfortunately, this is where the downsides of an aftermarket warranty come to the fore.

For example, the recent (and largest) expense of control arm/ball join wear wouldn’t be covered by the warranty, as it excludes wear and tear items like suspension components.

Basically, the warranty just has me covered if the transmission goes boom or the engine lunches itself.

In New Zealand, many would argue that an aftermarket warranty isn’t worth it as you are supposed to be covered by the Consumer Guarantees Act when buying a used car. Basically, if the car suffers an unreasonable failure then you can request the dealer fix the problem (or they can opt to refund you or even supply an alternative car) but it is quite a grey area as your chances of success depend on how aggressively the dealer wants to fight the claim, how much you paid for the car, what the nature of the fault is and what the type of car is. For example if you bought a one year old Toyota Corolla with 5000km on the clock for $25,000 and the engine failed after a couple of years, you would probably be covered as no reasonable buyer would expect total engine failure on a near new Toyota. But an old, higher-mileage VW Touareg that has eaten its control arms? That isn’t likely to pass the sniff test when it comes to making a CGA claim.

We are going to do a specific, in-depth article on the pros and cons of aftermarket extended warranties, but suffice it to say that for now it has proved a waste of money in my case (to date).

Where Did I Go Wrong In Buying This VW Touareg?

To recap, I’ve owned a used VW Touareg for about 9 months now … and ultimately I must admit that it has been a fairly unreliable car (in fact, to be honest, it is the most unreliable vehicle I have owned to date – far more unreliable than even my purchased-basically-sight-unseen Alfa Romeo 156 that I had several years ago). I have spent around 50% of the initial purchase price on repairs and maintenance to date.

Where did I go wrong? And how could I avoid the same problems again and serve as a warning to you, our valued reader who might be staring down the barrel of a similar purchase.

In my view, there are three key areas where I made a mistake:

  1. I didn’t do a sufficiently thorough job of inspecting this particular Touareg (for example I test drove it on a cool day, late in the afternoon so the AC worked well – as soon as the temperatures warmed up for summer the AC started to struggle). It was a bit of an impulse buy. I had done some basic reading on common issues with the Touareg, and tested for these e.g. rough shifting between 5th and 4th gear, but I really should have said to the dealer I would come back for another inspection and insisted on taking the car out for a much longer test drive. In hindsight I should have had an independent inspection done as well.
  2. I tried to get away with buying a cheaper example, rather than spending more from the outset on a better car that had been maintained to a higher standard. The car was being sold cheaply because it was a “trade in special”. It wasn’t the type of car this dealer would normally buy – they bring in almost all of their cars from Japan and tend to sell more everyday vehicles like Toyotas, Hondas and Subarus. From my understanding, the dealer had somewhat begrudgingly taken the trade in order to win a deal on the customer buying a newer car. I suspect they had only done the most rudimentary of inspection and testing. From the old owner’s perspective, I reckon they knew the car had some maintenance issues brewing on the horizon. I suspect they had taken it for its last Warrant of Fitness/service and been told that issues were on the horizon e.g. control arms, brake pads/disks etc. That – in conjunction with the ruinous fuel economy – had probably led them to decide to part exchange the car for something more modern, economical and reliable. This is something you must consider when contemplating buying an older luxury car that has suffered big depreciation. Cars like the Touareg managed to get low enough in price that people could afford to buy them but not necessarily maintain them to the standard they need, so the car you are looking at could have had skimped-on servicing for quite some time. This is why you need to be diligent in your pre-purchase inspection and also factor in additional money for ongoing servicing and maintenance.
  3. I haven’t been aggressive enough in getting the dealer to pay for repairs to the car. For example, with the AC issue I should have exercised my consumer protection rights that a car should be sold with working AC (unless stated before the sale) and tried to get them to pay up. This isn’t always guaranteed to work – there is a strong element of caveat emptor when it comes to used car purchasing, but if you are buying in a market where consumer protection rights apply, then you should exercise these if/when relevant. Of course if you buy private sale you will save on the initial purchase cost of the car but probably have no potential recourse under any type of lemon law or consumer protection legislation (which tends to only apply to purchases from registered businesses, although once again check your relevant local legislation for more information).

Would I Buy A Used VW Touareg Again?

Funnily enough, I actually would. However, I would approach my purchase slightly differently.

I’ve owned about 7 different cars at various stages in the past decade (as you can tell, I get bored of cars fairly quickly) and even my higher mileage, average condition Touareg stands out as being one of the nicest driving cars I have ever owned. For what I need it to do, it is basically perfect when working properly.

Considering that the example I purchased is just the “poverty pack” with steel suspension and the base 3.2 v6 engine – as well as a sparse service history – it still rides and drives extremely well and when working properly is a superb car (diabolical fuel economy aside, which isn’t too much of an issue as I don’t drive much, thanks to working from home and having an eBike for short journeys around town).

When I add up what I purchased the car for, and what I have spent so far on maintenance and repairs, I am still sitting at only around 50-60% of the purchase price of an equivalent age and mileage Toyota Land Cruiser which would probably be the “gold standard” of vehicle in this class in terms of reliability and overall quality.

Considering that even though a Land Cruiser is a Toyota, I still would have had to spend something on maintenance and inevitable repairs, the Touareg isn’t actually a bad deal for what it is. That being said, it will probably always be a problematic car that I will never have the highest level of faith in, as opposed to a Land Cruiser that you could trust to take you to the end of the earth and back again.

However, if I could go back in time – knowing what I know now – I would definitely spend more up front to buy a lower mileage, better condition example. In particular, I would look out for a facelifted version of the original generation, so a 2008/09 model with the vastly superior 3.6 v6 engine (consult our VW Touareg buyer’s guide for more information on the different models and generations available)

The other thing to bear in mind is that with a car like the Touareg (and this does apply for any car, but particularly to heavily-depreciated luxury European cars) the price of admission is only part of the story. It’s a bit like going to the movies – the tickets are often affordable, it’s the popcorn and drink that breaks the bank. Unless you are very capable when it comes to doing DIY maintenance and repairs, and you have the right tools and equipment to work on such a car, then you are going to be dependent on paying for repairs at a mechanic shop, where the cost is going to add up. Even if you DIY, the cost of parts is relatively high although you can save by purchasing online from places like FCPEuro.

The moral of the story? If you can only just afford the purchase price of the car, then you can’t afford a used Touareg. They are too much of a reliability “time bomb”, and you could easily find yourself spending a substantial portion of the purchase price of the car on maintenance and/or repairs.

You can avoid some of this risk by being diligent in your inspection and selection of car (read our VW Touareg buyer’s guide here for more information – FYI this was published after I purchased my car, and I would have probably walked away from my one had this information been available at the time) finding a good independent VW specialist who can service and maintain the car, and also considering doing some work yourself if you are mechanically-minded. There are many excellent tutorials for DIY-ing all aspects of maintenance and repair on YouTube and specialist sites such as Club Touareg.

You may also need to accept that a used VW Touareg is possibly going to be a car with persistent maintenance and repair needs. It seems unlikely you will buy one that might function like you would expect a Toyota Corolla – requiring routine servicing and not much else. You need to ensure that you have sufficient money in your budget to be able to properly maintain one of these cars.

This actually raises one of the biggest problems at all with this type of car (the higher mileage, older, heavily-depreciated luxury buy). At some point these cars get into the hands of people who can afford to purchase the car but not to maintain it properly. I suspect my Touareg is a good example of this, with the purchase price being affordable enough but the ongoing maintenance and repairs becoming a drag. The risk here is that the car then deteriorates further, and eventually winds up in the hands of someone like yours truly who bears the brunt. That’s why it’s critical to avoid the mistake I made and do your homework and due diligence on purchasing a good example that has robust service history and appears to have been maintained well. Cars like the Touareg do not forgive poor maintenance – don’t let somebody else’s lacklustre maintenance become your problem.

It’s not all bad news though. When the VW Touareg is working well, it is a great car – even in the basic spec I have. I struggle to think of many other genuine 4x4s (not just “soft-roader” AWD SUVs) you could buy in the New Zealand market that offer as much car for as little money.

For example, I decided to do a quick Trademe check at the time of writing this for what is widely considered by many to be one of the more reliable “tough” 4x4s ever produced, the Nissan Patrol, aka Safari. Perhaps only the Landcruiser is a better example of a robust, durable truck – with the exception I presume of some American vehicles e.g. the Jeep Cherokee, that aren’t so easy to come by in my market. I found this 1998 Nissan Patrol with nearly 300,000 km on the clock for $29,990:

Is this 23 year old Nissan worth double what I paid for my VW Touareg? I guess value is in the eye of the beholder.

While the Nissan is a cool old truck, it has more than double the mileage, far fewer creature comforts and safety features, and substantially worse “day to day” performance than the Touareg (it would win in the towing stakes as this Nissan has the turbodiesel engine, and would also be more economical on fuel although that is negated somewhat by the extra road licence fees you must pay in NZ for driving a diesel vehicle, which are charged per 1000kms travelled).

While I don’t have a crystal ball, I don’t think it is unreasonable to assume that the buyer of this Nissan would find themselves having to do some repairs and maintenance. Perhaps not as much as a Touareg, but there would still be a cost.

Although value is in the eye of the beholder, from my perspective I struggle to see how this car is worth twice what my VW Touareg owes me in terms of purchase price and repairs/maintenance so far. Even if this Nissan incurred maintenance and repair costs that accrued at a rate of say one third of that of the Touareg, it would take me a long time to recoup the difference (if that makes sense – a bit like selling your current car to buy a much more expensive but more economical on fuel car to save money at the pump; the pay off period is long).

Conclusion – Is The VW Touareg Reliable?

No, the VW Touareg isn’t particularly reliable, if my “anecdata” is any measure of truth.

Are Volkswagen Touaregs expensive to maintain? Yes, they are (once again if my experience is anything to go by).

While I’m sure there are plenty of owners who have had relatively trouble-free experiences, you don’t have to do much reading online to see plenty of horror stories about Touareg reliability.

The car never even ranked particularly well in the reliability stakes when it was new.

However, that doesn’t mean it is a bad car per se. When I look at my own example (with the exception of that brake sensor failure leaving me stranded, which is unacceptable and goodness only knows why you can’t override it to limp the car home) most of what I have had to spend is probably due to previous owners being a bit tight on the servicing and maintenance front, and possibly ditching the car before it threw some large bills.

Now that I have attended to these items, for many thousands less than the cost of what most people would refer to as a reliable truck, e.g. a Landcruiser or Patrol/Safari, I have a comfortable, safe, luxurious 4×4 that does everything it needs to do, and which I also greatly enjoy driving.

I am under no false pretence that the maintenance and repair saga ends here. The Touareg is a car that will almost always want something doing to it. However, provided you can live with this, it’s the sort of car that can offer a great deal of value for money.

Ultimately, when it comes to buying something like a used Touareg you need to be the right type of buyer. You have to accept that you will incur (or at least have the potential to incur) substantial repair and maintenance bills. You have to accept that the car won’t work perfectly all of the time. But if you can live with this and have the budget to deal with it, then you get a much nicer car than an equivalently-priced econobox. Is that trade-off worth it for you? If you can answer ‘yes’, then buying an older luxury car could be a good option. If you answer ‘no’ then buy something more modest but affordable to run. It really is that simple! If you want to buy a new car, then read here on how to get the best deal.

What has your experience been with VW Touaregs? We invite you to leave a comment below! Remember that this article on the reliability of the used VW Touareg and its “value” as a potential purchase is based on one person’s experience with what has gone wrong with his particular Touareg. Your mileage may vary, so if your Touareg has been nice and reliable then we invite you to share your experience as well.

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