Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk5 Buyer’s Guide & History

After the poorly received Mk4 Golf GTI, Volkswagen needed something special to get them back in the hot hatch game. Thankfully, the German manufacturer took the criticisms of the fourth-gen model on board and created one of the best hot hatches at the time, the Mk5 Golf GTI.

Today, Mk5 Golf GTIs can be found for quite low prices, so if you can find a good one, they are a great way to get hot hatch performance at a cheap price. However, there are quite a few things you need to know about the Mk5 Golf GTI before making a purchase.

While they are considered to be fairly robust and reliable, things start to get expensive when they go wrong. Because of this, we have created a complete buyer’s guide for the Mk5 Volkswagen Golf GTI that should give you all the information you need to know to find a good one.

How You Should Use This Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk5 Buying Guide

This guide covers everything from the history of the Mk5 Golf GTI to its specifications and what to watch out for when buying one. We recommend that you use the table of contents below to skip to the section you want to read (or simply read it all).

The History of the Mk5 Volkswagen Golf GTI

Original Pirelli GTI
Credit: Volkswagen

The story of the Mk5 GTI starts with the original model. When the Mk1 Golf GTI hit the roads of Europe it changed the hatchback market forever. The small and light Golf GTI could not only compete in terms of performance with more dedicated performance cars, but it could do so whilst being more reliable and usable.

The success of the first-generation Golf GTI not only spurred on Volkswagen to create further generations of the car, but it would also lead to numerous other manufacturers making their own hot hatchback versions.

When Volkswagen designed the Mk2 Golf GTI, they continued to use the design principals that made the original car so popular. While it was slightly bigger and heavier, it also featured a more powerful 16v engine and the design of the car was clearly focused on driver enjoyment.

Following the Mk2 Golf GTI, things started to go downhill. The third-generation car was not only slower than the previous generation model, but it was also less engaging to drive, a major problem for GTI enthusiasts. These problems were largely the result of new safety and emissions regulations. Additionally, the market was moving in the direction of more comfortable and refined hatchbacks, and Volkswagen wanted to capture a slice of it with their high-end Golf GTI model.

Despite the negative feedback from GTI enthusiasts, Volkswagen continued down the comfortable yet un-charismatic design path of the Mk3 GTI for the next model. The Mk4 Golf GTI was even heavier and the 1.8 and 2.0-litre engines weren’t exactly the most exciting power units fitted to a hot hatch. The Mk4’s styling was also considered to be too blocky and the handling performance was regarded as inadequate for a GTI model.

Enter the Mk5 Golf GTI

Credit: Volkswagen

With the onslaught of criticism the Mk4 Golf GTI received, Volkswagen knew they needed to turn it around for their next model. They looked at all the feedback from their customers and the motoring press and tried to improve on every area of concern.

When the final production model of the Mk5 GTI was unveiled at the Mondial de l’Automobile in Paris in September 2004, it was instantly recognisable as something special. The exterior was radically different to the previous generation model, with a much more rounded, sophisticated appearance.

Volkswagen engineers not only worked their magic on the exterior of the car, but they also massively improved the mechanical bits underneath. The car was given a 197 horsepower (147 kW) 2.0-litre turbocharged inline 4-cylinder engine that massively boosted performance over the Mk4 model.

With this new engine the Mk5 Golf GTI could hit 100 km/h (62 mph) in 7.2 seconds in manual trim, or 6.9 seconds if the innovative DSG transmission option was selected. This was a massive gain over the previous generation model and put the Golf GTI back on top of the performance hatchback market.

Volkswagen retained the tried and tested front-wheel drive layout from the previous generation Golf models, but gave the new Mk5 GTI an all-new stiffer and sharper chassis. At the front, the Mk5 Golf GTI was given a MacPherson Strut setup, while at the rear the car was equipped with a multi-link configuration that was similar to that of the Ford Focus. The car also sat 15mm lower than the old Mk4 model and featured new springs, dampers and anti-roll bars.

On the inside, the Mk5 GTI paid homage to the original Golf GTI with a tartan interior, however, full leather options were available as well. Additionally, the overall interior quality was improved via the use of higher quality trim pieces and materials.

Unfortunately, while all the updates made to the Mk5 made it a much better car than the previous generation model, they came at a significant increase in price. Still, despite the price increase the Mk5 GTI proved to be a massive hit, so much so that the car was left pretty much the same for the entirety of its production run.

Special Edition Models

While Volkswagen left the Mk5 Golf GTI pretty much the same during its entire production run, they did introduce a few special edition models.

2007 Golf GTI Mk5 30th Anniversary Edition (Edition 30)

Edition 30 Golf GTI Mk5 (notice the colours of the bumpers and special rims) Credit: Volkswagen

When the 30th Anniversary Edition model launched at the end of 2006 (2007 model year) it was the fastest Golf GTI model produced to date. At its heart was the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine, but with a few tweaks that boosted power to an impressive 227 hp. The result of this power increase drove down the 0 – 100 km/h (62 mph) time to 6.8 seconds for manual cars and 6.6 seconds for DSG equipped models.

On the outside the 30th Anniversary Edition received new body-coloured side skirts that were paired with a new chin spoiler for the front bumper and a body-coloured rear bumper. A subtle ‘GTI badge was placed on the bootlid below the tinted rear lights and special 18-inch ‘Pescara’ alloy wheels completed the sporty look.

Edition 30 interior (notice the red stitching and golf ball shifter)
Credit: Volkswagen

Moving onto the inside the special edition model featured unique sport seats that were finished in ‘Interlagos’ cloth trim with leather side bolsters and headrest. The distinctive golf ball shifter gear knob from the original Golf GTI made a return for this special edition model. Other interior changes included silver sill plates with ‘Edition 30’ logos on them and a sculpted leather GTI steering wheel with red leather stitching.

Equipment levels for the Edition 30 were the same as on the standard Mk5 Golf GTI, with ABS, ESP (Electronic Stabilisation Program), radio/cd player, two zone electronic climate control, six air bags and chrome exhaust tailpipes all coming as standard.

The 30th Anniversary Edition was produced in limited numbers with 1,500 of them making their way to the United Kingdom. This makes them more sought after than the standard Mk5 Golf GTI.

2007 Fahrenheit Edition

Fahrenheit Edition

Around the same time the Edition 30 was launched, Volkswagen also introduced the Fahrenheit Edition. This new model was the first special edition GTI that was available in North America and arrived at dealers in early March 2007.

The changes made to the Fahrenheit Edition were largely cosmetic with the car being finished in Volkswagen’s Magma Orange paint scheme. Other additions included special Fahrenheit badging, a commemorative plate on the steering wheel, body-coloured interior panels, orange stitching and special gunmetal-18-inch “Charleston” wheels. The only mechanical change was made to the suspension with the Fahrenheit Edition coming with a European tuned setup.

2008 Golf GTI Pirelli

Pirelli GTI from 2007/2008 (notice that the bumpers and side skirts are the same colour as the body)
Credit: Volkswagen

Named after the legendary original GTI Pirelli that launched in May 1983, the Mk5 edition featured many of the upgrades made to the 30th Anniversary Edition model that launched one year earlier. Much like the original GTI Pirelli, the Mk5 car was designed to mark the end of the generations production run.

The Mk5 Golf GTI Pirelli featured the same 227 horsepower engine fitted to the Edition 30 model and was offered with both manual and DSG transmission options (although some markets only got the option of one transmission).

Volkswagen fitted the special edition model with bespoke, Pirelli-branded 18-inch allow wheels that were wrapped in excellent 225/40ZR18 Pirelli P Zero tyres. While these new tyres had a slight negative impact on the GTI’s decent ride, they massively improved the car’s mid-corner grip and power-down traction. This was especially handy when the GTI’s Pirelli themed aluminium throttle pedal was planted into the carpet.

In keeping with the Pirelli theme, the special edition model featured acres of yellow stitching and tyre-tread microfibre trim inserts that were created by Italian company Miko. A range of colours were available, but for those wanting the full Pirelli experience they could opt for Sunflower Yellow. Additionally, unlike the standard model the entire bodykit was finished in one colour.

The End of the Mk5 Golf GTI

By 2008 it was time for a new version of the Golf. The 2008 model year would be the last for the Mk5 Golf GTI and it would be replaced by the Mk6 for the 2009 model year.

Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk5 Specifications

Credit: Volkswagen
ModelGolf GTI Mk5
Year of production2004 – 2008
LayoutFront-engine, front-wheel drive
EngineInline 4-cylinder Fuel Stratified Injection
Capacity2.0-litres
AspirationTurbocharged
Power197 bhp (147 kW) at 5,100 rpm or 227 bhp (169 kW) for Edition 30 & Pirelli models
Torque280 Nm (207 lb-ft) or 300Nm (221 lb-ft) for Edition 30 & Pirelli models
Transmission6-speed manual or 6-speed DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox)
Brakes (front)Ventilated discs (312 mm)
Brakes (rear)Solid discs (286 mm)
Tyres225/45 R17 or 225/40 R18
Weight1,372 kg (3,025 lbs)
0 – 100 km/h (62 mph)6.6 seconds – DSG Edition 30/Pirelli

6.8 seconds – manual Edition 30/Pirelli

6.9 seconds – DSG standard

7.2 seconds – manual standard

Top speed235 km/h (146 mph) – standard

245 km/h (152 mph) – Edition 30/Pirelli

 

Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk5 Buyer’s Guide

With the history and specifications of the Mk5 Golf GTI covered, let’s take a look at what you need to know when buying one.

Contrary to popular belief, the Mk5 Golf GTI is actually quite a robust and reliable car. However, if they are not maintained properly they can start to develop some seriously expensive problems, so watch out.

This problem has become further exasperated by the fact that the Mk5 Golf GTI has become cheap enough that people who can’t afford to maintain them can buy them. For this reason you need to not only thoroughly inspect the car, but also thoroughly check all the service history/documents to make sure the Mk5 GTI you are looking at has been maintained well.

How to Set Up an Inspection

While setting up an inspection of a Golf GTI Mk5 may seem pretty straight forward, there are quite a few things you need to consider. If possible, we recommend that you try to arrange an inspection at the seller’s house or location in the morning. This way you can see what sort of area they live in and it doesn’t give them the chance to warm the car before you inspect it.

A pre-warmed engine can hide a multitude of sins, so watch out for this when inspecting a Mk5 GTI. If the engine is warm it doesn’t necessarily mean that the seller is trying to hide something (they may have just popped to the shops for example), but you should be extra vigilant for any problems.

Another tip is to find a reliable friend or third party who can go to the inspection with you. Your friend/helper may be able to spot something you missed during your inspection of a Mk5 Golf GTI.

The last thing to watch out for is inspecting a Golf GTI in the rain or when the car has just been washed. Water on the bodywork can hide a number of serious issues, so if you do inspect a Mk5 GTI when it is wet try to arrange a second viewing or wait for the exterior to dry.

What Should I Pay for a Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk5

This is one of those “how long is a piece of string” type of questions. This is because the price of a Mk5 GTI will depend on numerous factors from its condition to where it is being sold and what model it is. For example, a 30th Anniversary Edition model with low mileage and in good condition will fetch a much higher premium than a standard Mk5 Golf GTI that has travelled 150,000 miles

To work out a rough idea of how much you should spend on a Mk5 Golf GTI, we recommend that you jump on your local auction/classifieds websites or check dealers to see what the average prices are. You can then use the prices you find to work out how much money you need to spend on a specific model/condition level.

VW Golf GTI Mk5 Inspection Guide

In the section below you will learn everything you need to know about inspecting a Golf GTI Mk5.

Checking the VIN Number

The VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) is a series of numbers and characters that an automobile manufacturer such as Volkswagen assigns to an individual vehicle. The VIN on the Mk5 Golf GTI you are inspecting can tell you quite a lot of information about the vehicle such as where it was manufactured, the engine size, model year and more. In some cases, you may be able to discern whether the GTI has been in an accident or written off.

There are quite a few different online VIN checkup/decoder services available, so it is easy to check the number (you can do this on your phone while you are inspecting the car or note it down for later). The VIN can also be checked on Volkswagen’s database which will tell you important information such as when it was last serviced (although this won’t be noted if the owner takes it to a non-official VW service centre or mechanic).

The VIN can be found in a number of different locations on a Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk5 including the following:

  • Inside the engine bay
  • Lower edge of the windscreen (when looking from outside)
  • On a sticker on the inside of the driver’s door shut

It is a good idea to check that the VIN matches in all these areas. If not, the car may have been in an accident, stolen or had some other issue.

Engine & Exhaust System

Standard FSI engine fitted to the Mk5 Golf GTI.
Credit: Volkswagen

When it comes to the engine and exhaust system it is always a good idea to take your time and don’t be rushed by the seller/owner. There is a lot to check here and if there is a problem it could cause you serious expense down the track.

Once you open the bonnet take a good overall look at the engine bay – is it clean or dirty? Does it look well maintained? Any broken or modified components?

If the engine bay is completely spotless it is either a sign of an owner who has maintained their GTI very well, or it may be a sign of an owner/seller who is trying to cover something up such as an oil leak (a good sign of this is if the engine bay and underside of the car is still wet from being washed).

Another thing to do is to make sure that the engine is cold. If it is not and the owner has not driven to the inspection point, it may suggest that they have pre-warmed the car to hide a problem.

Once you have got those bits out of the way, start to check the fluid levels. We recommended that you check the fluid levels both before and after a test drive to make sure they are roughly the same height (Don’t worry if there is a small change, but any large changes are a problem).

Fluid levels that are too low or too high indicate that the Golf GTI Mk5 you are inspecting has not been maintained well. Incorrect fluid levels will lead to accelerated engine/component wear and possibly even total power unit failure.

When Should the Oil & Oil Filter Be Changed on a Mk5 Golf GTI

It is important that both the engine oil and the oil filter are changed frequently on a Mk5 Golf GTI. Remember to check the service history and with the owner/seller to see when these items were last replaced and if they have been changed regularly. If the owner has replaced both the oil and oil filter themselves it may not be in the service history.

Engine oil that is left too long between changes can breakdown in the presence of contaminates and become diluted. Below we have put together some information and when the oil and oil filter need to be changed on a VW Golf GTI Mk5.

Engine Oil

It is recommended that you engine oil is replaced every 16,000 km (10,000) miles or every 12 months. Some owners will change the oil more frequently than this, which is a sign of good maintenance. If the Golf GTI Mk5 you are looking at has travelled much further than this before the oil has been changed, you should proceed with caution or move onto another Mk5 GTI.

Best Engine Oil for a Golf GTI Mk5

Volkswagen recommends that you use a good quality 5W-30 engine oil, however, some owners like to use 5W-40 for modified Mk5 GTIs or for those that are located in hotter environments. When purchasing an oil for a Golf GTI Mk5 it is also important to check the spec. VW suggests an oil with a VAG 504 or 507 accreditation for the Mk5 like Castrol Edge 5W-30.

Oil Filter

It is recommended that you use Volkswagen’s OEM oil filter with the part number 06D 115 562. While some other aftermarket options are available, the OEM one is a safe bet. The oil filter should be replaced with every oil change.

Checking the Oil Itself

We always recommend that you take a good look at the engine oil. If you see any metallic particles or grit on the dipstick then you should pass on the vehicle. Additionally, keep an eye out for a frothy dipstick as it may be a sign that the car has overheated or is suffering from a failed head gasket.

Leaking Oil from a Golf GTI Mk5

The Golf GTI Mk5 isn’t really known to leak oil, so if you notice any oil leaking from the car you are inspecting you should proceed with caution. It can be difficult to find the source of an oil leak on a Mk5, but the main places to watch out for are around the valve cover gasket, the cam chain housing gasket and around the oil filter, filler cap or dipstick. The source of an oil leak on a Mk5 GTI can also often be from the driveshaft or transmission (more on that later).

If the Golf GTI Mk5 you are inspecting is leaving puddles of oil on the ground you should move onto another car. It is also a good idea to check for oil leaks both before and after a test drive, especially if the engine bay/car looks freshly cleaned.

Making Sure That the Timing Belt Has Been Replaced

It is important to check that the timing/cam belt has been replaced on these cars as if it has not it is a sign of poor maintenance. Additionally, if the timing belt breaks it can lead to catastrophic failure of the engine, so make sure it has been done!

There is a bit of conflicting information on when to change the timing belt as many dealers recommend doing it every 4 years or every 96,000 – 130,000 km (60,000 – 80,000 miles), however, the service schedule states that it should be replaced every 190,000 km (120,000 miles). We would err on the side of caution and get the timing belt replaced closer to the 96,000 km mark.

If the timing belt has never been replaced, we would pass on the vehicle or try to get a very heavy discount and get it replaced immediately.

When the timing belt is replaced, it is a good idea to get the following changed as well:

  • Tensioners (a rattling/tappety sound can indicate that these need replacing)
  • water pump
  • auxiliary belt
  • anti freeze/coolant

It is possible to replace the timing belt yourself (kits are available), but it is not recommended for novice mechanics. If the owner/seller has changed the belt themselves, try to get an idea of how competent they are (ask them about the process and about other cars they have worked on). Below you can find a video on the process.

Problems with the Fuel Pump

The cam follower between the pump and the camshaft can fail, causing fuel to be sprayed onto the shaft at high pressure and leading to fuel pump failure. While this issue is easy to fix, it needs to be dealt with immediately otherwise more serious damage to the engine can occur. As a precaution, the fuel pump cam follower should be replaced every 32,000 km (20,000 miles) or so.

PCV Valve Issues

If you notice that the Golf GTI Mk5 you are inspecting idles funny or has slight acceleration problems (lag after gear changes) it may be down to a faulty positive crankcase ventilation (PCV) valve. To check for this, remove the dipstick while the engine is running. If the engine begins to struggle the PCV is working as intended, however, if the engine continues to run fine then the valve is faulty.

Another thing to watch out for is oil being forced out of the filler cap and onto the engine. This isn’t too much of a problem, but it will be expensive to get fixed if you go to a dealer (the part is quite cheap, but Volkswagen service centres like to charge for labour). This guide will show you how to change the PCV valve yourself.

Carbon Deposits in the Engine

Carbon deposits can make their way into the engine oil, which can lead to problems with blocked oil strainers. If the oil strainer pipe becomes blocked, the engine will lose oil pressure which may result in serious damage.

Another area of concern is the valves, which can also suffer from carbon buildup. Carbon desposits in this area can lead to poor performance and higher oil consumption (although it is perfectly fine for a Mk5 GTI to burn one litre of oil every 1,600 km (1,000 miles). There is no set time/mileage that the valves need to be cleaned, but it is worth asking the owner if they have.

Spark Plugs on a Mk5 GTI

It is always a good idea to have a look at the spark plugs on a Mk5 Golf GTI if possible. The appearance of spark plugs can tell you a lot about an engine and how it is running. Take a look at this guide for more information on spark plug analysis.

What are the Correct Spark Plugs for a Mk5 Golf GTI?
  • NGK PFR7S8EG (platinium) – these are essentially OEM plugs
  • NGK BKR7EIX (iridium)
Failing Coil Packs

This is a common failure point on Mk5 GTIs and the symptoms are as follows:

  • Rough idle
  • An unexplainably louder-than-usual engine
  • Lack of power
  • A significant drop in RPMs while accelerating for no apparent reason
  • 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

A new set of coil packs is available and fairly easy to do yourself (the hardest part is getting the engine cover off the first time you do it). If you take it to a dealer or Volkswagen specialist they will probably charge you quite a bit to fix this problem.

Inspecting the Cooling System on a Golf GTI Mk5

Overheating problems can be a major nightmare on any car, so take your time inspecting & checking the different cooling system components. The cooling system on a VW Golf GTI Mk5 consists of the following:

  • Radiator – removes heat from the water/coolant
  • Thermostat – sends water/coolant that is hotter than the target temperature to the radiator to be cooled
  • Water Pump – belt that is driven from a pulley. Pushes water/coolant through the engine (should be replaced with the timing belt)
  • Overflow or Expansion bottle – removes air from the system and provides a filling point
  • Coolant Lines – hoses that allow water/coolant to remain contained as it moves through the engine/cooling system

A failure in any one of these components can cause the car to overheat and may even lead to total engine failure.

It is a good idea to check the cooling system both before and after a test drive. This is because as the vehicle heats up more problems may become apparent. Additionally, if there is a big change in coolant height then there is problem a problem, however, a small change is to be expected.

Overheating Signs on a Mk5 Golf GTI

Remember to keep an eye out for the following signs of overheating on the VW GTI Mk5 you are inspecting/test driving.

  • Engine oil that smells of coolant
  • Sweet exhaust smell
  • Coolant leaking externally from below the exhaust manifold
  • White smoke from the exhaust pipe (especially if you see lots of it)
  • Bubbles in the radiator or coolant overflow tank
  • Oil that is white and milky
  • Fouled spark plugs
  • Low cooling system integrity

A temperature gauge that sits on the low side may indicate that there is a problem with the thermostat, while if it is on the higher side it is a sign that the vehicle is overheating. While you should use the thermostat as a tool to see if the GTI you are looking at has cooling problems, don’t rely on it completely. Modern thermostats are much better than those fitted to older cars, but they can still go wrong.

Broken or Cracked Air Filter Box

The air box is quite fragile and will have been removed and reinstalled numerous times, so the mounting grommets or the unit itself are often broken.

Original OEM air boxes are available, but they can be quite expensive to source as they came with a new MAF sensor. Aftermarket options are also available, but once again they are expensive if you want a good quality one (avoid cheap air boxes). If the car you are inspecting has this problem and you still want to buy it, we would certainly ask for a discount.

Inspecting the Exhaust System on a VW Golf GTI Mk5
From this image you can see that the Mk5 GTI features twin tailpipes.
Credit: Volkswagen

Once you are done poking around the engine bay try to get a good look at as much of the exhaust system as possible. While there are no specific issues with the exhaust system on a Golf GTI Mk5, there are a few things to keep an eye out for:

  • Black sooty stains – Indicates a leak which may require expensive repairs
  • Corrosion – This shouldn’t be a problem on a Mk5 Golf GTI but accident damage can lead to rust, so keep that in mind. Additionally, countries that salt their roads (UK for example) are more likely to have problems with rust. The Mk5 GTI is prone to rust in other areas, but more on that later.
  • Cracks or accident damage – Usually a sign of a careless owner
  • Bad repairs – There is nothing wrong with a repaired exhaust, but if the work was done on the cheap it is a problem.
Starting Up a VW Golf GTI Mk5

It is a good idea to get the owner/seller to start the GTI for you. The main two reasons for this are as follows:

  • To see what comes out the back (smoke, etc.)
  • If the owner gives it a load of throttle you know to move onto another Mk5 GTI

If the GTI you are looking at fails or struggles to start when the key is turned in the ignition, it may be caused by a number of issues from major to minor (battery issues, etc.).

What is the Correct Idle Speed for a Mk5 Golf GTI?

The idle speed can be affected by a number of different factors and problems, but it should hover around 750 – 900 rpm. When vehicle is started for the first time expect the idle speed to be around 1,000 – 1,100 rpm, but it should drop once the car warms up. Additionally, remember to turn on all the electronics, air conditioning, etc. to make sure the GTI doesn’t idle roughly or stall (expect a small bump in idle speed).

Smoke from a Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk5

Lots of smoke or vapour from a car is always a sign of trouble, so keep an eye out for what is coming out of the exhaust. You should expect to see a small bit of vapour form the exhaust on engine-start up, but this should go away (you may not see any on a warm day, while on a cold winters day expect to see a bit more).

If the vapour doesn’t go away or there is lots of it suggests that there is a problem with the vehicle. Below we have put together some information on what the different colours of smoke indicate:

White smoke – This is usually caused by water in the cylinders and could indicate a blown head gasket. If the smoke smells sweet, it is probably coolant.

Blue/Grey smoke – Can be caused by wear to the pistons, piston rings, and/or worn valve seals. To check for blue smoke, ask a friend to follow you while drive the vehicle and take it through the rev range. Alternatively, get the owner to drive the car for a bit and watch out the back. Blue smoke on start-up and overrun is a sign that the car has been thrashed. This colour of smoke can also be a sign of an issue with the turbocharger.

Black smoke – Usually occurs when the engine is running too rich (burning too much fuel). The first things you should check is the air-filter and other intake components.

During a Test Drive of a GTI Mk5

When you go for a test drive, make sure the engine is warmed up properly before giving it some throttle. Once the Golf GTI you are test driving is up to temperature, give it some revs and check that it accelerates smoothly and there is no hesitation, bucking or excessive lag.

Listen out for any strange banging, knocking or tapping sounds and remember to keep an eye out for any smoke.

 Signs of a Failing Turbo on a Mk5 Golf GTI
K03 Turbocharger from a Golf GTI Mk5

Listen out for any weird whistling, rumbling or high-pitched metallic sounds when the turbo is at full boost. If the turbo is making these sort of sounds it is well past its prime. However, the turbocharger will probably completely fail before making these sort of sounds. Here are some signs of a failing turbo:

  • Distinctive blue/grey smoke – This usually indicates that the seals are worn, however, it can also be a sign of a cracked turbo housing (pretty unlikely). If the seals have failed a blue/grey coloured smoke will exit the exhaust.
  • Burning lots of oil – Its hard to get an accurate picture of this during a test drive, but try to glean some information from the owner.
  • Slow acceleration – If the car feels slow it is a good indication that the turbo has failed or is failing. This is why we recommend that you test drive a few different Golf GTI Mk5s to get an idea of how fast they are (remember that Edition 30 and Pirelli models will be faster).
  • If the boost pressure comes on late – Boost pressure that comes at higher than normal rpms could indicate either a worn or unbalanced turbocharger.
  • Check Engine Warning Light – The check engine light (CEL) can be displayed for a number of reasons, from major to minor. One of these reasons may be due to a failing/failed turbocharger. If the light is on and you notice some of the other symptoms we have listed above, then it is a good sign that the turbo has failed.

Note: Some of the issues above can be the result of problems with the pipes going to the turbocharger.

Most turbo failures on these cars are usually caused by oil contamination. Regular oil changes with good quality oil will dramatically improve the life of the turbo seals.

ECU Problems with Early Mk5 GTIs

Early Mk5 GTI models were somewhat jerky at lower-speeds due to the mapping of the ECU. A factory recall for these early models was carried out, so its worth checking to see if the work was done on the car you are inspecting.

Engine Swaps, Rebuilds & Modifications

While you are unlikely to come across a Mk5 Golf GTI with a non-stock engine, there are a few out there. We would personally avoid any Mk5 GTI with a non-stock engine, but if you do want to purchase one you need to be extra cautious.

If the GTI you are looking at has a swapped engine, it is far more likely to be the standard 2.0-litre one that was originally fitted to the car. Sometimes owners/sellers need to get an engine swap as there is a problem with the original engine. For instance, if the timing belt snaps it is often cheaper to source and fit a whole new engine, rather than rebuild the damaged one (however, you want to be questioning the rest of the maintenance on the car if this has occurred).

If an engine swap or rebuild has been carried out it is important to check that it was done by a competent Volkswagen or Golf specialist. Try to find some reviews of the person/business that did the work and see if they come recommended.

It is usually better to purchase a Golf GTI with a rebuilt engine that was done a few more k’s. The reason for this is that a rebuilt engine with 10,000 km on it is more of a known than one that has only travelled a couple of hundred kilometres.

Many owners like to modify their Golf GTI Mk5s and while that is okay, there are many of them out there with poor quality tunes or incorrectly fitted and/or unsuitable components. If the Golf GTI you are looking at has been modified, try to get an idea of the extent of the work. Excessive amounts of power can often lead to problems, so we would personally avoid really powerful cars.

Compression Testing a Mk5 Golf GTI

A compression test is by no means necessary, but it is a good way to find out the health of a Mk5 GTI’s engine.

Compression readings for a the 2.0-litre engine in the Golf GTI Mk5 should be around 190 – 200 psi. However, the most important thing with a compression test is that the numbers between the cylinders don’t deviate too much (all within 10% of each other).

Even if you do not intend to do a compression test, we recommend that you ask the owner/seller if you can get one done. If they refuse it may be a sign that they are trying to cover something up.

Transmission & Differential

As you can see the manual transmission fitted to the Mk5 GTI features six-speeds.
Credit: Volkswagen

Volkswagen offered the Golf GTI with two different transmission options, a manual gearbox and a DSG unit.

Manual Transmission

There isn’t too much to worry about when it comes to the 6-speed manual transmission fitted to the Golf GTI. Volkswagen claims that it is a sealed for life unit, but most owners and specialists know that is rubbish and recommend that you check the transmission oil every second service (32,000 km / 20,000 miles). Manual transmission oil changes are often recommended every 65,000 km (40,000 miles) or every 4 years.

While you are test driving a manual GTI make sure you take the car through all the gears, checking for any sloppy/loose shifting or grinding/graunching. Synchro wear isn’t a major issue on this transmission but can occur with regular spirited driving.

Clutch

The clutch is probably your biggest area of transmission concern if you are looking at a manual Golf GTI Mk5. Clutches will tend to last anywhere from 48,000 – 65,000 km (30,000 – 40,000 miles) but can go much longer if they are treated well. If the clutch feels excessively heavy it is probably on its way out.

Below we have listed some methods that will help you determine the condition of the clutch in the Golf GTI Mk5 you are inspecting.

Clutch Engagement – The first step is to make sure the engagement is good. To do this put the GTI 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 way to check for this is to shift into a gear that is too high for the speed you are going. Once you have done this, plant your foot on the throttle and watch the revs. If the engine speed goes up but the car doesn’t accelerate the clutch is slipping. Here are some things that can cause slippage

  • Worn clutch
  • Clutch covered in oil
  • Clutch cable is too tight and is not releasing properly

Clutch Drag – Get the Mk5 GTI on a flat surface and press the clutch pedal to the floor (do this while you are stationary). Rev the GTI 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.

DSG Transmission
As you can see here the DSG gearbox has a similar layout to a normal automatic transmission.
Credit: Volkswagen

While the manual gearbox fitted to the Mk5 GTI shouldn’t cause too many problems, the DSG transmission on the other hand can give owners some real headaches when they go wrong.

If you notice any lurching or jumping when you test drive the vehicle it suggests that the Mechatronic ECU has failed. A replacement from Volkswagen is very, very expensive, however, cheaper aftermarket options are available.

Despite cheaper aftermarket options being available, we would still avoid any Mk5 Golf GTI with a lurching problem. There are enough of them out there that there is not point in wasting your time on one that has serious transmission problems.

The dual mass flywheels can also fail/go bad and are expensive to replace, so keep an ear out for any rumbling or cluttering sounds. Pre

It is absolutely crucial that the DSG transmission in a Mk5 GTI is serviced regularly. If the owner/seller does not have the complete service history for this work be very cautious of the car. The service schedule (both oil and filter) for the DSG transmission is every 65,000 km (40,000 miles) or every 4 years.

Once again, we can’t stress this enough. If the car is fitted with a DSG transmission and does not drive smoothly you should move onto another Mk5 GTI, unless you can get it at an absolute bargain price and the rest of the car is in top notch condition.

Exterior & Body of a Mk5 Golf GTI

Don’t forget to take your time inspecting the bodywork and exterior of the VW Golf GTI Mk5 you are looking at. Here are some things to watch out for.

Rust

Despite being a fairly new car, it has become apparent that the Mk5 Golf GTI suffers from rust problems quite badly. Here are some things that can make the problem worse.

  • If the car has spent time in countries or areas that salt their roads
  • If the car has spent time in countries or areas with very harsh winters
  • If the car has lived by the sea for significant periods of time
  • If the car has always been kept outside (never garaged)
  • Accident damage (stone chips or more significant damage)

While rust isn’t an instant dismissal of a Mk5 GTI, it is a very big problem that is almost always more serious than it first appears. If you notice significant amounts of rust on the GTI you are inspecting move onto another car as the one you are looking at is problem not worth your time and money.

Common Rust Areas on a Mk5 Golf GTI

The main areas to check for rust are as follows (however, it can also occur in other places as well, just less common):

  • Front wheel arches (there was/is a dealer warranty for this) – this is problem your biggest area of concern. This rubber wheel arch liner rubs on the wing and wears away the paint, which leads to rust forming on the arches.
  • Rear wheel arches – same as above.
  • Rear chassis box areas
  • Front-rear roof seams on both edges
  • Underneath the badge on the boot – apparently this occurs due to a manufacturing error.
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. 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 or a coating gauge thickness tool such as this one to find any areas that may have been repaired.

Accident Damage on a Mk5 GTI

There is no point in having a car with a great engine and transmission if it has a load of accident damage. Accident damage is a very serious problem and many owners will lie about the severity of the incident or flat out claim that the car was never in a crash. Always assume the worst with accident damage and hope for the best.

Below we have listed some tell-tale signs of accident damage:

  • Bent or broken parts underneath the car – Check to see if everything is straight underneath the vehicle and watch out for any replaced parts. Take a good look at all the suspension, steering and exhaust components for damage.
  • Rust in strange locations – Could be a sign that the Golf GTI Mk5 you are looking at has been in an crash or has some other sort of issue.
  • Paint runs or overspray – Sometimes a factory issue but can also be a sign of a respray due to crash damage.
  • Missing badges or trim – Can be due to repair work (body shop couldn’t find replacements) or a number of other things (stolen, etc.).
  • Misaligned panels or large panel gaps – Check that the bonnet lines up correctly and fits as it should. Additionally, check the bonnet catches as if they look new the car has probably been in an accident. You should also check the doors, tailgate and the lights for any damage or signs of past damage. If the panels are uneven it could suggest an accident has occurred.
  • Doors that drop or don’t close properly – If the doors drop or don’t open/close properly the Mk5 GTI you are inspecting may have been in a crash.
  • 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 Golf GTI you are inspecting at has been crashed into something (even a light knock can cause this problem).

While accident damage is a very serious problem it should not be an instant dismissal (unless the car is clearly in a bad way). Minor bumps that have been repaired correctly by a competent panel beater/mechanic are okay. If Mk5 GTI you are looking at has serious accident damage or you find out that it was in a very big crash, you should move onto another one.

Watch out for owners/sellers that try to cover up or lie about accident damage as it suggests that there is or was a serious problem with the car. If the owner says they simply don’t know or have never noticed a problem they are probably lying (however, the issue may have occurred when a previous owner had the car).

Moisture in the Lights
Rear tail lights of the Mk5 GTI (water/condensation can get stuck here)
Credit: Volkswagen

It is a good idea to check in and around the lights (especially the rear ones) for any moisture as the seals can fail/go bad. Alternatively, the problem can often be that the lights are not screwed in tight enough.

You can get rid of the condensation by taking the lights off and using a hair drying to get rid of the condensation. If there is lots of water a tiny hole can be drilled in the lower corner towards the wheel arch side of the light. This way the water can escape from the light.

Edition 30 and Pirelli

If you are looking at an Edition 30 or Pirelli Golf GTI Mk5 remember to make sure that the side skirts and front and rear spoilers colour matches that of the body. These models should also have darkened rear light clusters and unique badging.

Boot Lid Release Handle

There is a problem with the boot lid release handle where it can stick and not open properly. Check that the VW Badge on the boot springs back into place when it is released.

Suspension & Steering

There’s no point in having a Golf GTI Mk5 with a great engine and transmission if the suspension is in a bad way. Suspension and steering components that are past their prime can ruin the great handling characteristics of the Mk5 GTI, so get down and inspect as many of the parts as you can.

Here are some things to watch out for when it comes to the suspension and steering system on a Golf GTI Mk5:

  • Delayed or longer stopping distances
  • Uneven tyre wear
  • Excessive tyre bounce after hitting a bump
  • Leaking fluid on the exterior of the shock/strut
  • Sagging rear suspension – usually caused by bad bushings in the rear
  • Knocking or creaking sounds during a test drive (don’t forget to drive in a tight figure 8)
  • Dipping and swerving when the brakes are applied
  • Excessive Rear-end squat during acceleration
  • Tipping during turns
  • High speed instability
  • Excessive vibration coming through the steering wheel (could indicate alignment issues or failed ball joints)

While you are at the front of the car, push down on the suspension. The front suspension should be hard, and you should have to use a bit of force to push it down. If it moves easily or bounces to much on return, then the suspension is probably a bit worn.

Broken Rear Springs

If the GTI you are looking at has an uneven stance then it may have a broken rear spring. This issue is quite common on Mk5 Golf GTIs and while it does sound pretty serious, the springs can be changed fairly cheaply (although it is still a good bargaining point).

Worn Bushes

The rear bushes on the front wishbones have a tendency to wear, which will cause the inside edge on the front tyres to wear quickly.

Drone from the Rear

If you notice a drone from the rear during a test drive it may be a sign that the suspension is misaligned or worn. This can be confirmed by checking the wear on the inside of the rear tyres. Excessive amounts of wear plus the droning noise indicate the rear shock absorbers are becoming weak/failing.

Checking the Wheel Alignment

Find yourself a nice straight and flat section of road to check the wheel alignment. If the Golf GTI Mk5 you are test driving doesn’t drive straight without wheel corrections the alignment is probably out. Alternatively, it may be a sign of another problem such as accident damage.

Inspecting the Brakes on a GTI Mk5

It is important to thoroughly inspect the calipers, discs and pads during an inspection of a Mk5 GTI
Credit: Volkswagen

There’s not much to worry about here apart from the usual stuff, but make sure you take a good look at the warning lights on the dash. A dash warning light for the ABS could indicate a number of problems from a failed ABS/EBS module, corrosion on the ABS sensor in one of the wheels or a failed ABS pump.

Remember to do a good inspection of the brakes and look for the following:

  • Condition of the pads
  • Pitted, scored or grooved discs
  • Corrosion
  • Modifications
  • Any leaks in the brake lines (get a helper to press on the brake pedal while you inspect the lines)
  • Fluid level in the brake fluid reservoir
  • Brake fluid changes every 12 – 24 months (check the service history and with the owner for this)
During a Test Drive of a GTI

The brakes on the Mk5 Golf GTI should be more than adequate for road use, so if they feel spongy or weak there may be a problem. Remember to check the brakes under both light and hard braking conditions to make sure they are functioning properly.

If you notice that the GTI you are driving pulls to one side under braking it may have a sticking/seized caliper. This usually happens if the car has been left unused for a long period of time. Another sign of this problem is a loud thud when you pull away for the first time.

Juddering or shaking through the steering wheel during braking is usually a sign of warped discs and often first becomes apparent when braking at high speed.

Other than the above, keep an ear out for any loud bangs, knocks, grinding or other strange sounds when the brakes are applied. A squealing sound could indicate that the pads are near the end of their life.

Wheels & Tyres

As standard the Mk5 Golf GTI came with 17-inch alloy rims and 225/45 R17 tyres. Owners could opt for 18-inch wheels wrapped in 225/40 R18 tyres if they wanted, which also came as standard on Edition 30 and Pirelli models. The Edition 30 featured unique Pescara design 18-inch allows while the Pirelli car came with Pirelli II wheels.

If the GTI you are looking at has non-stock wheels we recommended that you ask the owner if they have the originals (even if you like the aftermarket ones). The original rims will only add value to the car if you decide to sell it in the future and if they do not have them it is a good bargaining point.

The 18-inch allows can suffer quite badly from aluminium corrosion and are easy to curb as they sit almost flush with the tyre. Getting them repaired can be quite expensive (this goes for 17-inch wheels as well), so make sure they are in good condition.

Another thing to note when it comes to the rims is that the 18-inch ones can make the ride quite a bit harsher on poor quality roads. If you live in a country or area with bad roads it may be a good idea to source a GTI Mk5 with 17-inch rims.

While you are inspecting the rims take a good look at the tyres and check for the following:

  • Amount of tread
  • Uneven wear (Can be a sign of alignment or suspension issues)
  • Brand (they should be from a good or well-reviewed brand)

Interior, Electronics & Air Con

In this image you can see the tartan interior fitted to the Golf GTI Mk5, make sure it is in good condition.
Credit: Volkswagen

The interior in the Mk5 Golf GTI is fairly well built and is made from good quality materials, however, rattles and squeaks are quite common (especially early 2004 models).

Volkswagen kitted out the Mk5 GTI with tartan fabric seats, but leather was an option as well (many buyers prefer the tartan upholstery today). If you are looking at an Edition 30 model the seats should be finished in ‘Interlagos’ cloth trim with leather side bolsters and headrest. Pirelli edition cars should have yellow stitching on the interior trim pieces and seats.

Check that the seat bolsters are not worn (especially on the driver’s side) and there are no rips or stains in the material. Leather seats can sag, so watch out for this.  Remember to check that the seats are secure during both acceleration and braking as it is incredibly dangerous if they move and will be an MOT/WOF failure.

If you are looking at an Edition 30 or Pirelli special edition model make sure the unique trim pieces are present (Golf ball shifter, sculpted leather steering wheel with red stitching, Edition 30 badges etc.). Sourcing these trim pieces is expensive, so if any are missing you should ask for a hefty discount.

While you are looking around the interior, inspect the shifter, steering wheel, carpets, and pedals for wear as they can indicate how far the Mk5 GTI you are inspecting has travelled. If there is significant amounts of wear and tear for the mileage it may indicate that the car’s odometer has been wound back (or it simply may have just had a very hard life).  

As for the electronics, make sure all the switches, knobs and buttons work as intended. If there are no warning lights on the dashboard when you start the GTI up it may indicate that the owner/seller has disconnected them to hide a problem.

The passenger seat occupancy sensors can fail causing the warning light to come on when nobody is in the seat. To get around this problem some owners disconnect the sensors, however, doing so will prevent the airbag from working in a collision.

Door seals can leak on these cars, so look for any signs of moisture in the interior (especially around the carpets) and keep an ear out for a whistling noise.

If the air conditioning/climate control doesn’t work don’t let the owner convince you it just needs a re-gas. It is quite common to find that one side of the dual zone climate control (if fitted) is not operating as intended. To check for this, set the system so that cold air comes out one side and hot air comes out the other.

If the air conditioning is not working at all it may be a compressor issue which will be expensive to fix.

Golf GTI Mk5 Modifications

There are loads of different performance upgrades and modifications for the Mk5 Golf GTI from induction kits to high pressure fuel pumps, cam upgrades and more. If you are looking for a higher performance Mk5 GTI we suggest that you look for an Edition 30 or Pirelli model. This way you know what you are getting.

If the owner/seller has made modifications, try to get an idea of the extent of them. Additionally, try to find out who carried out the modifications, especially if they are significant. Look up the tuner, mechanic and see if they have good reviews, if they don’t move onto another GTI.

Mk5 GTIs with excessive amounts of power should be avoided as they will probably be more trouble than they are worth. Additionally, avoid cars that are stanced and excessively low.

General Car Buying Advice the Mk5 Golf GTI

How to Get a Great Deal on a VW Golf GTI Mk5

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, research, research –  Prior to starting your search for a Golf GTI, figure out what specs and condition you are happy with. Do you want a low mileage example or are you happy with a car that has travelled far? Are modifications okay or do you want a stock model.
  2. Shop around – It is always best to shop around a bit before you make a purchase. There are loads of Mk5 Golf GTIs out there, so don’t limit yourself to one seller, dealer, area or auction platform.
  3. Test drive multiple cars – It is a good idea to test drive a many cars as possible, so you know what makes a good and what makes a bad Golf GTI.
  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 a Mk5 GTI for sale and only go for promising looking cars.
  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 –  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 Mk5 Golf GTIs, 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 in a Mk5 Golf GTI to warm up properly, which can lead to increased component wear.

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.

Mileage will never decrease with age, so go out and drive your car!   

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 VW specialist or mechanic (especially for major repair work).

The service history will give you a good idea of how the Golf GTI 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 Mk5 Golf GTI 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?
  • 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?
  • 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?
  • Is there any rust?
  • Has rust been removed at any point?
  • Has the car been used for track use 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 a Golf GTI Mk5

Here are some things that would make as walk away from a GTI. While you may be happy with a vehicle with these problems, we are not.

  • Overheating problems
  • Significant Crash Damage
  • Money owing on the car
  • Stanced
  • 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 Mk5 Golf GTI (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 Mk5 Golf GTI 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 Golf GTI Mk5.

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