The Mk5 R32 is somewhat of a last hurrah to the big engined Golfs. It’s a car with good performance and levels of comfort, refinement and sophistication that many of its rivals couldn’t offer.
Today, used R32 Mk5s are surprisingly reasonably priced in most locations and countries, making the vehicle a seriously tempting buy for those who want performance, practicality and something that may appreciate in value in the future.
In this Golf R32 Mk5 buyer’s guide, we will be covering everything you need to know about purchasing one of these hot Volkswagens and any common problems with the car. Additionally, we will cover this history and the specifications of the R32 Mk5 to give you a bit of a background about it.
How to Use This VW Golf R32 Mk5 Buyer’s Guide
This buyer’s guide is long, so we recommend that you make use of the table of contents below (or just read it all). To start with we will be looking at the history and specifications of the Golf R32 Mk5. Following that we will be diving into the buyer’s guide section of the article and then we have more general used car purchasing advice at the end.
History of the Golf R32 Mk5
The original hot Golf, the GTI was the work of a six-man team headed up by Anton Konrad. The car would go on to become one of the most iconic vehicles of all time and would bring on a new era of fast, yet practical hatchbacks for the driver who wanted a bit more from their everyday runabout.
While Volkswagen’s Golf GTI continued to be highly regarded with the next few future generations, competition from the likes of Peugeot, Renault and many other manufacturers meant that there were far more options available to the discerning buyer. Despite this, the GTI was still a popular buy.
Things took a turn for the worse with the fourth-generation car. While the Mk4 GTI topped its class for perceived quality like the Mk3 before it, it left drivers wanting significantly more. It was under-powered, overweight and there was even an anaemic 2.0-litre naturally aspirated model with a paltry 113 bhp (84 kW) output in some markets.
All things combined lead to a car that was despised by the motoring press for what it had done to the Golf GTI name and even Bernd Pischetsrieder – VW’s chairman during the early 2000s – said it wasn’t a proper GTI.
However, there was one model in Volkswagen’s hot Golf range that did stand out. This car didn’t wear the GTI badge, but it did have the spirit of the original Golf GTI.
The First Golf R32
Following on from the Golf GTI Mk4’s launch in 2001 and its less than positive reception, Volkswagen introduced a significantly enhanced sporty Golf the next year as a 2003 model. This car would be branded the Golf R32 and with one look at the spec sheet it was easy to see that VW meant business.
Underneath the somewhat understated exterior was the most powerful engine ever fitted to a production Golf – a 3.2-litre DOHC VR6 power unit with as much as 238 bhp (177 kW) at 6,250 rpm and 320 Nm (236 lb-ft) of torque at 2,800 rpm.
The upgrades didn’t stop there, however. Volkswagen’s engineers also gave the car a Haldex 4motion on-demand four-wheel drive system, a new six-speed manual transmission to match the new engine, and independent rear suspension. Other features included climatronic automatic climate control, sport seats from König and 18-inch OZ Aristo alloy wheels that covered the enlarged brakes.
The new R32 would also be the first car to offer VW’s Direct-Shift Gearbox, or DSG dual-clutch transmission – just beating Audi’s TT 3.2.
With its impressive performance, charismatic engine and excellent build quality, the first Golf R32 was a massive hit and convinced Volkswagen’s top brass to continue the model.
Volkswagen Introduces the Golf R32 Mk5
With the let-down that was the Mk4 Golf GTI, Volkswagen went back to the drawing board for the fifth-generation car. They reintroduced what was great about the original model and gave the car comfort and driving dynamics that went beyond what most were offering at the time.
Despite producing a hit with the standard Golf Mk5 and the GTI Mk5, the “R” brand continued. Volkswagen clearly found a market for an even more powerful and featureful version of the Golf with the previous generation R32 and the Mk5 R32 carried on the trend.
The car went on sale in the latter half of 2005 for both European and British based buyers. Rather than reinventing the wheel, VW’s engineers simply took what was great about the previous R32 and combined it with the excellent design of the fifth-generation Golf.
The magnificent 3.2-litre engine was retained, but with a few updates that brought power to 247 bhp (184 kW) at 6,300 rpm, while torque remained the same at 320 Nm (236 lb-ft). As you can imagine, this slight bump in power didn’t produce a massive step up in performance. The 0 – 100 km/h (62 mph) time was just a tad faster at around 6.5 seconds, while DSG equipped models could do it in 6.0 – 6.2 seconds. With the pedal planted firmly in the carpets, the R32 Mk5 could pull its way to an electronically limited top speed of 250 km/h (155 mph).
Like the previous generation R32, the Mk5 came with a Haldex four-wheel drive system and all of the top-of-the-line features that one would expect from Volkswagen’s flagship Golf.
To help tame the powerful engine, the R32 Mk5 came with larger 345 mm (13.58 inch) discs at the front and 310 mm (12.2 inch) discs at the rear that were clamped by blue-painted calipers.
The R32 Mk5 Comes to America
While European and British buyers could get their hands on the Golf R32 Mk5 at the end of 2005, those in the United States had to wait until August 2007. If this wait wasn’t bad enough, Volkswagen only produced a limited run of 5,000 cars for the market. All United States bound cars featured a production number laser etched onto their steering wheels.
The End of the R32 Mk5
After three short years of production, the last R32 Mk5 rolled off the production line. The “R32” badge and the mighty 3.2-litre VR6 engine would not reappear on the next top-end Golf, with the Golf R Mk6 featuring an economical, yet powerful 2.0-litre turbocharged engine.
Volkswagen Golf R32 Mk5 Specifications
|Year of production||2005 – 2008|
|Layout||Front-engine, four-wheel drive|
|Engine/Engines||3.2-litre VR6 24v|
|Power||247 bhp (184 kW) at 6,300 rpm|
|Torque||320 Nm (236 lb-ft) at 2,500 – 3,000 rpm|
|Brakes Front||345 mm (13.58 inch) discs|
|Brakes Rear||310 mm (12.2 inch) discs|
|Wheel Size Front||7 ½J x 18|
|Wheel Size Rear||7 ½J x 18|
|Tyres Front||225/40 R 18Y|
|Tyres Rear||225/40 R 18Y|
|Suspension Front||MacPherson strut, A-arms, anti-roll bar|
|Suspension Rear||Multi-link, coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|Weight||1,510 – 1,530 kg (3,329 – 3,373 lbs)|
|Top speed||250 km/h (155 mph)|
|0 – 100 km/h (62 mph)||6.5 seconds (manual)|
6.0 – 6.2 seconds (DSG)
Volkswagen Golf R32 Mk5 Buying Guide
With the history and specifications covered, let’s take a look at what you need to know before purchasing a Mk5 R32.
Setting Up an Inspection of a Golf R32 Mk5
Arranging an inspection is an important part of the used car buying process, so here are some things to consider.
- Inspect the R32 Mk5 yourself or get a reliable friend or third party to do so for you – Buying a used car sight unseen can sometimes work out, however, it is generally best practice to view a car in person. If you can’t do this we recommend that you enlist the help of a friend or reliable third party who can do so for you.
- Try to view the Golf R32 at the seller’s house or place of business – This is a good idea as it will give you a chance to see how and where the car is stored – is it parked out on the road in the elements? Or is it kept in a nice garage? Another thing to check is what sort of roads the car is regularly driven on. If they are really rough, the suspension, wheels, tyres, etc. may have taken a bit of a beating.
- If possible, arrange to see the vehicle in the morning – Doing this will give the seller or owner less time to clean up any potential issues with their Golf R32 Mk5 like a big oil leak. Additionally, make it known to the seller that you do not want the car warmed or driven prior to your arrival if possible. A warmed engine can hide a multitude of sins, so watch out!
- Bring along a friend or helper – Take somebody with you to inspect the VW Golf R32, even if they don’t know much about cars (however, its better if they do). They may be able to spot something you missed, and they can give you their thoughts on the vehicle.
- Try to avoid inspecting the car in the rain – Water can cover up numerous different issues with the paint and/or bodywork. If you happen to look at a Golf R32 Mk5 when it is raining, we recommend that you go back for a second viewing.
- Watch out for freshly washed R32 Mk5s – This goes for any used car really and is for the same reason as above. Additionally, some sellers/owners will wash the engine bay and underside of a vehicle to hide issues such as a big oil leak.
- Ask the seller to move the Mk5 outside if it is in a showroom or a garage – The lighting in garages and showrooms can often hide issues with the bodywork and/or paint. Direct sunlight will highlight any potential issues.
How Much Should I Pay for a VW Golf R32 Mk5?
Depending on the condition, mileage, etc. the price you should pay for a Mk5 Golf R32 will vary considerably. To get a rough idea of how much money you need to have on hand to purchase one of these cars, we recommend that you check out your local auction/classifieds or dealer websites for R32s for sale. You can then use these prices to work out roughly what you need for a specific condition level.
Is the R32 Mk5 Expensive to Maintain and Run?
Unfortunately, if you are looking for something cheap to run and maintain, the Mk5 Golf R32 isn’t the car for you. Too many of these cars have now got into the hands of people who simply couldn’t afford to maintain them, which makes problems even worse.
Both parts and labour can be expensive depending on where you live in the world. The best way to bring down the running costs is to roll up your sleeves and try do some of the work yourself if you are competent and fairly practical.
Going to a Volkswagen dealer to get the car serviced will only make things worse, so check if there are any competent specialists or mechanics in your area prior to purchase.
Where is the Best Place to Find a Golf R32 Mk5 for Sale?
Nowhere near as many of these cars were made as the standard Golf GTI Mk5, however, you should still be able to find them for sale in the usual places. A good owners club is generally where we would start our hunt first. Check to see if there are any Volkswagen, Golf or R32 clubs in your area. The owners in these clubs tend to be more enthusiastic about their cars and generally look after them better. Here are a few examples of some R32 owners clubs.
R32 OC – Arguably the biggest Volkswagen Golf R32 club around online and well worth checking out. Lots of great advice and knowledgeable owners, however, the website is more dedicated for UK-based owners.
Volkswagen Owners Club – Big website dedicated to all Volkswagen cars with a section for those with R32s. Not as populated as the one above, but still worth checking out.
Is it a Good Idea to Get a Mechanic to Inspect an R32 Mk5 Prior to Purchase?
It is usually a good idea to get a competent mechanic or specialist to inspect a used car prior to purchase. Lots of Golf R32 Mk5s are in very poor condition, so paying a little bit for an inspection may save you a lot of money down the line. Even if you do not plan to take the car to a mechanic before buying it, we recommend that you ask the seller if you can. If they seem funny or hesitant about it, it suggests there may be a hidden problem.
Check the VIN and Engine number
It is always a good idea to check the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) or chassis number. The VIN can tell you quite a bit of information about a specific Volkswagen R32 Mk5 and its history. VINs and chassis numbers usually consist of a series of characters and numbers and they are assigned by manufacturers to a vehicle at the factory.
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 R32 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
- In the service book/logbook
The engine number is usually on a sticker on the side of the valve cover and should be in the logbook as well. Make sure these match as otherwise it may suggest that the engine has been replaced at some point.
The 3.2-litre VR6 engine inside the R32 Mk5 is a fantastic piece of kit. While it is quite inefficient and actually not that powerful for its size, the noise is fantastic and you simply won’t get an engine like it in a modern hot hatch again.
To start your inspection of the engine, move to the front of the Mk5 and open the bonnet/hood. Check that the bonnet goes up smoothly and that the struts, catch, etc, work as intended. If any of these parts have failed and have not been replaced it shows that the vehicle probably hasn’t been cared for that well.
Take a good general look at the engine bay, keeping an eye out for any obvious issues such as oil leaks, broken or missing parts, etc. A completely spotless engine bay is usually a sign of a good owner, however, it may also be a sign of somebody who is trying to cover up an issue with their R32 Mk5.
Checking the Fluids
This part is often overlooked during a used car inspection, but it is something we always recommend that you do. Fluid levels that are too low or high, old fluids that have not been changed in a long time, or fluids that incompatible can cause serious issues and possibly damage to the engine inside an R32 Mk5.
Check the dipstick and if you notice any metallic particles or grit it is probably best to walk away. Additionally, foam on the dipstick can be a sign of big issues (more on that later).
Talk to the owner/seller about the car’s service history and make sure you check the service book. If the seller can’t tell you much and/or can’t produce the service book alarm bells should be going off in your head. Ask them what oil has been used in the car, along with the oil filter and other service parts. The R32 Mk5 takes 5W-30 engine oil that meets VW 504.00/VW507.00 standards, with the factory one being from Castrol.
Some owners like to use 5W-40 engine oil in their R32 Mk5s for better hot temperature performance, especially if they are in hot climates or regularly track their car (some R32 Mk5s were filled with 5W-40 from the factory in the hotter parts of North America).
The engine oil and oil filter should have been replaced at least every 16,000 km (10,000 miles), but many owners like to do it at half that distance. If the R32 Mk5 you are looking at has not been driven that much these components should have been replaced at least every 12 months. This guide on R32OC will come in handy if you plan to do the oil change yourself.
Are Oil Leaks Common on R32 Mk5s?
Unlike some other cars on the road, you shouldn’t have too many issues with leaking oil from an R32 Mk5. The oil filter housing can sometimes cause issues along with the oil filter if it has not been installed correctly (or the wrong filter has been used). Remember to check around the valve cover as well and if you notice any leaks around the back of the engine be very cautious. If the Golf R32 you are looking at is leaving puddles of oil on the ground walk away.
Remember to check for oil leaks both before and after a test drive as that spotless engine bay may not be so spotless after a trip around the block.
Ask the Owner About Oil Consumption
You aren’t going to be able to tell if the R32 Mk5 you are looking at consumes an excessive amount of oil during a short drive, so talk to the owner/seller about the problem. Most of the time the majority of sellers will say it doesn’t use a drop between changes, but it is still worth asking just in case you get an honest one.
Does the VW Golf R32 Mk5 Use a Timing Chain or Belt?
Unlike the Golf GTI Mk5, the R32 uses a timing chain instead of a belt, so there is no need to worry about changing it at a specified interval. While the timing chain is stated to be a lifetime component, the reality is they can stretch or fail with time (not too uncommon around the 160,000 km/100,000 mile mark).
The main things to watch out for are any strange noises (rattling, etc.) from the timing chain area (right side of the engine) – however, be mindful that some chain noise is normal. A loose timing chain may also lead to misfires as well, so watch out for that issue as well (could be the sign of a number of problems). The most likely cause of timing issues is not usually the timing chain and is in-fact the plastic tensioner that can wear.
Replacing the tensioner by itself is usually not too expensive, but many owners recommend getting the whole timing set (chain, tensioner, guides and all) replaced at the same time. This will make the job significantly more expensive, but still cheaper than doing them one by one. Depending on where you live in the world you could be looking at anywhere from US$1,000 to $2,000 and possibly more for this job, so if the R32 Mk5 you are looking at has timing issues make sure you get a heavy discount or walk away. If you are interested in the process of replacing the timing chain, check out this four part series from Uncle Moe’s Garage below:
Squealing Serpentine Belt
A squealing sound from the serpentine belt area (left side of the engine) could be a sign that the belt and or tensioner needs replacing. Failures can occur at any time, but most of the time tend to happen at the 96,000 – 130,000 km (60,000 – 80,000 mile) mark. The noise is usually more of an issue when the car is first started and is cold (so make sure the seller hasn’t pre-warmed the R32 prior to your arrival). If the belt/tensioner is making a squealing noise, they should both be replaced as soon as possible. Here’s a guide on how to do this job yourself.
Making Sure the Cooling System Is Operating Correctly
Any problems with the cooling system could spell big trouble for the engine, so if you notice any issues here you should proceed with caution. Below we have listed the main components of the cooling system:
- 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
- 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
The water pump is a bit of a pain to replace as there is not enough room to simply pull the pump out without raising or lowering the engine. This means that you could be looking at upwards of $1,000 or possibly more to get this job done at a dealer (specialists may be cheaper). Check with the owner to see when the water pump was replaced as they can often fail at anywhere from around 96,000 km (60,000 miles) to 160,000 km (100,000 miles) –Volkswagen doesn’t actually state a replacement interval for the water pump or the thermostat. Many owners replace the stock plastic water pump with an all-metal unit, so see if that has been done.
Remember to check the coolant lines for any leaks or crusted coolant. Do the same around the coolant tank and if the tank itself looks in a bad way it may need to be replaced. It is not uncommon for the radiator in these cars to leak/crack around the corners (especially the bottom), which can be quite an expensive problem to put right. Sometimes the leak from the radiator is simply the sealing ring in the quick acting coupling, but you aren’t going to be able to tell during a short inspection.
Like we mentioned earlier, check for leaks both before and after a test drive along with the coolant level. Once you have gone for a test drive, turn the car off and wait for a bit (around 10 – 15 minutes or so). Check for any fresh puddles of coolant under the car and do a smell test. If you don’t see any puddles of oil, but smell a sweet aroma the car could still be leaking coolant. If you cannot find the source of the leak do not purchase the R32!
If you hear gurgling noises it could be anything from low coolant level to a leak or possibly even a failing/failed water pump.
What Are the Signs of an Overheating Lexus 2IS?
Make sure you keep an eye out for the following signs that indicate an overheating R32 Mk5 or one with something like a blown head gasket.
- Temperature gauge on that is on the high side
- Bubbles in the radiator or coolant overflow tank
- White and milky oil
- Spark plugs that are fouled
- Low cooling system integrity
- Smell of coolant from the oil
- Sweet smelling exhaust
- Leaking or crusted coolant
- White smoke from the exhaust pipe (especially if you see lots of it)
If you notice any of the issues above on the Golf R32 Mk5 you are looking at it is probably better to move onto another car.
Inspect the Exhaust
Check as much of the exhaust system as you can get a look at as problems here can be quite expensive to fix. Use a torch/flashlight or the light on your phone to get a better look, and a mirror comes in handy if you have one of those. Below we have listed some of the main issues to watch out for:
- Accident damage – Check that the exhaust is straight and doesn’t have any major accident damage (dings, big scrapes, etc.). Lots of accident damage on the underside of a car suggests that the owner (or a previous owner) is a bit of a careless driver.
- Black sooty stains – These sorts of stains are usually a sign of a leak. The problem may be a simple fix, but don’t count on it. Pay particular attention around the joins/welds.
- Bad repairs – Shouldn’t be too much of a problem, but it is always a good idea to watch out for any bodge jobs that have been done for a quick sale.
- Low rumbling, scraping and rattling noises –These sorts of noises can indicate a problem with the exhaust, so keep an ear out for them.
Flex Pipe & Cat Assembly
Leaks from the flex pipe are quite a common issue on stock R32 Mk5 exhausts, so be mindful of any loud hissing, tapping or rattling sounds that may get louder with increased speed. Additionally, check for any exhaust blowing from the front of the car under throttle. Volkswagen will probably screw you out of a whole load of cash to replace a leaking flex pipe as they will want to replace the catalytic converter assembly as well.
A good exhaust shop will be able to cut out the leaking flex pipe and install a new one (should get both done) at a significantly reduced price. Still, if the R32 Mk5 you are inspecting is showing signs of this problem make sure you get a good discount if everything else is okay and you still want to purchase the vehicle.
The catalytic converter can fail, so watch out for the following signs of the problem:
- Smell of sulphur or rotten eggs from the exhaust
- Reduced acceleration and sluggish engine performance
- Excessive heat under the R32
- Dark smoke from the R32 Mk5’s exhaust
As we mentioned above, replacing the catalytic converter will be very expensive, so it is probably best to walk away if you notice these issues (some may be caused by other problems). Another alternative is to fit a Decat exhaust, but the CEL will come on (unless you get it coded out of the ECU).
A Word on Aftermarket Exhausts
Quite a lot of owners like to fit aftermarket exhausts to their Mk5 R32s. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this as long as the exhaust is from a good brand/custom builder (Milltek, etc.). Check with the owner to see where the exhaust came from and look up reviews. If it is a cheap one from a badly reviewed brand the seller/owner may have got it fitted for a quick sale.
Failing Coil Packs
A number of owners have experienced this problem with their VW Golf R32s, so keep an eye out for the following signs:
- Rough idle and misfires
- 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
Here are some of the codes that may come up if the coilpacks have failed – you will need an OBD2 scanner to find these problems or take the car to Volkswagen or a specialist to get the codes read.
- 000768 – Random/Multiple Cylinder Misfire Detected
- P0300 – 001 – Upper Limit Exceeded
- 000769 – Misfire Detected
- P0301 – 001 – Upper Limit Exceeded
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.
There was a recall for the coil packs, so check that this was actioned upon as well.
Make Sure the Spark Plugs Have Been Replaced at Some Point
The spark plugs should have been replaced at least every 96,000 km (60,000 miles), but Volkswagen often does them much earlier. If the spark plugs have not been changed in a long time it suggests poor maintenance.
Fuel Tank Recall
There was a problem with the fuel tank ventilation valve on 2008 Mk5 R32s. On some occasions the valve would not remain closed, which could lead to fuel entering the fuel tank venting system and migrating into the evaporative system, saturating the carbon canister.
If this occurs while driving it can lead to jerking and the illumination of the Malfunction Indicator Lamp (MIL). In worst case scenarios, a leak could lead to a vehicle fire. Check that this recall was actioned upon and if you can’t confirm that it has, give Volkswagen a ring if you are still interested in the R32.
Switching On a Golf R32 Mk5 for the First Time
Ask the seller or owner to start the R32 Mk5 for you for the first time (make sure you start it yourself at a later point). We recommend this for the following reasons:
- So you can see what comes out the back
- If the seller gives the car a boot full when it is cold you know to walk away
When you start the vehicle yourself, make sure you check what warning lights come up on the dashboard (CEL, EPC, etc.). If no warning lights come on it may be a sign that they have been disconnected to hide a problem. If this is the case, do not purchase the R32 until you can find out what is going on. Here’s a video of an R32 Mk5 being started to give you an idea of what to expect (note it has a different exhaust).
What Should the Idle Speed Be on a Mk5 R32?
Once the car warms you should find that the idle speed settles around the 650 rpm mark (+-50 rpm). With the air conditioning on expect the idle speed to be around 900 rpm. Don’t be concerned if the idle speed is a bit higher when the car is first started from cold, but it should drop after a while. If the idle speed goes up to over around 1,000 rpm it is probably the battery.
Finding the cause of idle issues can be difficult as it could be anything from bad spark plugs, dirty intake components and much more. If the issue was a simple fix the owner probably would have got it sorted before putting their Golf R32 on the market. Alternatively, they may not care or may have not noticed.
Dual Mass Flywheel Issues
Listen out for any squeaking when you start the engine as it could be the DMF (possibly also the starter motor). If you do hear a squeaking, listen out for a metallic rattling sound when the engine is switched off and any strange noises that disappear when the car is idling as you shift from P to N to D.
During a Test Drive
Make sure you take the R32 Mk5 you are test driving through its rev range, however, only do this once the car is warm. It is a good idea to leave the window down so you can hear any noises as the R32’s cabin is quite insulating.
Smoke Coming From a Golf R32
As we wrote earlier, get the owner or seller to start the R32 Mk5 for you for the first time. Position yourself at the rear of the car and if you have a white piece of paper or cloth on hand (always handy to bring to a used car inspection), hold it up in front of the exhaust. If lots of soot gets on the paper/cloth it indicates that there may be an issue.
A small amount of vapour on engine start-up is perfectly normal, especially on a cold day. This vapour is usually just caused by condensation in the exhaust system and should disappear fairly quickly. If you notice lots of smoke or vapour walk away and find yourself another Golf R32 Mk5. Below we have listed what the different colours of smoke indicate.
White smoke – If you notice lots of white smoke from the R32 you are inspecting, it may be a sign that water has made its way into the cylinders due to a blown/leaking head gasket. Give the exhaust a good whiff and if it smells sweet, it is probably coolant.
Blue/Grey smoke – This colour smoke could be caused by a whole range of things from worn piston rings, valve seals and is usually indicative of oil burning. To test for this colour smoke during a drive, get somebody to follow you while you are in the 2IS. 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.
Black smoke – 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 and more. If the exhaust smells of fuel, the engine is almost certainly running too rich.
Buying an VW Golf R32 Mk5 with a Rebuilt or Replaced Engine
Purchasing an R32 Mk5 with a rebuilt or replaced engine is perfectly fine as long as the work was carried out by a competent VW specialist or mechanic. Find out who did the work and if they have poor reviews walk away. You should also ask the seller/owner why the rebuild or replacement was done (if they know).
It is usually best to avoid fresh rebuilds or engine swaps with only a few hundred miles on them. For example, an VW Golf R32 with 10,000 km (6,200 miles) on a rebuild or replacement is going to be a much safer bet than one with only a tenth of the mileage.
Is a Leakdown or Compression Test Worth it?
These sorts of tests are not 100% necessary when purchasing a used R32 Mk5, but they can be helpful to determine the health of a specific car’s engine. If you are taking one of these cars to a mechanic or specialist prior to purchase, we recommend that you get them to do a test.
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). Below where the compression readings should roughly sit:
- New engine (not really relevant but good to know) – roughly 190 Psi
- Used engine – roughly 160 Psi
- Worn out engine that requires a rebuild or replacement – roughly 110 psi
Volkswagen fitted the Golf R32 Mk5 with two different transmission options, a six-speed manual and a Direct-shit gearbox (DSG). We will start by looking at the manual transmission.
Manual R32 Mk5s
There isn’t too much to worry about when it comes to the six-speed manual apart from the usual problems that manual gearboxes experience. Some owners do find that the gearbox can be a bit notchy and difficult to get into third, but not excessively so (you should get used to it fairly quickly).
If the notchiness continues to be a problem the linkages may need adjusting. Alternatively, synchro wear can occur, especially with repeated spirited driving, so watch out for any grinding or graunching when changing gears.
Another thing to do is to find yourself a bit of an incline (if possible) and check to see how the transmission and clutch performs with a hill start.
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.
Its almost impossible to predict the lifetime of a clutch. It could go on for well over 160,000 km (100,000 miles) or be gone in half that distance. A clutch that is treated well will last much longer, so make sure the fluid has been changed regularly. Riding the clutch, keeping the clutch pressed down when not in use and many other bad driving habits can significantly reduce the life of a clutch. Here are some things to watch out for when checking the clutch on a Golf R32 Mk5.
Clutch Engagement – The first step is to make sure the engagement is good. To do this put the R32 Mk5 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 R32 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.
The DSG transmission is where things can get a bit problematic as an issue here could set you back a significant percentage of the purchase price of the car.
There was a recall for Volkswagen cars produced from 2007 to 2009 that were equipped with the DSG transmission, so make sure this has been actioned upon. The problem was that the bushing inside the mechatronic unit could potentially wear out prematurely, causing the clutches inside the transmission to operate less smoothly. This would lead to jerkiness and uncomfortable shifts.
Volkswagen did give out an extended warranty for this issue, but these warranties will have expired by now, so you are going to be on your own if there is a problem.
If you do notice any lurching or jumping when you test drive an R32 Mk5 it suggests that the Mechatronic ECU has failed. A replacement from Volkswagen is very, very expensive, however, cheaper aftermarket options are available. Despite this, we still feel there is not point in wasting time and money on a car with serious DSG transmission issues. Below we have listed some ways to test the transmission.
- Put the car in reverse and turn the steering wheel lock to lock – listen out for any clunks, thuds, etc.
- Take your foot off the brake and see if the car starts rolling back on its own (like with an automatic transmission – if it jerks, shudders or lurches there is an issue
- With the R32 rolling back, tap the brakes and change from reverse to drive – once again check for any clunks, shudders, etc.
- Do the same as the first step but with the car in drive –
- When the car is warm, roll to a stop and see how the transmission acts – if it bucks or jerks trying to stop there is an issue
- Check how the transmission shifts under high rpms – watch out for any strange noises or whines, especially from the passenger side
It is absolutely crucial that the DSG transmission in a Golf R32 Mk5 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 R32 Mk5, unless you can get it at an absolute bargain price and the rest of the car is in top notch condition.
Manual vs DSG
This really comes down to what you are looking for. Real driving enthusiasts will probably want to go with the manual transmission, however, the vast majority of DSG owners seem to be very happy with their choice and wouldn’t go back to a manual. We suggest that you try out both transmission types to get a feel of what you would prefer. The biggest issue with the DSG transmission is when it goes wrong it can be eye-wateringly expensive to fix.
Along with the DSG Transmission, the Haldex system’s oil filter and oil should be changed at 65,000 km (40,000 miles), so make sure this has been done. 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 Volkswagen or a specialist. However, if you do notice lots of wheelspin it indicates a problem (The Haldex system should kick in at around 15% wheelspin).
Rear Diff Issues
If the car still feels like the handbrake is on when you reverse when it hasn’t, it may be a sign that there is a problem with the rear differential. This will probably happen with the car going forward as well and watch out for clunking when changing gears. Another thing to watch out for is a whining noise on wheel rotation, particularly when coming off the throttle/gas pedal.
There have been a few cases of technicians where technicians have mucked up the differential oil change (mixing the differential and Haldex oil levels, draining the differential oil accidentally, etc.). Replacing the rear differential will be exceedingly expensive, so if you notice any of the problems we mentioned above walk away.
Steering & Suspension
While the Volkswagen Golf R32 Mk5 is not that old, expect to find more than a few with shagged out suspension and steering components. Squeaking or clunking front strut mounts and springs are the main thing to watch out for here and the problem can be very annoying, so check for it by going over some speed bumps, etc. On some cars these parts were manufactured not quite right, leading to the problem. In some cases you can rotate the front coils back and forth slightly with the car still on the ground (shouldn’t happen).
If the R32 Mk5 you are looking at is fitted with aftermarket suspension make sure you are happy with the ride. Non-stock suspension can sometimes be overly harsh, especially if it has been set up for track use.
Overall, the stock handling and feel of an R32 Mk5 should be fairly tight and responsive, so if the car you are driving feels floaty or nervous there could be a problem.
Vibrations through the steering wheel could be anything from a damaged tyre, an out of balance wheel or even a bent wheel. Below we have created a list of the main things to watch out for when it comes to the suspension and steering on a Golf R32 MkV:
- Dipping and swerving when the brakes are applied
- Excessive Rear-end squat during acceleration
- 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
- Leaking fluid on the exterior of the shock/strut
- Sagging or uneven suspension
- Knocking, clunking or creaking sounds during a test drive (this may be caused by something else, but bad suspension and steering componentry is a common issue)
- 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) – usually a bad CV joint. However, clicking sounds may also indicate something like a bad wheel bearing as well
Don’t forget to visually inspect as many of the suspension and steering components as possible. Watch out for any leaks, grease around the CV joints, damage, etc. If the components on one corner/side look different to the other corners/side it may be a sign that the Mk5 you are looking at has been in an accident. It is a good idea to bring along a torch/flashlight and a mirror to help inspect these components.
Check That the Wheel Alignment Is Good
Don’t forget to check that the Golf R32 you are looking at drives straight with minimal wheel corrections. This is best done on a nice flat, straight section of road. If the wheel alignment is incorrect it can lead to excessive/uneven tyre wear and may make the driving experience less safe and enjoyable. Incorrect wheel alignment can also be a sign of bigger issues such as accident damage.
Inspecting the Wheels & Tyres
It is important to take a good look at the wheels and tyres as they can tell you quite a bit of information about a second hand car. Expect to find the odd scuff and scratch on the wheels, but if there is loads of curb damage it is a sign that the car has been owned by a careless driver.
The original wheels are nice, but some owners have fitted aftermarket ones to their R32s. If the Mk5 you are inspecting is running aftermarket wheels, check with the seller if they have the originals. If they don’t ask for a discount as the originals will only add value to the car. Apart from all that, check the tyres for the following:
- Amount of tread– Check how much tread is left on the tyres as if they need to be replaced soon you should try to get a discount on the Golf R32.
- Uneven wear– Wear should be even between the right and left tyres. Additionally, make sure wear is even across the tyre itself (although the shoulders of the front tyres tend to wear much quicker than the rest of the tyre even with perfect alignment).
- 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 and may even be dangerous.
The brakes should be more than adequate for road use, so if they feel weak or spongy there is an issue that needs to be investigated. Remember to test the brakes under both light and hard braking conditions, making sure you do a few repeated high to low speed runs.
Listen out for any squealing or rumbling noises when the brake pedal is pressed as this could be anything from bad/worn pads to disc issues and more.
Watch out for any shuddering or shaking though the steering wheel of an R32 Golf as it may be a sign that the discs are warped and need to be replaced. This problem usually becomes first apparent under high-speed braking.
Seizing brake calipers can be an issue on MkVs, particularly on the rear, so check for the following signs of the problem:
- Pulling 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
- Brakes get extremely hot and produce a distinctive acrid smell and in some cases smoke
- Car won’t move at all in serious cases
- Loud thud-like noise when pulling away for the first time
As with the suspension and steering components, visually inspect as many of the brake parts as you can. If the pads and discs need to be replaced anytime soon make sure you get a discount on the vehicle or make the seller replace them for you. The brake fluid should have been replaced every 2 years or so.
Exterior & Bodywork
Bodywork and paint issues can be a major pain to fix, so make sure you are happy with the overall condition of the exterior. Inspect all the body panels and exterior components for the following:
Crash damage is arguably going to be your biggest concern when it comes to the exterior of the car (and possibly the whole thing). It is not uncommon for owners and sellers to lie about the severity of an incident and the resultant repairs, so watch out. Some sellers may claim that the vehicle hasn’t been in an accident when it clearly has.
In the following section we have put together some things that may indicate that the Golf R32 MkV you are looking at has been in an accident:
- Bent or broken parts underneath the car – Check to see if everything is straight underneath the Golf R32 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 R32 Mk5 you are looking at has been in a crash or has some other sort of issue.
- Paint runs or overspray – While this could be a factory issue, Volkswagen’s quality control is pretty good, so it is probably due to repair work.
- Missing badges or trim – Could 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 and the lights for any damage or signs of past damage.
- Doors that drop or don’t close properly – If the doors drop or don’t open/close properly the R32 you are inspecting may have been in an accident.
- 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 Mk5 R32 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– This is very difficult to fix if the car has been in an accident, so watch out for this.
While accident damage is a serious issue, don’t instantly dismiss a vehicle because of it unless the damage was clearly very serious and/or the repair work was poor. Crash damage that is moderate to light and repaired by a skilled panel beater/body shop is usually fine.
If the owner/seller tries to cover up or lie about the accident it suggests that the problem is worse than first appears. Alternatively, if the owner can’t tell you much about the accident/damage it may have happened when a previous person owner the vehicle.
Do Golf R32 Mk5s Rust?
Despite being a relatively modern car, rust can be quite an issue on R32 MkVs. Be very cautious if you notice any rust/corrosion as the issue is often much more serious than it first appears. If the rust looks really bad walk away as the R32 you are looking at is simply not worth your time.
Where Does R32 Mk5s Usually Rust
- Front wheel arches/wells – this problem is your biggest area of concern. The 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.
- Sills (under the door) – check both underneath and with the door open
- 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.
Factors That Can Make Rust More Likely on an R32
- Vehicle has spent time in countries or areas with salted roads (UK, Parts of North America, etc.)
- Car has spent time in countries or areas with very harsh winters
- Vehicle is often parked/stored by the sea for significant periods of time
- If the R32 Mk5 has always been kept outside (never garaged)
- Accident damage (stone chips or more significant damage)
- No underseal (shouldn’t be a problem)
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.
Moisture in the Lights
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.
Overall, the interior is fairly well built and made from pretty good materials. As with most cars, aging plastics can be a problem and have the potential to break. You may hear the odd rattle and squeak but there shouldn’t be any major problems or annoyances (the seat mounts on the Recaro seats can rattle quite a bit).
Remember to check the interior components (seats, doors, etc.) for any rips, stains or tears. The leather can sag with age and the leather on the optional Recaro seats can come away at the edges (new clips may be required). If the seats move during acceleration or braking it is incredibly dangerous and will be an MOT/WOF failure.
Check around the carpets in both the cabin and the boot/trunk for any dampness. Additionally, lift up the floor mats and check for any water residue that may indicate a past or present leak. The sunroof drains are pretty poor and don’t drain enough water, which can lead to water ingress. Another place to watch out for is in the boot/trunk, especially where the battery is stored (underneath everything, you have to remove all the fittings for the tools, etc.).
Excessive amounts of wear on the seats, steering wheel, carpets, shifter and pedals for the mileage may indicate that the R32 you are looking at has had a hard life.
Remember to 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 second-gen IS 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. The head lining can also sag and drop as well.
Electronics, Air Con, Etc.
Arguably your biggest concern here is going to be the headlights. The auto sensing (daylight sensing) and levelling features can fail – make sure the headlights do their proper start-up check. New motors can be quite expensive, so talk to Volkswagen or a specialist before purchasing an R32 Mk5 with these problems. Another thing to check is that the headlights are the same brightness and colour, and that there is no flickering.
The cruise control is another common failure area. Check it at least five times, turning the car off and removing the key between each test (annoying, but it should be done).
There are a number of reports of the SAT radio failing and needing to be replaced. Check that it works correctly as it is quite expensive to replace.
Some owners have found that the sunroof can open/close by itself. Disassembling and cleaning the sunroof potentiometer can sometimes sort the issue, but if not you will have to take the car to Volkswagen or a competent specialist.
Another thing to check is that the air con/climate control system works properly. 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).
Don’t forget to check the warning lights on the dash both during engine start-up and while the car is running. If no lights appear during start-up the seller may have disconnected them to hide an issue. Lastly, take along an OBDII scanner or take the car to a Volkswagen specialist or dealer to have the codes read as there may be a hidden issue. Watch out for sellers who have cleared codes without fixing or investigating the cause.
Apart from all that check that all of the other electronics and other parts work as intended. Check that the switches, knobs, etc. work as intended. Try all the doors and the locks and see if the gauges on the dials operate correctly.
General Car Buying Advice the for a VW Golf R32 Mk5
How to Get the Best Deal on a Used R32 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.
- Research heavily – Prior to starting your search for a Golf R32 MkV, figure out what specs and condition you are happy with. Do you want a low mileage R32 with a DSG gearbox or are you looking for a manual car and don’t mind a few more miles.
- Shop around – It is always best to shop around a bit before you make a purchase. There are loads of different R32 Mk5s out there in different levels of condition and mileage, so don’t limit yourself to one seller, dealer, area or auction platform.
- Go look at and test drive multiple R32s – 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 Mk5 R32.
- 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 Volkswagen Golf R32 for sale and only go for promising looking cars.
- 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.
- 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.
- Go between sellers/dealers – If you are looking at multiple cars, let the owner/seller know. This way they will know that you have other options and they may try to undercut the price.
- 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 Volkswagen specialist or mechanic (especially for major repair work).
The service history will give you a good idea of how the Golf R32 MkV 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?
- 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 R32 Mk5
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
- 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 Volkswagen R32 (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 R32 Mk5 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 VW Golf R32.