VW Touareg Handbrake Lever Replacement & The Value Of DIY Repairs

Recently, the handbrake release lever on my first generation VW Touareg (read our buyer’s guide here) broke.

This, of course, is not ideal in a car that weighs as much as a main battle tank. 

It snapped clean off; the release being one of those foot brake release levers like this:

A quick Google search reveals this to be a common problem with the Touareg. The handbrake release doesn’t work all that well (typically requiring a ‘double pull’ or a very deliberate pull to release) and in conjunction with 17 years of hard use and rubbish quality plastics – what were VW thinking? – it’s little wonder the release snapped.

This latest calamity for the Touareg represented a bit of an issue (read my previous horror stories here about its poor reliability record).

The Touareg is basically worthless. What was once a very expensive luxury SUV has depreciated so much that it’s probably worth less than a decent spec Macbook Pro on the used, private sale market.

Petrol in New Zealand is now very expensive, and the Touareg costs the best part of $300 to fill. It drinks like a sailor on shore leave; that’s before we start mentioning the reliability problems. 

Considering it’s also just a base spec 3.2 V6, it’s really not worth a great deal. However, the utility myself and my family enjoy with the Touareg (taking the dogs out, going skiing, heading off-road, transporting rubbish to the dump etc) greatly outweighs the resale price of the car. 

Therefore, while wanting to keep the vehicle on the road – in order to be able to benefit from its remaining utility – any repairs on the vehicle need to be done in an economical fashion. There isn’t much point spending big money on a car that is only worth small money, as you’re typically only ever a moment away from the next fault anyway.

The offending item

When the handbrake release broke, I called up the local VW specialist. They quoted $400 for the part alone, and then 1.5-2hrs of labour to do the repair. Realistically, this would result in a bill of $600-700.

That’s probably a good 15% of the car’s value to replace one tiny piece of crap quality plastic. Hardly a good “ROI” … you wouldn’t see Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger queuing up for this.

This is where the lesson of today’s article comes in – having the ability to do even some basic DIY repairs on your older, heavily-depreciated ‘modern classic’ is literally a life or death matter for the vehicle in question.

The first step was to go on YouTube, where there is a relatively poor quality – but nonetheless useful – video showing the replacement process:

Several forum posts on specialist Touareg message boards also indicated that DIY repair of the handbrake release lever was relatively simple.

Shopping around, I managed to find a local VW/Audi parts specialist (who do second hand parts) selling a release lever for $80 NZD. Still on the high side, but much better than paying the going rate for the new part from the main dealer.  The part arrived 24 hours after the order was placed.

In terms of actually conducting the repair, it wasn’t too bad. My dad (who is admittedly much more practical than me) and I completed it in about 20 minutes one morning; and a lot of the time was spent trying to work on a way of ensuring that the handbrake cable didn’t retract back into the dashboard once removed from the old broken handle.

A couple of pointers from our experience of the repair:

  • Remove the kick panel above the pedals. While you don’t have to remove this, doing so allows you more space and you can also get more slack cable at the release handle end. You’ll need a Torx head screwdriver to do this. 
  • We fashioned a piece of thick wire into a little “crimp” of sorts that sat just behind the catch on the handbrake cable. This meant that when pulling the cable out – using needle nose pliers on the ball-shaped cable stay at the end of the cable that sits in a little recess – if the cable were accidentally released the wire crimp would prevent it from going back into the dashboard.

Apart from these two points, it wasn’t too bad at all. Certainly not 1.5 to 2 hours of labour. 

For less than $100, the repair was complete.

The moral of the story is that being able to research and conduct at least some repairs on cars like the Touareg (heavily depreciated vehicles whose repair costs are still based on what the vehicle sold for when new) can totally transform the “value proposition” of keeping such a vehicle on the road.

Shopping around for parts, and then doing as much as you can yourself can mean the difference between writing off an old vehicle (or spending more on repairs than you really should) or keeping it on the road for more miles to come.

If you’re not handy, or you don’t have access to someone who is handy to assist you, then the value proposition of owning and maintaining a vehicle like the Touareg totally changes. You might be far better off spending more money on a newer, more reliable vehicle (whether that is going to be an occasional use car or a daily driver). 

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