Broken Car #3: 1997 Jetta

The Miata robbed me, the Jetta tried to kill me.

Once my 1994 Civic was stolen, it took me about 8 months to save up enough to buy another horribly broken car.  This meant I was taking the bus everywhere and carrying the week’s groceries on the long walk back to my safe neighborhood (read: where my car was stolen).  I found a 1997 Jetta on craigslist (where all the safe, reliable, inexpensive cars are found), stood in front of the TV and asked my room-mate/land-lord if he could drive me out to get the car right then.

So I get out there and have a look at the car, the trunk was “big enough to hold two bodies” the seller told me, so that was confidence building.  However, he wouldn’t let me test drive it since the tags had expired.  Pro-Tip: don’t buy a car at night, and always test drive it first.  After sorting out some paperwork, I was going to get it dropped off for the state inspection.  It was while driving around 50mph with the steering wheel sideways that I realized how bad the alignment was since it had been sitting with two flat tires for so long.  Of course I carried on with the drive even on two flat tires because once again, poor decisions are what I do best.  About $1M later the car was past inspection and all was well.

97 Jetta

This is when the problems started.  The mk3 Jetta had a great bagel-storage solution, it was a space in the dash the perfect size for a few waffles or a bagel!  Some say that was just where the radio used to be before it was stolen, but I attribute it to German ingenuity.  It also had no A/C but I’m sure you already guessed that one.  Another awkward issue was that the rear suspension was shot, this meant that when heavier individuals sat in the back seat, the tires would rub and it would break everything.  It was quite difficult to try and explain this to the people in the car without undue insult, but I’m sure I managed to do so professionally and courteously (probably not).

no one even tried to steal this car
no one even tried to steal this car

The first week I was driving it, with no A/C, I put the windows down.  And heard a loud cracking noise.  Both rear windows had fallen off the track into the door, the window motors were broken, and it would be $450 to fix it.  Instead I asked the shop to raise the windows again and wedge them into place.  I figured only the (now lightweight) people in the back seats would need those windows to not suffer heatstroke and I could live without them (and the rear windows).

At one point, I tried to install a short-ram intake to make this dismal deathtrap better in every conceivable way.  Unfortunately the piping wouldn’t fit properly so this too was a failure.  But wait, there’s more!  We didn’t bother securing the loose vacuum lines properly so a few weeks later I found 2 lines almost cut completely in half by the spinning belts and proceeded to cover the gaping wounds with electrical tape instead of properly fixing the issue.  Also, we had to “secure” the intake filter with zip ties.  Of course the store didn’t have any black zip ties, so I had to use one red and one green on each side of the new filter.  Believe me, it was awesome (read: terrible and embarrassing).  At this point, most of the engine bay was held together by zip ties and electrical tape.


Another fun little problem was that for a while, the car would stall itself at idle.  This meant that I couldn’t let the car idle at all, I would have to stay on the gas when in traffic, at a stop sign, or red light in order to keep the engine going.  And once I got going, there was a hole in the exhaust so there was a loud rattle noise between 1800 and 2200rpm constantly.  In case I wasn’t embarrassed enough by being seen anywhere near this car yet, the back tires wouldn’t hold air.  Therefore, every morning to go to work, class, the store, or a job interview I would have to use a bike pump (ran out of quarters) and get the tires full enough for that day.  Every.  Day.  So there I was, sometimes in the snow, sometimes dressed in a suit, bike-pumping the tires every morning before starting my rattling car and going off on another adventure.

torn hose

Finally, this car was trying to kill me and anyone else foolish enough to go along for the ride.  I was on a church internship at the time and when the leader-guy asked the room who had a car with them I held my hand up in a wavering “sort-of” motion.  Upon further inquiry, I explained that I had a car in theory that Yes I did actually have a car but considering that there was no radio, no A/C, both back windows were stuck, both back tires didn’t hold air, the engine hoses were held together with zip ties and tape, there was a loud rattle, the suspension was shot, and it would stall itself, I couldn’t really say I had a car with any real confidence.  When someone did have a lapse in judgement and asked me to drive them I would have to give them this disclaimer:

In addition to the long list of issues with this car, some I don’t usually mention to people unless they need to know are as follows:  The anti-lock brakes don’t work which means we won’t be able to stop in time if something goes wrong.  Also, the emergency brake doesn’t work either so that’s no help.  Finally, the airbags don’t work at all.  So something will go wrong, we won’t be able to stop in time, when we crash, the airbags won’t save us.  So I can drive you if you really want, but you should take a minute and make your peace now just in case.

it's all broken
it’s all broken

I eventually sold the Jetta once it got too terrible and unreliable.  Which led to my favorite broken car so far, the much older but slightly less broken 1991 Civic.

Broken Car #3: 1997 Jetta