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Homage to the Audi TT – and an expensive lesson in owning a car.

Audi TT mark 1Those of you who know me, know my love/hate relationship with the Audi TT. I owned one for 2 years – originally a standard 180TT 4WD that I spent time making it the car it should have been – changing the ECU to bring the horsepower from 178bhp to 237bhp, changing the turbo inlet hose to allow better airflow, fitting twin exhausts from the single to improve exhaust gasses exiting, changing the 16″ allows to 17″… looked pretty much like the car you see here.

And then at 70,000 miles the engine blew.

A hate then love affair

Before I talk about that whole scenario, let’s just cover why I bought the TT and spent 2 years being ridiculed as owning a hairdressers car by my friends – who would all privately admit they really liked it. Yeah – you know who you are! 🙂

When the TT was first launched in 1999 I felt the design was aesthetically challenging to the point that I wanted to put a paper bag over every TT I saw. Those early TT’s did not have the rear spoiler, which was added later as a safety precaution but also (I think) improved the look.

The defining moment when I realised I wanted one was when I was being visited by one of my web clients – he turned up in a silver TT with red leather interior. I sat for 5 minutes in the driver seat and was totally hooked from there on.

In Denial

There’s a price to pay for everything – and when it came to looking for my next car it was between a Civic Type R (197bhp), Seat Leon Cupra R (180bhp) or a 180 TT. Thing is, the TT price was so much more that I would have to get a second hand car that was a little older than I wanted – at that time a new Civic or Leon ran to about GBP16-17k; A new TT ran to about GBP27k. You see my predicament.

So basically was I prepared to pay the same money for a second hand car that has similar attributes in performance to other cars I could buy new outright? Was it even worth putting myself in debt to get a newer TT?

Well, after much soul-searching I decided to suck it up – you only live once (except buddists) – and so my purchase of a year 2000 Black 180TT 4WD came to fruition in April 2003. I remember driving home full of excitement and grinning like an idiot, mixed with panicking that I’d just spent GBP18k on a car and was now in the world of debt (which I detest being in).

Living the Dream

Asides from being obsessed with keeping the car clean using quality products, I loved to drive the car. It’s not the fastest or most responsive in its’ field, but for me, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole driving experience. The car seemed to wrap around me and the positioning for a tall bloke like myself was just great – it was a goths dream – black car with black leather and silver trim (although I am not in the stage of life to yet appreciate silver trim…).

That being said, I did feel it could deliver more “oomph” – let’s face it, the 225 TT was the same engine but with (shock) 225 bhp, so I duly investigated my options to help the TT get the best performance – this came in the form of the modification I mentioned before.

Now I had a TT with kick and I *loved* the driving experience. However, that had come with its’ set of problems:

  • A knocking sound when going over bumps turned out to be something in the suspension linkage broken (10.00 for the part, 90.00 to fit it)
  • The indicator relay failed (150.00 to fix) – the garage (Audi garage in Kidlington) then broke the seat warmer dials, so those were replaced gratis.

Dead not dreaming

July 2004, around 8am; I am leaving my home town (Bicester) and doing 40mph – just letting the engine warm up before I open her up. I accelerate up and then ker-chug-chug-chug-chug…. chug. Long story short, the piston rods are going through the engine as the piston heads on two valves have shattered. This required a new engine costing GBP4k plus GBP2k for labour.

This car has been serviced in April by AmD and they had told me that it was immaculate and the engine was in great shape and should last many more miles, so needless to say, 3 months later and 3000 miles, an engine failure completely blindsided me. Prior to this AmD had serviced the car – every 6 months at least and it never needed anything major.

Here’s an except from their site about the Stage 1 remap:

Your vehicle will be checked for fault codes and then road tested to make sure that the car is in good health for the upgrade. The modification to the software is then carried to achieve the AmD remap. A final road test is performed together with full diagnostic test.

Up to + 30-35bhp and 30-40lbs/ft
Asking around on the UK TT Forum I suddenly realised (should have sooner!) that the Mark 1 TT is renowned for going wrong – if you compare that forum for problems with vehicles against say, the Ford Focus or Honda Civic forums, it’s quite ridiculous how much grief mark one TT owners go through.

Subsequently, a few months after getting the car back (and also back in more debt), I get more problems

  • Mass Air Sensor (MAF) failure – replaced with reconditioned unit for 150.00 under the Audi MAF exchange programme.
  • Bushes worn – cost to replace = 100.00
  • Anti-rollbars corroded – cost to replace = 240.0
  • Dashpod Failure – cost to replace = 1000.00

Subsequently it was acknowledged by Audi that the TT Dashpod can and will fail and they are now replacing them under an extended warranty (unless your car is older than 3 yrs). A video is available via this link : http://www.tt-forum.co.uk/ttforumbbs/viewtopic.php?t=56080
Needless to say I could see things only getting worse, so I dumped the car for a Ford Focus ST170 which required nothing other than regular servicing to make it work…. and then a Honda Civic Type R which was gret fun.

Audi Customer Service – an Oxymoron.

I bought the car from a non-franchise dealer (one of the UK’s larger Independent Audi dealers) and got the car serviced by AmD, who service Audi vehicles for Audi themselves. Calling Audi Customer Service and writing a letter of complaint that a vehicle’s engine life is 70k miles is unacceptable. Their response was “you were not loyal to our dealership (not servicing it through them) and we do not have the engine (that broke), therefore we do not consider ourselves liable” – Hands wiped clean. Even though AmD by proxy are an authorised service company… And even if I had a warranty (which I didn’t), it wouldn’t have covered me enough for this catastrophic situation.

Although they were polite at all times, my experience with Audi Customer Service was that they were not happy to engage in helping (a customer) in any discussion – unsurprisingly when the whole Dashpod fiasco kicked off (which Audi now admit is a quality issue only after the BBC show “Watchdog” hounded them (‘scuse the pun)).

Conclusion About TT’s

Needless to say, this all left a bitter taste in my mouth about the quality of Audi TT’s – no car I’ve had before or after has had such problems (Honda, Ford, Renault) and they’re not exactly top line marques that Audi masquerade as.

I since discovered that VW/Audi had build qualities between 2000 – 2003 that affected other models, so my advice in general is to avoid any VW marque between these years. If you think I’ve got sour grapes, check out the UK TT forum and see just how many problems people had – btw my username is p4ul, if you’re looking for my posts. Here’s a great example of such issues

To run a TT was obviously more expensive than the Ford or Honda; Audi garages run at a pretty penny per hour, but you don’t want to scrimp with that because not everyone knows the cars’ peculiarities – saying that many TT forum owners refer to them as “Stealers” instead of Dealers because there are dealers who think they can rip you off cause you can afford a TT – and some mechanics who work for dealers that haven’t a clue. So research your dealer is the watchword.

Insurance for me – at the time 32 yrs old, 9 years no claims, GBP17k value was about GBP650 – the insurance company let me get away with the modifications but I doubt that’d happen today. Servicing cost about GBP500 per year (using AmD – probably run to GBP700 if I’d used the regular Audi dealers). Fuel economy was around 26-27mpg highway before the ECU remap; around 30mph after. Common TT problems are dashpod failures, coilpack failures, indicator relay failure, oil burning, sticking accelerator, MAF air sensor failure… that’s from memory!

Do I still want a TT? Yes and No. “WHAT?!” I hear you shout as you put down your seventh glass of old tawny. Absolutely do because of the drive – it was the best I’ve experienced to date overall – I just don’t want the issues with reliability. It wasn’t the most practicle car going, but just like bagpuss, emily loved him.

A New Hope…?

Now Audi have released the TT mark 2 ( Audi TT Mark 2 ) , the jury is out as to what this means. I like it, but it’s lost it’s uniqueness and gained the Audi corporate look… good and bad.

Given my experience with Audi CS (and others documented experiences), I am still not convinced about Audi… not that I can afford one at those $45k prices especially.

Kudos to the TT Community

If you own or are thinking of owning a TT can I recommend the excellent TT Forum – http://www.tt-forum.co.uk/ttforumbbs/index.php – it’s a great community where a bunch of genuine car and gadget enthusiasts who have years of experience with the TT meet both virtually and physically and can offer lots of advice and words of wisdom.

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