Help, I’ve Fallen in Love With a Smoky TDI Wagon!

I bought a Passat TDI. But before we get into that, let’s talk about my Ford Festiva. The Festiva recently met its match at the Northwest Indiana Gambler a few weekends ago. This was a somewhat planned event.

I’ve always wanted to see what it was like to actually kill a car. Some people show up to Gambler 500 events without the intent of bringing their car home. I’m usually in it for the endurance, so such an idea was foreign to me. Due to personal conflicts I couldn’t own the Festiva anymore, so I decided to send it off at full throttle.

Surprisingly, the Festiva survived my full-throttle sendoff. Since I wasn’t bringing it home, I transferred it to a new owner that has even more wild plans for it. More about that in an upcoming Gambler 500 epic!

In hindsight, I do feel bad for what I did to the little car. It may have been a rustbucket but it still had some life left in it. So I made a promise to do far far better with what replaced it. Go back to my old ways of endurance.

The car’s replacement was actually acquired before its final send. I wanted my next off-road rig to be an old diesel Mercedes-Benz. I had a car lined up but it essentially fell through the cracks. Then there was another and it too sold before I could scoop it up. It seemed finding a running and driving Mercedes-Benz diesel for a Gambler price was near impossible. That’s when I stumbled on an option I had completely overlooked.

I Forgot Volkswagen TDIs Exist!

This 2006 Jetta TDI was tugging on my heart in all sorts of ways. It was a car from this millennium, it had a cool smokestack, and it was a manual! I abandoned the Mercedes diesel idea and focused my eyes on the turbo diesels from Wolfsburg.

Unfortunately, the owner of the Jetta sold it only a day before I was able to make it out, breaking my heart harder than some breakups.

Volkswagen TDI Persistence

Undeterred, I decided to try finding out what else was out there. Oh my, there was so much choice! There was a Golf TDI, Beetle TDIs, an old rusty Jetta TDI, some newer but really rough Jetta TDIs, then two cars that captured my heart like that smokestack Jetta TDI earlier on.

The first was this gorgeous 2005 Passat TDI wagon, and the other was a 2005 Jetta TDI wagon. I never knew how much I’d love the look of a boxy Volkswagen wagon, but I was absolutely in love!

Not So Fast

There were two catches. The Jetta TDI wagon was being sold by a buy-here-pay-here style dealership and they didn’t even know what they were selling. That wasn’t a Facebook glitch, they literally thought they had a TDI GTI.

The Passat TDI had a mystery limp mode issue and was three hours south. The Passat TDI was also being sold at a legitimate Gambler style price, so I had plenty headroom to fix it, too.

You Miss Every Diesel-Powered Shot You Don’t Take

I decided to take the gamble. I loved the look of the Passat TDI far more and its price was nearly too cheap (even for the limp mode) so I sent him a message. After confirming that it could in fact drive the 170 miles home and that the rest of the car is super tight, I committed to the plan.

My then-girlfriend drove me out to the car. It was actually in just as good of condition as advertised!

No rust, an impressively clean engine bay, a just as nice interior, EGR delete, and as advertised, it drove around town without issue. He presented a list of everything that a dealership replaced that failed to fix the limp mode. To me, it seemed the dealership just shot parts at the car without any real troubleshooting. Missing from the dealership troubleshooting was the N75, MAF, vacuum lines, and some other common points of limp mode. And all this was for a price low enough that I could flip it same day without any work if I wanted to.

We took it for a quick test drive. He mentioned that so long as I don’t try to exceed 2,500 RPM it won’t go into limp mode. The car drove incredibly smooth on the test drive and it was all I needed to seal the deal. I seriously have never driven a car with this many miles that was in this good of shape. To this day I can’t grasp what an awesome car this is.

A new Adventure

I handed him a wad of cash and drove home with my loot… or I tried to. His advice about not exceeding a certain RPM went in one ear and out the other because for the majority of the 170 miles home, I had it close to 3k RPM. I thought limp mode would trigger a light (like it does in a smart) of some sort, so I was under the impression that the seller lied and the car simply didn’t have power.

In reality, I triggered limp mode a mile from his house and the car drove in that state for the whole 170 mile journey. It wasn’t the most fun. Foot to the floor, top speed of 65, turbo turned off, and no ability whatsoever to climb hills. Limp mode in this particular Volkswagen triggers the check engine light, but the check engine light was already on because of the EGR delete. Whoops.

I managed to limp the car home in exactly three hours. So while I struggled to accelerate and maintain the speed limit, I still somehow made it home exactly on time.

After the Festiva went on one last Gambler 500, I started daily driving the Passat TDI. I suddenly remembered the previous owner’s advice and quickly learned the car had plenty power. It even cruises at 70 without any drama so long as you don’t push it too hard. D’oh! I can count on one hand how many times I’ve triggered limp mode since getting it home and bizarrely, the car could be a daily – albeit slow – driver.

Falling in Love

Through all of this madness I also learned why TDIs have been so adored all these years. I got the car with a three quarter tank of diesel. It drove 300 miles on a half tank and when I filled up, I calculated that had it been a full tank I would have gotten is 600 miles. Absolutely staggering! My mind was melting at the idea of going 600 miles and getting nearly 40 to the gallon in a vehicle that can seat five people and all their gear.

To troubleshoot the car, I will need to pick up a cable to plug into my diagnostic laptop to run VCDS. I have a hunch the problem may be the N75 or vacuum lines, but I want to pull the codes before I start replacing parts. At bare minimum, I know the issue is not the MAF sensor. I disconnected it as part of beginning to troubleshoot. It was accidentally left disconnected and the car actually drove slightly worse. Plugged it back in and life went back to “normal” for the car.

The car also started leaking oil a couple days ago. Looks like an oil line was damaged and the previous owner fixed it by shoving a brake line into the oil line then using a hose clamp. It looks like that fix is leaking now!


Assuming I get the Passat TDI back to 100%, I have some wild plans that are somehow comparatively tame to removing doors.

The car will get some nice all-terrain tires (and they can fit without fender cutting!), a possible lift, a chandelier with RGB lighting, RGB lights all over the interior, and a custom built bar that dispenses at least two types of drink. Hopefully I can get it all to dispense out of a fake turbo. The idea here is that at a Gambler 500 I will blast music from my car while serving only the best malort and whiskey from the area!

Then I’d love to have a pizza cooker in back. Yes, I’m building a rolling nightclub. When I’m all done I’ll convert the club into a nice place to sleep. No more tents!

This is only the beginning of this crazy car. I love it so so much already that I most definitely have to make my next car another diesel but with a manual. I’m going to have to because I’m going to end up babying this car. It’s far too pretty to beat up!

My descent into madness continues!

See more at Out Motorsports, a site created to not only share the pursuits of LGBT motorsports competitors, but to encourage others to get behind the wheel and participate as their full selves.



  1. …I hope when you get around to the sleeper conversion you keep the pizza oven.
    …those micro-house folks stole a lot of ideas from sailboats I think so maybe check out a chandlery it two?
    …I knew some folks that had a gimballed twin burner hob/oven combo that functioned as the central heating when the lid/cover was down & burned deisel from the main fuel tank of an ATV type RV…

  2. This was all very reasonable until the Pizza oven. You’re a madwoman!

    In all seriousness, congrats on the new ride. I can’t even fathom 600 miles on a tank, that’s legit awesome, plus that generation passat, especially in two-box form is subtly quite the looker. I mean i get wanting to lift it, because awesomeness, but it’s very pretty as is.

    Anyway, hope you’re able to fix the whole limp mode thing, I look forward to seeing it updated to fever-dream spec!

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