A Comedy of Errors With the VW Jetta Smyth Ute

Everything that could go wrong did go wrong, plus some things that couldn't.

Justin Hughes

When we last left off with our Volkswagen Jetta Smyth Performance Ute project, I had upgraded the headlights and temporarily finished the exterior with black primer to at least make it all one color. That was three months ago. What has happened with the Jetta since?

The next step I had planned was a cheap suspension lift to make room for the all-terrain tires I plan to install on my second set of wheels. Then the exhaust broke in half. That suddenly took priority, since I can't drive around dragging a pipe on the ground. 

My friend Jonah at FIX recently became a Borla distributor and offered to whip together a replacement exhaust for me, something that would sound sporty without being too loud. I had no plans to upgrade the exhaust, but since it needed to get replaced anyway, it was a convenient excuse to "maintainify" it. In other words, modify and improve it during routine maintenance, rather than just replace it with another stock part. I also asked him to help me diagnose the engine misfires, since he had the car in his hands anyway and knows more than I do.

Jonah also offered to take all of my spare Jetta parts off my hands, since he often works on Mark 4 Jettas and can likely put many of them to use. I also needed to make space in the garage to store motorcycles for the winter. So I loaded up the Jetta and our flatbed trailer with everything, including the section we cut off the top rear of the car containing a perfectly good back window. Shortly before Thanksgiving my wife and I drove up there and dropped it all off.

Through no fault of Jonah's, it was all downhill from there. Borla was not responsive to his requests for the parts for my custom exhaust. It took quite some time for him to get them, which pushed the repair into December. Jonah outsources his exhaust work to "a guy," who then also went dark. It took a great deal of poking and prodding by Jonah to make the arrangements for his "guy" to actually take the Jetta and do the work. The Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's holidays certainly didn't help accelerate the timing either.

Justin Hughes

By now, the car had been sitting so long that the battery, which I just replaced before handing the car over, was dying in between start-ups. No doubt the intense cold snap that gripped New England throughout December didn't help. Also, the old "just hold the car up off the ground" tires had started to leak, requiring them to be pumped up before the car could be driven or moved around the lot. This led to it not getting worked on, which led to another flat tire and flat battery, and so on.

The icing on the cake was when Jonah finally called me during the first week in January. I got excited, thinking the car was ready with a new exhaust and a smooth running engine. Instead, Jonah asked me if I had a spare key for the Jetta. His exhaust guy had locked my key inside. A spare key has been on my to-do list, but the car only came with one, and that key was now locked inside the car it belongs to. So I gave Jonah the car's vehicle identification number, and they had a second key made at their expense. I guess that's one less thing I need to do when I finally get it back.

Finally, Jonah gave me a call to discuss some specific exhaust options as his exhaust guy was about to work on the Jetta, really this time. He actually had a stock Jetta muffler kicking around, used of course, that he offered as a low-cost option, in addition to the 2.25 and 2.5-inch Borla exhausts. I decided that I wanted all-new parts that would last and a little bit of a rumble, so I opted for the 2.25-inch exhaust since I'm not going to be looking for any big horsepower out of this car.

Once the exhaust was installed and he got the car back, he dove into the rest of it. Jonah quickly tracked the rough running problem down to a stuck valve in the vacuum lines. After replacing it, the crummy spark plugs it came with, and a bunch of other minor tweaks he threw in for free (including the second key), the car ran perfectly. It still had a leaky exhaust gasket at the turbo, but he honestly said he didn't have time to work on it now, and I just wanted the car back anyway, so we agreed to skip it for now.

Originally I'd had thoughts of taking the Jetta Ute to the LeMons Rally, but all the delays lingered through the Rally itself, making this impossible. I could've done it if I'd just gone to the muffler shop and had it in and out in one day, but I decided to help my friend out, and, well, you've read what happened. To his credit, Jonah did a bunch of work and diagnosis that he didn't charge me for to help make up for the fact that his muffler guy kind of screwed me on this.

It's not all bad. We've been able to keep the driveway plowed better without the extra car and trailer in the way. December was so cold that I wasn't able to work in my unheated garage anyway. We also parked my wife's Ford Flex inside during December's arctic chill so there wouldn't have been space to work on the Jetta anyway.

I'll finally be getting the Jetta back next week, with a relatively small repair bill considering the time it was at the shop and how much work was done on it. You know the saying: "Good, cheap, or fast—pick any two." It looks like I've picked good and cheap. Then I can finally get back to work. Aside from the exhaust gasket, I plan to start by giving the Jetta a bit of a lift to accommodate the larger tires I've picked out for it.