My 2003 VW Golf: A History and Love Story

My VW just keeps going and going and going, even without regular dusting.

I love my VW Golf. Even though it’s showing its age (2003) and it’s been around the block a few times (216k miles), I have never thought about trading it in for something new. Out of all the cars I have owned through the years, the VW is easily my favorite. To better understand what I love about it, it helps to review a history of all my vehicles to date.

My 1993 Mazda Protege had off-road capabilities.

My first car was a green 1993 Mazda Protege. I believe someone my mother worked with sold it to me for $700. It was an excellent first car. It was beat-up on the outside and simple on the inside, but everything about it was great because — it was my own car! I had a tape adapter to play songs off of my Discman and the car had those awesome seatbelt buckles that would slide around the door frame when you got out of the car; what more could a sixteen year old ask for?

Sadly, I only had the car for a few months before the transmission went out. I remember trying to back out of a parking spot and instead of going in reverse, the car lurched forward into a slight ditch where the car stopped itself on a tree trunk. I somehow managed to rock the car off the tree back into the parking lot where I then began my excruciatingly slow and loud 10-mile drive home in first gear.

Me and my green Civic in front of the Quick Stop (from the movie Clerks) in New Jersey.

My second car was a beautiful green 1997 Honda Civic. I remember I had paid around $3600 for it using money I had saved up from performing magic shows and building websites. It had a manual gearbox and I was excited to learn how to drive stick. My father’s technique for teaching me to drive stick involved stoping on the incline of the hill and then practicing driving forward. Once I got the car moving and proved I wouldn’t stall, he’d have me stop on the hill again and repeat. After a couple hours of going up a single hill over and over again, I felt comfortable enough to be able to drive the Civic on my own.

I really liked this Civic.

I upgraded the stereo (it played mp3 CDs!) and wired up an “ah-wooooo-ga” horn into it. My friends and I would drive around and blast the ridiculous sounding horn in tunnels, by golfers in mid-swing, and anywhere else we thought would be funny. This car was what I drove all through high school so it held lots of memories for me with hanging out with friends after football games and taking it on road trips to go camping and skiing in Vermont.

Getting ready to go camping.

Eventually one summer the radiator started leaking like a sieve. I spent that summer driving around with 2–3 gallons of water in my trunk at all times, so I could refill the radiator when it inevitably ran out of water. I was planning on getting the radiator fixed before winter, but unfortunately an old man slammed into the side of my Civic in broad daylight and my car was totaled. I loved my Civic as much as I love my Golf now and if it didn’t get totaled who knows how long I still would have driven it for. Anyway, I ripped out the stereo and took my insurance money and went and got…

Apparently I never loved my Nissan enough to take an exterior picture of it. This interior shot is all I got.

A champagne-colored 1998 Nissan Altima. I never really wanted this car, but after the Civic was totaled I needed to get something fast so I could get back on the road (the Civic got totaled when I was on summer break a couple weeks before heading off to college in Ohio, so I needed a car). Someone my father worked with was a mechanic on the side and made a hobby of flipping cars. He had just fixed up this Altima and it was a manual transmission, so that met my qualifications and I went ahead and bought it. The Altima was an ok car, but it was nothing like the Civic. It didn’t steer as well, it felt like it was built more cheaply, the gear box didn’t shift as smoothly as the Civic, and I didn’t really like the styling. Plus, someone had done a poor of adding DIY window tint that was bubbling up all over the place, so that didn’t add to the appeal. However, it was a mechanically solid car and I never really had any issues with it. I honestly didn’t drive this car nearly as much as my Civic because I got it when I was going to college. Besides weekend trips to the grocery store, this car mostly sat parked in a garage.

My 2003 VW Golf.

My current car is my beloved candy-white 2003 VW Golf. As I was about to graduate college, my father was in the market for a new car. As a graduation present he offered me his 110k mile VW Golf. I accepted and gave him the Altima to trade-in. I loved this car when my dad drove it around, and I was even more thrilled with it when it was finally mine.

2014’s brutal winter caused my back window to explode when I turned on the rear defroster.

The 2003 VW Golf is a perfect car. You can look at auto review websites and magazines and they will all agree with me. There is something about this car that is magical. In no particular order, here are the things I absolutely love about my car:

  • The shifting is amazingly smooth. Unlike my Nissan where I had to constantly struggle to get the shifter into gear, it’s effortless in the VW.
  • Although it’s not the fastest car (just got the 2.0 “too slow” model, no turbo like the GTI) it is insanely fun to drive. It handles well and being able to bomb through corners makes up for any lack of speed.
  • It looks good. The 2003 is still part of the MkIV revision of the Golf, which I think is the last great looking Golf. Starting with the MkV I think the outside design of the car got too smooth and offers too many curves. I like cars that are boxy — they look good and make the car look unique. Every year, cars become more curvy and harder to distinguish from each other. Fortunately with the MkVII VW went back to adding some hard angles, making the Golf look good again.
Fixing some rust and painting the hatch.
  • It looks good on the inside too. Blue and red lights make it feel sleek in the dark. Solid feeling plastic and rubber parts everywhere. The thing that I hate most about new cars, in particular American made cars as well as certain models offered by most manufacturers, is how cheap and flimsy interior components feel. The inside of my Golf feels solid and I love that.
  • Lots of cargo space. I have the 2-door model, and this thing can haul anything. It helped me move about 5 times when switching college dorms and apartments. It can haul most things back I buy from the store. The seats fold flat and I’ve fit mini fridges, snow blowers, lawn mowers, 8ft 2×4 lumber and a lot else into this well designed space.
  • German attention to detail. My cup holders are spring-loaded and awesome. When folding the back seats flat, there are built in spots to hold the headrests. The trunk cover is solid and works well. There are so many small things in this car that could have been an afterthought but instead were given a lot of attention by the designers which makes it a pleasure to drive in this car.
Disassembling the dash to install a USB port and an audio jack.

In addition to the features I love about this car, this was the first car that I really learned to work on myself. Although there are plenty of things that I hate about working on this car (special torx screw and triple square bits, lug bolts instead of nuts, rust under the rear window which I can never get to go away), overall this car has been pretty easy to service. There are a number of great forums online that offer help and knowledge about fixing VWs, being my favorite, the likes of which have helped me gone from knowing nothing about repairing cars to being able to:

-Change oil and filters

-Rotate tires

-Replace wheel bearings

-Replace brake pads and rotors

-Disassemble and clean the starter motor

-Replace the headlight assemblies

-Clean up rust and paint

-Replace the struts

-Replace the clutch

-Add an in-dash powered USB and stereo line-in jack

Overall, I really love this car. I love it so much that I don’t want to trade it in to get a new one. Even if it’s old, it is an awesome car and I want to drive it for as long as possible. With 13 years of age and 216k miles, it still is solid and drives great. Hopefully it lasts me a while and that when I finally do need to get a new car, I will be able to find one that is just as awesome as my Golf.

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