“She might not look like much, kid, but she’s got it where it counts” – buying MFALCON, my 96 Passat TDI

“You’ve never heard of the MFALCON?”

For full disclosure, be forewarned that this post is going to make use of an absurd number of Star Wars references to the namesake of my new car, the Millennium Falcon.  Be forewarned AND entertained, ideally.  Some applicable sound effects to perhaps listen to while reading this post, here.  Also, this car-buying and -fixing trip was taken over spring break, so there are a smattering of photos related to that in the gallery below.


Back in September, I knew two things total.  1) Ryan my roommate was going to a PhD program somewhere, probably not in New Haven, and 2) his car was the only way I was getting to krav maga, which has done me a world of good.  Therefore, I knew I would need to start looking for a car, but with several specifics in mind: namely, that I would be able to insure it cheaper once I turned 25, in February 2013, that it needed to be stupidly efficient and reliable, and have a lot of utility for different applications.  Back in December, after long discussions with my good friend Tom, a Volkswagen enthusiast, I realized I would need to go the VW route, as well.  Through him, I got into touch with a guy from Chicago, who had a VW Passat B4 TDI wagon (Germans manage to even make English titles too long: the full name is a “Volkswagen Passat B4 Turbocharged Diesel Injection station wagon”).  A 1996, the car had 234,000 miles on it, and had been owned by the same person for 17 years; then the guy owned it for a year and put only 4000 miles on it.  He was asking $5000, and would include an extra set of tires, brand new aftermarket shocks, and random spare parts.  To make a long story short, after negotiating and discussing by email for a while, I talked him down to $4100 for it… and then sold those shocks to Tom for $260 and a brand new radio for the car.  So final price for it: $3840 for this car.

This is a large amount of money for a 1996 with 234,000 miles on it, I do not disagree; for that price, “we could just buy our own ship!”  But consider the following: the interior, aside from a few small stains on the sun visors, looks like a brand new car.  The underbody of the vehicle, which spent its entire life in Chicago, has no rust on it.  This makes no sense whatsoever, but I am not going to argue.  The AC looks to be brand new, but doesn’t work, so I assume it just needs to be refilled with freon.  The right rear passenger door only opens from the inside, and the window on it doesn’t work, but those problems will be dealt with eventually.  For now, I have an absurdly well-kept car… that gets between 40 and 50 mpg.  It is a stick shift, yesterday was my sixth day of driving a manual transmission, and I drove 9.5 hours from home to New Haven, and I managed to get 45.1 mpg for the trip.  Not too shabby, right?  “She will indeed make .5 past light speed.”

The trip back was rather enjoyable, though the 90 horsepower engine definitely struggled a bit with the Allegheny Mountains in Pennsylvania; thankfully, I “know a couple of maneuvers,” and was able to always be in the slow lane whenever we would begin to encounter larger inclines… because going any faster than 60mph would see my car begin to inexorably slow down to between 56 and 62 mph up the big hills, which folks driving behind me didn’t usually enjoy.  On the other hand, I now have a keen appreciation for why and how truck drivers of bigger vehicles need to slow down, going up hill.  This is one of several reasons why the first chance I get in warm weather to have the engine tuned, I will do so, and have them focus on boosting horsepower while preserving torque and fuel efficiency.  I will also eventually want to upgrade the exhaust system, to boost hp a bit.  We shall see what the future holds, but being serious about having a trailer hitch on the car, I will need to have it running extremely well and more powerfully, before I can even think about doing so.

But even currently. I got 45.1 mpg for my trip home, which was all highway driving.  While still at home, I got 42 mpg with 75% city driving… so this car is going to save me a big bundle of money in fuel costs (follow my fuel consumption and costs at my profile on Fuelly, another excellent suggestion by Tom!).  Folks have mentioned “well what about the cost of insurance?”  Being such an old car, the insurance company (foolishly) thinks it isn’t worth anything, so it costs me a mere $39 per month to insure it.  Seeing that it cost me $30 per week to use Ryan’s car to get to krav, and the MFALCON will cost approximately $11.50 per week for the same commute… I will save $35 per month on fuel, after the cost of insurance, or $74 saved when comparing fuel costs directly!!  That means that if I make the car last 4 years and one month, it will pay itself off in fuel savings alone (and I am VERY serious about making this delightful car last a very, very long time).  The German-manufactured diesel Volkswagens are easily gotten to 500,000 miles, with proper care and maintenance, and given its well-kept 19 years of life thus far… I plan on continuing that for many years to come.

All of that said, keep your eyes open in the future for more details about the car and its works and way, especially when it comes to my intended projects to boost fuel efficiency and horsepower.  I will then be able to truthfully claim that “I’ve made a lot of special modifications,” which is important; after all, “you [Dylan] lost her to me, fair and square.”

Photos – “She may not look like much, kid, but she’s got it where it counts”

A gallery of some of the delightful angles, details, and small projects thus far on the car: