MK2 Golf's are great cars and well worth buying if your looking for a cheap, fun car. But they are getting old and there are a few things to check for when looking at buying one.
Officially imported vs Private imports
VW only imported around 250 MK2 GTI's between 1990-1992. All were 'big bumper' 5 door models with an 1.8 8v (PB engine code) fuel injected engine. The colours available were Tornado Red, White, Silver & Black. There were several options available including a sunroof, air-con, power windows. All had 14" steel wheels. A completely stock car should look like this;
Private import cars will be anything that doesn't fit the above spec. Many were imported from South Africa, Europe & Japan. Any pre 1990 or 3 door car is guaranteed to be a private import. Some bargains can be had from these cars but do your homework and make sure it's got a good history.
Areas to look out for
Do the usual checks for accident damage and dodgy repairs. MK2's were built properly and will last if cared for.
-Check for rust around the bottom of the windscreen, under the plastic arch extensions and on the boot lid.
-A wet or water damaged carpet in the front footwells indicates a damaged or missing door membrane or perished door rubbers.
-Faded or patchy paint. Red cars tend to fade and go a bit pink, this can be solved with a good polish. The clear coat can crack and go patchy on darker coloured cars.
-Faded plastic trim. Unless cared for the black plastic trim will go grey. This is easily remedied with several methods so don't be put off.
-After market grilles and lights. There are tonnes of accessories available for these cars so many have had aftermarket lights or grilles fitted. They're easy enough to return to stock so don't be put off by tacky add ons.
With regular maintenance & repairs MK2's can handle big mileages as the engine & drivetrain aren't under a lot of strain due to the modest power output and low weight, so don't be put off by kms with 2. Auto's are to avoided as they're horrible to drive and very slow witted.
Engine & Gearbox
-As with any used car, check the service history. Be especially vigilant for oil pump changes, these are a known weak point.
-Blue smoke indicates faulty or worn valve guides. This can be a costly fix.
-Hunting idle. This indicates an air leak and will require a new idle stabilisation valve. Check the condition of the rubber pipes as they can perish.
-Heater matrix failure. A very common problem on MK2's.
-Sticking or baulking when changing to second gear. Another common problem, caused by a worn syncro ring. This can be solved by replacing all the linkages but it doesn't affect the function of the gearbox so you can learn to live with it.
-Check for banging or clonking noises. If the suspension is worn, it's a good excuse to get coilovers...
-If the car feels sloppy in the corners it may be worn bushes. MK2's roll a lot but respond really well to new or uprated components.
-Beware of lowered or modified cars, ask lots of questions. Who fitted it, what make etc
-The stock brakes are a little weedy but adequate for the car as they're light. A long pedal or pulling under braking is a sign of worn brakes.
-Rear brakes don't see much action and can seize.
-Interiors are pretty basic by modern standards but they're well built.
-Wear on the drivers seat bolsters is common.
-Check the function of the MFA computer on the stalk. They tend to break and fixing them is expensive.
-Make sure the speedo & rev counter work. The circuit boards for the clocks are basic and do fail.
-Wet carpet is a sign of worn window/door rubbers or the door membranes. If there is coolant leaking in the passenger footwell the heater matrix has gone.
What to pay
Up to $3,000 - Project cars and high mileage auto's. Some non-GTI imports can be had at this level.
$3,000-$5,000 - Well used but mechanically sound cars with average mileage (up to 250,000kms).
$5,000-$8,000 - Pristine Aussie delivered cars and quality imports. Average condition 3 door imports
$8,000 up - Special cars; low mileage Aussie delivered cars, 3 door 16v's, pampered show cars, engine conversions
MK2's are truly great drivers cars. Get a good one and you'll never want to part with it. They also make great project cars as parts are readily available and they're mechanically simple and easy to work on. If you want a cheap fun, project or a retro daily, look no further.
Please feel free to post questions or experience you want to share.
By now parts for MK2's are getting hard to find, especially trim and body panels so if you're looking at buying one make sure it has everything and it's in good condition. If not, it's not the end of the world but expect to search hard and long (and sometimes expensive) to find that perfect missing piece. Not many people know that there are thousands of MK2 Jettas being used as taxis in China and there is a growing manufacturing base over there providing parts to keep these old cars on the road. Not all parts supplied from China are good quality but it will always be cheap.
Mechanically nearly all the parts can be sourced from a MK3 Golf, the 2.0 is the best donor car - motor, gearbox, suspension and brakes are all interchangeable with the MK2 and bolt straight in.
Finding a mechanic who knows about MK2's can be another problem but if you're willing to do the work yourself and know how to use Google most jobs will be achievable and help teach you something about keeping your car on the road.
Good luck and remember, they make great dailies. Mine did over 1000 ks per week until I hit the back of a truck and even then it did a great job of absorbing the impact so I wasn't hurt (apart from a fractured sternum caused by the seat belt). It was a big hit to the truck. If I didn't have a MK1 to swap the parts into I would have probably saved my MK2 but at least a lot of other MK2 owners benefitted from all the spare parts off my car.