I Bought a Mk4 2004 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Project Car. It’s Been… Predictable.

Hello, my name is Vincent Wight Malatesta and I’m addicted to Volkswagens. (This is where you all say Hiiiiiii Vince in unison like an AA meeting)

I bought my first Volkswagen, a GTI, in June of 2016. I couldn’t drive manual at the time, but my best friend drove it for me and put it through its paces to make sure it was good to buy. I knew it was due for a timing chain service as it was a 12 valve VR6 and well, after putting it on the trailer and getting it home, I was out of time. Coming off the trailer, the timing chain slipped and valves met pistons. It was a LOVELY introduction to Volkswagen.

As I was in college then, fixing the first GTI took some time. With the help of my friend Nik and my Dad, I swapped in a one-year-newer 24 valve VR6 (more horsepower, yay!) and a six-speed transmission. I was smitten with the sound of that VR6 and with the car in general. I finally learned how to drive manual in it, took it down to Gridlife in Georgia and promptly sold it due to the body being rusty as hell under the paint. Honestly, that GTI was drivable for less than half of the time I owned it.

Mk4 VW GTI 12 valve VR6

With the rustbucket gone, I bought my current “daily” 2011 Volkswagen GTI in October 2018. It was a steal and a half for what it was and I would absolutely buy the car all over again. I drove it for three years and had no problems with it until 2021. It came with an APR “stage 2” tune and all of the modifications that I would have done myself. A heavier clutch is a must for me and this one was a workout when I first got it.

While I had the first GTIs, I also had a “winter beater” Volkswagen Rabbit for some time. I bought it wrecked, fixed it, wrecked it again in the snow, and then fixed it again before getting rid of it.

Over the course of owning all of these cars, I’ve also bought three parts cars – one for my original GTI, and two for the Rabbit. You can probably tell that I’ve been through it with these cars and I’m always ready for more. I’ve always had an infatuation with cars, longer than I can remember. If I’m not working on them, working in general or driving, you can find me writing fantasy and or writing about cars.

Buying My 2004 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

I bought my newest lovely problem – a mostly stock 2004 Volkswagen Jetta GLI – on March 31, 2021.

I really missed my 2002 VR6 GTI. I was one thousand percent on the hunt for a VR6 again, but the cars around me did not make sense. They were either overpriced or in horrendous condition. The only variants in decent shape were all R32s, and they came with a substantial price hike – especially the Mk4 I preferred.

(The Mk5 R32 has seemed to stay steady but I wanted a manual. One day I’ll import a right-hand drive five-door manual Mk5. One day. In the meantime I’ll only dream of 3.6 swapping my Mk6.)

Back to the point – any of the VR6 GTIs I considered would have needed that timing chain work done for my peace-of-mind – an instant $2000 bill. The GTI with the 1.8T turbo four also came to mind, as did some Audis. I skipped both because I didn’t want to deal with the additional sensors on the Audis and couldn’t find what I wanted in general for a decent price.

2004 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

Meanwhile, a friend of mine had been looking at a 2004 Jetta GLI for about a year. He wouldn’t buy it because he’s a massive haggler and the owner wouldn’t come down to the price he wanted. I was willing to pay a bit more than he was, and I asked him to put me in contact with the owner. She was lovely to deal with and for the most part, I knew what was wrong with it before I bought it. The 2004 GLI was unique, in that it had the one-year-only 1.8T engine instead of the VR6.

Right away, I spent $800 for the timing belt service with a metal water pump at a local shop. While they were in there, I had them do a new serpentine belt tensioner because the car squealed badly on startup. It added cost to the bill, but peace of mind is worth that price.

This Jetta GLI was missing the original BBS RC wheels. It came on Santa Monicas which are very meh wheels in comparison to the RCs. I’ll be keeping them and using them for winter wheels.

I had my best friend go out and pick up a bunch of extra parts for me. He found a set of positively gross BBS RC factory wheels, a stock catback exhaust, two good fenders (mine are shot) and a trim piece I was missing. The BBS wheels have some dings and curbage but have cleaned up quite well!

My 2004 Jetta GLI started its life in California. It left the state in 2010 and made its way to the East Coast, where I picked it up with 147,000 miles.


The exterior of the car is, well, it’s a 17-year-old car that’s seen a lot of use. The headlights are gross – they’re yellowed and don’t give much light output. I fixed a problem in the fuse box that saw the lights turning off at random, but have bought Bi-Xenon GLI-style headlights from VX Tuning to fix the light output.

I’ve had bulbs in the tail lights go out on a few occasions, the third brake light does not work and I haven’t gotten around to fixing it yet. There’s rock chips in the rear quarters and on the hood, the paint is scratched, the front fenders are pretty rusty and need to go.

I would give the exterior a rank of 5.5/10. Far from the best but definitely not the worst. New fenders, minor body work and a wrap would really help the car.

2004 Volkswagen Jetta GLI


The interior is in decent shape as once again, it is a 17-year-old car. (I make this excuse a lot.)

The headliner is slightly sagging in the rear, the fabric on the A pillars has weird lines where it’s slightly detached, the material on the door cards is coming off of its glue (which looks disgusting), and the little trim piece that hides the manual sunroof crank is losing its fabric. Being that it lived its life in California for so long, the MFD display between the gauge cluster goes out almost every time it gets warm. I can’t read it unless it’s below about 63 degrees outside.

The seats, though, are fantastic. They’re known for tearing on the bolsters, but mine have already been repaired and feel fantastic to sit in. They’re due for a very thorough cleaning.

Music-wise, the radio is the “premium” Monsoon system which isn’t bad at all! The previous owner installed two ten inch subwoofers in the back, and with a Bluetooth adapter it all sounds quite good.

I would give the interior a 6.5/10. If not for the MFD only working 40% of the time I would have given it a 7.

Engine, Transmission, Other Mechanicals

I really REALLY like crisp and tight shifting. No slop in the shifter for me! My current daily-driver Mk6 GTI seems to throw people off with its short throw and notchy feel. The 2004 Jetta GLI, upon purchase, was not like that in the slightest. I’ve witnessed much worse but this needed help, as I could see the shifter move based on acceleration and braking inputs. I replaced all the bushings with DieselGeek parts and it’s much better now.

This is not a fast car. It only makes 150 crank horsepower from the factory (boooo).

2004 Volkswagen Jetta GLI shifter

Some of the hoses have seen much better days so they’re on their way to be replaced. The OEM 1.8T coil packs are known to be junk, so I replaced them with coil packs from a later 2.0T engine. The harness to the alternator was burnt up as was the fuse box, and I replaced those.

Underneath, the exhaust was rusted out. I dealt with a super cool and fun adventure immediately after I bought the car, in which the piping leading to the exhaust tip from the muffler just fell off going over some train tracks. It was all replaced with a new downpipe and a stock cat back.

2004 Volkswagen Jetta GLI rusty exhaust

I’m pretty positive that my heater core is going as my heat sucks and I am losing coolant randomly – thankfully not into the oil, but I can’t find it on the ground either. My power steering fluid also just kinda… disappears, too. At least the GLI still handles well, especially after replacing the strut mount bushings. It stops well enough too, although I am due to replace the front rotors, pads and possibly the left caliper.

Drivability is about a 5.5/10, which is kind of depressing. I wrote this thinking I would score the car higher, because I do like it a lot.

2004 Volkswagen Jetta GLI steering wheel

Overall, this 2004 Volkswagen Jetta GLI is a smooth, comfortable drive, and it’ll do up to 32 miles per gallon, which I find wild. It’s a solid daily-driver as is, but with problems fixed it would absolutely be a fantastic daily-driver. I think that bringing a 2004 GLI into 2021, relatively unchanged from when it rolled out of the factory is something I would do again – especially for a VR6. You don’t get all of your built in Bluetooth, navigation, or ALL of the modern bits that everyone wants.

Regardless, the Mk4 Jetta GLI was and still is a driver’s car. Mine in particular comes in at about a 6 or a 6.5 out of 10 overall right now. It feels mean of me to say, but… that’s how project cars go.

8 thoughts on “I Bought a Mk4 2004 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Project Car. It’s Been… Predictable.”

  1. I just bought a 2004 Volkswagen Jetta. Only 124k miles. Runs great and has a manual transmission. I learned how to drive stickshift when I got in car for first time. Lots of hiccups and stalling. But in traffic I did well.
    I like the car. I need the locks fixed. The car doesn’t lock. Also my passenger side window doesn’t work.
    All in all I’m pleased.

  2. I’m 2013 I inherited a 2004 GLI with only 15k miles. Seriously. It is now 2022 and it has only 38k miles. I absolutely love this car. The body shape and set up they did is bar none. It is in excellent shape. However, I would consider selling it forthright price.

  3. I own a 20O5 GlI, my car has 11k miles, bought it in 2005 with 6k miles. My car is like new money, it does need a headliner, and the blend doors need fixing. And yes it does smell like crayons. It will be for sale soon.


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