I took good care of the car, followed the maintenance schedule, and it never let me down. Bought it when my daughter was 2.5, gave it to her when she turned 16, got it back when she went to college. Geared for the highway. Turbo boost at any speed. Still gets 33mpg.
bought my car in 2012 with 164k today it has 195k I went from Los Angeles to New York and came back again to L.A without any problem.
When I bought the car I replaced the main things to avoid future big problems, I replaced timing belt water pump and a few other little things. After that I only replaced a few small things nothing major until today I had to replace the clutch which lasted more than I expected since I bought the car knowing that the clutch was at only 20%.
For the price the year, this car was worth every penny, I use synthetic oil and this car never quit on me or let me down. I believe the key in this car if you bought it used is how the previous owner toked care of the car
I bought the 1999 Passat Wagon used in 2001 or so, with 24K miles on it. It had been an executive car at VW in Dearborn. It must have been charmed, because it was the lowest-maintenance car I've ever owned. I hardly had to spend a dime on that thing except for oil changes and some regular, reasonable maintenance. This was before VW decided to make everything so difficult to repair on all their cars, so the dealers could make a fortune off of consumers with silly repairs. I was able to do simple things like headlamp replacements myself. In 2004 I stupidly traded it for a new one at 0% financing and now I'm stuck with a lemon. Don't buy an '04 Passat Wagon!
Purchased new and have had reasonably good experience compared to some others. Timing belt tensioner pulley failed at 84k. VW rebuilt top end under warranty. I now change at 75k. Control arms replaced @ 135k, ignition module @ 140k, cruise control stopped working at 170k, driver's window operation is sometimes erratic. Still doesn't burn any oil, clutch is still tight, car is very tight, only one or two rattles. Still get 30 mpg highway. Will run it until the wheels fall off.
After 13 years and 130,000 challenging miles, this is still my favorite car so far. Love the positive, detailed road feel, the steady handling, the get-up-and-go turbo, the seriously reliable FWD - keep the nose pointed in the direction you want to go and you'll get there, whatever the road surface or none. Excellent on tight, rough, winding Greek mountain roads as well as vast super highways at 90 mph. Very easy to learn exactly how long and wide it is, and parallel park on the first try with only millimeters to spare. Also, as a wagon, it can carry a phenomenal amount of Stuff and still have room for a dog and a child, with no change in handling.
Some lesser items have been a problem: the rear window motors ate themselves up years ago and, since I rarely carry more than one passenger, I haven't felt the need to replace them. The sun roof has a mind of its own. Rarely, the transmission can be clunky when downshifting, but usually only once at low rpms, with weeks between; it has done this all its life.
I rated reliability low not because of the car, but because of dealership repair and maintenance support. Be discerning; the nearest dealer did such a number on my car that I'd send it to the crusher before I took it back there. Luckily a new one opened fairly nearby (this is Texas, so 40 miles is 'fairly nearby') and their service is superb. If you need to use a non-dealer, find a VW-trained mechanic. It really does matter.
I have no intention of replacing this car, and don't mind at all paying more than its current market value every few years for routine maintenance and age- and wear-related work (new headlights, vacuum hoses, suspension rebuilds - I do not believe in slowing down for corners). Parts can be expensive, but do not/not try to save by buying after-market cheap parts. It wants and needs OEM. The car has fairly low mileage because I also own a BMW 330 ci convertible, but the VW is my go-to car for any horse-feed hauling, transporting dogs to vets, Costco runs, or iffy weather of any sort: rain, snow, wind.