Mk2 Jetta Engine Problems

The 6 Most Common Mk2 Jetta Engine Problems

Chandler Stark

Meet Trey

Trey is an automotive enthusiast and has a huge passion for Volkswagen and Audi vehicles of all kinds. His enthusiasm started with the MK5 GTI, and he has massively expanded his knowledge over the years. When Trey is not delivering high-quality and in-depth content, we can usually find him working in his garage on his modified Genesis coupe. Trey created VW Tuning several years ago, and he is the primary visionary behind the content.

Volkswagen’s MK2 Jetta, often referred to as A2 Jetta, was first released in 1984 in Europe and 1985 in the US. It was produced on the Volkswagen Group A2 platform and was produced until 1992. This Jetta proved to be a success for Volkswagen and created the foundation for one of the best-selling vehicles Volkswagen ever made. Many things were improved from the A1 Jetta, such as length, wheelbase, width, aerodynamics, and many more. Volkswagen held a contest to find the highest distance traveled in a diesel-powered VW and they found a 1986 MK2 Jetta with 562,000 miles.

The MK2 Jetta (A2) came with many different engines: a 1.3L, 1.6L, 1.8L 8v, 1.8L 16v, 2.0L 16v, 1.6L diesel, and a 1.6TDI engine. The 1.3L engine put down 54hp and 72lb-ft of torque. The 1.6L put down anywhere from 68hp-74hp & 87lb-ft – 92lb-ft of torque. The 1.8L 8v, often referred to as the Jetta II 8v, put down anywhere from 83hp-110hp & 101lb-ft – 124lb-ft of torque. The 1.8L 16v, 127hp-134hp & 124lb-ft of torque. The 2.0L 16v put down anywhere from 134hp-148hp & 129lb-ft-133lb-ft of torque.

Common VW MK2 Jetta Engine Problems

Before going into the common problems, the parts listed below will be for the 1.8L 8v engine. So, if you happen to have a different engine and are looking for parts, let us know in the comments and we will assist in any way we can.  

  1. Ignition coil or spark plug failure
  2. Brake Master cylinder failure
  3. Water pump failure
  4. Timing belt and tensioner failure
  5. Leaking head gasket
  6. Heater core issues

1. Ignition Coil or Spark Plug Failure

Ignition coils and spark plugs are a common problem on many Volkswagen’s nowadays and clearly was a problem in the past. The ignition coils transform the battery’s lower voltage into higher voltage then supply the higher voltage electricity to the spark plugs. Once the spark plugs receive the voltage from the ignition coils, a “spark” will be created in the combustion chamber initiating engine combustion.

The main reason these fail is due to normal wear and tear or modified engines. When an engine is modified, it creates more power than the factory spark plugs and ignition coils are built to handle causing failure. A good rule of thumb is to replace the spark plugs and coils every 60,000 miles.

Symptoms of Ignition Coil or Spark Plug Failure:

  • CEL or MIL illuminating
  • Engine misfires with fault codes P0300 – P0304
  • Rough engine performance
  • Rough cold starts
  • Engine surging or stalling
  • Reduced fuel economy

Ignition Coil or Spark Plug Replacement Options:

When it comes to replacing ignition coils or sparkplugs, we advise changing all of them at once if one goes bad. The reason we say this is because these tend to go out around the same time. Replacing either the coils or spark plugs is not the most difficult DIY if you know where they are located. The only thing you will want to make sure is correct is the spark plug gap. A mechanic will likely charge around $300 or more depending on how much the parts are and if both the spark plugs and coils need to be changed.

Buy Here: MK2 Jetta Spark Plug Replacement
DIY Difficulty:

2. Brake Master Cylinder Failure

A brake master cylinder is not a common problem in Volkswagen’s, but it is a common failure in the MK2 Jetta’s. It sends brake fluid into the brake circuit to convert the pressure on the brake pedal to hydraulic pressure. If the brake master cylinder fails, the brake pedal will be soft and braking could be difficult.

The main reason these fail is because it is under high pressure every time the brakes are applied. This will lead to wear and tear of the master cylinder and will eventually fail. They typically fail because brake fluid is not up to optimal standards, which leads to more pressure being put on the unit. A brake master cylinder should last the lifecycle of a vehicle so long as brake fluid maintenance is upheld.

Symptoms of Brake Master Cylinder Failure:

  • CEL or MIL illuminating
  • Brake warning light illuminating
  • Abnormal brake pedal behavior
  • Contaminated brake fluid
  • Brake drag

Brake Master Cylinder Replacement Options:

When a brake master cylinder goes out, you’ll want to replace it ASAP as it could be dangerous for you or cars around you while driving. This is not the easiest DIY unless you know how to get to the master cylinder. A mechanic should charge around $200 to replace the factory broken brake master cylinder.

Buy Here: Jetta MK2 Brake Master Cylinder Replacement
DIY Difficulty:

3. Water Pump Failure

A common problem in many vehicles, not just Volkswagen’s, is water pump failure. A water pump is an important part of a vehicle’s cooling system because it maintains coolant or antifreeze flow between the radiator and the engine. Without a functioning water pump, the engine will more than likely slowly overheat.

The main reason water pumps fail is because of the plastic impeller breaking, normal wear and tear, or lack of coolant. Typically, water pumps should be replaced every 100,000 miles unless it seems to be doing fine. Therefore, an MK2 Jetta will more than likely go through 2 water pumps in its lifecycle.

Symptoms of Water Pump Failure:

  • Low coolant indicator illuminating
  • Engine overheating
  • Coolant leaking under the car
  • Limp mode activated
  • Sweet smell coming from the engine
  • Sporadic engine temp readings

Water Pump Replacement Options:

When a water pump fails, the only option is to replace it. We highly suggest replacing the factory water pump with a water pump that has a metal impeller because they tend to be more reliable. Also, when replacing the water pump we suggest replacing the timing belt because they tend to go out around the same time and are dependent on each other. Getting to the water pump may be difficult, but once we nail down the location, it’s a pretty straightforward DIY. Expect to pay around $400 for a water pump and timing belt replacement service.

Buy Here: Jetta MK2 Water Pump Replacement
DIY Difficulty:

4. Timing Belt and Tensioner Roller Failure

A common problem seen in a lot of Volkswagen engines is a timing belt or associated tensioner failure. Most of the time, tensioners are the reason for these failures. A timing belt syncs the timing of the camshafts, while the tensioner roller maintains the optimal tension of the timing belt.

The main reason a timing belt fails is because of the tensioner roller. Typically the components the rollers are made out of aren’t the most reliable. When a tensioner fails, the timing of the engine is off and the engine will run rough. However, if the timing belt snaps, it could cause catastrophic engine damage because of the pistons and valves colliding. A good rule of thumb is to change the timing belt and roller every 100,000 miles. So depending on how long an MK2 Jetta lasts, you could go through quite a bit of these, unless you go get an aftermarket set, which we highly recommend.

Symptoms of Timing Belt and Tensioner Roller Failure:

  • Ticking noise under the hood
  • Low oil pressure
  • Sluggish engine performance
  • Difficulty starting the engine
  • Engine misfires
  • Broken valves and pistons (Worst case)

Timing Belt and Tensioner Roller Replacement Options:

When a tensioner roller cracks or breaks, the only option is to replace it. We highly advise replacing the timing belt as well to make sure both components are new. Also, as stated above, we advise replacing the water pump since they are all in the same place and go out around the same time. Replacing the timing belt is more difficult than replacing just the water pump, but it is doable. A mechanic will likely charge around $400 to replace the water pump and timing belt + roller.

Buy Here: Jetta MK2 Timing Belt Kit Replacement
DIY Difficulty:

5. Leaking Head Gasket

Head gaskets blowing, or leaking oil, is a common problem in many past and present engines. A head gasket is probably one of the most important gaskets because it is in between the engine block and the cylinder head. It keeps the engine cylinders’ pressure contained to ensure optimal compression is achieved.

The main reason head gaskets feel is because of the extreme heat and pressure it is put under every time the car is turned on. It goes through extremely cold and hot temperatures which makes it expand and contract regularly. Unfortunately, these gaskets can’t last the full lifecycle of a vehicle normally. The higher the miles on an engine, the more likely a head gasket will blow. When it does blow or fail, you’ll more than likely see oil deposits on the engine block and the vehicle will more than likely overheat.

Symptoms of A Leaking Head Gasket:

  • Engine overheating
  • Oil leaks on the engine
  • Unexplained coolant loss
  • Oil contamination
  • Steam coming from under the hood
  • Milky oil or bubbles on the dipstick

Head Gasket Replacement Options:

When a blown head gasket occurs, the only thing to do is to replace the gasket. We highly advise getting a head gasket kit, which includes all major head gaskets and seals, to give it a full reset back to new. It’s not the easiest DIY given you have to take the engine apart, but if you know what you’re doing it can be an easy DIY. If you don’t have experience taking apart an engine, we would advise taking it to a mechanic for about $700, mainly due to labor costs.

Buy Here: Jetta MK2 Head Gasket Replacement
DIY Difficulty:

6. Heater Core Issues – MK2 Jetta

Volkswagen issued a recall on the heater cores, also called a heat exchanger core, in 1992 and it affected 650,000 MK2 Jetta’s. A heater core is a component in a vehicle’s cooling system that provides heat inside the cabin of a vehicle. If it fails, the cabin will not warm up on a cold morning and you will be upset about it, but at least you know what would be wrong.

The end cap that connected the heater core to the engine’s cooling system was prone to rupturing, which would allow hot coolant to go into the vehicle’s cabin on the passenger’s side. Typically a heater core will last the full lifecycle of a vehicle, but since the MK2’s had defective heater core’s, it’ll go through at least one. We would strongly advise getting maintenance records if you are in the market for an MK2 Jetta.

Symptoms of Heater Core Issues:

  • Coolant into the passenger compartment
  • Steam clouding the windshield or interior windows
  • Little or no heat in the cabin
  • Sweet smell inside of the cabin
  • Coolant levels dropping
  • Engine overheating

Heater Core Replacement Options:

Since there was a recall announced in 1992, all MK2 Jetta heater core’s should be replaced, but in the case the core hasn’t been replaced, the NHTSA campaign # is 92V050000. When calling a dealer, supply that NHTSA number and your VIN, so you can get it replaced. We gave seen some MK2 owners not getting this changed by the dealer for free and being charged $500. So it sounds like it is hit or miss when it comes to getting these covered, especially since they are so old. If you get caught getting charged $500 to replace it, DIY it. It’s not a very difficult part to replace if you know where it is located.

Buy Here: Jetta MK2 Heat Exchanger Core Replacement
DIY Difficulty:

Volkswagen MK2 Jetta Reliability

Given that Volkswagen discovered an MK2 Jetta that has been on the road for 562,000 miles, this Jetta is pretty reliable. There were a few recalls back in the day, but given these cars are over 2 decades old, these should have been addressed. The only real thing to worry about with these cars nowadays is rust. The typical spots to look for rust are the wipper holes, front screen, rear hatch, sunroof, struts, floors, and door bottoms. Other than that, MK2 Jetta’s are pretty solid reliable vehicles. We would say if you can find a TDI, that would be the most reliable engine, but all are relatively reliable.

If you are interested in reading up on more Volkswagen content, here’s our write-up on “The 7 Most Common Volkswagen MK3 Jetta (Vento) Problems”

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