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Checks when buying an Audi ur-quattro

Thinking of buying a classic Audi ur-quattro? Something to approach with caution. First - don't be misled into believing that the ur-quattro is the cheapest true supercar available. It is - but only until you start maintaining it. Some of the bits are expensive, and some procedures long and complicated - taking the cylinder head off takes a nominal ten hours' labour, for instance. It's a true classic, though, and prices for well-maintained examples are stable or rising slightly. And it's fun to drive. Especially in winter - a true all-year sports car - though you do need to watch the tyres. The law of quattro physics - four times nothing is the same as two times nothing.

The best course of action - after finding a candidate car - is to get a prepurchase inspection.

First decide which model you want or can afford. There are really four - the WR made from 1980-ish to mid-1987, the MB from 1987 to mid-1989, and the RR (20V) made from then on. And the Sport - an exotic beast. The major difference is the engine, with the MB and RR also getting the central torque-sensing differential. The Sport (with a KW engine) is a major exception - serious professional advice is absolutely essential. Beware of parts costs for the 20Vs - Audi has no exchange parts programme and everything has to be bought at the full retail price - and the Sport, since the production run was only ca. 200 cars over 25 years ago.

So - found an ur-quattro advertised? Call HPI on 01722 422422 and find out what they know about it - it could save tears further down the road. Or you can text the registration to 83600 and get a summary report for only £3 billed to your mobile phone. Halfords also offer a vetting service with a £10,000 warranty. Increasingly, you can check the MoT status of a UK vehicle on the VOSA web site - you need the registration and either the document reference number from the V5c registration certificate or the test number from the new style MoT test certificate. Then think seriously again about getting it inspected by someone who knows what to look for.

Before going to see the car, talk to the owner on the phone and ask basic questions about ownership history, accidents, insurance claims and maintenance. Why is it being sold? What is the mileage? "Stolen and recovered" should ring special bells - it often masks other things. Encourage discussion of repairs and upkeep and how the car was used. Ask about rust, body damage, interior appearance, how the car runs and what needs to be done to it. How original is it? If it's on aftermarket rims, are the original rims still available? What are the tires like? What is the asking price? The answers should allow you to decide if it's worth going to see the car and test drive it. Insist on seeing the car at a dealer's or at the address to which it is registered - pub car parks and laybys are a no-no - and insist that the engine be cold.

When you visit the car, check the V5 registration document. Are you at the registered address? Then check the VIN plate (right rear of engine bay) and the VIN number stamped in the bulkhead. The VIN plate rivets should be flat and the stamped number should be in smooth metal with no signs of welding either side of the bulkhead - lift the water shield to check the back. Check the car's colour and interior against the paint codes for its model year.

Expect a sheaf of repair invoices several inches thick. The VAG Service History document ("Full Service History") is very easily forged and the level of skill available even at Audi main dealers is very limited these days. Get an expert to check the receipts - a car with a clutch changed at 140k miles and the brake accumulator at 160k miles sounds genuine - but clutch at 80k miles and brake accumulator at 100k miles suggests something about the recorded mileage.

Inspect the car in both daylight and flourescent light if possible - sometimes mismatches are obvious in one and not the other. Walk around the car and eyeball everything visible from the outside. Don't be afraid to use the Mark I finger on the paintwork - sometimes things that cannot be seen properly can be felt easily.

Open the bonnet and look around the engine compartment, pull the dipstick and feel the oil. An MB or RR has a translucent hydraulic oil reservoir on the firewall - the contents must be green (brownish with age) but not red. WRs can use either the later green hydraulic oil or ATF fluid which is red, but ATF must not be used in the later cars. The smaller container on the right of the car under the windscreen wipers is always cracked. Check under the car for leaks and that the undertrays are in place on the left and right at the front. Check along the fuel lines, paying special attention to where they pass through rubber mounting bushes at the back of the engine bay. They should be metal all the way. Then open the boot and check for water - especially under the carpet on the right - dirt and the spare tyre and toolkit. If a CD changer is fitted, has it blocked the sunroof storage slot? While walking round, check trim, glass and panel fit. Feel the brake discs' ridges and gouges.

Open the doors and check the entry sills and lower door edges for rust or repairs, while looking over the rubber seals. Sit in both seats and check trim, seatbelts, seat runners and seat folding catch. Move your shoulders sideways and listen for squeaks in the top of the seat back - the welds sometimes crack. Check the handbrake. Check the windscreen for chips and cracks.

From the driver's seat, touch and operate all the cabin controls and gadgets. Central locking, power windows, sunroof and boot catch. Check for leaks by feeling the carpets in all four corners. Test pedal pressure for brakes and pedal movement for clutch, listening for strange sounds. Reach up above the back of the brake pedal and feel for clutch fluid leaks. Go through the gears at rest to check shifter linkages.

Switch the ignition on and check that the proper number of warning lights illuminate - unscrupulous sellers have been known to take out bulbs warning of thousands of pounds' worth of repairs. If it's a WR model (green dashboard) the synthetic voice should spring into action if the 'Check' button is held depressed while the ignition is switched on. If not, someone may be trying to hide something serious. Then check the gadgets that only work with the ignition on - lights high and low beam, dash lights and adjustment, wipers, heater, heated seats, a/c if fitted and radio. The fuel pump should NOT run.

Have the owner start the car (then it's his problem if the cambelt snaps on a stored car) while you watch the exhaust pipe. Listen to the engine warming up from cold and check the idle speeds. Tappet rattle that goes away in a few minutes is not a problem. Listen especially for exhaust leaks and ticking from manifold cracks. This can be a difficult area - it has been known for unscrupulous owners faced with the significant cost of an exhaust manifold replacement to weld up the cracks and sell the car - only removing the right headlight and accordion hose will let you inspect the sites where welding may have been done. A good large screwdriver can be used as a stethoscope to list for engine noises - use it on the distributor shaft as well.

IMPORTANT NOTE for UK purchasers: The police are gradually equipping their traffic vehicles with automatic numberplate recognition equipment that can verify the road tax, insurance and MoT status of every passing vehicle and sound an alert to the crew. The driver is responsible. If in the slightest doubt about the vehicle's legality, have the seller drive.

Let the engine warm up until the radiator fan runs, listening for changes to the engine and then do a slow test drive in the parking lot and local streets and then around the owner's town. This will include a moving test of the differential locks. Do the speedometer and trip computer work? Rear window defroster? Strange noises on bumps? Taut and firm, or loose and sloppy? Power steering feel and sound? Alternator belt squeal with full electric load? Try starting and stopping and run through the gears - check out the feel of the clutch, brakes and accelerator systems, and the steering and suspension. Push the ABS switch and check the warning light comes on. Switch the ABS back on and check the light goes out again. Turn some slow doughnuts or figure-of-eight turns in a parking lot to test for bearing noise. Open the driver's window and do some slow fore-and-aft movements to see if the brake calipers click. Once the car is warm the a/c and blower can be tested properly. Back at the owner's home, pull on the handbrake - check the warning light comes on - and see if the clutch slips against it before shutting down. Keep the engine running, and get out of the car with the handbrake on. Turn the front wheels onto full lock to see the wear pattern.

If the test drive indicated sloppy shocks/suspension, bounce the corners and wiggle each wheel for play. Examine tyre treads for depth, feathering, cupping, unusual wear at edges or in center. Front and rear. Feel temperature of tyres and wheels for heat due to dragging brakes.

If you're still serious, drive the car for another half hour at higher speeds, checking passing systems and wander tendencies. Watch the gauges for under/over heating, and check both the horn and the audio system. Accelerate hard from ca. 35 mph in third gear at least once. Stop somewhere for ten minutes on a clean surface and check underneath for leaks. Look at both differentials. Water dripping from an air conditioning evaporator is normal. Turn the steering wheel onto left full lock and look behind the front right wheel at the oil cooler lines.

On an MB or RR, pull the connectors off the low pressure warning switch mounted diagonally on the brake pressure servo - between the master cylinder and the bulkhead - with the engine stopped, and attach a continuity tester. Press the brake pedal repeatedly as if making an emergency stop - if the switch closes after three or fewer depressions the hydraulic accumulator will have to be changed before the car can safely be driven. The same test can be peformed on earlier cars, but test leads are required.

Even if you have to pay for it, fill the fuel tank to the top - because an almost empty tank doesn't reveal any leaks that exist, especially where the top and bottom moulds of the tank meet and at the neck. Considering you're planning on spending a lot of money - why not put the car through an MoT test? For thirty quid or so it goes on a ramp and yet another experienced pair of eyes gets to look at it from underneath. Who knows - he/she might just spot something you haven't? Slip them a tenner and ask them to check the bushes, CV joint boots, fuel lines, fuel pump mountings, etc., especially carefully. It's amazing, considering how much of a quattro's unique selling propositions are under the car, just how few people take a look there before parting with their hard-earned readies.

After the drive, decide if you want to meet the selling price, negotiate, or call in an expert for a further opinion and thorough model-specific diagnostic tests. This will cost less than £150 and on average will spot £800+ of problems you would never see. The AA and the RAC know nothing about quattros - they'll just tell you where it isn't rusting. Checks might include:

(The full list is a little over three pages.)

Electronic odometers can be 'clocked' or wound back more easily than mechanical ones and it's worth checking the mileage with the Club register and/or any old MoT certificates to hand. Regrettably 'full dealer service histories' are very easy to forge - some unscrupulous garages have literally tens of VW/Audi stamps belonging to dealerships long out of business. Receipts are much more reliable though originals tend to be retained by earlier owners for tax purposes. These should show a timing belt change within the last 60,000 miles or five years - if they don't, consider flatbedding the car home rather than driving it.

Thanks are due to Doyt W. Echelberger for the initial text, which was shamelessly stolen from a post he made to the Audi quattro mailing list.

And if you've read this because you're selling a car, check out this Daily Telegraph article.

And finally...

If it says ...It means ...
Rough conditionToo bad to lie about
Parts carBeyond repair
ImmaculateWashed yesterday
Engine quietWhen switched off
Needs minor overhaulNeeds all moving parts replaced
Burns no oilMajor oil leak
Rebuilt engineReassembled duff engine quickly
Can be driven awayOwner lives on hill
Drive it anywhereJust don't ever bring it back
Desirable classicNo one wants it
Rare classicNo one wanted them even back then
Stored 20 yearsIn a field
Ran when storedWon't start

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