Audi A4 & S4 at SoCal Euro

I get a lot of questions from readers who are in the market to buy a used B7 Audi A4, S4, or RS4 and want to know what to look out for, so I thought I’d consolidate all of my feedback/guidance into one post that can be referenced and updated over time. I’ve owned both a B7 A4 and S4 over the past 6 years and been intensely active in Audi message boards and social media during this time, hearing common complaints and issues which I’m summarizing here. Similarly, I want to invite others to chime in here, so please leave a comment with other advice you may have if you’ve bought one yourself. Personally I purchased my B7 A4 and B7 S4 both used, and in both cases I was able to pick up a well maintained car that was free of any major issues or headaches, so hopefully that experience will help others too. Without further adieu, here is a list of things to look out for when purchasing a used Audi A4, S4 or RS4 from the 2005.5-2008 (8E) model years.

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B7 Platform Advice (Model Agnostic)

First we’ll start with model agnostic guidance – things to look out for regardless of which trim level you want to buy.

  • Maintenance Records – has it been serviced at an Audi dealer? any red flags on maintenance records such as major work done like a transmission or engine replacement? any other service either missing or unusual? Oil changes are especially important, while Audi only recommends oil changes every 5,000 miles, many owners swear by going every 3,000 miles or fewer – at the very least, proceed with caution if it seems like oil changes have been neglected or the car didn’t use proper oil (e.g. took to a Quik Lube). 
  • Mileage – German cars are built well, but the higher the mileage the more likely it is this car has more wear & tear and may be due for more maintenance soon. Typically you’ll want to seek a car driven <12,000 miles per year, although I wouldn’t necessarily shy away from a higher mileage car
  • Price – take a look at KBB.com and determine if you’re getting a good deal or not…remember, mods don’t really increase the value much, and if a seller disagrees you can advise them to part the car out and sell it stock
  • Body Condition – any panels misaligned? any paint that doesn’t match up? swirls everywhere? Inspect the body thoroughly from bumper to bumper.
  • Sunroof – there was a recall on the sunroofs, so make sure the sunroof opens and closes smoothly and doesn’t get jammed or make any weird noises, this can be a costly repair. Also look for any stains in the headliner around the sunroof, which is a sign it leaks.
  • Headlights – any dipped headlight or bulb out warnings? With Audis, these warnings can be both very annoying and expensive/difficult to fix
  • Error Codes – have a mechanic use a VAG-COM cable to do a full scan on the car and ensure no other error codes on the car. If so, determine which ones, Google them, and try to determine if they are serious or not.
  • Options – there are a lot of nice options out there, try to opt for one with nicer wheels, upgraded exterior (S-line or DTM package) or nice interior bits. Remember that in 2006-2008 things like bluetooth weren’t standard, so your car may not have it. Likewise for backup sensors. With navigation, look to see how old the maps are – they run on a DVD and new maps are about $200 each…this is a good haggling point.
  • Tires – how much tread is left? are the tires really old (check this post to determine the age of a tire)
  • Multiple Owners – cars turn over from time to time, but a long list of owners, or being sold by shady/less reputable dealers, could indicate the car has issues that owners are unable to fix. When possible, buy from Audi dealers or well known/respected local dealers, and avoid the “too good to be true” pricing from a dealership you’ve never heard of. Google the dealership if not sure, you should be able to tell based on review sites what kind of reputation the dealer has.
  • Navigation – frankly, the RNS-E navigation in these cars is not that great. I wouldn’t worry about finding a car with this installed – if you really need it, you can retrofit it for about $800 or less, but truth be told the interface is ancient by today’s standards and it’s ridiculously tedious to use in any useful fashion, not to mention the maps are always out of date and lack real-time info on traffic and whatnot that your smartphone can provide. Bluetooth is nice, thought.
  • Avants – the wagon variant commands a price premium generally speaking, as they are very hard to find yet very desirable within a certain crowd. If you’re seeking an Avant, be prepared to act fast and have a little more wiggle room on price than if you were going after a sedan. Oddly enough, the convertibles have the opposite effect and generally have more difficulty selling.

When in doubt, get a PPI (Pre-Purchase Inspection). Most Audi dealers and independent Audi/VW mechanics will do a pre-purchase inspection for $150-200. Some dealerships won’t let you have another independent party inspect it, which should be a red flag that you need to walk away. I highly recommend getting a PPI (offer to pay for it yourself) if not buying from a certified Audi dealer or very trusted dealership. Likewise if you have some concerns, an aftermarket warranty or other form of insurance may be a good way to mitigate risk.

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B7 Audi A4 Buying Advice:

The A4 itself is a reliable and easy to find car. It gets great gas mileage, is surprisingly peppy, looks great, and has a wonderful interior. For the price, it is probably one of the best buys of any German sedan right now. Given it is the most affordable trim level of the bunch, it will be owned by a diverse crowd, some of which will inevitably take better care of their cars than others. The biggest issues with this car is:

  • Cam Follower – this $30 part wears out and will eventually destroy the engine. Ideally it should be replaced every 50k miles, but can probably go up to 100k miles without being too risky. Make sure it has been replaced or at least inspected if you’re buying an A4, as a bad one can mean a new high pressure fuel pump (HPFP) and a bunch of internal engine work that can run several thousand bucks.
  • Diverter Valve & Coil Packs – both were recalled and revised, but if there is a boost leak or the car doesn’t feel powerful enough, these are the two most likely culprits
  • CVT Transmission – in America these only came in FWD cars, and this transmission is extremely expensive ($7-8k) to replace and prone to breaking. If the car has a CVT and >100,000 miles, your transmission may be a ticking time bomb. Proceed with caution. Truly I’d avoid this transmission at all costs, as the only thing it’s good for is gas mileage but if you want good gas mileage you’re better off buying something else – it is simply not a driver’s transmission.
  • Boost Leaks – check all of the hoses for boost leaks or leaking noises when idling.
  • 2.0T vs 3.2 V6 – the A4 has two engine options, the 2.0 Liter turbo engine (four cylinder) and the 3.2 Liter V6 engine which is naturally aspirated. The 3.2L V6 model is technically the upgraded, more expensive engine, but in practice the 2.0T engine was largely preferred by all types of consumers – for enthusiasts, the 2.0T is easier to modify and get more power out of it thanks to the turbo setup (and the 3.2 is virtually un-moddable as no one really makes parts for it), and for the average consumer the 2.0T gets better gas mileage and is plenty peppy enough. I recommend the 2.0T over the 3.2L engine for those reasons, but nothing wrong with the 3.2…
  • S-Line Package – this option gives the exterior upgraded bumpers and side skirts to look like an S4, and really makes the car look sharp. In 2006-2007 this also included interior upgrades and sport suspension, although in 2008 it mostly just consisted of the exterior upgrades. Regardless, I highly recommend looking for an S-Line over the non S-line as it makes the car look much newer and nicer.

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B7 Audi S4 Buying Advice:

The B7 S4 (2006-2008) doesn’t have many of the turbo related issues of the A4 since it is naturally aspirated, but there are still has a few items you should look out for. From a high level, be prepared that the S4 isn’t *that* much faster than the A4 – while it definitely has a much better lower end and is all around quicker, the difference isn’t as night and day as you might think. Drive both if you’re on the verge, and read my A4 vs S4 advice if you’re not sure if you want the S4.

  • Timing Chains / Chain Rattle – the big thing to watch out for is any rattle noises at startup. Known as chain rattle, this is a sign that the your timing chains need replaced soon – a job that will cost well over $1k in parts and much more in labor, as it requires an engine pull. Stay away! 
  • Power Steering Pump – I don’t know why, but these have a tendency to go bad. Listen for noises when turning the wheel, inspect the fluid reservoir and hoses for cracks, and make sure it hasn’t been sitting dormant for a while.
  • Oil Changes & Oil Consumption – the S4 takes a lot of oil (9.5 Qts) and some burn oil really quick and need topped up between oil change intervals, known as excessive consumption – this might be a sign of a bad head gasket or compression issue, so avoid any cars that have red flags for burning oil or service related to oil consumption issues. These are incredibly difficult to diagnose and replace! If you’re not sure, a compression & leakdown test is a good idea.
  • Transmission – the manual transmission is a much more fun car to drive. If you’re an enthusiast, I highly recommend looking for a manual (only) as it makes the car so much more fun to drive. They’re hard to find, but worth it. When you do find a manual, look for all of the typical symptoms of a bad clutch as that can be a costly repair as well.
  • Body Style – the B6 version and B7 version are very similar but the B7 looks much nicer and also has some powertrain improvements. If you can, save up a little extra and splurge for the B7…likewise, the DTM or 25th Anniversary appearance package is a nice plus.

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Audi RS4 Buying Advice

The RS4 is the creme de la creme, and is typically enthusiast owned and well cared for – the buyers have the money to afford maintenance and the knowledge and passion to understand why it’s important – they may also be the most likely to track their cars, so take it for what it’s worth. It’s definitely a fantastic and rare car, but if you’re shopping for one then you probably already know that. Here are a few RS4 specific items to look out for:

  • DRC Suspension – the Dynamic Ride Control (DRC) was/is prone to failure, and has been recalled. Make sure the owner had it recalled and replaced, otherwise you’ll be looking to replace the suspension…which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as there are a lot of good aftermarket options out there.
  • Brakes – the 2 piece rotors are pretty expensive to replace ($1000 per set) so check the rotor thickness and if they’re getting thin, haggle this into the price. Also, the OEM pads should be dumped immediately as they use brass rivets in the pad construction which eat a nice groove into the rotor surface, ruining them effectively. Audi thought the rivets (which start appearing about 1/2 way through the pad’s life) would wear at the same rate as the pad material and not harm the rotor, but that isn’t the case. A lot of people opt for either Stoptech pads or Carbotech 1521 (Bobcat).
  • Carbon Cleaning / Power – the FSI engine leaves carbon deposits in the engine no matter how well the previous owner(s) take care of the car, and every 40,000 miles or so it is a good idea to have the engine cleaned – doing so has proven to free up a lot of lost horsepower and make the car drive noticeably quicker and smoother. If the car has a lot of miles and never had a carbon cleaning, budget at least $1,000 to have this done by a shop with experience in this procedure.
  • Clutch – The RS4 only came to the US as a manual, and some drivers may have bought this car not knowing how to drive a stick well…so make sure the clutch feels right and the clutch pedal is nice and firm, otherwise budget some funds to replace the clutch in the near future, too.

Got any other pointers? Leave a comment.

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