According to Ron Eagle of Eagle and Raymond Automotive, Quattro’s in Australia tend not to go especially wrong.
For instance, he has never had to deal with any Turbo issues or even replaced one of his customers clutches. That may say more about the owners than the car, but it does go to show that even though these cars are now 20 to 30 years old, Audi built them to last.
I am indebted to Bob Jones, probably my only reader and therefore a hugely important person, for sending me the link to Octane Magazine, for some excellent information on what to look out for.
Externally we are rather lucky in Australia that rot, either on the panels or beneath the car, is unlikely, unless of course your Quattro was shipped in from Europe, probably the UK due to right hand drive, after a few years of its life. If it had to endure a number of wintry, salt laden roads corrosion could have set in.
In the current absence of personally collated local data, more of which will be added soon, Richard Dredge’s article for Octane Magazine sums it all up nicely.
The quattro’s in-line five-cylinder engine was built in three forms. First came the 10-valve 2144cc WR unit, followed by the MB in 1987 (2226cc, 10 valves) and the RR (2226cc, 20 valves) from 1989. Most troublesome is the WR, while most reliable is the RR – although the latter unit is also the priciest to buy parts for. That leaves the MB, which gives the best balance of affordability and reliability.
Engine rebuilds are costly but, if looked after, a WR unit will despatch 150,000 miles before it needs attention; expect at least another 50,000 miles from an MB or RR. Hopefully the owner will have changed the oil every 5000 miles, using a synthetic lubricant.They will also have used only Audi oil filters (WR engines have two), which have non-return valves to prevent oil starvation of the top end at start-up.
To allow a low bonnet line the powerplant is canted over, leading to pistons and their rings eroding the cylinder wall and causing it to become oval. It takes a long time for significant wear to occur but, once it has, things get expensive. It’s simplest to find a decent used unit; they’re not plentiful but can be sourced through the owners’ clubs for around £750.
Key WR weak spots include a failed turbocharger, given away by poor performance and blue exhaust smoke – the problem is largely solved on later cars by the use of a watercooled unit. Also listen for ticking from the exhaust manifold as the engine warms up: this indicates a cracked manifold, and new replacements are unobtainable. To check for this you must start the car from cold; if it’s already warm, the manifold will already have expanded.
If you’re testing a 10-valve car that’s unable to run cleanly, it’s probably because of perished or split rubber intercooler hoses. If the rubber is damaged, it’s straightforward to replace them; they cost £30-170 each and there are three of them.
There aren’t any problems specific to just the MB or the RR engine, but there are some which might crop up in any of the three types of unit (and particularly the WR). The first is worn valve guides and hardened valve seals, given away by blue exhaust smoke on the over-run. If the engine has been thrashed, a top-end rebuild could be needed in just 60,000 miles, costing up to £1300.
Look behind the offside corner of the front air dam, at the oil cooler and the unions on its pipes. These corrode, allowing the engine to lose its oil and potentially to seize. Get to it in time and the bill is £200 plus four hours’ labour; leave it and the bill could be £4000 for a full rebuild.
If the engine runs badly or won’t start at all, take a look at the turbo boost gauge. If this gives a permanently high reading it’s because the inlet manifold pressure sensor has packed up; replacements are £150, available only from The Quattro Workshop.
The Bosch fuel-injection system is reliable but the fuel pump can give trouble if the car hasn’t been used much. It’s easy to spot because the engine won’t start but will turn over. A new pump at £150 is the only solution.
Whichever model you’re looking at, ask when the cambelt was last changed. This should be done every 45,000 miles or five years, but it’s not straightforward. The crankshaft securing nut needs a 27mm socket and a torque wrench that goes up to a massive 450Nm (331lb ft).
Despite the quattro transmission’s complexity, it’s incredibly durable. Synchromesh may have taken a beating if the gearbox has been abused, but this is easy to spot by trying to change ratio quickly when the box is still cold; crunching means the synchromesh is weak. As a rebuild is nearly £1000, most owners live with it or fit a used gearbox for around £200 – plus 10-12 hours’ labour to fit.
Clutches typically last 150,000 miles unless they have been abused. Accelerate smartly in each gear and see if the clutch slips; if it does, all is not lost as specialists can supply an original equipment Sachs unit for £170. It’s possible to buy even cheaper clutch kits, but don’t be tempted – the Sachs one has proved the most reliable
of the lot.
Finish by checking the diff locks haven’t seized up. They’re vacuum operated and you should ensure that the lights on the centre console go on when the locks are engaged and, just as importantly, that they go out when disengaged. Usually, reluctance to do either means the control units just need freeing off and lubricating.
Suspension, steering and brakes
Quattros tend to be thrown about, wearing out the suspension bushes, which also have a hard time because of the quattro’s torque and tyre grip. The front and rear sub-frame bushes bear the brunt, along with the wishbone bushes, so checking these is essential. Look for split wishbone bushes – a new set is £50 and it’s an easy swap.
If a 20v quattro has been really chucked around, it could be suffering from cracks down the nearside of the rear subframe; a replacement is £800. That’s why most owners use the same from a lesser quattro (such as an Audi 80), sourced from a scrapyard for £35 or so.
The steering should be sharp, with plenty of feel. If not, it’s probably because the wheels are out of alignment, leading to uneven tyre wear. Each corner can be adjusted for camber and toe in/toe out, and it should be checked annually by a quattro specialist.
Moaning from the front wheels as the steering wheel is turned on the move means fresh bearings are required; it’s not possible to detect play by feeling for it while the car is jacked up. New bearings cost £30 per corner and they usually last around 80,000 miles. Replacing them is a DIY job if you’ve got access to a press to get the old units out.
The wheels can get damaged on the inside of the rim, because of their width. With the car on axle stands, get underneath and spin the wheel, looking to see if it runs true. If it’s badly damaged it will need renewing – at over £300 apiece from Audi. It’s more cost-effective to buy secondhand ones and have them refurbished.
On MB and RR models, pull the connectors off the low servo pressure warning switch mounted on the brake servo. With the engine switched off, but the ignition on, attach a continuity tester. Press the brake pedal repeatedly on a two- to three-second cycle – if the switch closes after five or fewer depressions the system’s hydraulic accumulator needs changing, at £250.
The rear brakes can give problems, especially if the car isn’t used much, as the handbrake’s self-adjuster piston rod seizes. The best cure is to fit reconditioned brake calipers at £120 per side (double this on the RR).
Bodywork, electrics and trim
Thanks to plenty of zinc plating on most cars, exterior panels are fairly durable. Pre-1985 quattros, with no galvanised panels, can show signs of localised rust even if they’ve never been pranged. From 1985, various panels such as the wings and bonnet were galvanised – but it’s not possible to say with certainty which panels were galvanised and when, as Audi mixed and matched. Until 1987 the bootlid was made of steel, but after this date it was plastic.
Any post-1984 quattro that hasn’t been scraped should be largely rust-free as at least some of its panels will be galvanised; post-1988 examples are the most durable of all. Original factory stickers on the underside of the bonnet are a clue to an untouched car, as these decals haven’t been available for years.
Sills can rot on the earliest quattros, along with the underside of each door and the wheelarches. All quattros need their wings analysed – especially their seams, which often harbour rust as a result of poor accident repairs. These models were handbuilt at the factory so panel fit should be good on an original car.
Make sure all the instrumentation is working, especially if it’s the digital system fitted from 1983. Then switch the ignition on and check that all the warning lights illuminate – bulbs may have been removed to disguise major problems.
Pre-1983 examples have a simple wiring loom, while later ones don’t. But the latter models are also more reliable because the components were of a higher quality. The most common problem with the earliest cars is corroded connections. Before starting the difficult task of tracing dodgy circuits, however, take a look at the fusebox: the board in it can crack and break the connections. A new one is £50.
On WR models, the synthesised voice should spring into action if the ‘Check’ button is held depressed while the ignition is switched on. Then make sure that all the equipment is working – although it’s rare to find functional heated seats and air-con, as replacement parts are obsolete. Also, replacement wing-mounted electric aerials are no longer available and neither are substitutes.
New interior trim is extinct, so it’s worth paying a premium for a car with a really good cabin. Most parts are available on a used basis, though.
Bridging the gap between classic and modern, the quattro can theoretically be used every day or just for the occasional Sunday run. However, the spares situation is currently poor, with many parts available only secondhand, so clocking up a high mileage could prove very expensive.
Things are less of an issue if you’re buying a mint example, but make sure that’s what you really are getting. Despite the quattro offering huge levels of handling, grip and roadholding, there are plenty of examples that have been crashed heavily. As a result, you must ensure the bodyshell isn’t twisted and that the rustproofing hasn’t been compromised. Uneven panel gaps and strange tyre wear patterns will normally give away the former.
Buying the best you can afford is a good mantra for any motor, but especially so for the quattro. A sorted example is one of the most complete cars ever built – but purchase a dog and you’ll have a serious money pit on your hands.