Mk 3 VW Polo The Ultimate Small Car- A General Guide

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The MK 3 (6N) VW Polo, produced from 1994 right through to 1999, was a staple 90's car, and a huge success for VW. These cars have a lot of benefits over their competitors, and can make excellent little cars. They are known for their mechanic reliability, rock solid body work, tank like structure and practicality. Like all cars, there are always going to be particular points to watch out for. This guide aims to give you some background information on the models available, and what spots to watch out for.I also intend to give you some brief, general buying advice.

Why Polo?

- Known for their reliability
- Known to be much stronger than equivalent vehicles of this age and size - feel the weight of a Polo door compared to a different brand's small car!
- Outstanding build quality
- Very comfortable gearboxes - excellent for the beginner with a very forgiving gear ratio which will pull off even in 4th gear!
- Relatively efficient
- Square backs with flat folding seats - you really can fit a lot in there
- Spare parts plentiful and affordable
- Hold their value!
- Easy to drive

General "What To Watch Out For" Advice:-

As with all cars there's so much to look out for. Here's just a few:

- Look for rot
- Look at the condition of the interior (seat wear)
- Look for full service history, make sure no years are randomly missing
- Usually best to go for one under 100000 miles, as this can be quite a turning point for older cars
- Look under the oil filler cap for 'mayo', caused by water leaking into the oil potentially through the head gasket
- Check for good tyres, branded ones like Michelin, Firestone etc are much better than unheard of ones (same brand on each axle left to right very important to have)
- Check for tyre tread, even wear and watch out for lumps bulges etc
- Look at the owner! How do you think he has treated the car while he's had it?
- Look at the pedals for wear, indicates hard driving/lots of use - does the amount of wear appear to match up with the mileage?
- Question why someone has only had the car 2 months. Could be a genuine reason but always worth asking. Nice to know someone has had the car for several years  
- Look for slightly different coloured/uneven panels/doors. Often a sign it's been in a crash and someone has tried to hide it. Could be unseen damage.

I personally see lots of people look for a car, go out and buy the first or second one they buy. Sometimes when they show me their purchase, I point out something like a slightly different shade of paint on the wing, and they respond to me with "it doesn't really matter". More often than not these cars have come back to me with multiple underlying problems. It is best to take your time and look at as many cars as possible, and most importantly, never rush into it!


(Please note information given is to the best of my knowledge)

The Polo came in the following models -

1.9D L & CL
1.6 L, CL and GLX
1.4L, CL, 16v, SE, Match, Harlequin 
1.3L, CL
1.0L and Match

Also came as a Coupe and Estate variant, as well as an Automatic option
In 1998 there were minor changes to the Polo,  including revised Air Vents, better dashboard dials and plastic engine covers.

Difference between L and CL:

The most common variants are L and CL. The CL features Central Locking, Power Steering, Electric Windows, Split Rear Seats and a better interior compared to it's L equivalent. The main thing is the power steering. These are heavy little cars and without the power steering, it can be very difficult to manoeuvre them in tight spaces compared to other non-power steering cars. The price difference between the L & CL is nearly negligible nowadays, so often better to go for the CL.

The 1.4

The 1.4 is arguably the most popular and common Polo around, checking in at about 60bhp

The 1.3

The 1.3 range was made until the cars hit M reg. It was succeeded by the 1.4. The 1.3 is carbourettor driven as opposed to the 1.4 which is injector driven.

The 1.0

The 1.0 was allegedley the weakest in the range. There is no airbag in this model, and it was rumoured to have some engine problems - however there are plenty of them still going strong on the roads! Most cars have rumours of some common fault, wether or not they ever come to light depends on all sorts of factors like how the car is treated, what chemicals are used in it etc.


16V was the most powerful Mk3 Polo made, pushing out 100bhp and able to hit 60Mph in 10 Seconds. They had a sportier seats, extra support  and sport Bumpers Front and rear, along with clear front indicators and tinted rear lights. Normally hold their value well, but are known for having weak gearboxes, which can last as little as 80K. Be aware that these are more likely to be "raced and rallied" than a standard Polo, so be extra in depth when inspecting one!


The Harlequin is the one that has every different body panel a different colour. Not many of these were made.They also did this colour scheme for the mk3 Golf .

Hot Spots:-

- Rear Wheel Arches

Just like old British cars normally do, Polo's are known for rear wheel arch rot. This is generally caused due to a slightly odd design by VW - if you put your hand underneath the wheel arch, putting your thumb on the outer and your fingers inside the arch, run your fingers around the top you can feel a lip. This is a magnet for Mud and water , which sits in the lip and overtime corrodes the arch. Watch out for signs of this rot on ones your buying. It's easy to avoid this occurring to your Polo, all you do is scrape all the mud out regularly. It's very easy to fix the rot but avoid it at all if possible - there's plenty of non-rotten Polo's out there!

- Front Inner Sill and Wing Joint

Where the front wings join the inner sill at the front of the car is another common part on Polo's that can result in an MOT failure. On the inner edge of the inner sill, there are three drainage holes that let any water run out. The first one is right next to this joint. It often gets bunged up, by mud getting flicked up from the front wheels. The result of this is water can't escape, and as such the sill rots. Again an easy one to fix if you know how, but even easier to avoid! A thin piece of metal like a hacksaw blade will easily clear out the drainage hole, and water will be able to run free again, resulting in no more rot!

- Central Locking

The central locking is usually quite old and tired in Polo's that feature it (CL). If it ever does break it is usually a quick fix. The pump is easy to access, in the right hand side of the boot, in the first aid hatch. It is unpluggable very easily. Other MK3 VW pumps fit such as that from the Vento, Golf etc. Usually the pump may burn out, or one of the lock's Diaphram  may split (after a diaphragm has split it is not uncommon for a pump to burn out too). Note that the system is air-driven unliek more modern cars, which means you literally can just unplug parts and not worry about losing pressure or liquid - as there is none!

- Airbag

Like many cars of its age, the airbag is known to sometimes cause a problem. The warning light stays on permenantly, indicating a fault. One cause for this could be beacause the electrical contacts in the Airbag slipring can fail . It is an easy fit but will require a Garage to reset the Airbag system to get the light to turn off. Due to the nature of this part of the car, to maintain full safety it is best to let the garage completley diagnose and repair this one.

- Rear Bumper Valance

People seem to love reversing their Polo's into bollards, high curbs etc. The lower half of the bumper is made of metal and is totally seperate to the main bumper unit - this is great because if you do reverse it into something in future, it is much easier that this takes the impact rather than the plastic bumper, as this is easy to fix! Expect to find dents here when you look at a Polo. Very easy to fill or pull out the dents and do some spraying. It's a perfect opportunity to learn/practice bodywork on! 

- Gearbox

Alas one of the Polo's most positive points also can let it down. Like most VW's, the gearboxes can be touch and go. Now obviously you can never really tell - I was presented with a fine Polo, one owner, 86000 miles, never mistreated and looked as good as the day it was shipped over. However the synchro had collapsed in the gearbox (rendering it useless) and its (original) clutch was also giving up the ghost. At the same time I had dealings with a Polol that had 250000 miles on the clock, had had almost everything replaced except the engine and box - and it was still engaging gears perfectly.

My experience indicates to me that if the box is going to go, then it generally seems to be around the 70-100000 mile mark - obviosuly it could go anywhere depending on driving conditions/style etc.

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