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Used A8/S8 Buyer's Guide

Looking seriously at an A8? Use this list to inspect for common items.

So you are looking at an A8 or S8 and getting excited! It's not hard to do. My car was bought off of Ebay, here's a few pictures of it before I took delivery. It looks like it is jacked up compared to how it sits with the H&R coilovers.

Use the following PDF inspection checklist with this document.

Find an Indpendent Mechanic to Inspect the Car
Do yourself a favor and find an indpendent mechanic to inspect your prospective car. It will cost somewhere between $100 and $200. Print out this inspection list and give it to him. This is the cheapest money you'll ever spend.

Look for somebody who specializes in German repairs, somebody who knows the Audi line is best. Have him go over everything after the inspection is complete. This inspection should take about an hour.

Run the VIN through carfax and ask an Audi dealer for a service history printout. This will provide a history of the car and might point to issues to be concerned about. Audi dealers will do this for no charge, you will need to provide them a VIN for this service.

Check what the in-service date for the car was, this will determine when the factory warranty expires.

Ask if recalls were addressed, Audi changed the tie rod ends on some of the older A8's from aluminum to steel under campaign number 99V248000.

See what paperwork is included with the car.

- Operators manual
- Radio manual
- Radio security code (needed after power is removed from radio to start it up again)
- Maintenance history
- Any other paperwork

If you are buying an older A8 with 60K miles or higher, determine if the timing belt has been changed or not, if so, at what mileage. The timing belt does not require changing at 60K, but MUST be completed by 90K miles. This is an expensive service, determine the details before buying the vehicle.

Inspect around valve covers and heads of engine. Inspect for oil leaks. Make sure you have a flash light with you while doing this inspection. Remember, if a small amount of oil leaked out of the head past the gasket, it will pick up dirt. Do not be alarmed by this. If it's not wet or not a large amount, it's probably not a problem. One tablespoon of oil leaking can look like a cup!

Inspect for any leakage around the power steering pump and high pressure hydraulic lines. This can be found on the bottom driver's side front of the engine. There should be no leaks or indications of any hydraulic fluid leak. Also look at the steering rack for leaking hydraulic oil.

Open the radiator overflow tank and inspect for coolant color. The coolant HAS TO BE RED. If it is green, then the wrong coolant was put in the system and will be required to be changed.

When you closed the hood, is the hood release retracted after shutting?

Put the car on a lift
Inspect for oil leakage at the final drive seal on the transmission (right above the catalytic converters). This is where the driveshaft attaches to the transmission. It is a common leak point. If it is leaking, it will be leaking gear lube, not transmission fluid. Gear lube has a particular smell, you or your mechanic will know it when you smell it. When it leaks, it drops on the left hand catalytic converter. Replacement of this seal is about $250 including labor (the seal is about $8).

Bottom of transmission pan and catalytic converters. If the output seal on the transmission is leaking, it drips on the left hand cat. This is the cat seen closest to the photographer. The large recess on the transmission pan is the fill for the automatic transmission fluid.

Inspect the rear differential for leaking seals. This is also a common leak on the A8. If it is leaking, you will most likely see oil/grime splattering on the adjacent support pieces. To have all three seals replaced, it's about $400 including labor because the whole differential needs to come off. If it is done at an independent's shop, it will be closer to $250 with labor.

Rear differential. Note oil and grime splattering on adjacent support from a leaking output shaft seal.

Inspect all four drive axles for torn constant velocity (CV) joint boots. The outer front CV joint boot commonly tears on the A8. If it does tear, the grease in the joint will whip out and can be seen in the wheel well. If it does have a tear, a new one will cost about $200 with labor to replace, the axle must be removed from the car for the repair.

Front axle outer CV boot. This view is from the front of the car looking back. This boot was just replaced. However, the mechanic that replaced it did not clean the grease up from when it was torn. Note how it throws grease all over the suspension components and the wheel well.

Remove wheels and inspect brakes. Check for pad wear to determine when the pads will need replacement and check rotors for condition/thickness.

Electrical and Accessories
The A8 has a few items that broke on almost all A8's including the heated steering wheel and the electric headrests. You can live without the heated steering wheel (if you must have it, you'll need to replace it). The headrests can be repaired. It's very expensive at a dealer, about $5 in parts if you do it yourself.

1997 US spec A8 dashboard. Switches from left to right above the radio are: driver's seat heater, front fog lights, rear fog lights, rear defroster, hazard, blank (if it had the hot weather package, this would be the rear sun shade switch position), rear head rest "down" switch, blank (if it was a 3.7 non-quattro, this would be the traction control on/off switch), passenger seat heater.

Check the following:

Do the headrests go up and down? ALWAYS check in the “down” position first, otherwise they might not go back down after you get them all the way up.

Heated steering wheel. Turn on the driver's side heated seat, ensure it's less than 70 F, and feel the steering wheel. It's very noticeable after about 1 minute, if you don't notice anything, it doesn't work. It's usually the heating element in the steering wheel that goes bad, you'll need to replace it if you want it to work again.

If it is cold out, energize the rear defrost and check to see if the entire grid works. This might be hard to inspect for.

If the car has the hot weather package, check the rear sunshade, make sure it goes up/down with the switch on the dash. Manually raise and lower the rear window sunshades.

Energize all four heated seats by selecting them to “6”, wait four or five minutes and check they are heated. NOTE: somebody must be sitting in the seat for it to turn on.

Check the adjustable steering column, the switch is on the left side of the steering column. Does it fully extend and retract?

Open and close the glove box, does it open easily? Another problem with the A8.

Inspect the aluminum shifting plate, is it scratched? If so, you might want to replace it if you buy the car, around $50.

Check to see if the car has xenon headlights (you want these!). Open the hood, look at the headlight assemblies, if they have large metal boxes on them with a lightning bolt on them, they are xenons. If they have plastic covers on the back of the headlight assemblies only, they do not have xenons.

Backside of headlight assembly for the 1998 and 1999 US spec model years (as seen from engine compartment). If it doesn't have this electrical box, it doesn't have stock xenons.

Fault Codes
If possible, check for any stored fault codes. This can be done at an Audi dealer or any independent that has a VAG 1552 or ross-tech software. You can also find somebody at in your area that has the ross-tech software that might help you out.

You should check for codes in the following modules at a minimum: engine, transmission, HVAC system.

Road Test
While taking the car for a road test, pay close attention to how smooth the transmission is. If it has a tiptronic, shift it up and down in tiptronic mode.

Stop the car and with your foot on the brake, open the door, and shift from drive to reverse and back again (without the car moving, keeping your foot on the brake). Listen for clunking and feel for smoothness. If you hear a large clunking, try to determine where it is coming from and have your mechanic inspect further.

Turn the steering from lock to lock in both directions, list for noises and clunks.

Listen to the radio, ensure there is no buzz or whine through the speakers.

Wheels and Tires
Inspect the wheels and tires. Inspect for scuffs and rash on the wheels. Check tire wear pattern on the tires. They should be even. The A8 has an adjustable suspension that allows for proper geometry. If there is uneven tire wear, it either requires an alignment (which only dealers really know how to do correct, about $150) or there is a problem. Most A8's do not have uneven tire wear problems.

Body and Interior
Check the body for collision repair. This can be done by inspecting the following items.

Front Bumper Assembly - The bottom of the front bumper is easy to get caught up on curbs in parking lots. Inspect the bottom of the bumper and engine shield (plastic cover at bottom of engine) for excessive scrapes and damage.

Hood – open and look at hood bolts. If they have the factory paint on them, the hood has most likely never been touched. If it's broken, it's either been readjusted or replaced.
Front Fenders – Look at the fender bolts just under the hood and inspect for factory paint. If they do, the fender probably hasn't been touched. If the paint is broken, the fender has probably be realigned previously due to body damage.

Doors – Open doors and check hing bolts for factory paint.

Rear Fender – Open rear door and run your finger down along the area where the rear fender wraps into the door jamb. If it has been resprayed, this is where it is taped off. Your finger will tell you if there is a ridge there. If it has a ridge, the rear fender is most likely resprayed.

Trunk – Inspect hinge bolts for factory paint.

Inspect all panels for straightness. The A8 is a very straight car from the factory.

Check the interior for leather condition, inspect for rips, cigarette burns, etc.

Other Items
Ensure your A8 has the following with it:

Check the CD changer in the trunk for a six disc cartridge. You'll gasp when you determine how much it costs at the dealer. If you are looking at a 98 and later, it is a Panasonic system, they can be had for about $15. If you are looking at a 97, it's a different system with a much less used component, therefore it's very expensive.

Check the CD changer in the trunk, make sure it has a six disc cartridge in it! If it's a 1997, the dealer gets something like $65 for it!

Check the spare tire. '97-'99 versions came with a donut spare, '00 and later have a full size spare.

Spare keys including valet key.

Floor mats, these have “A8” inscribed on the front ones and attach to the two pegs in the floor. If your car doesn't have them, they are about $125 for a set of four.

Cup holders. There is an insert between the two front seats (can be removed) and one in the rear seat armrest.

Some A8's came with a first aid kit in the rear armrest, it's big and red, you can't miss it.

Cupholder insert. This piece lifts right out for cleaning. Make sure it's in there. If the car is a 2000 or later, it only has room for one cup, the other is taken up by the navigation or multi-function switch. At least it has some kind of cupholder!

Use the following PDF inspection checklist with this document.

Technical & Maintenance  |  Upgrades & Style  |  Used A8 Buyer's Checklist

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