The Audi S3 has been around since 1999 but didn’t reach the US market until the third generation A3 sedan was introduced in 2015.
The S3 uses a more powerful version of the regular A3’s engine, splitting the difference between the A3 and the range-topping RS 3, which features a higher displacement powerplant.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the Audi S3’s common problems and their solutions.
Table of Contents
1. Coolant Leaks
A cracked thermostat housing is a common issue on the S3’s 2.0-liter engine.
Audi’s water pump and thermostat housings, as well as a lot of coolant hoses, are made out of plastic that get brittle and develop cracks over time.
Common symptoms of coolant leaks include:
- Low coolant warning
- Empty coolant reservoir
- Visible coolant leaks
- Smell of burnt coolant
- Overheating issues
- Heater doesn’t work
These problems can affect all model years of the Audi S3 from 2015 onwards.
Thermostat housing leaks are also a common problem on a lot of other Audi and Volkswagen vehicles that use the same EA888 2.0-liter engine, and dates back to 2009 when it was first introduced.
One owner on Audi-Sport.net forum shared their experience;
“I have a 2015 S3, took it in for an oil change and it came back with a note from the health check that there is a leak from the thermostat housing and it needs replacing. Price they said was £1017.”
Another owner on the r/AudiS3 subreddit had this to say:
“2016 s3 coolant leak. 3 days ago after driving for not even 15 min and then letting it sit for a couple hours I came back to a low coolant warning. I filled it up and within 10 minutes, I got the warning again. It leaked pretty fast. It drips off the oil pan but it comes from above it and most of the hoses and lines towards the front of the car in front of the oil pan are covered in coolant.”
The owner also provided an update:
“It was the thermostat housing, it was cracked.”
Although Audi and Volkswagen have already revised the thermostat housing part a few times, it continues to be a common issue — especially in vehicles that are a few years old.
Due to the number of reported failures and a class action lawsuit, Audi extended the warranty of the water pump and thermostat housing to 10 years or 100,000 miles on a lot of vehicles.
If you need to have the repair done out of warranty, a water pump and thermostat assembly costs around $400.
Getting it fixed at an Audi dealer can easily cost you over $1,000, but a VW or Audi specialist should be able to do the job for a much lower price.
2. Dual Clutch Transmission Issues
The Audi S3’s S-tronic dual-clutch transmission, also known as DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox), needs new fluids every 40,000 miles if you want to keep it trouble free.
Ignoring the DSG service can end up damaging the mechatronic unit or the entire gearbox.
Common symptoms of a faulty mechatronic unit include:
- Hard shifts
- Jerky acceleration at low speed
- Won’t shift into reverse
- Shifts into neutral
- Hesitation to accelerate
- PRNDS lit up simultaneously
Here’s how one owner on AudiS3.org described their experience:
“2015 Audi S3 with 6spd DSG. Vehicle has only 52K miles. I can start the vehicle and go into reverse gear to back out of my garage. No unusual noises and appears to operate normally. Once I go into drive, I can only get maybe 200 feet and the dash warning “Gearbox Malfunction, No Reverse Gear” will appear. Once that occurs, I can only drive in 2nd gear. Once that warning flashes, the car will only drive forward in 2nd gear. It will not go into reverse gear. If I shut the car off and restart it, I can then go into reverse gear without issue. When I begin to drive forward (in auto or manual), I can get up to 3rd gear and the car then seems to go into neutral…..then the “Gearbox Malfunction, no reverse gear” warning appears.”
Getting a DSG service done only costs around $400, which is a small price to pay to avoid having to spend $2,000 to replace the mechatronic unit.
If you’re already experiencing transmission issues, a fluid change might also provide an easy fix.
Keep in mind that the transmission will also run into errors if the fluid is under or over filled, so it’s best to have the service done at an Audi or Volkswagen specialist.
You might also need to have your dealer take a look because some model years, like the 2017 and 2018 Audi S3, had a few software updates for the transmission control module.
3. Haldex Issues
The S3’s Quattro all-wheel drive uses Audi’s Haldex system which also needs regular servicing.
The Haldex needs new fluid every 3 years or 30,000 miles to keep the all-wheel drive in good condition.
When servicing the Haldex system, you should also replace the differential fluid at the same time.
A faulty Haldex system can cause issues like:
- No power sent to rear wheels
- Excessive torque steer and tire spinning
- Launch control doesn’t work
Here’s what owners on the r/Audis3 subreddit had to say:
“15 S3 w/ 70k miles. The only “issue” I had was when I bought the car at 40k miles. The car would spin its tires off the line, suggesting to me that Quattro isn’t working. Took it to two-three different places. Quoted that I needed a new rear diff ($9k). I fixed the issue myself using OBD11 and running a Haldex pump.”
“My 2015 s3 was spinning the front tires like crazy in dry and wet conditions. Launch control does not work, causes me to do a literal FWD burnout.”
Aside from replacing the fluids, you should also regularly take off the Haldex pump and clean out its mesh screen, which can easily get clogged.
If you need to replace the Haldex pump, it usually costs around $300 for the genuine part.
4. Oil Leaks
As the car gets older, you’ll eventually have to deal with oil leaks as the seals and gaskets wear out.
Oil leaks can affect all model years of the Audi S3, especially at higher mileages.
Common sources of oil leaks in the Audi S3’s 2.0-liter TFSI engine include:
- Valve cover
- Timing cover
- Oil pan
- Rear main seal
The oil pan is very sensitive to overheating because it’s made of plastic and can easily warp and cause lots of oil to leak out even if the car has low miles.
It can also get damaged if you hit a rock or go over a speed bump too fast.
The rear main seal can also wear out and leak if the PCV valve is faulty and causes excess pressure to build up inside the crankcase.
Here’s how one owner on the r/Audis3 subreddit described their experience:
“I have a 2016 with 61k miles. In 20k miles of ownership, I have needed to replace the upper timing chain cover gasket, water pump/thermostat, and the oil pan gasket (because the damn cheap plastic pan warped causing an oil leak! Replaced with aftermarket metal one).”
Another owner on Audizine.com had this to say:
“My S3 has gone through 3 rear main oil seals and every single time they leak within a year. The last seal lasted about 4 months ~3000 miles. Car currently has 40k miles and is bone stock. Luckily each time it’s been covered under warranty. It’s currently at the dealership having its 4th rear main seal installed as well as a new upper oil pan and a few other parts Audi of America told the dealer to replace… Car is a 2017. You can visually see oil seeping between where the engine and trans meets.”
It’s very rare to have the rear main seal go out several times in a row. In the case above, it’s likely that the engine itself has a much bigger underlying issue.
Some seals and gaskets are fairly easy to replace, but others like the rear main seals require separating the engine from the transmission which requires more labor.
To avoid having to deal with the issue again, some owners replace the stock rear main seal with an aftermarket one made out of billet aluminum.
A new oil pan from Audi costs around $300. But since it’s made out of plastic and will likely fail again, many owners replace it with an aftermarket oil pan made out of steel which costs around $100.
5. Mag Ride Issues
The S3’s optional magnetic ride suspension offers on-the-fly adjustability at the push of a button, but it’s more expensive to maintain in the long run.
The mag ride shocks usually start leaking after 5 or 6 years, and the electronics can also cause complicated issues that are difficult to diagnose.
Several S3 owners have also complained that the mag-ride suspension makes the car very harsh when going over bumps or road imperfections.
Here’s how two owners on AudiS3.org described their experience:
“I have a 2016 S3 with Magnetic Ride Suspension and I find that when I go over certain bumps in the road, specifically road markings that are protruding high enough, the rear suspension makes a loud thump, feels like the suspension is banging into the cap at the top.”
“That’s how my mag ride feels/sounds too. Same year, car too. Mine is selective, on certain days the magnetic ride behaves great, it’s almost adaptive. I go over the same speed bumps going into work everyday. On a Monday it will be smooth, on a Tuesday it will be harsh and loud.. same drive select setting.. I just think the system is a joke in general, its very glitchy in my opinion.”
Another S3 owner on Audizine.com also shared their issues:
“I have a 16 with mag ride. I bought the car with 31k miles and H&R super sports were on it already. I have 61k now and the car is starting to get pretty bouncy. They are going to need to be replaced soon.”
New mag ride struts and shocks cost around $800 a piece, so replacing all four can easily cost $2,000 to $3,000.
Due to the prohibitive cost, many owners just swap out the mag ride suspension for regular shocks or aftermarket coilovers.
When converting to regular shocks or coilovers, you’ll also have to code out the mag ride errors or install a mag ride delete kit.
The harsh ride can also be attributed to the optional 19-inch wheels which have a lower profile tire that doesn’t provide as much cushioning as the 18-inch wheel and tire combo.
6. Infotainment Issues
Several owners have encountered random issues with the Audi S3’s infotainment system.
In the older third generation S3, it’s common for the MMI screen to get stuck or randomly go down on its own.
The software can also crash and freeze which prevents you from interacting with it using any of the buttons.
Here’s how one owner on Audi-Sport.net described their experience:
“I have hit a major issue with my 2018 Audi S3. Driving home from work in Dec, my MMI screen retracted in and has stayed permanently in the down position. An error appears on the virtual cockpit saying ‘initializing entertainment system’ and I have lost my radio, nav, usb charging points etc. Took it into local main dealer and they have reported back: ‘Found no communication with 5f unit. Checked fuses all okay. 5f unit fault and requires replacement at cost of £6000.”
Another owner with an A3, which uses the same infotainment, had this to say:
“On my 2018 Audi A3. When I turn on my car, the screen stays in the down position, i.e., it doesn’t automatically come up out of the dash, it doesn’t retract. I’m unable to use my rear camera and that’s a problem for me!”
Lots of people have encountered software issues with Audi and Volkswagen’s MIB3 infotainment system, which was introduced in the 2022 model.
Some of the common complaints include:
- Takes a long time to initialize
- Can’t connect to Apple CarPlay or Android Auto
- CarPlay keeps disconnecting
- Screen goes completely black
- No sound coming from speakers
Here’s how one owner on the AudiWorld.com forum described their issue:
“I’m facing a terrible problem with my Audi A3 2021. Almost every time (not always) when I start my car up, it gets stuck on the Welcome page. What usually fixes this problem is hard reset, but sometimes it could take 5-7 hard reset for the MMI to work. If I connect my phone to the car I can still hear the music but the screen is still on freeze.”
Another fourth gen owner on the r/AudiS3 subreddit also had problems:
“I have a ‘23 8Y with the B&O sound system that is now getting stuck on “initializing” for my CarPlay as well as Nav etc.”
If you encounter issues with the MMI screen, you can try restarting the system first.
On the third generation Audi S3, you can force the software to restart by holding down the Menu button, the center dial and the upper right software key.
On the facelift models from 2018 to 2020, you have to push up the Nav and Radio buttons while holding down the center dial.
Software resets are easier on the fourth generation S3 because you just have to hold down the power button for 10 to 20 seconds.
A weak 12-volt battery can also cause random issues with the infotainment system and the car’s electronics, so it’s a good idea to get it replaced if it’s already a few years old.
In some cases, you might just need to have the infotainment software updated at your local dealer.
MMI failures can also be caused by a faulty head unit or amplifier. The motors that make the screen retract in the third gen models have also been known to go bad.
7. Sunroof Issues
The third generation Audi S3’s plastic sunroof trim has a tendency to crack on its own.
Several owners have reported it in the 2015 to 2020 model years of the Audi S3.
Cracks can appear on both sides of the external sunroof frame which can eventually lead to water leaks.
Here’s how owners on the r/AudiS3 subreddit described the issue:
“Roof Trim Cracked – 2017 S3. Just noticed the black plastic trim that runs around my sunroof is cracked in the same place on both the left and right side of the car towards the front of the vehicle. Given they are almost identical spots on opposing sides I’m thinking this has to be some kind of design issue.”
“Mine is cracked on both sides of my 2015 S3, from what I’ve seen it’s pretty common.”
Other owners on Audizine.com also had similar experiences:
“I have the same cracking situation on my 2015 A3 and 2015 GTI – a (MQB) car. The cracks are located at the front Left & Right of the sunroof frame/housing.”
“Mine developed a small cracked a year ago (2016 S3)… had it replaced under warranty.”
A new sunroof frame can cost around $1,000. Getting it installed will also add a few hundred dollars to the total repair price.
Some owners simply fixed the crack by using JB Weld and other similar epoxies, then wrapping the sunroof frame with vinyl to conceal the repair.
8. Carbon Buildup
Excess carbon buildup is less of an issue on the third generation Audi S3, but it can still affect engine performance at higher mileages.
Carbon buildup is an issue on all engines that use direct injection, but the early generations of Audi’s 2.0-liter EA888 engine had a tendency to suffer excess buildup even at relatively lower mileages.
S3’s sold in other parts of the world don’t have the same carbon buildup issues because Audi added port injection which allowed gas to dissolve the carbon deposits on the back of the intake valves. Cars sold in the USA weren’t fitted with these additional fuel injectors.
When the intake valves get caked up with too much carbon deposits, you’ll notice symptoms such as:
- Poor fuel economy
- Shaking or vibration at higher RPM
- Limp mode
- Check engine light
One 2018 S3 owner described their experience on Audizine.com:
“I had misfires for quite a few weeks now (saw it on the scans) and ‘finally’ the CEL came on so the car went in yesterday and here is the verdict: According to the dealership the injectors are faulty and will be replaced. No problem, it’s under warranty… however when they looked into the cylinders they found quite some carbon build up. My car has 62,000km on it.”
The best way to clean out the carbon deposits is to have the intake valves professionally walnut blasted.
This can cost around $500 at an independent Audi or Euro specialist, and most enthusiasts recommend getting it done every 60,000 to 100,000 miles.
If you want to go the DIY route, you can also remove the intake manifold and carefully scrape off the carbon buildup manually after spraying it with solvent to soften it up a bit.
Using premium gas can help reduce the carbon buildup, but it doesn’t completely eliminate the issue.
9. Brake Issues
The Audi S3 comes with upgraded brakes compared to the regular A3, but this also results in more brake dust.
Aside from the wheels getting constantly covered in brake dust, the performance of the brakes also gets affected as brake dust accumulates on the rotors, especially if you drive the car hard.
This brake dust issue affects all model years of the S3 from 2015 to the present.
Here’s what owners on the r/AudiS3 subreddit had to say:
“2019 s3 with stock alloy wheels constantly dirty. I noticed these stock alloy wheels get dirty pretty quick. Is it from brake dust or the wheels itself hold a lot of dirt?”
“S3’s come stock w/ semi metallic brake pads. Higher performance = more brake dust.”
“It’s the brake dust from the brake pads. Switch from the original pads and the dirt will stop. Front brakes get the worst of it.”
“The stock brake dust is the worst I have ever seen. I can’t drive anywhere with clean wheels.”
Switching to longer lasting pads or ceramic pads will significantly reduce and even completely eliminate the brake dust issue.
10. Air Bag Issues
The third generation Audi S3 has an issue where the passenger airbag warning will go off intermittently even if someone is sitting in the passenger seat.
Aside from the airbag indicator light on the center console and error on the dash, a beeping sound will also be heard.
When the airbag light comes on, the car’s electronics will disable the passenger airbag, making the passenger less safe in the event of a crash.
This problem affects the 2015 to 2020 model years of the third generation Audi S3.
Here’s how a few S3 owners on Audizine.com described their experience:
“Driving my 2017 S3 (25k miles) with my gf in the passenger front seat the other day, and I got a Pre-Sense warning about passenger airbag being turned off – not recognizing a passenger in the seat. Didn’t think too much of it, after restarting the car no faults appeared and passenger airbag indicated to be activated.”
“I also had this issue in my 2018 S3. It started very intermittently (maybe happened once or twice) where the passenger airbag turned off with someone in the passenger seat, and then the error came on and wouldn’t go away (it had the passenger airbag off light on the dash as well as the presense warning and beeping). Was still under warranty so it was covered, and it looked like they replaced the module.”
Due to the potential safety risk, Audi issued a recall for the PODS (Passenger Occupant Detection System) module.
However, some owners continued to get the error after the recall was done, so they had to take their car back in for repair or simply just replaced the module themselves.
You can get a used one from a salvage yard or online for around $40 but you’ll have to disassemble the seat bottom to replace the defective unit.
11. Coil Pack Issues
Another common maintenance item on the Audi S3 is the coil packs.
Audi and Volkswagen coil packs tend to have shorter lifespans, and can cause misfires when they fail.
It’s not uncommon to have to replace the coil packs every 60,000 miles. One or more coil packs can also go bad even before the car reaches 60,000 miles.
Signs of a faulty coil pack include:
- Rough idle
- Limp mode
- Poor fuel economy
- Check engine light
A few owners on the r/AudiS3 subreddit shared their experience:
“I had a misfire and it turns out it was a faulty coil pack.”
“I intermittently get a CEL on my 2015 s3. The light will come and go about 2-3 per tank of gas. The code was a p0301 I think.”
“Sounds like same CEL code issue I had on a 2020 S3. It was a cylinder 1 misfire, intake most likely a coincidence as you say. I replaced the coil pack and spark plugs to resolve issue.”
If you’re getting a code for misfires in one cylinder, you can try switching around the coil packs to see if the misfire moves to another cylinder.
A new set of coil packs costs around $200 to $300 if you get them from Audi. Aftermarket replacements are much cheaper at around $100 a set.
When replacing the coil packs, it’s also a good idea to replace the spark plugs at the same time.
Audi S3 Pros & Cons
- Quick acceleration
- Nimble handling
- Good ride quality
- Easy to drive and park
- Practical daily driver
- Good fuel economy
- Decent reliability
- All-wheel drive makes it feel planted
- Expensive parts and maintenance
- Tiny rear seats
- Plasticky interior
What Do The Reviews Say?
“The S3 is a well-rounded sport sedan that is both fun to drive and comfortable to ride in. It accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in a rapid 4.6 seconds, and its nimble handling, strong brakes, responsive steering, and all-wheel-drive traction make for a great time on twisty back roads.”
“When you’re not revving it out, the S3 settles down into an easygoing demeanor, and its responsive transmission shifts quickly.”
“The S3 comes standard with sportier, more supportive and somewhat more comfortable seats than the standard A3. They’re well padded and offer lots of adjustment, and they do a great job of keeping you in place in faster curves without feeling confining.”
“The S3 is a fairly small car even as far as compacts go. Still, there’s more space than there would appear. Even taller passengers should have no issue finding space up front. The seats offer a lot of adjustment, so it doesn’t take too long to get a good driving position dialed in. Rear passengers will be a little more snug, though there’s still room for adults to be comfortable over shorter trips.”
What’s the Resale Value of an Audi S3?
Here’s a quick look at used car pricing for the Audi S3 on Edmunds at the time of writing.