Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Volkswagon - An unavoidable rant

Long Time Owner
Let me first lay the groundwork for this post.  I have been a very long time VW owner and enthusiast, from as far back as when I was thinking about my getting my own drivers license.  Before that my family owned VWs as well, my father had a brown gasoline rabbit (1972 I think) and my mother owned a silver diesel rabbit (a 1979 I believe).  I owned a number of odd cars before also getting my first VW, which was a 1997 Passat 1.9 TDI Sedan.  In between my other cars and finally getting the 1997 TDI, I purchased a diesel rabbit for my wife which eventually was replaced by a 1994 Jetta, which was then replaced with a white roll top Cabrio.  As the Cabrio declined, her and I switched cars for a little, while my wife bought her first brand new car purchasing a new green metallic Cabrio with a tan convertible top.

To say that I like my VWs is a bit of understatement.  Now to be sure, I am NOT as hard-core as some, but I have been very loyal to the VW brand.  The cars are generally fun to drive, easy to repair and maintain for the average gear head and at least for all the VWs I owned relatively cheap to own and maintain, that is until my purchase of a 2003 Passat gasoline 1.8T Wagon.

Track Record
In fairness before I get into the rant proper, all the VWs I have had have had some trouble with specific items.  The diesel rabbit had the 'rabbit leak' over the fuse panel giving it all sorts of interesting issues including a propensity to short and run the battery down while it was 'sitting' for multi-day periods.  The same problem was prevalent in the white Cabrio that my wife had for a while.  Despite those problems the cars continued to operate and run and the fixes for any 'major' problems either of those cars ever had averaged a MAX of $500.  We had a belt wear out on the 1994 Jetta, never had any trouble with the green Cabrio right up to trading it in on the 2003 Passat.  The 1997 TDI that I purchased had relay109 fail, has gone through a number of window regulators and other than normal maintenance has had few if any real problems.  My TDI currently has 215,000 miles on it and recently got the infusion of the largest amount of TLC that it has ever gotten when I spent $3200+ to do the following:
  • Belts + Pulleys
  • Suspension on ALL 4 corners
    • Struts, Springs, etc.
  • Water Pump
  • Window Regulator on the Drivers Side
  • Add a CCV Filter (Mann Provent)
  • Remove and Clean the Intake Manifold
  • Remove and clean the Intercooler and Piping
  • Replace the Entire Exhaust from the Turbo Back to the tail (The OEM had essentially fallen OFF the car)
  • New Clutch
  • Starter Cleaning/Rebuild
  • Water Thermostat
Some of this work I did myself while some I had done at my local repair shop.  In total I may have put $5000-$6000 total into the TDI since I purchased it new in 1997.  I CANNOT say the same about the 2003 Passat Wagon, and hence this rant.

The reason I will NEVER own another VW Automobile
The 2003 Passat Wagon 1.8T is 100% the reason that I will never own another VW in my life.  This car has had so many problems that it makes me slightly sick:
  • Fuel pump
  • Fuel level sender/indicator
  • Water Thermostat
  • Radio Antenna Shorting/Rusting
  • Moon roof 'Flooding'
  • Ignition/Coil Pack Failure
  • A/C Bearing Failure
  • OIL SLUDGE (x2)
and - recall after recall after recall.  In fact it seems like every time we got a recall notice on a part that part would then fail forcing us to tow it, due to failure while driving, and get the recall item replaced.  This car has stranded my wife in intersections and other situations too numerous for me to count.  Even with all these issues it is the last one in the list that is the worst of them all because it appears to be the one thing that VW wanted to 'hide' after it started to occur on ALL of the 1.8T engines, an engine oil sludging issue of class action lawsuit proportions.  Lets look at the situation from my point of view; the 1.8T engine seems to have the following issues:
  1. An oil sump that is too small
  2. A quantity of oil that is also too small to dissipate the engine heat appropriately
  3. An originally specified oil filter that is too small to cope with oil sludge that occurs because of 1 and 2
  4. A turbo that can get hot enough to glow with a slight cherry color
  5. Insufficient cooling of the turbo means that engine oil comes in contact with VERY high temps compounding oil sludge issues
  6. Using 'conventional' oil compounds these issues
  7. Oil screen and uptakes that are too small
So - at first the documentation for the car did not indicate anything special about the oil to be used, just normal oil with a specified weight.  Then an update addendum from VW indicating that only 5w-40 FULL SYNTHETIC oil should be used.  Shortly after that update was received - the oil pressure light in the car came on despite there being plenty of oil in the car.  On taking the car to VW - they indicated that the engine was sludged and the repair would be $1800.  They said that they would cover the cost if I were able to produce every oil change slip I ever had to prove that I had done what was asked of the dealer and VWNoA (VW North America).  Of course I don't have every slip for every oil change, and of course I did not take that car back to the dealer every time for its oil change - because that is expensive and insane.  So $1800 dollars later, we got the car back.  Fast-forward to today - and the car has the sludge problem AGAIN.  This car has been problem after problem after problem that has essentially left us wondering WHEN it will fail next, not IF it will fail next.  This engine was poorly designed from the start giving it a propensity to sludge and fail sometimes catastrophically. 

Post after Post after Post after Post after Post of people with the same oil sludge problem and VWNoA essentially turning a blind eye to the problem.  The engine should have just been recalled en-mass because it was prone to this issue.

No car I have EVER OWNED has had this level of problem with oil sludging.  Not my TDI, not any of the rabbits, cabrios, jettas that I have owned have ever had a problem like this, even with some serious abuse of the change intervals - NOT A SINGLE SLUDGE PROBLEM.  Change with conventional oil, change with synthetic oil, change with some mix of both in the same engine... not a single problem.  The 1.8T seems to MAKE sludge due to its design.  It would have been interesting if VW had made some improvements/revamps to some engine parts to attempt to address this issue.  Instead VW redesigned the whole thing in a beefier 2.0T engine and did away with the 1.8T engine all together.

Quality Counts
I have never felt so abused/betrayed by a car in my life.  Every time I turned around there was another problem leaving my wife stranded in the middle of nowhere.  If it wasn't the oil sludge costing me money it was the fuel pump (eventually recalled) or the ignition coils (also recalled) or water in the cabin from the moon roof drains being clogged.  This by far has been the worst VW I have ever owned and despite a long history of VW ownership - this car has caused both my wife and myself to turn away in disgust from VW in general.  VW's inability to take responsibility for poor design and parts choices is inexcusable in my mind and I cannot take the chance of getting another car like this one.  Sorry VW - with this latest round of engine oil sludge in my 1.8T (despite religious, possibly even anal retentive oil changes) you have just lost a long time customer (from childhood till now) of your cars.
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