- Automotive Makes & Models
The Volkswagen Dilemma: Quality Cars
The Volkswagen reputation for quality and durable cars was fairly solid and good through the 1960s and towards the end of the 1970s. Their staple, the Beatle, oops, I mean Beetle, was durable and solid. They were everywhere and most owners could work on them. Once the Beetle was phased out in most places, VW tried different types like the Sirocco, Fox, and to cut costs, built in Brazil, Mexico etc.
The quality of VW cars starting from 1980 to the present, remains their Achilles heel and is hit and miss. It was not until very recently, VW had started building their cars in the US, of course, this changed nothing. German cars are different than Japanese cars, they use many differed parts that are not interchangeable, they even use different brake, coolant, and oil than Japanese cars, which, let's face, are everywhere. VW is not. Audi is not. It is not hard to get but you have to look and ask and pay a higher price generally. Food to think about when buying German.
The quality issue for VW is a problem. It can be serious or minor. It can happen with less than 25K miles on the new car or never. When buying a VW, one never knows if it will be a lemon or not. Buying a new VW means little when it comes to reliability. For instance, the 2008-10 Passat, Jetta, Golf diesel TDI's (or non-diesel) with their DSG automatic transmission have been plagued with unreliability. Whether buying new or used, customers (over 53,000) had failures from its Mechatronic computer unit (this unit tells when the gears to shift and is like a large hardrive with software attached to the tranny) and faulty DSG tranny temperature sensors and loosening flywheels. Thousands have complained to the US Government and VW finally decided it had volunteer their own recall. The engine itself is nearly indestructible and gets 30\45 MPG. The worse part of the failures is the cost and danger. Danger, in that, should the tranny go into protect mode ( gear will go into neutral, dash will have flashing lights), you may panic and react adversely because you could lose control of the car. Repairs can easily hit $4-6000. You may need a new tranny from internal damage.
Angry buyers are easily found on the Internet forums and YouTube. New car owners with less than 10K, suddenly have the above problems with no warning. Others, with a used car of 150K miles, finally fails. Yet, some buyers with over 200K miles have never had these problems. So, it is real gamble.
The impression many VW owners get from dealing with their VW dealer is that most know little about what they sell. Many dealers will tell you the tranny oil change interval is every 80000 miles, when it is 40000. Of course, they neglect to tell you it will cost up to $500 to change this oil! Why? Special oil and filter costing $130. A few special tools and 2-3 hrs time. Even simple questions like, why does my radio get FM but not AM stations baffles them.
Most think that they only people who should work on these cares are VW specialists. This is untrue, even if the the ad does not state they work on VW cars, ask. Many do. All mechanics, even small time, can find out how to do the procedure and get the parts for basic procedures. The VW engine is not THAT different than other overhead cam engines.
If you buy a used VW, verify and ask for receipts as proof, the following were replaced or checked: timing belt, water pump, cam or worn cam lobes, tranny fluid changes, history of any repairs, torn CV boots. Just don't take their word if you can help it. Ask at what mileage the repairs\service was done and compare with maintenance schedule. There is little one can do about a faulty Mechatronic unit or failing temp sensor (it should be within temp spec which can be tested electronically). If the sensor fails, faulty data is sent to the tranny computer, which then tells the gears to shift incorrectly or worse.
If you are buying a new VW, your only comfort is that you are covered by the warranty should the nightmare happen.