Monthly Archive for December, 2004

Why I won't buy another Volkswagen

In November 2001 we decided it was time to replace our 1993 Toyota
Corolla wagon with 130,000 miles. We wanted another wagon and after
reading Consumer Reports and test driving the Subaru, Audi, and Saturn
wagons, we decided on a 2002 Volkswagen Passat Wagon. After some
hunting around we found a 5-speed manual in Fresco Green – exactly what
we wanted. We thought.

The car is nice to drive and consistently gets 30MPG for both city and
highway driving. On the last day of 2002 we were rear ended on a
Vermont road. The Nissan Altima that hit us was totalled. We just felt
a bump and had a dented rear hatch and bumper (which took a month to
repair). We always feel safe in this car.

The reason I won't buy another is that there has been one small problem
after another and each one has required multiple trips to the dealer.
After owning two Toyota Corolla wagons that never had a problem other
than scheduled maintenance, we were totally unprepared for the endless
visits to the dealer this Passat requires. And since until recently it
was our only car, each visit to the dealer meant we had to live without
a car for a day or that I had to spend a considerable part of my
workday at the dealer.

Here's a summary:

Feb 02 / 1556 miles: Rear driver door electrical (window and lock) stop
working. We brought it in to Boston VW in Allston. They diagnosed the
problem as a faulty wiring connector in the door but couldn't repair it
as they had to order parts. We asked them to also order parts for the
LATCH system (built-in hooks for child seats) so they could install
that at the same time. When the parts arrived we brought it in again to
have it repaired. They repaired the wiring but had forgotten to order
the LATCH system. Within a week or two the electrical stopped working
again. Brought it to Boston VW again and they let us know the connector
had separated again. It seems they had only replaced one side of the
connector and both sides needed to be replaced. Again had to wait for
parts and bring it back. On the fourth visit they repaired the other
side of the wiring connector and finally installed the LATCH system.
(4 trips to dealer)

Jul 02 / 7287 miles: The floor of the rear passenger side of the car
fills with water everytime it rains. We bring it to Boston VW. They
diagnose a faulty drainplug but can't repair it as they have to order
parts.  In August the parts come in and we bring it back to have a
drain hose, valve, etc. replaced and the rear floor carpet cleaned.
(6 trips to dealer)

Feb 03: After reading about the epidemic of engine coil failures in 2002 Passats I send the following letter to our congressmen:

February 1, 2003

Dear Senator Kennedy:

I am writing to request that you recommend that the National Highway
Traffic Safety Administration immediately require that Volkswagen
recall its models which are experiencing ignition coil failure for
complete replacement of all ignition coils. Recent articles in the
Boston Globe (2/1/03, D1) and New York Times detail the problems that
Volkswagen owners are experiencing and the unconscionable response that
the company has had to date.

My wife and I have a two-year-old and my wife is pregnant and due in
April. We own one car, a 2002 Volkswagen Passat wagon that is just
about to reach the mileage at which ignition coil failures start to
happen. My wife drives the car most of the time as I work from home. I
do not want to risk my wife and our daughter being endangered and
stranded by the engine stopping while on the highway. Imagine if it
happens en route to the hospital. This is a known problem that the
manufacturer is refusing to correct until actual failure and then only
one coil at a time meaning there could be up to four separate failures
in our car. We are extremely apprehensive about using the car now and
the only way we will feel safe driving the car again is if all the
coils are replaced.

The letters that Volkswagen is sending to its dealers and customers
this week can be found at

Thank you for your attention,

As an interesting side note, I get a form letter back from
Representative Ed Markey telling me he can't reply to letters from
outside his district. Obviously he is unaware that my part of Watertown
has become part of his district.

Mar 03 / 14871 miles: We have all ignition coils replaced (once VW
under massive pressure finally issues a recall). Even though none of
ours have failed yet, we are allowed to get them replaced after
pleading with the service manager at Brookline VW who is very
responsive unlike Boston VW which we will never go to again. We also
ask them to look into a noisy rear suspension (especially in cold
weather) but they find no problem.
(7 trips to dealer)

Oct 03 / 20446 miles: Recall repair: installation of right rear
wheelhouse liner so that if our right rear tire goes flat and we drive
on it, the gas tank won't catch on fire.
(8 trips to dealer)

Sep 04 / 28631 miles: We've saved up this time:
1) Emergency brake handle button popped off – under normal use. We
can't just bring it in to be repaired. It has to be brought in to be
inspected then an appointment must be made to have it repaired.
2) Front passenger seatbelt doesn't retract. Dealer discovers that a pin is broken and a part must be ordered..
3) One of our keys won't unlock the trunk and only unlocks the doors
when you are standing very close to the driver side. It never did work
well on the trunk but now it doesn't work at all.
I bring the car in once and then again once the parts have been
ordered. On the second visit I am told that the parts actually are not
there so I have to come back again. On the third visit I am told it
will take an hour to do the work. 2-1/2 hours later I am still waiting
and must rent a car to go pick up my daughter from school. It seems
they couldn't get the center console back together after taking it
apart to repair the parking brake. The key still doesn't work when I
pick it up so I'll need to bring it back again.
(11 trips to dealer)

We periodically discover the front plastic grille around right foglight
is missing. The dealer explains that they pop off all the time and
gives us this first replacement for free. This happens two more times
in the next two years. The last time it popped off when we hit a big
pothole and the car behind us ran it over and destroyed it. So now
we've had four replacements (and paid for three). Fortunately they only
cost $10.

I also recently got a letter from VW explaining that because there is
an engine sludge problem I need to use synthetic oil. Synthetic oil
costs twice as much but this is not a big deal since it lasts twice as
long (at least according to the VIP Auto Parts store where I have it

So now I am waiting to bring in the key that won't open the trunk once
again which will make a dozen days the car has been at the dealer in
three years.

Since I bought the car, about a dozen people who were strongly
considering buying one have asked me whether I would recommend the
Passat. When I told them about all the little problems, they all chose
something else. If my experience is typical, it would surprise me if
Volkswagen doesn't lose significant market share.

Prius, Bluetooth and Sprint

I bought a Sony Ericsson T608 from Sprint. It took a little hunting to
find and then you have to buy it over the phone, not online or at a

I like the phone and it was very easy to set up with my 2004 Prius and
the hands-free works great. I paid $199 and then could have received a
$100 rebate

but I opted for the $150 rebate from Sprint because it was my first new phone in over 18 months.

I have two issues with using Bluetooth. About 30% of the time when I
make a call from the car it doesn't go through the first time.
Everything appears to be fine but there is no sound. If I hang up and
try again it always works fine the second time.

The other thing is that I still haven't figured out how to sync the
phone book on my phone with the car. I followed the directions in the
Prius manual but at a certain point it tells you to send the data from
the phone and I just cannot find any option on my phone for sending
data. I've tried making it discoverable and many other options but
nothing seems to work. Sprint technical support is absolutely clueless
about this phone.

Blogware, Firefox and secure categories

I encountered some strange behavior in Firefox when accessing the private categories in one of my Blogware blogs. Once I logged in, the contents of those categories became visible on the Main Page as they are supposed to because they are set to bubble up. But when I clicked on any secure category in the Category Tree component (or other components that link to secure categories) Firefox would log me out. I would only see the Main Page and the Login component would reappear, this time with my username auto-entered in that field. If I logged in again I would get the same result. Clearing cookies did not solve the problem. Clearing Saved Form Information fixed the problem (Tools > Options > Privacy).

The Theme

Today at lunch Abigail asked Ilyse to tell her the story of Sleeping Beauty. Ilyse couldn't remember the story in great detail so she told Abby the broad outline – the birth, the spell, the prince, etc. Abby said, “Mommy, I don't want you to tell me the theme of the story, I want you to really tell me the story.” Our 4-year old knows what a theme is.

This morning she read a whole book, Green Eggs and Ham, to Bennett. She pretty much knows this one by heart so it was not quite reading but it was truly amazing to see Bennett sitting next to her on the bed listening and looking at the pictures as if it were Ilyse or I reading to him.

Review: Burn This by The Huntington Theatre Company

We just subscribed to the Huntington for the first time in about ten years. We stopped after a horrendous season that culminated with Cymbeline, the worst Shakespeare by a professional company I’ve ever seen. Since then we’ve picked and chosen our Huntington performances. But this season we know we’re going to want to see just about everything they are doing. We’ve already seen Gem of the Ocean and Sonia Flew, both excellent. Plus they offered us a deal we couldn’t refuse – $210 for 6 shows. So we are subscribers again.


I liked Burn This overall and would recommend it. It’s not earth shattering in its exploration of the four characters. The plot is no mystery. After the first act you know what’s coming and it’s not easy to imagine what’s going to make it interesting. You know there’s got to be a showdown between Burton and Pale and you know that Anna has already made her choice. So the play depends heavily on the actors to make it something worth seeing.


Nat DeWolf (who I must have seen on Broadway in Take Me Out but don’t remember) played Larry perfectly. It would have been easy to go too far into stereotypical queeniness but DeWolf stays understated and makes sure not to upstage any of the other actors. This was not easy since he’s the comic relief and since Anne Torsiglieri’s Anna doesn't have much of a presence and Burton is written to be upstaged and accurately portrayed that way by Brian Hutchison.


Michael T. Weiss is great as Pale – easily the high point of the play and alone worth going to see. His body language is dead on – imposing, high energy, always striking the right distance from Anna, moving around the space so that you know he’s measuring it and getting ready to let loose but without telegraphing. He’s able to turn on a dime with the text and it’s a pleasure to watch just all-around great acting, which I guess you should expect from a guy with his credentials.


Burton is appropriately bland. Not terribly convincing as a writer as demonstrated in his inability to express big emotional concepts such as what he’s experienced in Canada. What life experience he has is contrived – as captured by his description of a blow job in a doorway that he accepted for the experience of it and then never thought of again. If you’re never going to think of it again that it isn’t really much of an experience is it? When Burton says at the end “I’ve never really lost anything” Larry speaks for us all when he says “I know.” Hutchison plays this well, ambling about the stage comfortably – you immediately understand that Anna could be comfortable with him but never passionate.


Directorally the show down between Burton and Pale was not the strongest moment of the play. There just wasn’t the energy of a real fight. It felt staged from beginning to end. There wasn’t the tenseness you’d expect from two big guys about to hit each other. Pale is physically menacing, both toward Anna and as he describes of the bar fight he's just been involved in. But when he does fight it’s incongruous. And there’s no way Burton, an Aikido instructor would just double up and wait for the kick in the ribs after the punch to the stomach. I recently saw another Lanford Wilson play, Fifth of July, in New York, with a fight scene that seemed much more real.


I just wish I had liked Anne Torsiglieri’s performance better. She gave me no sense of who Anna’s character was. From her opening lines it seemed as if she wasn’t sure who she was either. She delivers them for the benefit of the audience rather than to the two people she knows best in the privacy of her home. And yet, once you buy into the idea that this is intentional, that she is a performer who is always on, she retreats and really doesn’t seem to make any other strong choices that give you a clue about where she comes from. She plays straight while the men revolve around her. But there’s much more that character needs to do than stand back and be entertained with the audience. For example, when Pale barges in to her apartment at 4:30 in the morning, Anna responds to him in the same flatness, lack of inflection, with which she endures all of her scenes. If a big menacing guy barged in at 4:30 am and started swearing and pacing and undressing, you’d expect something in the way of fear, anger – some intense emotion  - but here there’s none. Toward the end of the play Larry explains that Anna has “never had to carry her own passport” but Anna never conveys this herself.


What’s more problematic is that Anne Torsiglieri is unconvincing as a dancer – she doesn’t move like a dancer, she doesn’t stretch like a dancer. When she says she is stiff from not dancing for two days her movements are not at all those of a stiff dancer. This is ironic since Torsiglieri has a musical theater background and surely does dance. It almost seems that she was directed not to act like a dancer.


This is not a play I would rush out to see again but the Huntington’s version was definitely worth seeing for at least three of the four performances.

Bookshelf 2.0 developed by