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.

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