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Afraid To Drive It; Afraid To Give It Away

Dear Car Talk:

I have a 2001 VW Passat GLS that is still good looking but has been a lot of trouble. Twice the VW Company has paid for repairs (through warranty) when the Passat has had the “oil sludge problem”; VW paid the entire $2000+ the first time and half the second time. The “oil sludge problem” meant the car just stopped driving twice, once with our daughter in the middle of no where. In 2008, as I was returning from the VW dealership after some brake work, the driver side airbags deployed for no reason. VW paid for the airbags to be replaced. Naturally, my maintenance record has been excellent. The car has otherwise been a black hole for maintenance compared to our Honda purchased a year later.

Since the air bags went off for no reason I don’t feel safe driving this car. Also, even using the synthetic oil VW now recommends, I feel it is just a matter of time before the car just breaks down again. In short, I don’t think this car is safe to drive. However, I don’t want to sell a vehicle I think is unsafe to someone else. I keep thinking about what might have happened if the air bags had blown while I was on the expressway. What can I do with this car???

Please, let me have some suggestions. Thanks!

Mary Bosserman

Full Disclosure, Mary.

Sell it you’d like, but just tell potential buyers exactly what you told us. They can then determine the car’s suitability for them. Turn over service records (or copies)to the buyer.

You could even go so far as to put it in writing and have them sign saying they are aware of the problems and keep the paper.


Did they diagnose a cause for the airbag deployment?

I was told the sensor fluid for the airbag wasn’t quite right, so VW took responsibility. I don’t exactly know what that means. Perhaps you do. Thank! Mary

To Ease Your Mind, Those Are The Key Words, “VW Took Responsibility”. They Aren’t Afraid To Let You Drive It.

I understand your lack of confidence in the car. Yet, VW repaired the airbags and this seems to be an isolated event. There is no reason to expect another sudden deployment. The sludge problem was addressed and you are using the recommended synthetic oil. In fact, the car may be fine and provide a lot of service for the next owner.

If you want to donate the car as a tax deduction perhaps you’ll have a clear conscience. The car will likely be resold at auction whether you donate it or trade it for another car.

Let's look at two parts.  First you have no confidence in this car, and I don't think you should keep it.  I am not making any comment about the car itself, but rather your feelings and in this case I believe those feelings are the most important factor.  Also those feelings are not totally without cause.  So let's move on:

Sell or trade the car.  VW has determined the car is safe.  Likely it is.  Let whoever buys it know your concerns before the sale.  It will reduce the possible sale price, but it will be worth it, to avoid any possible feeling of responsibility for what may happen to the car later. 

Mary, you are a good caring person, don't change that.