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Are Volkswagens as bad as they seem?

I understand that all cars, no matter what the brand have their issues, however, V.W. seems to stand out.

When looking to purchase a car I looked at Passats and loved the way they looked. Also, in regard to what they sold for new the depreciation was huge. Cars with fairly low mileage and only a couple of years old were selling around 12k.

Then I read various used car reviews. Most other cars I considered had about a 85-90% approval rating by owners. The Passat was almost the complete opposite. Most of the issues seem to have been electrical.

There are two Passat owners in my neighborhood. A couple of weeks ago I noticed one had its brake lights stuck on. The other was towed away this afternoon which was what prompted this post. There is also a Beetle the always seems to have a D.R.L. out.

I know, this is a VERY small example, but why do V.W.s seem to have such trouble with their electrical systems?

VWs take a lot of grief, much of it well-earned. I’ve read many horror stories here and elsewhere about bad dealer service, but I think it runs deeper. Here’s an article by a professional mechanic describing one particular basic electrical design problem he has with VWs:

Please note, I owned two VWs for 15 years total, and loved them.

What a great article. Thanks for the link!

I have owned a lot of VW’s. I bought my first one when I was in Highschool back in 1980. So I go way back. I have always loved the way they drove and handled. Over the years I have owned Beetles (which were good) Jettas, Rabbits, Golfs, Scirocco, Vanagon, Passat. Too be honest not too many were good. I finally got smart and stopped buying them in 2005. I was so in love with this brand and loyal, but they all turned out to be very expensive and I had a lot of break downs and expensive repairs. A lot of the cars were fixed under warranty too. I’ve been told there are some good ones out there, not that I found one.

I too thank you for this. The article is well written and highly informative.

Volkswagens have a Jekyll and Hyde personality. Owners like them because they handle well, have very good seats, a nice interior and generally look good.

However, beneath that solid German engineered exterior you have inferior electronics, engines that are subject to sludging and blowing head gaskets, weak automatic transmissions and a number of other weak areas, all of them expensive to fix.

All this is backed by an arrogant but less than competent dealer network, and a maintenance schedule that defies reason (very long oil change intervals, can’t check the transmission fluid) for a typical North American owner who wants to keep his car for a long time.There are many posts of VW owners having problems the dealer can’t solve and then blaming the customer! My neighbor went through this agony with her Passat.

Consumer Reports lists 4 models as having “worse than average” repair records, and two as “average”, and only the new Rabbit as “better than average”. Past problems documented are instrumentation, drive train, fuel system, climate control system, transmissions, engine problems (gaskets).

The Passat is made in Germany, but other models sold here are made in Mexico, in a plant that has had many problems.

If you ask a diehard VW owner about his car he will not likey tell you the complete truth. Most play down the problems as they are a sensitive lot.

Others will add comments, but to own a VW you should be a tech-savvy type with a very dedicated approach to maintenance. If you don’t fall in that category, I would avoid any VW.

Where’s Joseph? I’m sure he’ll chime in eventually.

I know you like your diesel beetle; have you had any issues at all with it? lights burning out early, one brighter/dimmer than the other etc?

I Have Owned VWs, Raced VW Dune Buggies, And Have Had Many VW “Company Cars”.

The GTI that I had as a company car was possibly the most fun, inexpensive car I’ve driven. I have fond memories of my “Old” Beetles.

However, problems with VWs that I read about make me not want to rush out and buy another.

Valve adjustments every 6,000 miles on the old Beetles was a pain. Was this a look into the future?

Recently I was looking at a timing belt chart. Tell me it’s not so that many VW models need timing belts at 60,000 mile intervals. That finishes me off right there. Timing belts are expensive and/or inconvenient to replace. I won’t buy a “maintenance headache”.

I don’t enjoy the thought of replacing timing belts at the normal 120,000 mile intervals, let alone 60,000 miles and a while back decided I was done buying cars with timing belts.

Please tell me it’s not so.


I seem to recall a few posts that have the dealer asking for $1000+ for the TB/WP replacements. That’s (atleast)$400 more than my Honda dealership charged me to replace said items.

The VW owners(8) I know have electrical quirks a bit more often. However go into the 150k-200k range with no mechanical problems with engine or transmission. They all seem to use independent VW mechanics. They all love the way their cars drive and feel.

My sis in law has 200k on a 2000 Jetta loaded version. It has few mechanical failures just electrical. They fix things as they break and change the oil. Timing belt, plugs, and belts done at 100k. No other maintenance and still have the original “lifetime” auto tranny fluid.

I can only tell you that I have had three VW’s (1970 111 (Beetle), 1976 diesel Rabbit and now a 2002 diesel Beetle. I had very few problems with any of them.

I believe that VW do tend to have more problems, especially electrical, than most other cars. I don’t believe the difference between VW’s and other cars in general is anywhere close to what most people believe.

It’s reputation alone will mean people will be more likely to complain that average for when they do have a problem. I would guess, but have no reason to support it the average VW owner may well take less care of their cars and cause some of those problems.

I have seen a lot of attempts to gather information about average defects, but as someone who spent my professional life working with statistics that none of them were really convincing. Not that they were unfair, but that they left a lot of room for error in the results. Getting really good data is very difficult. Last The reported differences, IMO really are too small to worry about. If you want to worry about them I have no objection, nor would I suggest you were foolish.

BTW my Beetle have burned out one set of DRL (also the main head lamps, since 2002.  I don't consider that all that bad.

I worked for VW for a number of years and ran across very few people who hated their VWs to the point they would not buy another.
Do they have problems? Yes, but so does everyone else.

If anyone thinks the Asian cars are glitch free in regards to their electrics then do a net search and ALLDATA search on any model you like and let us know which ones don’t have problems.
Honda main relays, ignition switches (Recall), Honda lighting (Recall), Toyota lighting (Recall), Subaru headlight wiring, and so on and so on…
The surface is not even scratched on this issue.

As to the author of that story, there could be a bit more to that.
He states he can’t get a good wiring diagram. Well, has he tried a factory wiring book instead of that ALLDATA or Chiltons junk; which is often one and the same?

He states someone needed brakes at 20k miles. You figure? Hard to believe that someone could run the brakes off a car in that short of a time frame so it must be the car.
He states a water pump impeller broke. Again, so what. That’s a fluke event and not near as common as the sudden disentegration of a Subaru water pump; with the latter being something I’ve seen quite a few times.
He states the electric windows failed, one by one. You mean like the ones in my daughter’s old Mitsubishi that dropped one by one over a month until none of them worked?

He states that Toyota does the right thing when a problem occurs. ONLY when backed into a corner will they do the right thing.
Apparently this guy never read the story about 2 Toyota execs being arrested for conspiring to cover up a ball joint problem. Or the story about the Mitsubishi CEO being arrested for the same.
Or Subaru covering up a steering rack pinion spring to avoid a Recall issuance.
(I’ve personally seen that little stunt performed more than once in one day)
Or Honda being hammered by the Feds for altering vehicles to prevent a CEL from being illuminated.
Sure they do the right thing.

Just about every transmission or head gasket problem I’ve seen was owner inflicted, although the owners won’t believe for a second they had anything to do with it.
Never change the trans fluid one time, drive it aggressively for 80k miles, and then carp when a problem occurs.
Same with a head gasket. Never check anything, ignore a blown fan fuse or whatever, drive it 30 miles with the temp gauge pegged out, and then snivel about a head gasket when it lets go.

The bottom line is that for every single problem anyone can pick out on a VW, another car make will have its own unique, and sometimes the same, kind of problem.
The issue always comes down to the fact that many people will look at a headlight failure on a VW and point to it as “being typical” of the make. The same problem occurs with an Asian car and they’re plenty prepared to look the other way or become an apologist.

Yes, VWs are as bad as they seem. Story time…

Back in the early 90’s, my girlfriend at the time needed to borrow some money. I don’t like lending money because I was burned in the past. I got ripped off of $474.50 back in 1988 by an ex, but I’m over that now (yeah, right!). Being the nice guy that I was, I told her I’d lend her the cash if she gave me an undated bill of sale and the title to her car, a 1986 VW Jetta. When she paid me back, I’d return the title. She agreed, and I gave her the money.

Sure enough, we broke up 6 months later. I gave her a year, then called her to ask if she had the money (she hadn’t paid back ANYTHING yet). She said she didn’t, so I told her that it looks like I now own a Jetta. At this point, she didn’t want the car, so she told me to come and pick it up.

I soon discovered that the car was more annoying than she was. After I did my first oil change, my “OIL” light went on and the buzzer sounded. I quickly pulled over and checked everything, but found nothing wrong. The dealer told me that it might need new updated oil pressure senders, so I replaced both the low and high senders and picked up a VW oil filter. A few days later, the same thing happened. A mechanic at the dealership told me that the 10W-30 oil was too thin. He suggested 15W-40. I tried it and the problem went away. I’ve never needed to use 15W-40 in a gas engine before this. And then all the problems from poor engineering and lousy quality started.

You HAD to lock the driver’s door from the outside with the key. VW figured that if you were stupid enough to buy their car, you were the type of person who would lock yourself out of it daily. This was just wonderful during those heavy rain storms. The windshield leaked and started falling out. Really. I could grab the edge from the outside and pull it out enough to reach my sun glasses on the dashboard. The water pump seal went, and it was so difficult to reach, I sent it out. Of course, they replaced the timing belt too because that drove the water pump. I had to bring it back to the dealer twice after that because it had no power after they replaced the belt. They said that they couldn’t properly time the engine because the last person who replaced the clutch put the flywheel on without the timing marks in the correct position. Then there was the lack of heat. I replaced the thermostat twice and flushed the heater core and STILL couldn’t get the heat to work. In the winter, I used to scrape the INSIDE of the windshield to see where I was going. In the summer, the AC smelled like feet. The voltage regulator died on Christmas eve. I needed to buy a huge 20 something mm metric wrench to replace the fuel filter. And would it have killed them to put separate indicators in the dash for left and right turns? I didn’t find the owner’s manual for a good year after I owned the car. I accidentally stumbled upon the secret compartment in the dashboard while upside down trying to get heat to come out of the cardboard duct work. The CV joint blew out without any warning while I was in a parking garage. The headlights kept filling with water. The sunroof leaked. I threw out the radio because when I replaced the battery, it locked and the manufacturer wanted $20 for the code. This thing made the Yugo look good.

There! I’ve vented. I’m feeling so much better now. I know it’s just one VW that I owned, but one was enough. Never again.

I have wanted a VW diesel for the longest time but the only VW dealer in this town are a rude and ignorant lot. I also heard VW quality is AWOL.

Remember: A really bad model of car will only have about 10% of them that are really horrid.

Even though the odds seem to be in your favor, there are a lot of little problems that could bug you during the lifetime of the car. Unfortunately: that lifetime runs concurrently with the lifetime of the owner, if only for a short time.

If our vocabulary were made up from four letter words and we liked to walk everywhere, we would then be free to take the risk of our choice and laugh in the face of folly. If we worry about losing money then we don’t rush out to buy Volkswagens. If we have spare money, we might go for the handling, the seats and the protection from high-speed rollover crashes, which usually comes with a Volkswagen.

Volkswagen dealers are also a lot farther apart than you’d like them to be. I figure that a few of those places closed in the 90’s, when their problems were really haunting them.

Sorry about your experience, but I would guess she treated the car worse than she treated you, so you should expect problems.

Yea, rude dealers (of any brand) are far to common. However If you stop by you will find the VW diesel community and most areas have at least one VW diesel independent mechanic who likely knows more than the dealer mechanics and will work on your for for far less.

If you don’t find someone in your area, then I would likely not buy a diesel VW. But I do have several mechanics in my area and I do have a diesel VW and I would certainly buy another.

I could write a book with all the problems I had. They were all bought new and treated very well. I remember driving off the lot with a new GTI and having the check engine light go on. It was a brand new car and it needed a new waterpump. I also had a clutch go and yes I know how to drive a stick. It turns out they put in a defective clutch, then they replaced it (you guessed it with another defective one) I also had another GTI that was 1 year old and all the rubber trim around every window started to crack and needed to be replaced. The car was garaged and I don’t live next to the ocean. I could go on and on. I also had a new Beetle which they bought back after only 3,000 painful miles. It took me a long time to get away from VW because like someone said were a loyal bunch that will never tell you the real truth about a Volkswagen. I feel better excuse the rant.

Agree with OK that most cars have some problems. After all, no car is perfect.
However, the frequency of failure and the number of problem areas per car model make Volkswagens stand out. Since there are far more Hondas and Toyotas on the road than Volkswagens, you probably see more of those in your shop.

Both Consumer Reports and True Delta, which tracks “trips to the shop for repairs” show Volkswagesn having almost 4 times the number of repair (not maintenance) trips than Toyota Corollas and Honda Civics, for example.

Joseph may argue that statistically, this is still a small number, but an 8 year old Volkswagen has 140+ trips for repairs per year per 100 cars, which means 1.4 trips per car compared to 0.4 for a Corolla of the same age. The repair frequency for Volkswagens increases dramatically as the car ages.

The average odometer readings for those cars are similar, at 99,600 for the Corolla and 93,500 for the Volkswagen. Average repair cost for each repair for a Volkswagen are also considerably higher than for Toyota, Honda and Mazda.

Looking back, this level of repairs was something we were used to in the 60s, but the cost then was considerably less.

“…the frequency of failure and the number of problem areas per car model make Volkswagens stand out.”

JD Power agrees. VW has been near the bottom for many years. Porsche and Audi have improved recently, but no their cousin, VW.