Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Beetle Behaving BADLY

In the last few months, my 2002 Beetle has had a peculiar problem where the check engine light starts blinking on and off, and the car starts to shake and make a sputtering noise. While this is happening, the car is slow to accelerate and shift (it’s an automatic) and seems to be struggling up hills. Sometimes the light will stay on, no blinking, and the car runs fine. There seems to be no rhyme or reason as to when it happens and how long it goes on. Lately, however, it happens almost every time I drive and adding to the problem, when I am stopped at intersections the car sometimes stalls out.

I’ve taken it to my mechanic several and at first they didn’t see the problem happen and suggested that I had been seeing the oil light flashing (right, because I’m young, blond, and have two X chromosomes I’m completely car stupid). When the problem finally did occur while they had the car, they replaced the spark plugs and the car ran fine for two days. Today, the problem is back.

Any thoughts? (Other than “Find a new mechanic.” Waaaaay ahead of you)

Drive The Beetle To A Neighborhood National Chain Type Autoparts Store (Advance, Auto Zone, Etcetra) Most Will Send A Friendly Employee Out To Your Car In The Parking Lot With You.

Then your car will be scanned for any dignostic trouble codes that the car stores after a Check Engine Light incident. There is ordinarily no fee charged for this service.

Write down all the alpha / numeric codes. They will be like PO455 or PO301, etcetera.

Post the codes here and we’ll have more to go by in guessing, I mean diagnosing, your car’s problems.


That’s another thing, according to my mechanic when they scan, there are no codes. Pretty weird!

Fuel injectors in good shape? Fuel pump?

 Does it tend to do it in the rain?  If so I would recommend replacing the spark plug wires. 

 How many miles are on your Beetle?  Has the timing chain ever been changed?  If it has been changed did this start shortly after the change? 

 Is your mechanic a VW specialist?  If not it may be a case where the scan tool he is using just can't read the code.  Many of the VW codes can be read by the standard garden verity of code scanners, but not all.  For the others a special VW specific scanner is required.  Look for a local VW specific shop.

I’d Get It Scanned At An Auto Parts Store Anyhow, Particulary When It’s Acting Badly. I’d Try Several Different Times.


Most Car Manufactures’ Owners Manuals Have Information Pertaining To The Check Engine Light.

Almost all advise seeking service when convenient whenever the light steadily illuminates. The car could be putting out excessive emissions.

However, almost all advise not driving the car while the light is flashing. Not only is it possibly polluting and running poorly, but you could be doing some expensive, additional damage to the car. The catalytic converter (an expensive piece) can be ruined, for instance.

I really believe you’ve got a situation that leads to engine misfire. As Joseph says, it could even be plug wires that fail when damp. And also I’d take Joseph’s advice on seeking out a VW Mechanic / Shop. Joseph is a long time VW owner / driver.

I do see at least one VW Technical Service Bulletin that pertains to a FLASHING CEL an random misfires that requires a software program update on 01 - 04 Beetles. There should be DTCs being stored to support this diagnosis, however. This is another reason for a VW specialist.

Borrow a car, rent a car, steal a car, take a bus, ride a bike, but don’t keep driving the car until it’s fixed. You’ll save money. Find that shop with all the VWs parked around it.


Don’t know what is wrong with your car, but a flashing cel means stop driving,you can be damaging your engine.