Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Did the dealer screw up? Should the Dealer pay? (idler pulley)

I just had the 40K mile maintenance on my 2002 Passat Wagon in July (which included checking the timing belt and V-belt/ribbed belt), and they additionally fixed a bunch of things, including replacing the “drive belts (serpentine belt)”. All in all, it cost $3,500.

Now, just six weeks later, the “idler pulley” they say broke, which then broke the timing belt, and either of the two, or the combination of the two then broke a cylinder head and bent a bunch of valves. They want another $4,200 fix all the newly broken items.

My question is, they just did this big service, should they have spotted whatever was wrong with the idler pulley? Could something they did (or did incorrectly) during the service and repairs have broken (or led to) the breaking of the idler pulley?

It just seems more than coincidental, that this problem arises right after they service the vehicle.

Also, just a couple of days after the service in July I had a problem driving to Pittsburgh (from Washington DC) - turned out an ignition wire set was bad and had to be replace while I was out of town (so I could get home!) - during the service in July they replaced the sparkplugs - should they have noticed/checked the ignition wires?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated! Thanks.


Chris, I Think They Owe It To You. You trusted The “Experts” To Do What Was Necessary.

Although they possibly couldn’t have detected the problem with the “soon to break” idler pulley, they also couldn’t have successfully “checked” the timing belt. These items are serviced (replaced) on a time and miles basis, not so much by inspection.

If you’ve never had these items replaced, I’m sure that they are due because of the time they have been in use, not the miles.

The manufacturer usually has a miles and time recommendation for the timing belt and a prudent technician would also replace the tensioner, idler, and water pump (if driven by the belt) at that time.

What on earth did they do for $3500?

Has the timing belt ever been replaced before?


Thanks for responding CSA!

In addition to the 40K miles service ($450), the replaced the front brake pads and rotors ($550), brake fluid exchange ($150), replaced right front axle and boot ($800), fixed some water leaks ($670), replaced front splash shield ($415), coolant service ($150), replaced serpentine belt ($150), tail light bulb ($30), fuel additive ($30), oil additive ($25), misc charges ($30), and taxes ($100).

The timing belt has not been replaced before. However, the brief explanation I got from the dealer was, as I understand it, that the timing belt was damaged because the idler pulley broke apart, and the pieces of the idler pulley broke some teeth off the timing belt, which then caused the damage to the cylinders and valves.

I’ve been trying to get educated about the workings of the engine, and what works with and relates to what - I am gathering that the idler pulley is a key part of the working of the serpentine belt - the serpentine belt was replaced because it had “crackage” - it seems to me that the dealer would have to have been adjusting and working with the idler pulley to replace the serpentine belt. Should they have checked the idler pulley as part of noticing the problem with the serpentine belt, as part of replacing the serpentine belt? I read that if the idler pulley was lacking lubrication, which could lead to failure, that you would definely hear the bearings and thus know that there was a lubrication problem. Could they have damaged the idler pulley in the process of replacing the serpentine belt?

Does that information make sense? Any other opinion or advice? Thanks!


If they did not go into the timing belt area then this is obviously not their fault.
The vehicle has very low mileage but time is also a factor when it comes to belts.
This means the timing belt should have been changed several years ago actually.

From your post I think you’re misinterpreting this a bit. The tensioner that failed on the timing belt is not the one associated with the serpentine belt and any timing belt tensioner or idler pulley would not be visible to you as these are located underneath covers.

That being said, it is extremely rare for a tensioner or idler to fail at the 40k miles mark. Given the right operating conditions it’s possible that it could. Aged grease and heat can combine to cause problems.
Just offhand, I would say that a timing belt tensioner failure at 40k miles was more of a fluke than anything else. An expensive fluke.

I think you can hold some of the repair costs down by finding a good independent shop that specializes in VW or European cars. Most aftermarket parts are just as good as factory originals and can often be had for far less money.
Independent shops usually have a lower flat rate labor charge and combined with the parts situation can add up to some big savings.

As to the plug wires, sometimes the simple act of removing and reinstalling plug wires (especially aged ones) can ruin them. In the old days plug wires were not as critical an issue as they are now and what used to go unnoticed can all of a sudden become very noticeable.

Just my opinion and hope it helps.

(And I would not spend 4200 bucks on cylinder head and belt repairs. You might be better served by finding a lower mileage used engine, replacing the timing belt/tensioners, and installing that engine in the car.)

Wow, $3500 and then at least a couple of thousand more on a 2002 vehicle that was a piece of garbage when it was new (at least from the reliability standpoint). That has to hurt. The Passat might be a nice-driving car, but I say put a used engine in it and sell it to some sucker ASAP.