Replacing ignition coils - my mechanics disagree

2002 VW Passat was driving like a Honda Civic. Taken to the dealer, their mechanic saw a “voluntary recall” of the ignition coils and replaced 2 of the 4.

7 days later the car is back at my regular mechanics who says the other 2 are bad also. Regular mechanic thinks dealer mechanic should have replaced all 4 at the same time - “It’s like spark plugs. If one goes bad, you don’t just replace that one. You replace them all.”

When I confronted the dealer mechanic, he said that you only replace the bad ones and stands by his decision to send my car home with only 2 new ones.

Who is right?

What is wrong with your car, and why do the mechanics suspect the ignition coils? Did they test them?
If your car was serviced under VW warranty, it would be subject to VW Service Circular, Number VWA-02-13, dated Novembeer 13, 2003. This tells the mechanics to only replace ignition coils which show fault on the test equipment printout.
Technical Bulletin, number 03-02, dated FEB 27, 2007, Subject: Ignition Coil, Misfire Diagnosis, details how to test the ignition coils for misfire.

VW was repairing them as a policy one by one as they did not have the supply to correct this in full when the recall was issued. Not a wonderful policy but that is what is was. I see why people loath VW and dealers as this policy did not make friends of those who kept returning.

If this was free then don’t complain and have the dealer change the other two.

The car would sputter during rapid acceleration - typically in 4th gear. The dealer saw the recall, replaced the coils and reset the sensors. My regular mechanic ran a diagnostic and did a visual inspection to see which coils were replaced.

What does driving like a Honda Civic mean? Your mechanic is correct in that it makes sense to change all 4 coils, if one is bad then others will be questionable.

Yet, VW will only reimburse the dealer for the coils as per the directions in the recall. In this case VW is only authorizing 2 coils. Why, well that’s a good question? Only someone at VW corporate can answer that one.

One of my cars has coils on each plug and the dealer replaced one that was bad at 24K miles. 10K miles later another failed. Then 4K miles later 2 failed and so on. Eventually the dealer called Ford and got someone to OK changing all 8 coils and I’ve been fine.

The next time one goes bad, then do I replace the one or all 8? These buggers are about $50 each on ebay and $80 from Ford, plus labor, plus a new plug too. Replacing all 8 is going to be a DIY job for me and I figure I’ve got about 4 years or 25 to 40K miles until then based on how past experience.

Thank you for shedding light on VW policy - it was more informative than the response I was getting from the dealer. It is definitely the last time anyone other than my mechanic gets to mess w/ my car.

What does driving like a Honda Civic mean?

Yeah, my hackles went up on that one, and I haven’t owned a Civic in 25 years.

I have a friend who worked as a service manager at a VW/Audi dealer in northern Virginia.
One of the things he didn’t like about the job was dealing with a steady stream of customers angry over the policy with coils and other warranty/recall parts.
He even mentioned the case of a car only going a few blocks before one of the “good” old coils failed after partial replacement.

VW DREAMS they could sell HALF the cars Honda sells…There is a reason for that…As for the coils, those are not disposable wear items. You only replace the known bad ones. COPS they are called and they tend to be expensive. But they can be troublesome. Any time you have a complex, plastic, high-voltage electronic device and locate it in a very hot place, problems are likely to arise…

COPS = Coil On Plug Sticks

That’s for those who might have thought Caddyman was talking about the TV show.

Now, as for the reliability of coil sticks, I’ve seen them in use for quite a long time, in both automotive and motorcycle applications, and have yet to run into a manufacturer other than VW who has had to issue a recall/TSB on coil sticks that fail at the frequency that VW sees with its cars.

Maybe VW should do a better job sourcing its parts suppliers, so that it doesn’t have annoying durability issues as it does. If they did that, then maybe they could in fact sell half as many vehicles as Honda does, and be able to earn that Premium that they charge over comparable Import and Domestic manufacturers.

Hell, even Ducati, a Premium motorcycle manufacturer in Italy, uses electronics components built by Japanese manufacturers. That might explain why they don’t seem to have ignition troubles, even though they occasionally have other issues.


Caddyman, Honda actually wishes they could sell as many cars as VW. In the worldwide market Honda only sells about half the cars of VW. I believe US is strongest Honda market.

If one should replace all eight coils when one fails, than maybe all VW owners should change all theirs at the same time!!!

Your mechanic is wrong. You don’t replace the coils like you do sparkplugs. They usually last the life of the car so if one goes bad, you only replace that one.

Chances are that VW buys these coils from two or more sources. Possibly one of them had a problem so that only those coils cause problems. Even if they are single sourced, the manufacturer may have multiple machines that make them and one machine wasn’t right, or just a certain run (batch) may have a problem.

I bet one of our regulars can explain the history behind the logic of “if one fails the other is likely”. There probably was a time with certain components that the idea had merit, but with COP’s?

I remember on early 90’s Corvettes and their fuel injectors,it was so much work to get to them and you hoped you diagnoised the correct one you would try to sell all just to make sure,a little more logic going for the Corvette example.

top 10 most sold cars/trucks ever:
1 Toyota Corolla 35 million 40+ years
2 Ford F-series trucks 25 million 40+ years? the fastest selling ‘car’.
3 Volkswagen Golf 24 million 30+ years
4 Volkswagen (old) Beetle 21.5 million 60 years(!)
5 Ford Model T 16.5 million 15-20 years?

These are the sales figures for 2009…VW is not even on the list. Neither is Subaru I wonder why?

Ford F-Series: 35,915
Toyota Camry: 26,394
Chevy Silverado: 24,766
Honda Accord: 23,995
Honda Civic: 20,954
Toyota Corolla: 19,935
Ford Fusion: 18,561
Nissan Altima: 16,350
Ford Escape: 15,385
Chevy Impala: 14,931