Stinky Toxic Jetta


We recently took our 2001 VW Jetta TDI in to a body shop in our new home in Tucson, AZ to have a dent in our fender repaired that occurred the day after our wedding in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula when my uncle visiting from Brazil backed into the car.

The body shop we selected quoted us 5 days and $1,000 to repair the dent. Little did we know they’d also drop a toxic chemical bomb on the car’s leather and vinyl interior as a courtesy.

When I picked the vehicle up I was greeted by the manager who told me the four-month-old, $110 battery recently installed by one of Michigan’s two trusted TDI specialists was dead (it wasn’t). He told me I should just head over to the VW dealer to get it looked at (he said there had been an issue with the battery since I dropped it off a week earlier… when I questioned why he was just now telling me about this issue, he said he “just found out about it.” Needless to say we got off on the wrong foot. I then noticed there were scuffs all along the bumper from the wax not being rubbed in properly and the red paint they’d sprayed on the repaired (and poorly reassembled) fender has also sprayed onto the black plastic below the bumper. But none of this matters compared to the significant loss of brain cells due to the chemical odor that my husband and I, as grad students, simply could not afford to lose.

As I was driving the vehicle the two miles back home, I noticed a strong smell that was not your typical “new/clean car” smell. While I got a little light headed, I didn’t think much of it. Until the next day, after the car had been sitting in the sun, when I got in the vehicle to go grocery shopping and I noticed our beautiful, shiny black leather and vinyl had a white-ish residue that had dripped, smudged, smeared dried and crusted all over it. Further, I couldn’t drive the car without the windows completely open (in 106 degree Tucson temps) without my eyes burning and throat getting sore and a severe headache.

I asked my husband to call the manager (he and I were already not on good terms). After convincing the manager the smell was definitely not from bike grease, the manager conceded that “MAYBE his new cleaning crew had used the wrong chemical when wiping down the interior of the car.” Because the vinyl is now sticky and tacky, we were pretty sure it was a pretty strong solvent. The manager agreed to “go above and beyond and clean the car” himself - which he did attempt to do - and when I picked it up he did show me the solvent he thinks his cleaning crew used. Unfortunately, while much of the staining is now reduced, the smell is still very strong and is not only in the cabin but also very strongly permeated throughout the trunk.

It’s been about a month and we’ve tried scattering baking soda throughout the trunk to no avail; I’m about to go to an auto parts store and see if there’s anything else we can get to clean it out and stop the senseless slaughter of our precious neurons from the car’s toxic interior. Any suggestions???!! I don’t think we’re going to get anything more out of this guy!!!

Thanks in advance,


The shop likely has insurance to cover problems the create while working on cars. It sounds like you need new seat covers at their expense, and maybe new padding if the solvent soaked into it. This might translate into new seats. If you really can’t get anywhere, I suggest you contact an attorney.

Was This A Comprehensive Insurance Claim ? Either Way, Call Your Friendly, Neighborhood Insurance Agent And She’ll Know How To Handle This. Agencies Deal With Body Shops, Repairs, And Gruntled And Disgruntled Customers Every Day.