TDI Lemon?

After 1100 miles, the engine of my 2013 Golf TDI died while I was driving it. Fortunately, no one was hurt, and I was able to restart it and get to safety. The dealership said there were no codes, they test drove it for a whopping mile, and handed it right back to me. They said that if it happened again, I should try to videotape it using my smartphone. They didn’t take it on the freeway (which I had just exited when the engine died), and they refuse to look at it any further until the engine dies again. VW of America agrees with this wait-and-see approach. I’m not so fond of it, since I’m the one who will be behind the wheel the next time the engine dies (and the power steering goes out along with it). Any ideas what might be the problem is, or how to get VW to lift a finger to try to fix it?

Thanks for your help!

You need to start documenting it and get documentation from the dealer that they looked at it. This would qualify for the Lemon Law. I think its 3 failed safety related repairs for the same item qualifies, but look it up.

Besides documenting, I’d also join the big VW forums (VWVortex and thesamba) and see if any folks there have similar experiences.

I hope you got a receipt for the last visit. You have to have receipts to prove you were there. Unfortunately, it costs the dealer to send a tech out on the road to troubleshoot your problem, not to mention the lost opportunity of fixing another car. Then there is the issue of getting paid by VW to troubleshoot the car. I know you don’t want to read this, but that’s just the way things are. I suggest that you continue to be patient and drive the car. If you have a cell phone that can take video, keep it with you at all times so that you can document the problem if it occurs again. If you catch them on a slow day, a tech might have more time. But predicting when that might be is not easy.

First, the OP needs to research the terms of the Lemon Law in his/her state. They do vary somewhat.

Second, the OP needs to have documentation of each visit to the dealership, with the complaint listed on each repair invoice.

Third, the OP needs to begin correspondence (via certified mail) with VW of America, regarding this problem. Contact info can be found in the Owner’s Manual. By quoting the exact wording of his/her state’s Lemon Law when corresponding with VW, the OP can make it very clear that the he/she know his/her rights in connection with that statute.

I drafted a letter for a friend who was having drivability problems with his Toyota Rav-4, and because I made it clear (by utilizing exact legalese from the relevant statute) in my letter that a Lemon Law complaint would be filed if there was one more failed repair attempt, I was able to get Toyota of America to react appropriately and rapidly. I even stated that the complainant would be demanding a full refund, rather than a replacement vehicle, as that course of action is far more costly for the mfr, and they want to avoid that at all costs. (Note: If you live in a “red state”, your legal rights may not be as broad as they are in my state.)

The third (and final) repair attempt was jointly carried out by Toyota’s regional service rep and a Japanese engineer (who barely spoke English). After a few hours, they were able to rectify the problem, and the service rep was very candid in telling us about the failures of the mechanics at the dealership when they (supposedly) attempted to repair the problem.

So…this problem needs to be kicked up to the next level.
Only the manufacturer/importer can act to replace your vehicle or provide a full refund under the Lemon Law, as the dealership is out of the loop in this regard. The sooner that you involve the manufacturer/importer, the closer you are to a resolution of the problem–whether that includes a repair, or a new vehicle, or a refund.

Thanks, all. I am located in California and have been reading up on the lemon law here. They look pretty strong in general, but it’s not clear what happens when the car manifests a defect but the dealer cannot identify (let alone fix) the underlying cause. Most of the statutory language focuses on failed attempts to repair—here, no repair has even been attempted. I will start the written correspondence and will hopefully get VW to take this seriously.


“videotape it using my smartphone”

It seems to me that drivers should concentrate on driving safely, NOT using your smartphone while driving a car

I’m not sure why the dealer gave you that bad advice

I don’t think they’re too interested in doing right by you at this point

If you feel this dealer is giving you the cold shoulder, you’re free to go to another dealer, but that might not be convenient

You make a good point@db4690. It is illegal to use a cell phone while the car is moving in Cali (now that I think about it). Thanks for pointing that out.

If the dealer can’t duplicate the problem, he can’t fix it…Does it have a regular ignition key or does it have the new “keyless” system that uses an electronic fob ?

I can’t fault the dealer for this problem. With modern era cars and the ton of electronics on them not all issues are black and white; especially with an intermittent.

The dealer is also limited as to what they can with the car and if a mechanic is told to take the car out and drive it for 2 hours or 2 weeks until it acts up they will not be happy simply because they are not getting paid one penny for test drives.

About your only option is to create a paper trail in case this becomes a Lemon Law issue and allow it to fall onto Volkswagen of America.

Long ago we had Jetta’s (2, one made in Germany, one in USA, same model, 1 year apart, and before codes). Jettas would die on I-5. Not a pleasant feeling going 65-75 mph, in the middle lane. Scared wife and she demanded we get a get rid of car immediately. Lights radio would still work and engine would start sometimes immediately and run fine for months but sometimes would not start for hours. I was able to deal with the engine dying unexpectly on my Jetta but it finally happened to me in the parking lot of our mechanic, who quickly isolated problem to the master ignition relay-which had swelled and grounded to its metal housing shell. I don’t know why a fuse didn’t blow.

Change the master relay and try another brand of relays. If this solves the problem, VW should really look into their engineering.

As for a camera. I am getting a cheap, used, Goodwill, digital camera to place on my scooter. Got my eye on a 12MPix, 5x optical zoom, 2" screen for $12.95 with a further 10% discount for seniors. I am Not happy with people in automobiles who can’t and won’t see 2 wheelers. IF I am going to get nailed, I want evidence to nail the idiot good. :slight_smile:

Too early to call this a “Lemon” under the legal definition, but I can see the owner’s concern. Since it is a diesel that was running you don’t have any ignition system problem. A diesel uses glow plugs that are active only in cold start situations. So, no spark plugs, coils, and other ignition parts come into play in this case.

This really leaves either the fuel delivery system, or some kind of electrical malfunction in the car’s security anti-theft system. Low fuel pump pressure can cause a sudden shut down. And there are lots of sensors regulating fuel and air delivery to the cylinders and a malfunction can shut the car down, but should leave a “code” in the computer system.

I’m assuming the VW dealer hooked up a code reader and checked for error codes in the computer, can the OP confirm this? Without a code I’d tend to look at the security system. Does it have a “normal” coded key, or a fob you keep in your pocket or purse and simply push a button to start? These security systems have gotten so complicated that multiple keys for several cars on the same key ring can cause problems. I’d read the owner’s manual carefully regarding how the security system works and look for any warnings about multiple keys and follow them.

If it happens again, document all the event(s) leading up to it in writing and pictures. Your car should have the equivalent of a “black box” along with the computer which might also provide information on what is happening. Turning the car “off” and then restarting it often resets the computer. Simply noting if the car restarts without turning if off completely can be a useful clue.

Thanks for all of the experience and suggestions. @Caddyman, this is a keyed ignition, not keyless. I am papering this as I can, as many of you have suggested.

OK…you asked a question pertaining to WHY the car may have died…and the Lemon law doesnt answer this…at all.

On my 00’ TDi there was a vacuum operated butterfly valve located along the intake area…I am not sure which version of the VW TDi is under your hood probably a newer version but it is a Diesel so it should share this one similarity

On Diesel engines UNLIKE gas powered powerplants…the intake is WIDE OPEN at all times… Gas engines have a throttle body that opens and closes with the accelerator…

On the Diesel this Throttle body doesnt exist…its Wide open…and in order to shut down the engine…VW and other diesels use a butterfly type valve to “Kill” the engine…otherwise the Diesel will run until it is out of fuel.

You may have a loose vacuum line going to this Kill Valve… perhaps it came loose and went into shutdown mode…which it does by literally closing off all air entering the engine…and thus kills/stops the engine.

Might want to look into that valve…if so equipped and make sure the connections to it are solid…

Your engine SHOULD have this valve…if not…then VW thought of a new way to Kill the engine when the key is turned off.

See what you can see? Worth a looksie at least? No?


For the engine to completely stop like that, whatever is the cause, it will be easy to find if you can deliver the car to the shop when it is not working. Probably the best plan is to wait for it to happen again, then have it towed to the dealer without trying to start it.

I think it’s unfortunate the way you are reporting being treated. I’d want the dealership where I purchased a new car like that to at least be willing to give me a lender, and take the car in for a day and do some routine tests on it, run the scan tool diagnostics, make sure all the critical relays and connectors are plugged in tight, etc. Doing may not discover the problem, but at least there’s a chance it might. And it would show they are concerned about it, even if they can’t quite figure it out yet.

You need a solution more than advice, so let’s do a little blue sky guessing. On a gas car it would be either no fuel, or no spark. But since you have a TDI, spark isn’t an issue, to it is very likely to be a fuel-starvation problem. It may be the fuel pump is sticking in the off position for some reason. Could be a faulty fuel pump, or maybe the fuel pump relay is faulty, or a connector is fried between the battery and the fuel pump. Problems like that are not that uncommon in older cars, both gas and diesel, but would be unusual in a newer one like yours. Could be a faulty injector pump too, but less unlikely. Have you ever accidentally got a tank of bad fuel in the past? I had a VW Rabbit (gasoline) once, and I got a tank of gas one time with sand in it, which causes all sorts of stalling problems. That car also had stalling problems due to a faulty fuel pump relay and a burnt-out relay plate.

Wow, great suggestions—thanks so much. If I can get the VW dealer to look at it again, I will mention all of these things!

The main thing you must do here is create a paper trail. Any copy of a repair order should state the complaint and what they found; if anything. If nothing was found it should state this on the repair order.

One thing you must be careful of is handing a car over and getting it back with a “found nothing” oral statement from a service writer or service manager and with no repair order copies to back it up.

If this turns into a Lemon Law issue you will be dead in the water without documentation.

OP here with an update—happened again after another 3k miles. VW can’t figure out what’s wrong, so they just handed the car back to me and told me to let them know when it happens again.

This is really frustrating because under CA law, a vehicle that has been subject to service twice for the same life-threatening issue is presumed to be a lemon. None of the customer service reps will discuss this with me (not even the regional rep, who is assigned to CA), and they also refuse to discuss what might be causing the issue—I’ve tried suggesting many of the things discussed here and in other forums. So it looks like I have to mediate in order to actually get anywhere.

BTW, although the customer service reps at VWOA tell you that the only way to start mediation is to write them a letter and send it snail-mail, this is actually not true. You can also submit a web form on BBB’s auto arbitration website and that starts things going.

If you have the two other times documented, send VW of America a letter by an attorney saying you will start a lemon law proceedings if the car is not fixed after it happens a third time.

IF it does come down to using the lemon law, only deal with VW of America, NOT THE DEALERSHIP. Dealership’s are privately owned and they couldn’t care less by what is going on.

BTW, the BBB does absolutely nothing. It is a farce.