Volkswagen passat puzzler

I have a 2002 VW Passat wagon; it’s a fancy model, with four-motion and a W8 engine (my brother, a car fanatic, urged me to snap it up used a few years ago). It’s been a great car, but here’s the issue:

Just before Christmas the Malfunction Indicator light came on, as it has several times in the past. It was a steady light, not flashing. I took it to the service center at my local VW dealership, and the news was bad: the car’s computer was indicating a problem with the timing chain, which would cost $2900 to repair. They suggested I not drive it to NJ for Christmas, but leave the Passat with them and rent a car, which I did.

When I came home the news was worse: “Volkswagen” said the timing chain could not be replaced without also replacing all 4 cams, each of which cost $500. Now the price was up to $7500. The service manager told me that this repair has rarely been done in this country, and never by them; VW would have to send a specialist mechanic to oversee the “25-hour operation.”

I kept asking what exactly was wrong with the car; the response was “the light’s on.” No, I said, that’s a sympton, what’s the problem? Finally, I was told that the code the car’s computer was sending suggested that there MIGHT be a sporadic problem with one of the cams, but it couldn’t pinpoint which one. Therefore they’d all have to be replaced.

I stormed off, and when I turned on the ignition, the light was out. It hasn’t come back on since. I should mention that throughout this episode there was nothing noticeably wrong with the car; on one of the 2 days the Malfunction light was lit, before I took it in, the car seemed to run a little rough, but that roughness had disappeared by the time I brought it in for service.

So: this was over 3 weeks ago now, and the light has been off ever since, and the car is running fine. I should also note that the VW service guys urged me NOT to do the $7500 repair. “Who would spend that kind of money on a REPAIR?” they asked. They suggested I drive around for a few months and think about it. “Won’t that damage the car?” I asked. “No,” they said, “the car should be fine.”

All of this mystified me. The options seem to be, 1) spend an outrageous amount to fix a problem that might not even exist, or 2) pretend it’s not there at all. I’m opting for the second course of action, although because the car’s computer remembers the malfunction code, the car won’t pass inspection unless it’s removed.

Two final points: my brother–he who urged me to buy this car–thinks that car’s computer may be misfiring, or misreading a problem. That’s possible, but if so, I don’t know how to address that, or even how to acertain it for sure. Second, the VW guys wanted me to trade in the W8 Passat–what they used to call “the star car”–for a used Jetta. They wouldn’t give me the full trade-in value, and I’d have a car worth much less than mine (mine–in good condition–currently rates $19,000 in the Kelly Blue Book). Even if I spent $7500 to fix it, I’d still have a better investment than if I swopped it for a 2003 or 2004 Jetta. So I’m not ready to give it up yet.

Does anyone have any ideas as to what I should do?? All suggestions are welcome!



This sounds FISHY! The stealer - excuse me - dealer wants to trade for your car which they know is defective and urges you not to spend $7500.00 to fix it? What is wrong with this picture? Flee for your life!

The first thing to do is get information. I would find a good independent shop that works on VWs and let them run a diagnostic test to see what codes show up. Who knows, the right shop may be familiar with this issue. Go on some VW message boards and inquire if anyone else has encountered this dilemma. Also, I would look for techincal bulletins from VW to see if this problem has been mentioned. Surely, someone else in the world has experienced this issue.

Like you, I feel this is some kind of an electrical/computer glitch. However, if you can’t clear the codes out of the computer or fix the problem, the car is worthless to you because you can’t license it. Who the heck wants to fix four cams because one may be bad? That’s crazy! Would be it cheaper to replace the computer? If the car can’t be fixed, I would take that mammy to another dealer ASAP and dump it - er, trade it for another ride, preferably one with a more conventional engine and less complicated engineering.

I remember thinking that VW overenginered the heck out of this engine when I first read about it - looks like they did.

Stop in at VWVortex and also ClubB5 for lots of info on Passats !

My mistake … the new name for ClubB5 is PassatWorld

Sounds funny to me to. Not the happy kind of funny.

Have someone else check it out. Most VW codes can be read by a standard reader. Some places will read them for FREE. Try Autozone or Advanced Auto Parts. Get the exact code (like P0123) not just their translation into English and post it back here. You often can read codes even if the light is not on at the time.

If the light comes back on (it will if it was serious and not just a fluke) and if they can’t read codes with a standard reader, you will need to find someone other than the dealer who has a VAGCOM reader.

You should go back to the person who told you what they did and ask to get that all down in black and white AND signed by him/her. See if the tune changes.

Sounds to me like they don’t want to work on a vehicle this rare. You may have trouble finding experienced technicians for your car if you are not in a large city.

Thanks so much for your response. I really appreciate the advice. The good news is that I had a local mechanic delete the code in the car’s computer, drove 200 mi., had it inspected, and it passed. No I can invesitgate the problem at my leisure…

Again, thanks for taking the time to write!

Very good point.