VW Passat 2007

The above car which has done 43000 miles and serviced by VW suddenly showed a warning message today to shut the engine as it had overheated. I checked temperature and it was 200 degrees. I stopped the car and had it towed to the dealer. The preliminary report is that there was no engine oil. However, no engine oil warning light ever appeared and the car is due for service after another 600 miles according to the computer in the car. My questions are:

1) As the car is under warranty, can they get away with it and say it is a maintainence issue? Note no warning for oil ever appeared and car is regularly serviced

2) Could this have caused any damage?

200 degrees is certainly not overheated…that’s about the normal temperature for an engine.

That said, if you really were out of (or low on) oil, the car was VERY smart in telling you to shut it down immediately. That may have saved the engine from very expensive damage. What’s odd here is that if there was no oil, how did the oil light/warning not come on? That’s a problem right there.

Do you check the oil regularly? It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on it, even if you don’t service the car yourself.

If you’ve kept records of the regular service calls, I can’t see any problem with this being covered under warranty. First things first, they need to figure out what really happened because:

  1. Overheating and low oil are two different problems (did you have one, the other, both?), and
  2. If there really was no oil, where did it go and why did the car not give a warning for low oil, or low oil pressure?

Thanks for this helpful comment. While I service my car regularly, I only check the oil if I get any indication that oil may be running low. This has not happened in the Passat but it happens in my Mercedes which will warn me by stating that oil is beginning to run low. I have never received such a warning in the Passat but this incident has warned me that the dashboard indicators are not to be trusted at least in respect to oil levels for this car. Is this deficiency in the car’s warning system acceptable in your view or is it a technical flaw? I need to be able to defend myself should VW say that i did not maintain the car properly.

Did you take the time to read the Passat’s owner’s manual?

You say, “I only check the oil if I get any indication that the oil may be running low.” This seems like a prescription for disaster with a VW, since they are known to consume oil as part of their normal operation.

Checking the oil level is generally considered to be the vehicle owner’s responsibility. Check the manual and see for yourself.

Not only is checking the oil considered to be the vehicle owner’s responsibility, that is a very likely reason for denial of a warranty claim.

Unless this is one of those newer vehicles without a dipstick, then the owner was negligent if he/she only checked the oil “when there was an indication that it was running low”. The object of the game is to prevent the oil from running low.

When oil starts to run low, then the “burning” process accelerates since the reduced quantity of oil remaining in the crankcase is called upon to work harder to provide lubrication. This overworked oil begins to break down, and then it burns even faster. This can be sort of a domino effect, and in a make of car that is known for oil consumption on a regular basis, running it when the oil is even somewhat low is the beginning of a process that can be disasterous.

I’m sorry, oma, but if your car has a dipstick, then you were negligent if you did not use that dipstick to periodically check the oil between oil changes.

Perhaps a misleading impression was conveyed when I said I checked oil when there was indication that it was running low. The indication I was referring to was from the dipstick, which I did occasionally looked at in between the scheduled services when oil was fully changed. No problem in levels was found at my last inspection of the dipstick around 2 or 3 thousand miles back. The car was serviced according to schedule 9000 miles back and the display on the dashboard had just appeared telling me that next service is due in 600 miles. No oil warning light ever came nor a check engine light ( stationary or flashing). The first problem was a display with a beeping noise of the display saying that engine is overheating and should be stopped.
So, I am not sure what more an owner could have done on maintainance. Your views are invited.

A VW dipstick should be checked every second tankful of gas at least, as others point out. I’m sure your owner’s manual lists this a one of the “owner’s responsibilities”. Jaguars used to consume 1 quart every 800-1000 miles routinely.

When a warning light comes on, some damage has already been done. The same is true for coolant and other fluid levels.

What more could an owner have done?

Well, based on your own statement, “No problem in levels was found at my last inspection of the dipstick around 2 or 3 thousand miles back”, I would say that there was plenty that you could have done, namely checking the oil…oh, let’s say…at least 5 or 6 times in that 2k to 3k interval.

My own car, which is now almost 8 years old with ~93k on the odometer, has never needed oil between its oil changes every 4,000 miles. However, I still check the oil every few weeks, just to avoid situations such as you encountered. And, as Doc states below, with VW’s “normal” oil consumption issues, checking more often than I do with my Subaru would certainly be prudent.

It’s just a shame that you had to learn in this fashion about something that is considered to be a normal part of owner upkeep of a car.

I am impressed by the dedication shown by VDCdriver and Doc. You guys are clearly car enthusiasts of a high caliber. I personally try to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for maintenance and believe I did so in this case. However, you may go well beyond that and obviously derive the benefits of that approach. Presumably VW does not want to draw attention to how much oil gets consumed in regular driving in their cars hence they do not refer to the need for dipstick checking " at least 5 or 6 times in a 2k interval" recommended by VDCdriver, as it might scare people away from their cars ( certainly I, for one, would have been put off if I knew that). I found budd’s response more confirmatory of my thinking when he ended with two pertinent questions that also occupied me. I use cars carefully but given my other commitments I am unable to devote more attention to them than what the manufacturer recommends.

Got to say that I agree with budd on this one.

Not all VW engines burn oil. In fact, most don’t have much of a problem. But, the ones that do burn oil burn it from day one at the rate of close to 1qt/1K miles. If yours has had no history of using oil, then something happened recently that caused the problem.

oma; I grew up on a farm with all manner of machinery and also trained in the army as a mechanic and heavy vehicle driver. Oil is checked at every tankful or every day in the army. Not letting equipment break down becomes second nature and since many cars consume 1 quart of oil every 1500-2000 miles, regular checks of oil and coolant level is all part of regular car ownership.

Even if the engine itself does not burn oil, as a car ages, it develops very small leaks, and these may cause the oil level to drop much more quicklly than burning it.

Oma, I tried to find a VW Passat owner’s manual online, but was not successful. I think you need to separate marketing info from technical info. I’m sure VW doesn’t want to project an image of cars that use excessive oil. Yet, in their owner’s manual they (as all other mfgs do) state checks the owner should perform on their cars. Usually this is a graphic of the under hood showing the motor and the locations of where fluid levels are checked.

As to frequency of the checks most manuals say every time you buy gas. I just checked the manuals of the two cars in my driveway, an '03 Honda Civic, and '01 Toyota Sequoia and they both stated the driver should check the oil level on the dipstick every time they fuel the vehicle. I’m certain VW manuals will say the same. It is call CYA, or cover your a–, and all the manufacturers do it.

In NJ where they still have attendants to pump the gas, no attendant ever asks if you want your oil checked. At self serve it is totally the owner’s responsibility.

Ans. to question #1 - Yes, they can get away with it and say it is a maintenance issue. Service interals of 9,000 miles is way too long to not check the oil level and in the manual they are covered as above.

Ans. to question #2 - Yes, but you may have shut the motor down quickly enough to minimize the damage. Stopping the car immediately and having it towed to the a service facility was absolutely the right move on your part.