VW Passat Timing belt failure after 40K maintenance said OK

I had my 2003 VW Passat in for a 40K routine maintenance in April and 8 weeks later the timing belt blew and damaged the engine badly.

I was told that a fractured bolt (not a VW part) was found in the pan underneath the timing belt and that the timing belt was frayed, and that the bolt had probably caused the fraying.

I had been in a front end car accident several years ago, and when the dealership (where the 40K maintenance check up had been done) learned this, they suggested that the bolt had been introduced to the car during this repair, but was careful to add that nothing could be proved.

I asked why the frayed nature of the belt wasn’t detected at the 40K checkup, and was told that only the top part of the cover was removed to examine the belt, and so the frayed area might have been out of sight.

A month has passed and I can’t get rid of the feeling that the damaged timing belt should have been identified at the time of the 40K check-up, and the engine damage could have been avoided if the mechanic had looked at the entire belt.


During the 40K maintenance examination, is it standard to examine only the part of the timing belt that can be seen with the top cover removed ?

Should I make a specific request of the dealership (who did the 40K check up as well as the timing belt/engine repair) to consider sharing in the expense of the engine repair?

You can request anything but a belt can come apart with no warning or fraying first. They can fly apart quickly and the dealer’s responsibility cannot be proven at all, because it doesn’t exist. They can offer any discount that they like and it might be the best thing they could do. Feel lucky?

VW Passat’s are known for throwing timing belts before the 60,000 miles replacement schedule specified by the factory. My ex-neighbor had hers fail at about 55,000 miles within the car’s warranty. She had to fight VW to fix the $3000+ damage to the engine.

If the dealer won’t do anything for you, you should gt it fixed by an independent shop and also install an aftermarket timing belt fromn a reputable manufacturer.

Looking at a timing belt may be fun, bit it will seldom tell you anything about the condition of the belt or remaining life. It looks to me like you do have a smoking gun, but that points not to the dealer, but to the accident repair. I also agree that you are not going to prove anything here.

[I asked why the frayed nature of the belt wasn’t detected at the 40K checkup, and was told that only the top part of the cover was removed to examine the belt, and so the frayed area might have been out of sight.]

Not knowing the car, nor the cover I’ll only offer an opinion. However my brother has a Passat, maybe 2000~2003 so next time I’ll have a look. What engine do you have.

That aside, It is pretty normal of VW to have a top cover that exposes at least 1/2 of the cam gear wheels. Therefore you can get a view of the back (flat side) of the belt and the edges of the teeth. This is enough to see any fraying, any fraying that occurs over time occurs at the sides, not the inside center.
Could it be seen?. if frayed at the edges it would be obvious. Where was it said to be frayed?. Do you have the belt. You will never ever get a frayed patch, as in 1/4 of it’s length will be frayed but not the total circumference, the total length will be frayed, or not. WE are not dealing with out of balance tyres that may develop a worn patch.

On re-reading you say the bolt was found in the pan beheath the timing belt, and “may” have caused the fraying. 2 me this means in the bottom pully cover, in which case the invading object woudl have been scrubbing the outside of the belt, which IS the side of the belt you DO see if you remove the top covers and any scaring is plain as day and would be continuous over the entire length of the back of the belt, had anyone cared to observe.
Not knowing the nature of the object, it could split the belt into multiple longitudinal bands/strips, however this scenario is even more obvious, what is certain, it would not have removed or frayed teeth.

If the back of the belt were OK and it was missing teeth, then the bolt/debris had nothing to do with the failure and premature-failure had everything to do with the failure.

eg. a friend replaced a belt on a Maxima, one washer on the crank which is slightly dished was inverted and scraped on the side of the belt. within a few days it was obvious it was beign frayed and reduced in width as well… so edge fraying is obvous.

If this nut or bolt that was causing the fraying was in the center of the pully, it would get “ingested” in that it would get pulled into the gap and cause the belt to not simply stretch but break … as in snap. Belts do not stretch far at all. so if a bolt or other foriegn debris, (like a dropped spark plug) were “introduced” it would cause a hell of a bang were it to get trapped in the nip of the belt.
Also, if these covers can keep water and dirt out, I fail to see why they might be breeched by “a bolt”. did the front end damage result in Engine damage, the engine is transverse in this car anyway, so you might have a broken rad or AC, some explaining is required.

Did you obtain, examine or even see the failed belt?. Describe it.

I once saw a bill for examining the timing belt for $40, on a car that had an impossible to get at timing chain? go figure?

Also keep in mind, Eu cars from Opel and Fiat (in the EU) have been snapping belts at 30K mls when the recommended change interval is stated at 60Kmls. So why should VW be omitted.

The one issue that nobody has touched upon is the question of whether the VW 40k maintenance includes removal of the timing belt cover and visual inspection of the timing belt!

We have all seen the “enhanced” dealership versions of vehicle maintenance schedules, with list of myriad inspections, many of which are probably not even performed. And yet, I don’t recall ever seeing Visual inspection of timing belt listed on any maintenance schedule–either the manufacturer’s version or the dealership’s version. The probable reason for this is that, as we all know, visual inspection of a timing belt normally tells little or nothing about its remaining life. Yes, the very rare instance of a bolt protruding where it should not be is a situation where a visual inspection could be worthwhile, but this situation is so rare that it is probably not statistically significant.

So–if the 40k maintenance doesn’t include visual inspection of the timing belt, then it is obviously very unrealistic for the OP to hold the dealership responsible for failure to note the poor condition of the belt. I would suggest that the OP take a careful look at both the 40k maintenance list in the VW Maintenance Schedule, and that he/she also get a copy of the dealership’s “enhanced” 40k maintenance list. If either or both list visual inspection of the timing belt, then he/she does have something valid to pursue with the dealership and/or the factory Zone Representative. If nothing is stated in either version regarding visual inspection of the timing belt, then the OP doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

40k maintenance on the Passat includes visual inspection of the timing belt, according to the factory maintenance schedule. OP might have a legitimate beef. I’d escalate it to the service manager, or the zone rep.


In this case, I agree that the next step is to kick it up to the Zone Manager.