By on February 4, 2010

TTAC has reported on VW’s plans to become the global number one. Looking at Toyota’s current quality problems, one could be excused for thinking that there just might be some substance to Wolfsburg’s plans. After all, Toyota’s days of glory seem to be over, while VW is on a roll, with sales growing and quality improving. Right?

Wrong. This year’s severe winter weather has exposed some quality glitches in Europe that have remained under-reported. And revealingly (for anybody interested in VW’s corporate culture), VW prefers to cover up the problems as long as possible.

One week ago, Germany’s Autobild published complaints by several owners of Golf Mk V’s that suffered from an odd tendency to burst. No, not in flames; what the suffering Germans compained of was of ice collecting under the A-beam, causing the car’s body to literally bend apart. VW’s reaction: blame it on the owner. Requests for VW to at least fund part of the repair costs were denied. One customer was so frustrated by the lack of help from VW that he paid for the $500 repair himself, but vowed to never again deal with VW.

VW’s corporate inertia was odd, considering that the problem was well-known to the company. An internal briefing paper prescribes installing a foam-plastic seal into the A-beam for “cold-weather countries”. Customers of other countries can opt for the seal too, at a cost of €150.00 ($200), if they are willing to pay out of pocket.

After the Autobild article was published, VW changed its mind and says it is now willing to pay for repairs under the condition that “the cause is clearly due to this phenomenon and there was no previous damage to the area.” So if your Golf is bursting at the seams, you’d better not have had a previous accident.

And VW is not planning a recall.

A similar problem, accompanied by a similarly arrogant VW semi-solution, has been in the news for years. During the last severe winter season of 2002/2003, hundreds of VWs died a spontaneous death when their crankshaft vents got iced up, causing oil to cascade out of the engine. Only after weeks of negative press did VW stop blaming the cars’ owners, and agreed to replace engines.

But (see where we’re coming from?) there was never a recall. With predictable results: Autobild has last week reported of several people who bought six-year-old used VWs, hoping they would be reliable, only to see them self-distruct after one really cold night.

VW’s response: to pay for repairs if the owner could provide proof of uninterrupted maintenence, done at a VW dealership. One gentleman who bought a VW Polo with 50k miles two months before it died, says: “Who has this kind of documentation on a seven-year-old car? What difference does it make to the fact that VW built an engine that can’t cope with frost?”

With its massive domestic market share, VW can probably afford to behave arrogantly in Germany. But is this a recipe for international expansion?

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47 Comments on “Even Before Toyota, VW Knew All About Winter Woes...”

  • avatar

    The hairdressers who drive VW’s should use a lighter and can of hairspray to defrost the area in question.

  • avatar

    Not to imply that VW will never make it to the top. But if they would look to any lessons on how to become numero uno, VW would ironically enough want to look at Toyota’s rise in the 80s and 90s.

    • 0 avatar

      They would also want to take a note from Toyota’s current troubles … to avoid these may hasten VW’s climb, to avoid the lesson will either delay the rise, or contribute to the fall.

  • avatar

    But (see where we’re coming from?) there was never a recall.

    +1. Million

    Yes, thank you for noting that. It’s still up in the air as to whether or not customers will remember Pedalgate, but HeadGasketGate, CoilPackGate, TransmissionGate and SludgeGate, all of which affect many more people and create lasting impression. In your wallet.

  • avatar

    yeah but…haven’t they always operated this way?

  • avatar

    I recently bought a 2000 MY GTI and have a similar problem at the base of the A-pillar. The ice collects and inhibits opening the door because the front bottom corner presses against the buildup. Once the winter is over I’m going to have to look at some kind of permanent fix. Also kind of interesting, I see quite a lot of dirt buildup in the rubber seal at the base of the rear hatch. I’ve never had either problem with my old 1992 Golf but then again, it’s had other issues with locks and such.
    I suspect that most cars have something negative about them that either wasn’t thought through, never showed up in testing, or was a result of beancounters pushing back against the engineers.

  • avatar

    This happens to all cars if you don’t watch up, exept maybe Mercedes 300 SL! I have damaged my drivers door a little on my Alero this winter. I had to go out and sprinkel hot water to the area in order to be able to open the door properly.

    • 0 avatar

      I Like your hot water idea. I was lucky, I could still get into the drivers door (more usage, less buildup). My solution was to go to the mall and park it in the underground parking while I strolled around for a while and had a coffee. When I came back it was all melted out.
      I’ll have to look into that seal mentioned in the article. Maybe I can find some at the wrecker or make something similar.

    • 0 avatar

      92golff: Yes that’s the way. But I have no garage and there’s no place I can deice the car. Last Saturday it was -29C (-20F) here. And I live in south of Sweden!

  • avatar

    NONE of the car companies perform a recall unless it’s a safety-related issue.

    Now I know everyone will have their own opinion of what’s “safety-related”, but the fact of the matter is Toyota never recalled for engine sludge, Chrysler never recalled for automomatic transmission failures, etc…

    While it is definately a customer concern, VW has every right to look at this issue on a case-by-case basis without having to perform a massive recall.

    Again… No different than how everyone else does business

  • avatar

    My wife had an ’06 Passat 2.0T.

    It was the biggest POS either one of us has owned in at least 15, if not, 20 years.

    In three years it was in the dealer bay at least 15 times. It also burned a quart of oil every 1,000 miles (synthetic oil, too), and sounded like a tractor, which the dealer swore up and down was ‘normal.’

    No more VWs for us, under any circumstances.

    • 0 avatar

      I drive an ’07 GTI, and yes the 2.0TFSI has issues.

      a) Yes, it sounds like a tractor. A loveable torque happy chippable tractor.
      b) Yes, it burns oil nearly as fast as I burn tires. But see point a)
      c) It has multiple fail points the dealer is unwilling to deal with (Diverter Valve, PC Valve, Cam Follower (Sub parethenesis! Oh no! TTAC really could do an article about Cam follower bullshit in VW’s) etc).

      But all and all – with a 500 buck chip the 2 liter turbobitch makes a solid 250hp/250tq at the crank give or take 25. I personally like the sound, and it loves to rev.

    • 0 avatar

      Rehpos….OK, sound like it’s a great motor for modders…which make up what, .05% of the car buying public? The overwhelming majority of car buyers want cars that are reasonably quiet, reliable, and don’t burn oil. And if VW expects to be number one, that’s who they need to cater to.

    • 0 avatar

      All that oil usage is going to mean a catalyst replacement a lot sooner than most cars.

  • avatar

    1984 Rabbit 200 000 km
    1985 Jetta D 385 000 km
    1986 Jetta TD 603 000 km
    1989 Jetta 175 000 km
    1990 Jetta TD 428 000 km
    1992 Eurovan 240 000 km
    1996 Passat TDI Wagon 480 000 km
    1997 Passat TDI 170 000 km
    2001 Cabrio 130 000 km
    2002 Cabrio 90 000 km
    2004 Passat wagon 1.8T 4motion 105 000 km and counting
    2005 Jetta TDI Wagon 90 000 km
    2006 Jetta TDI 90 000 km
    2006 Jetta TDI #2 80 000 km
    2009 Eos 30 000 km and counting

    My wife and I drive a lot. VW may not be perfect, but show me a car that is. All of the preceding mileage was achieved with regular maintenance. No serious issues that would drive me away from VW. And yes, I have driven Hondas, Toyotas, and Mazdas, as well as GM over my driving career, so I’m not brainwashed. VW has been good to me. Your mileage may vary.

  • avatar

    I would call the car bending apart a saftey issue. If VW intends to build a true Weltauto they should assure that their cars can handle all sorts of conditions. A tank heater to start your car in cold weather is an option. A piece of foam that keeps the A beam from breaking is an absolute must. Come on, these cars are being sold in Europe, not South Africa.

  • avatar

    Oh my god, stop the presses, you mean to tell me Volkswagen cuts significant corners engineering their cars resulting in premature failure of important components? This tarnishes the company who I always associated with premium engineering and quality.

    Next you’ll tell me they used defective coil packs to save money, or that their transmissions lack proper reinforcement to last beyond a two year warranty, or that they didn’t thoroughly test their engine for sludge, or that they used low-grade plastic instead of metal to hold up the door windows, or that they didn’t prime the interior surfaces causing them to peel off, or that they used a cheap glue to hold the interior together, or that they didn’t bother testing their drains to avoid blockage, or that they didn’t design their drains not interfere with the electrical system if they’re blocked, or that they cheaped out on suspension components leading to premature failure by 30k miles, or that they cheaped out on brakes leading to premature failure, or that they cheaped out on light bulbs leading to premature failure….

    • 0 avatar

      The funny part about all the negative VW commentary here in North America is that if you read some of the forums on European car enthusiast websites VW has a rock solid reputation. People talk about buying one and being able to pass it on to their kids 10 years later.
      Do they do all the things you mentioned, sure they do. Are they arrogant, sure. I guess I’m fortunate though, I’ve been lucky and haven’t had any major issues.
      And I still really like the way they drive…..

    • 0 avatar

      ’00 Passat 1.8T owner with 80K checking in.

      Interior falling apart – check
      Leaking coolant – check
      ABS brake warning light blinking randomly for no reason – check
      Window regulator failure – check & check again (two different windows, one of which is almost NEVER used)
      Squeaky turbo spin up/down – check
      Tie-rods – about to be another check, all sorts of “clunk clunk” sounds coming from the front end and the tires are wearing badly.

      Scary thing is my ’01 DODGE Dakota, yes the vehicle Consumer Reports tells you to RUN away from, has been virtual trouble free in comparison to the VeeDub.

      I love the torque of the 1.8T and for the first three years our Passat was flawless, but since then its been a mess. The worst is the crappy interior, everyone raves about great the interiors of Audi and VW are, but mine is becoming unglued, peeling, cracking, stains easily… etc, all on a car that has been garage kept! Oh well, its still quick, handles well and gets 30 mpg so I keep driving it (for now).

    • 0 avatar

      +1 JMII

      One Spring cleaning a couple years ago, I was scrubbing the armrests on my Passat, wondering how they’d got so dirty. Then I realized it was because the plastic had peeled/dissolved and turned scat-brown. Annoyed, but resigned, I moved on to vacuuming and promptly sucked the upholstery loose from the door.

  • avatar

    My ’83 Quantum Coupe went 170K miles and still ran great, just didn’t have space for it when I sold it. I put 30K miles a year on my Jetta TDI and it’s not spent a day in the shop other than scheduled maintenance.

    VW has had their issues, but all manufacturers do (the least reliable car I’ve owned was a Honda Civic). Every VW I’ve had personal dealings with either owning myself, or belonging to close friends, has been solid….and a heck of a lot better to drive than most.

    VW arrogance could be improved upon – they market themselves as a cut above, the product and service need to match. But in measurable terms I’m not sure they’re worse than any other manufacturer.

  • avatar

    My 1968 Pontiac GTO lived every night in my northestern Ohio driveway, and never iced up, or failed to start in the morning for the three years I owned it. Rusted, yes.

  • avatar

    My VW mechanic and I have a $200-$500 chat almost every oil change (2001 Passat). Topics range from:

    15k Bushings
    20k Exterior Trim coming unglued
    25k OEM Tires bald
    30k Interior trim coming unglued
    35k Tie-rods
    40k Window regulator
    45k Mass airflow sensor

    Oh, and my second gear synchros have been grinding since the day I got it. I put up with this because I got the car cheap from a relative, don’t drive it much, and actually really dig the aesthetic design and handling (the only things that sell VWs in this country IMO).

    Anecdotes like this are of course statistically meaningless… except that I tell it to everyone I know in an effort to spread prejudice and hate to the entire community.

    • 0 avatar

      I love my Passat too, but it definately is no Toyota. It also is one of my many cars to actually leave me stranded on the road (water pump @ 60K miles). The sad thing is that the VW had been less reliable than my Land Rover (the truth). Just something about the VW that allows me to put up with the little BS issues.

  • avatar
    Facebook User

    VWs drive well, they look nice, they’re well built and can be quite sporting, but if you haven’t long ago realized that they’re incredibly unreliable, you’re a fool.

  • avatar

    this is a new issue? Heck before I bought my rabbit in 2008 I knew about this. It was fairly common knowledge around various VW forums.

    Compared to bad brakes, and bad accelerator pedals, missing an ice jam situation seems like being a prick.

    Besides for this to happen you really have to have the right enviorment. Melting water running down the pillar, but at the same time freezing in a small corner, and then build up.

  • avatar

    Well, my dad1’s company car (never in a million years would he or for that matter, we, his children would allow him to pick this car up w/ his own money, we love him too much!), a VW Gol has self destructed its windschield again. yes again for the second time. You park it. Leave it for the night. The next day, welll the windshield has cracked up. Funny no? VW of Brazil never owned up to this problem, even though it was widely known.

    just a little woe though in the long littany of woes this new Gol of theirs has been inflicting on its owners. Not breaking is one (I personally know a guy who’s blamed 2 accidents on this problem). Suddenly, for no reason. Step on the brakes and it doesn’t work. If you have your wits about you the hand break though never fails!

    Another one is not starting in cold weather (this happens to the Polo, too and by some accounts to various Renaults) when filled up w/ ethanol. No they don’t cover your battery when you drain after many failed starts.

    The last and worse is bad engine noise and eventual failure. Caused, according to VW, for the change in the factory installed original oil. Apparently, when driven the housewife’s circuit, up to 5 or 6 starts a day in small trips all taking less than 10 minutes, the oil would not heat up enough and would mix with the ethanol that then would seep up through the cyllinders. As the ethanol doesn’t evaporate as well as gasoline, eventually this would lead to problems.

    All of these are well-known, well-documented cases that VW is saying are not worthy of a recall. Umm, self-destructing windshields, loss of braking, self-destructing engines and not starting…Seems there’s no safet involved.

    And somehow, down here too, as in Europe, their reputation is strong. Tarnished, but still strong. Brazilians are too forgiving. If all of this afflicted a recently launched car of theirs in the US it would drag them down even further into their NAmerican hole. And Europeans would probably re-think their prejudices. But here…

  • avatar

    Neither of these seem sefety related, however. If WV had wheels falling off the car like Mitsubishi had, it might have been a problem…

    • 0 avatar


      I thought the wheel-shedding (this killed a mother who was waiting for the cross-walk light with her daughter by her side) was on Mitsubishi medium duty trucks – just like the exploding clutches and dropping driveshafts (this ruptured the brake lines on one truck killing the driver who was on an exit ramp; characteristically, Mitsubishi blamed the driver for his own death.)

      Did the pass-cars have wheels popping off too, or have you painted Mitsubishi cars with the Fuso paintbrush?

  • avatar

    I’ve got a VAG car in the driveway (an audi w/ that tractor-like, oil-sipping, awesome 2.0 TFSI engine). But it’s a lease and it goes away in another 2 and a half years. So I don’t worry about the engine’s foibles.

    Never owned a VW before (if you don’t count ancient beetles in high school), but I strongly remember when I first started reading Car magazine back in the 90s with the VW emblem on the cover with a big lemon superimposed upon it. So I don’t know firsthand, but I’m not sure that the Euro market has always seen VWs as bulletproof.

  • avatar

    The funniest line ever read on this site:

    “people who bought six-year-old used VWs, hoping they would be reliable”

    Really? Who buys a six year old anything, let alone a VW expecting it to be reliable?

    I’m on my third VW (I happen to like the way they drive), and I’m the first to admit – you don’t buy one for reliability – even when its new.


    • 0 avatar

      I bought a 11 year old Subaru and now it’s 350k on, with no real problems. Before that it was a 14 year old Subaru, and before that 17.

      The worst that’s ever happened was an alternator, which thanks to Subaru actually knowing how to design a car, took minutes to change. Most people expect a 6 year old car to be reliable, and most 6 year old cars are, I think you’re just too used to driving total junk.

    • 0 avatar

      Who buys a six year old anything and expects it to be reliable? Peopule who buy pickups farm tractors and (up until a few weeks ago) Toyotas.

    • 0 avatar

      You mean people who buy any car which is not an exotic.

      For the average person, 6 years is not that old for a car. Huge numbers of people drive that and a lot older with no troubles.

  • avatar

    VW # 1!! Yup, they have an unfair advantage over Toyota. They were never reliable in the first place.

  • avatar

    ’88 Golf GL 1.8L 5spd was the car I kept the longest, paid the least, and loved the most. Cost $1900 with 130K miles, lasted 10 years, donated at the end (232K miles total).

    This car had a LOT of little problems, but it just would not die. Was our only car for the first 4 years of my daughter’s life. She named it “Old Red Scratch” somewhere along the way. This car took us all over Oregon and Washington. Froze the coolant at Mt Washington but with some help was able to get her started again. Almost rolled off the gravel road to Hat Point. Slept in it at Warn Springs, etc. I really miss this car.

    – Water would collect in the back seat after a rain (living in PDX, it rained a lot)
    – Lived most of its 10 years without interior carpet so it could dry out. Amazingly, it never rusted inside except a little on the seat tracks.
    – 2nd gear syncros gone. Had to pause for half a seecond on the 1-2 shift, but would go into 2nd every time with this easy work-around. Wife figured that one out.
    – Front bumper not so surgically removed by Trimet bus. Pocketed the bumper cover cash, never got around to painting the steel beam
    – Low oil pressure buzzer in temps above 80. Revving could sometimes get it to shut up.
    – Exterior door handles on both rear and passenger front didn’t really open the door. Removed the rears and taught Jr to put her hand in the opening. She thought it was pretty cool at the time.
    – Sunvisor broke off. MIL visit forced a dealer-new replacement.
    – Oil leaks. There is still a patch in front of the last house. But never seemed the be low. I’m sure I checked it a some point.
    – Blew some wicked black smoke after idling at a light. You could not see through these clouds.
    – Rear hatch cylinders shot from day one.
    – Clutch cables, must have went through about 4 or 5. Could be replaced in the parking lot at work without any tools.
    – AC actually worked for 6 years
    – Strut mounts “need to be replaced” said Mieneke, but I was able to enjoy the wander
    – Starter would occasionally not crank. Mechanic friend showed me to put the key to On, pull the wire from the solenoid terminal, and bridge from the big + terminal to the solenoid terminal. Would immediately start. Then, after a week or two of this, it would start normally again for a year or so. This got the be a bigger hassle when the parking brake broke, but the Bentley manual that the previous owner gave me was a good wheel chock.
    – Hood latch failed on interstate. It had been acting strenge for a few weeks, would take a harder slam to latch. Then it let go a 70 MPH. You cannot see under the hood. Made to the shoulder OK and used ethernet cord to tie the hood shut. This was a major pain as the start was acting up at the time.

  • avatar

    This from the same company that was almost OCD about its quality and dealer service as it set up shop in the U.S.

    I’ve long admired the performance and appearance of VWs, but someone on this board once summed the brand up nicely: Toyota-size purchase price, Chrysler-like reliability, Mercedes-size cost of parts and service.

    And I might add, a totally indifferent dealer network, at least at the two I’ve shopped over the years.

  • avatar

    I have a 2004 Audi 2.7T and its awesome. Had a 2005 and a (forced, long warranty story) 2006 Focus. Had a Ford escort before that. Reason I bought them is because they were cheap. I could afford them. And they had more freaking problems with less than 50,000kms than my Audi at 85,000kms has ever had. A lose seat. Thats the extent of my Audi problems. The escort’s exaust system fell off at 75,000kms and the two ford focus garbage boxes would lose break boost from a cold start in high altitudes resulting in “two feet braking” for the first minute or two of driving.

    I am willing to put up with minor, and expensive, issues in order to have a wicked fun car. So far my A6, after 2 years of purchasing with 65,000km on it, has had a lose seat. Most reliable car I have ever owned. Lousy thing with the Toyota recalls is that people who have one never even got a fun car out of it. A fun car thats expensive to maintain is one thing. A boring car that likes to try and kill you is just plain offensive.

    • 0 avatar

      Amen, brother. The Japanese cars with which I’ve had experience (’81 Civic excepted) were boring. I have never expected any car to be an appliance, but having said that, none of my VWs (except the ’84 Rabbit) have been unreliable. I have always been an OEM guy. I either perform the work myself with OEM VW parts, or take the car to the dealer (Cambridge VW in Cambridge, ON, or Leavens VW in London, ON). The times I have run into trouble is when I tried to skimp and bought cheap Canadian Tire parts. I learned my lesson quickly.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    All your interesting comments are much appreciated. And I admit that a body-bulging issue is not relevant to safety. But if a recall can prevent damage, then I think a recall — or at least pre-emptive free maintenence – is called for.

    My case in point is another German car maker suffering from quality issues. (Mercedes obviously is a much more premium brand but VW also tries to command premium prices, even relative to its affiliated brands such as Seat and Skoda.) Mercedes’ W201 models suffer from rust. Take a W201 to service at a Mercedes dealer in Germany and the typical rust spots (eg under the doors) get treated, free of charge.

    That’s what you have to do if you want to be a premium brand. (I know, there are plenty more things Mercedes has to do, but that’s neither here nor there).

    • 0 avatar

      Do you really know no pre emptive free of charge maintenance was being done? Lots of that sort of stuff does get fixed for free, without the customer knowing. No need to do a recall – the car is usually coming in for an oil change or something anyway…

      As to the Autobild article on frost motors: “Who has this kind of documentation on a seven-year-old car?” As someone who has bought several used cars in germany – almost everyone. Cars that are bought new and then driven for several years by their original owner (which in case of a Polo is the norm rather than the exception) with 10-15.000 km/year usually get all their check ups and regular service intervals at the dealer. “Scheckheftgepflegt” is one of the biggest things when buying a used car here, so it is not that unreasonable a request. Also, checking if a car has been kept in shape before repairing it for free isnt that unreasonable imho either…

      Anyway – show me one recall being done because something which only effect was cosmetic in nature, as it is with this. I can not remember one..

  • avatar

    Well, I was planning on replacing my 2000 Crown Vic with a Golf. Time to rethink.

    My CV sits outdoors all year north of Toronto, where -20 provokes some comments, but where life goes on. It always starts. 265,000k, and it’s needed a battery replacement, spark plug replacement, brake pad replacement, a few front suspension bits, new shocks, and that naughty plastic intake manifold replacement–a few weeks out of warranty–for which I had to pay. Reliable, safe as a house, cheap to fix, tons of room, a highway masterpiece. Forget the Golf, I’m a gonna find another CV–maybe a used OPP unmarked cruiser–for a few thousand dollars and drive it for another ten years. My wife will be furious. The old-man image copper-wannabe has to share a driveway with her nervous, revy, buzzy but hip Accord.

    It seems that North American auto makers actually test their cars in Canadian winters. Europe, on the other hand, is getting back into colder winters after a warmish honeymoon of a few decades.

    But all this is moot. With the coming economic armageddon just getting started, even mighty Volkswagen might be producing only emergency shelters and riot-control trucks in a few years.

  • avatar

    head over to this is a well documented thing from back when the MK5 first started to roll out. everyone that i knew with the issue, went to the dealer and had it covered no questions asked. and vw has since released a redesigned fender liner ro something that doesnt allow water to get trapped. old news. the whole “your stupid if you buy a vw cause they break” thing is really really old.

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