Sudden Deceleration: Australian Media Blames Volkswagen Golf (Manual, Gasoline) Driver's Death On DSG, Clogged Diesel Injectors

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt
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The death of an Australian woman who was rear-ended two years ago is making new headlines. In 2011, 32-year-old Melissa Ryan was killed when a truck with two trailers hit her Volkswagen Golf from behind. A coroner is looking into the matter. The report is expected to be completed in July. In the meantime, Australian media does not let simple technical facts get in the way of a bad story.

The matter received new publicity after Fairfax Media, an Australian group that owns large Australian and New Zealand newspapers, along with the popular Australian car site, published a story about the inquest. The story in and sibling media starts with reports that “at least 15 Volkswagen owners have revealed they experienced the same terrifying loss of acceleration that appears to have led to the 2011 death of 32-year-old Melissa Ryan.” This while the cause of the death has yet to be determined.

Seven paragraphs into the story, it makes the laborious statement that “Fairfax is not suggesting Ms Ryan’s death is linked to a fault in her car,” only to suggest in the rest of the story, that it was the car that killed Ms. Ryan, and that it was Volkswagen’s bedeviled DSG gearbox that killed her:

“Volkswagen has this year issued recalls for almost 400,000 of its cars in China and 91,000 in Japan for problems with the high-tech automatic direct shift gearbox (DSG). The DSG problems have been connected to sudden power loss.”

Also, says the paper, there is “an injector problem with some diesel models” of Volkswagen, which can lead to “sudden deceleration.”

The trouble is, Ms. Ryan’s Golf had a stick shift, a fact that was noted, but nonetheless ignored in the story. The car also ran on gasoline, a fact that remained unmentioned.

It was left to Karl Gehling, spokesman of Volkswagen Australia, to state:

“The vehicle at the centre of the inquest is equipped with a petrol engine and a manual transmission. Neither of the customers interviewed for the story has a vehicle fitted with a DSG transmission either.”

In a follow-up story on Saturday, reports that “the federal government has launched an investigation into possible faults in popular models of Volkswagens which have led to motorists experiencing a frightening and sudden loss of acceleration while driving their cars.” It also says that “Volkswagen did not return Fairfax Media’s calls.”

It took TTAC all but five minutes to receive a return call from Volkswagen’s Wolfsburg HQ to Tokyo. Peter Heinz Thul, at Volkswagen responsible for groupwide Product Communication, said:

“There is no reason why this accident, which occurred now more than two years ago, is gaining attention again in connection with the recalls in China and Japan in relation to the dual-clutch gearbox (DSG). The accident definitively had nothing to do with the DSG, as the Golf GTI involved was fitted with a manual gearbox. prides itself of being “Australia’s Largest Car Review Website,” but is willing to ignore the fact that clogged diesel injectors can’t slow down a car that runs on pump gas, just like DSG troubles would be hard pressed to affect a manual.

The sudden attention may even come as a disfavor to the deceased and her beneficiary heirs. According to a source close to the inquest, there may be a witness who talked to Ms. Ryan via a cellphone while she died.

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  • Corntrollio Corntrollio on Jun 03, 2013

    One of their related articles says they aren't trying to claim the possible DSG + diesel problems are related to Ms. Ryan's death, but come on. Saying "Fairfax is not suggesting Ms Ryan's death is linked to a fault in her car" way down in the article does not negate saying "Di Webster is one of more than 15 drivers who have contacted Fairfax Media to report the same terrifying loss of power that appears to have led to the death of a 32-year-old woman on a Victorian highway in 2011" in the opening of the article. It's quite obviously not the same loss of power, as Mr. Schmitt said.

  • Mr_min Mr_min on Jun 04, 2013

    I respectful disagree Mr Schmitt, the series of articles may have tried to tenuously link ongoing issues with DSG and diesel fuel Injectors. But I obviously read a different story, I read a series of articles that VW Australia will not recall vehicles with DSG faults, or injector faults or as I suspect throttle pedal issues that readers are claiming are dangerous, and have been recalled in other markets for the same issue. Fairfax are incredibly pro VW and consistently rated the Golf as the benchmark vehicle. So this is not bias on behalf of Fairfax. Some further points a) Ms Ryan death is being investigated. by the courts, and we will get the truth, as they are very thorough. b) VW Australia lack of recalls for apparent safe issues is being investigated by the Federal Government. c) VW Brand reputation because of its attitude towards its customers has taken a dive throughout this whole saga, there are multiple cases of VW Australia (read the comments) of VW not acknowledging the issues that customers have experienced, and hitting customers up for huge repair bills. They refused to comment to Fairfax which I think speaks volumes for attitude. From the latest article: "Almost 100 people have come forward to confirm they experienced sudden power loss while driving Volkswagens, particularly Golfs, Passats and Polos. Of the 92 who contacted Fairfax Media, many were driving automatics, but about 10 per cent were driving manuals - the type of car Melissa Ryan died in. Her family and the truck driver who hit her believe the car suffered a sudden loss of power. The coroner will hand down her finding on Ms Ryan's death next month"

    • Douglasm Douglasm on Jun 06, 2013

      With four VW's in the family (two Polo conventional petrol autos, a Jetta diesel DSG, and an Audi A4 petrol with CVT), the Fairfax headline caught my attention. Generally speaking Drive journalists reveal a lack of mechanical understanding, and sometimes propagate common misconceptions about how things work. So this beat-up was not a surprise. Nowhere in the articles could I find any suggestions about the possible mechanical causes of sudden deceleration. In a manual, limp mode is possible, but this causes some loss of power, not sudden deceleration. The DSG changes to a lower ratio when the brakes are applied, and even when they are released provides some engine braking on descents, so this could conceivably cause a problem but nobody has suggested this. This sophisticated transmission is a brilliant device which is in effect two gearboxes and clutches which preselect the next gear ratio. If the electronic prediction is incorrect then some of the hesitance which others have written about occurs. This is a small price to pay for lightning fast changes and outstanding economy. In my experience VW do have a case to answer on price gouging for parts and expensive servicing and repairs, and a monopolistic determination to keep diagnostic software and technical information away from independent mechanics.

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