By on July 9, 2015

vw dsg. Image: Shutterstock user Grzegorz Czapski

Mike writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I’ve enjoyed your columns. [That makes one of you! – SM]

The VW and Audi Forums are still abuzz with reports of VW mechatronic failures in the mid-2000s DSGs. Do you have any information as to whether the newer versions (they’re from a 6 to 7 speed DSG, I read) are any less failure prone than the earlier versions? 

I read in one of Mr. Baruth’s columns that auto journalists (or whatever we might call them) find themselves constrained to avoid commenting on the chronic reliability problems in your latest whiz-bang pseudo-racer mobile, lest they fall from favor with the manufacturer and their access to further models for reviews be cut off. (What David E Davis could do, Joe Schmoe can’t, if he is writing for a small internet site.)

I’m thinking that your average “review” of a new car is substantially lacking when it comes to mentioning the failures and weak points of similar models or products of the manufacturer. (Warping Honda rotors, anyone?)

Thanks for your response, and with all due consideration to the memory of Henry N. Manny III.

Sajeev answers:

How ’bout I solve world hunger while I’m at it? Perhaps I can ensure all future IMF interventions shall not result in economic catastrophe for a sovereign nation? 

Because making a clear cut statement about 6 vs. 7-speed DSG reliability is similarly impossible. Too many variables, impossible to distill when Google is your only resource: the diverse environments of a global VAG-buying audience, various engine and body configurations, driving/towing styles, an owner’s willingness to RTFM and do the mandatory servicing, etc. There was a global recall on the later gearbox, as new fluid was introduced, not to mention other recalls over time.

Read this 110-page thread and tell me you don’t wanna curl up into a ball, cry until you no longer feel anything and rush out to buy something — anything — with a Powerglide.

And yes, ignore whatever an auto journo suggests as per Jack’s reasoning. But that doesn’t apply to me, always listen to me. I get press cars, like, once every 4 years. And this happened on my first (and last!) junket. How trustworthy I am! But I digress…

DSGs are pretty cool and fun, which holds much value to many folks. If you buy a new DSG-equipped vehicle, make sure fluid services are performed as per manufacturer demands. IIRC, it’s a fluid/filter change every 40,000 miles for several hundred dollars. The YouTube video above can help your wallet, if that’s what you really want.

If you want a used DSG, insist on an example with a full service history (preferably from a reputable independent shop or the dealer), or get one with a warranty…or just buy whatever you like and bet it all on red. It’s only money, you know. 

If all this scares you, get a VAG product with a stick. Then again, we have the Best and Brightest — they are pretty good at this.

[Lead image: Shutterstock user Grzegorz Czapski]

Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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67 Comments on “Piston Slap: Trusting Auto Journos on DSG Reliability?...”


  • avatar
    shaker

    Answer:

    LEASE a new VW with a DSG, enjoy, rinse, repeat.

    • 0 avatar
      Astigmatism

      Doing. Loving it. Will do again.

    • 0 avatar
      nrd515

      This is the only way to go with a VW product, a friend of mine learned this the hard way. The Passat they bought was a money pit, and should have been lemoned, but it never was. When his wife fell in love with the Audi A4, they leased it, and it was a good move, as it made the Passat look good. A 50 mile trip in that car was almost guaranteed to have a tow truck involved somehow. A couple of times, it was towed minutes after leaving the dealer after being “fixed” with an entirely new issue. I pity the poor bastard who bought it after my friend gave it back at the end of the lease.

  • avatar
    FractureCritical

    here’s where I spread my arms to receive the flames of life:

    the DSG (the VW/Audi ones, anyway) are not good transmissions. Here’s why I think that:

    1) They’re expensive to buy and expensive to maintain. the cost delta over even 50k miles is more than $2k vs. a stick

    2) They’re failure prone. Yes, they’re derived from racing transmissions, but the mechatronic units are known weak points, and when they fail, it’s thousands of dollars, not hundreds to repair.

    3) They’re not as strong as you’d think. There’s a reason that the S7 uses the 7 speed DSG, but the RS7 uses the tiptroninc. the DSG just isn’t strong enough for the bigger motor. Sorry DSG fans, but it’s true. The old conventional automatic is just stronger

    4) They’re not that fast. Yeah, you might be able to hit 8ms on the upshift, but you still have 200ms on the downshift, and automatics made huge strides in shift speed. I believe the latest 8 speed is faster on the downshift, particularly in the BMW’s.

    5) They’re not as fuel efficient as the sticker in the window says. DSG’s are programmed to ace EPA tests for fuel economy. not actually get good fuel economy ‘for reals’. Any good stick or traditional automatic will do just as well if not better in the real world.

    so that’s my standpoint: DSG’s aren’t all that great. If you don’t want a clutch, get a traditional automatic that is cheaper, stronger, more reliable, and in real terms, just as fast. If it in any way irks you that the upshift speed isn’t exactly as fast, then take solace in the fact that you can make up that difference with a more powerful engine or tune than the the DSG can handle.

    • 0 avatar
      cblais19

      The upshifts and downshifts on my new TDi are extremely fast and imperceptible. The DSG design means that as long as the next gear needed is the one pre-selected you will have no delays – only when you request something that the transmission has not already prepared for is there additional time. Haven’t noticed any delays going from stopped yet, but I’m also not flooring it from lights, especially since the diesel seems to prefer getting through 1st ASAP to start making actual power in 2nd.

    • 0 avatar
      RetroGrouch

      DSGs were not derived from racing transmissions. They were developed as an alternative to computer controlled manuals. For example, the E36 and E46 M3 “SMG” boxes were essentially regular M3 transmissions with computer controlled hydraulic clutch and shifter hydraulics.

    • 0 avatar
      tedward

      I’d say they aren’t particularly unreliable, vw’s stats point to direct injection issues not transmission failures on a big scale. They are more expensive to maintain, and if a mechatronic goes, then also to repair. They are internally very strong however, I can’t even tell you how many I’ve seen coping with over double factory power outputs. The failure points on absurdly powerful builds seem to be clutch pack (fair enough, and upgradable) and differential (also fair enough, not vw’s job to engineer for x2 power, also upgrade ready).

      The problem vw has with the six speed is the value proposition to the indifferent driver. The extra service costs are a decent trade off for an enthusiast who wants the family auto trans to be rewarding, but is just extra cost to someone who would be just as happy with any old torque converter our cvt. The seven speed we get (jetta hybrid) does fix this cost issue, BUT, is actually fragile internally, that is the only reason for that cars limit of 184 lb/ft. When I drove the hybrid I also thought that trans didn’t feel as smooth as the six speed in any car.

      The reason to get the six dsg is still performance though. The zf 8 speeds are fantastic but not available in transverse applications. The only transverse gearbox to challenge it looks to be Acura’s new dsg, and that is in the danger zone of early days and not available at Honda price points.

      • 0 avatar
        Senna1

        It really sticks in my craw that the (first) mandatory DSG service falls *just* outside VW’s warranty. Enough that I wouldn’t buy one, frankly.

        Really smacks of cars designed as ‘lease specials’.

        Our JSW has been fantastically useful, and so far reasonably reliable, but when it comes to VAG products I’m not tempting fate. It’s a plain auto 2.5 SE. No DSG, no diesel HPFP, ancient proven engine. I’ll suffer w/ merely ‘average’ fuel economy and not have a transmission that’s basically guaranteed to cost me nearly $1k before 100k miles, or a sword of Damocles fuel pump with an $8k repair bill…

        • 0 avatar
          Wheatridger

          Why would you expect routine maintenance to be covered under a new car warranty? Do you want them to replace your tires under warranty, too?

          Thats aid, I understand your desire for a basic car with fewer potential failure points. That’s valid. You do know, though, that simply owning any VW makes you a rebel, a rounder and a riverboat gambler among the nervous and fearful folks here…

          • 0 avatar
            Senna1

            I think what bothers me about it is that a $4-600 transmission servicing is ‘routine maintenance’ on a sub-$30k car every 40k miles at all.

            The last MT car I owned to 140k mi, during which time the transmission itself cost me roughly $100 in total service expenses (2 fluid changes IIRC). The last auto I donated after ~100k after spending exactly $0 on transmission servicing. Maybe that’s just the tradeoff for the technology being available at all at the price-point VW is putting them at, and maybe it’s not fair for me to apply the standards of traditional auto and manual transmission servicing intervals/costs to the DSG, but it’s there nonetheless.

    • 0 avatar
      LeMansteve

      Please explain your DSG cost delta of over $2,000 in just 50,000 miles compared to a manual transmission. There is the 40,000 mile fluid and filter change, which goes for a few hundred bucks at a dealer. What other costs are you including?

      • 0 avatar
        FractureCritical

        when I bought my S4, the DSG option as $1400 more than the stick, and it required the $600 service at 40k miles. simple math.

        even on the GTI, it’s an $1100 option and the 40k mile service can run from $400-$600, depending on where you go.

        • 0 avatar
          LeMansteve

          Look at that, I completely forgot about the upfront premium to order the DSG. Makes sense.

          • 0 avatar
            Wheatridger

            Shop around- My independent VW mechanic charged me just $220 for my 80K mile DSG fluid service, not $600. Don’t automatics need fluid changes too? Anyway, it’s not really a choice- other drivers in my household, including a teenaged novice, needed an automatic, and the DSG was the only one offered. The used resale market for automatic is much larger, so I expect that over my life with the car, I’ll come out close to even.

            Any part can break on any car. While I try to avoid known service issues, in the end I drive what I want (and can afford) and hope for the best.

    • 0 avatar
      daviel

      The auto “journalist”, blogger, whatever serves to help the manufacturer sell cars. That’s why there is no criticism of chronic unreliability, except for Fiat/Chrysler. The reviewers are more interested in “hard plastics.” I’d never buy on their recommendations.

  • avatar
    haroldingpatrick

    My wife’s new ride is a Beetle TDI with the DSG. The take off hesitation is something you have to workaround, which is enough to avoid the transmission for me.

    Reliability? She’s made it 5k miles without a DSG, HPFP, or DPF failure and not a single flashing glow plug light. I truly believe the Internet makes folks worry more than they should. She loves the car and that is what matters. We will get it serviced per the manual and if it breaks, VW will take care of it. Past 60K miles – what will be will be. She’ll have a new one by then anyway – the perfect type of customer for VW to target.

    As a MK IV Jetta survivor, I stick to Japanese reliability.

    • 0 avatar
      HerrKaLeun

      “5k miles without a DSG, HPFP, or DPF failure” you must be a true fanboy if you think 5K miles without failure is an achievement.

      • 0 avatar

        Diesel Particulate Filter. It keeps the soot out of the air. If it needs replacement, it is a 2k day.

        • 0 avatar
          indi500fan

          Yes the diesel of today is a far cry from the old simple reliable diesel of the old days.
          Lower compression, massive EGR flow, cow piss additive, particulate filters and regen, mega high pressure injection.

          Less efficiency and many more things to go wrong.

        • 0 avatar
          jpolicke

          2k will put the part in your hands. Add that much more to install.

      • 0 avatar
        dantes_inferno

        > “5k miles without a DSG, HPFP, or DPF failure” you must be a true fanboy if you think 5K miles without failure is an achievement.

        The fact that you were quick to use the “fanboy” label on someone making a statement from their own experience is something that I’d expect from a middle schooler (“nyah, nyah! My brand is better than your brand!”), not an adult (if you do indeed fall under the category of adult).

        • 0 avatar
          TMA1

          To be fair, VW people can be pretty ridiculous with what they perceive to be reliable. As soon as I read that comment, I thought of a blowhard VW fan I know on another site who brags about the reliability of his VWs, even though he replaces them every two years.

          • 0 avatar
            golden2husky

            ….To be fair, VW people can be pretty ridiculous with what they perceive to be reliable. As soon as I read that comment, I thought of a blowhard VW fan I know on another site who brags about the reliability of his VWs, even though he replaces them every two years….

            I have a lot of friends/coworkers that profess to be experts on reliability and long term durability. Yet the oldest vehicle they own is six years max with maybe 140K. Some experts.

    • 0 avatar
      FractureCritical

      my Jetta TDI made it 11k miles before it was exiled from my driveway. And the average fuel economy on that car sucked. it was barely 32 mpg for most of the time I owned it. Oh, wait, that’s wrong. The loaner Corolla the dealer gave me only got 32 mpg, but since I was diving that for most of the time I owned the Jetta, the confusion is understandable.

    • 0 avatar
      haroldingpatrick

      Um, I was unsuccessfully being a smart ass. The point is some people think all of these failures are pretty much guaranteed – they are not.

      Again, I am a MK IV Jetta survivor and will place my bets and money on Japanese reliability. My wife buys what she wants and I have to take it to be fixed, so what does she care.

  • avatar
    charz3636

    What’s a DSG, RTFM, etc? We’re not all gear heads.

  • avatar
    Maymar

    Well, RTFM isn’t gearhead terminology – I’d say JFGI, but it’s Read The (one of George Carlin’s words you can’t say on TV, or on VerticalScope) Manual. DSG is VW-ese for dual clutch transmission (likely, the German term for such), and comes up in pretty much every review of a GTI or TDI from the past…decade or so.

  • avatar
    HerrKaLeun

    “I’m thinking that your average “review” of a new car is substantially lacking when it comes to mentioning the failures and weak points ”

    How would a reviewer judge reliability considering they typically get new cars for a few hundred miles? I think this is an unrealistic expectation of a reviewer. what you are asking for is a long term test and statistical analysis of reliability data – a car review is test driving and trying it out.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      This. Your average auto reviewer doesn’t have the background to comment on the intricacies of the reliability of the car’s equipment unless the issue is truly widespread. I wouldn’t expect a flunky with a press car to praddle on about the faults of DSGs beyond his interactions with it on that particular day.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        AND, in the context of “review this car,” the reviewer shouldn’t be telling us stories about broken DSGs from six years ago, or the flaky Jetta they had in 1994. It’s irrelevant.

        Here’s a new car, how is this new car? That’s their only job.

        • 0 avatar
          Wheatridger

          It’s not the reviewer’s job to repeat stale tales of fear, uncertainty and doubt. I have this site for that.

          If you want to know about reliability, don’t talk to a reviewer, talk to mechanic or three. Consult some data-driven source like truedelta.com or Consumer Reports. That said, I have read numerous accounts of mechanical trouble encountered during long-term (and some short-term) reviews. It’s not that people are covering up. They only get a peek at a low-mileage, well-maintained car.

          If you can’t handle the risk of repairs, lease a new Honda or Toyota– and hope it don’t have the failure-prone transmissions and exploding air bags that those models have been known for.

    • 0 avatar
      ElAntonius

      Even if a reviewer encounters problems in the few hundred miles they have the car, 99% of the time the review will say “we chalk it up to the abuse racked on by previous reviewers”.

      There’s no effective way for typical magazine reviews to give decent reliability data.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        True but when a vehicle or manufacturer has known issues and/or problems why do they not mention that?

        And why do they always insist that the new model is much improved over the old model and now provides them with a vehicle that is ‘competitive’ in the market?

        And why do they always recommend purchasing the fully equipped version, when that is the one that provides the manufacturers with the highest profit?

        ‘Automotive journalism’ is an oxymoron, most of the articles published by the mainstream media are nothing more than marketing devices for the manufacturers.

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      Disagree. Expensive, uncommon maintenance needs – timing belts, DSG juice, 30k plug changes on the Hemi, AWD systems that you can’t replace one tire on, etc – are right there in the owners manual. Direct injection carbon buildup problems have been widely known for years. Ditto diesel emission headaches. Air suspension leaks in every air suspension ever built. How bad Subaru head gaskets were and Subaru front CV boots still are. Nissan’s V6 CVT problems. Ford’s Navistar motors. Ad nauseam.

      Figuring out when a new car is going to eat the standard parts that every car has is basically guesswork but a lot of this stuff shouldn’t sneak up on anybody. Reviews that spend 3 paragraphs on the shape of the steering wheel and the soft touchness of the cupholders without giving one word to known weak points are essentially ad copy.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        Unless the reviewer is technically well-versed in those problems, I wouldn’t consider them an authority on them and thus consider their opinion relatively weightless. It would more that likely be more of the same parroting if internet banter about things they don’t have any experience with.

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        What’s expensive or uncommon about a timing belt or a 30k plug change?

        (Hell, don’t people assume that AWD means “all four at once”, these days? It’s not exactly novel anymore.

        It’s damned difficult to convince the tire shop that “no, the Haldex system on my 2015 Volvo DOES NOT NEED FOUR NEW TIRES just to replace one or two”*.

        So I suppose that’s one small win over the Outback. One that might actually pay for itself if your environment or habits chew up odd tires…

        * Before anyone ‘nu-UH’s, note that before 2005 [or so], they did; but the newer ones have a different version of the Haldex system, and do NOT.)

  • avatar
    wmba

    Seven minutes from Google to answer:

    The main problem has been the DQ200 7 speed, the small one with dry clutches used on the small engines, mostly in China and Europe. Not sold in US. The one here is the 6 speed DQ250, used on GTI, A3 etc.with wet clutch and 40,000 mile $400 oil changes. Reliability is hit and miss.

    There are more DSG models above these, like the 7 speeder for sporty Audis. For more info:

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Direct-shift_gearb

  • avatar
    another_VW_fanboy

    DSG, duel clutch units are pretty impressive, but they’re still fairly new to mainstream mass produced cars. If, when they fail it means you need a new car basically. Still too new for me so like Sajeev says just buy a manual, or a tried and true standard auto just for the cost savings over time. Have a buddy that has a 2013 Ford Focus with i think a Powershift duel clucth trans that i kid you not shutters so bad sometimes it literally SHAKES THE DASHBOARD! I’ll stay with a stick.

    • 0 avatar
      WhiskeyRiver

      The dueling clutches may well be the problem with these. Either that or the dueling clucthes.

    • 0 avatar
      sproc

      IIRC, the Powershift is a dry clutch model. The wet clutch DSG in US VAG products is much smoother. While getting a smooth initial engagement takes a little practice, our A3 snaps off incredibly fast and smooth shifts, even under full throttle. No issues at all after 60k mi and counting.

      • 0 avatar

        I found the Ford Fiesta that I rented last year to act more like a conventional torque converter automatic than the Audi A3 I had for a press car. With the DSG in the Audi, sometimes when you’d select drive or reverse, it’d just sit there for a measurable fraction of second before the trans would engage the gear. I didn’t notice any juddering with either car.

  • avatar
    TMA1

    About that manual…

    “my GTI is already having issues. The shift from 5th to 6th gear is sometimes not as smooth as it should be and I am also suspicious of the 2/3 synchro.”

    https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/long-term-tester-update-2015-volkswagen-gti/

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      VW is VW. They may fail more dramatically when they attempt something new or complex, but they can mess up absolutely anything. If you care about quality or excellence, they have nothing to offer.

      • 0 avatar
        TMA1

        And VW has no idea how to handle it. Two years ago during the Superbowl, they had that laughable commercial about VW engineers getting wings every time a car hit 100K miles. It became a huge joke, it was so unbelievable. The only thing that is going to convince the mainstream public their cars are reliable are is a Hyundai-like warranty. But that would bankrupt the country.

      • 0 avatar
        Wheatridger

        That’s right! Better buy a Checker!

    • 0 avatar
      shaker

      They drive like sex, but can give you the clap.

  • avatar
    Steve_S

    Unless you own an M-DCT in which they “claim” it is a lifetime fill and doesn’t need changing.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    There’s nothing inherently unreliable about dual clutch units, but transmissions of any sort need lots of development to make them reliable. Sometimes that development is done during the customer ownership period. :-)

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    I have a GTI with DSG, and it’s made me almost forget how much I preferred a manual transmission. Without any intimate knowledge of the greasy bits inside, I just do my scheduled fluid changes and hope for the best. But what I do think I know is that it’s unlikely I’ll ever have to pay for a clutch replacement. After hours on the VW forums and conversations with my trusted VW mechanic, I’ve NEVER heard of the dual clutches needing replacement. They ought to have a long life, since the transmission is smart enough to match revs and never ride the clutch. Each clutch plate only works half as much as a conventional one- just as a one-legged man would wear out his single shoe faster (if he could walk). So that’s a $1000+ repair I won’t face somewhere on the far side of 100,000 miles.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Never trust an auto-journo but I would recommend getting some reliability data from TrueDelta. Michael collects some very detailed data from end-users that is a very useful guide real-world reliability.

  • avatar

    There is one DSG that doesn’t need the 40K fluid changes, and it’s the transverse 7-speed DSG. Here in the states, it’s only used in the Jetta Hybrid, mated to a 1.4-liter turbocharged I-4. That transmission is a dry-clutch setup, but it can’t handle larger displacement I-4 engines or the torque of a diesel. The other variants (including the volume 6-speed variant used in the TDI and performance Volkswagens) use wet-clutches and do need the fluid change every 40K miles.

  • avatar
    dr_outback

    “Well sir, the technician is telling me you need a new clutch pack. It’s going to be about $2k parts, labor and tax.”

    “Will that fix the issue for sure?”

    “The technician found a TSB related to the issue of the transmission intermittently not being able to select reverse. Have you had your DSG serviced at 40k, and 80k? You’re at 100k now, so those two services should of been done already.”

    “No I haven’t.”

    “Are you absolutely sure you haven’t had them done? Can you locate any paperwork at all regarding those maintences?”

    “No, my (independent) VW mechanic didn’t want to touch this issue and I didn’t have the DSG services done.”

    “Ok, let me go back to the technician and let him know this additional information and I will call you back.”

    “They didn’t do their DSG services?! Well they need a new transmission because replacing the clutch pack is only going to open a can of worms.”

    “Sir, the technician is telling me that since there are no records of the DSG service being completed, he now recommends that you replace the transmission. If we were to only do the clutch packs, it may not solve the issue entirely and you’ll waste money on the clutch pack repair. It’s going to be about $5200 to replace the transmission, parts, labor and tax.”

    “What?! The transmission shifts just fine. It just sometimes doesn’t go into reverse.”

    “Yes, I drove the car myself and had a difficult time parking it because I couldn’t engage reverse.”

    “I have never had a Honda or Toyota transmission need servicing at 40k miles. And your telling me that because I didn’t do that I need a new transmission?!”

    “Yes. The DSG is an automated manual transmission that has a fluid change interval of 40k miles. Imagine not changing your engine oil as per the manufacturers recommendations. The transmission is reliable when well serviced. I see many customers with over 160k miles with no issues with their DSG’s.”

    “Well I’m not going to pay that much to have it replaced.”

    “I understand. We’re only charging you the diagnostic fee of $79.95 and I parked the car out front in such a way that you can pull it out without having to reverse.”

    “Thanks, we’ll be over to get it tonight.”

    (I’ll let you decide who’s doing the talking. Lol)

    • 0 avatar
      Wheatridger

      Are you writing your first novel, or did this really happen? If so, did you read the manual for the service recommendations? Did you beat up your mechanic for his bad advice? I have some sympathy for anyone who gets a nasty surprise, but if you avoided dealer maintenance and didn’t do your homework, how do you blame the manufacturer for that? Should they have never offered this transmission for sale, because of the maintenance? If so, cars should never have more than three cylinders. Spark plugs cost money, you know!

  • avatar
    dr_outback

    I’m a VW service advisor.

  • avatar

    Dr.O…
    I have a 2012 TDI, which at 83k, just broke a DPF (physically busted, blowing soot, not full of ash/worn out) VW goodwilled 1/2 of the part.

    How often do you see this one ? Car maintained by the book, at dealer, using special Castrol at dealer. I was willing to buy something unusual (read:assumed the risk) but I now need to decide to keep or bail. Family loves the car, but….this is a big one to eat

    • 0 avatar
      dr_outback

      That’s not something I heard of happening. It sounds like the exhaust may have been impacted by something if it’s physically broken as you’re being told.

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