My Experience with Volkswagen:
Insidious Problem Surfaces
About this web page: The objective of this web page is to let as many people as possible know about my experience in owning a Volkswagen. It is not, or at least not meant to be, hysterical, libelous, defamatory, abusive, disrespectful, or anything like that. It is intended to just present the facts of a unfortunate situation that I have found myself in and change it from a “I lose/they win” situation to a “I still lose/ but they lose too” situation.
As you will see, it is blatantly obvious that a defective $31 part triggered a $4,500 repair bill. To add further insult, VW could have prevented over $2,000 worth of unneeded parts being installed (the dealer would not guaranteed the repair unless everything was replaced). And then VW ignored me, figuring (hoping) I would go away.
I resent VW for not taking responsibility for their mistake, but am even more disappointed that they chose to make a significant profit from their error. I’m not sure what drives Volkswagen of America in this instance. Is it ignorance - or greed - or something in-between. Only they know.
Check carefully before purchasing a Volkswagen with a chain driven overhead camshaft engine - and this includes almost all VW engines, and some Audi engines. I am relating my experience here to alert others to the problem.
My Volkswagen was meticulously maintained and carefully driven for 52,000 miles. In that time it had 15 oil and filter changes - an average of once every 3300 miles - more than twice the VW recommendation. But still a engine mechanical failure at 52,000 miles (2,000 after the warranty ran out) resulted in major repairs. The “check engine” light came on indicating a fault detected by the “camshaft position sensor”. The VW authorized dealer diagnosed it as needing replacement of the timing chain and associated components - at a cost of over four thousand dollars (view itemized invoice below).
After the engine was torn down the intermediate sprocket was found to be badly worn - almost to the point of being completely rounded (see photo below). The sprocket apparently was not properly hardened or heat treated so the failure began the day the engine was first started. It's no wonder the timing chain had jumped.
When I took the photos of the engine on the workbench it was just incidental that I also captured a photo of the badly worn sprocket. (Had I intended to photograph the sprocket it would have been a much better photo.) When the repair was completed the dealer returned all of the replaced parts EXCEPT the sprocket - the smoking gun. Follow-up requests still did not produce the sprocket. A coincidence? Without the photos, might Volkswagen deny that the sprocket teeth had in fact worn almost completely away?
A call to Volkswagen Customer Relations for warranty help was denied. I then asked them if they could verify the extent of the failure; was it really that bad - did it really need $2,500 worth of parts? They said no to this request too. They made it clear that the problem was mine and mine alone.
Properly lubricated, a timing chain and sprockets will easily last for well over 200,000 miles. There are five sprockets in the VW timing chain assembly. FOUR WERE LIKE NEW - ONE WAS WORN TO ALMOST NOTHING. Only the weakest mind could believe that wear to this degree was normal. Sadly, the sprocket was defective from the day it was installed.
On the surface the Volkswagen/Audi engineering seems to be equal to the best. But experience shows it to be a series of ill-conceived errors that are VERY EXPENSIVE for the consumer. Placing the poorly engineered timing chain at the rear of the engine required removal of both the engine and the transmission from the vehicle to service it. This greatly upped the labor bill. In addition, the charge for just the short-lived VW engine parts was devastating. $2,532.62! And Volkswagen would accept no responsibility citing the fact that the vehicle was now out of warranty.
As if the mechanical problems were not enough, the vehicle was in the dealership service department for over SEVEN WEEKS before the repairs were completed, most of the time waiting for parts.
This failure probably contributes to the Consumer Reports tables that generally rate Volkswagen vehicles much lower than similar competitive Asian vehicles. Former CEO Stefan Jacoby was quoted in a May 15, 2008 USA Today article sying, "(VW) did a lot of things wrong" to earn a U.S. reputation as unreliable and costly to maintain. He also said, "our warranty costs are down considerably." I'm sure he's right - on both counts.
My experience prove the Volkswagen purchase to be a costly error. I have owned many different motor vehicles over the last 51 years. Some I liked more than others, but this Volkswagen is the first and only one that I have ever disliked.
After my experience I will avoid any Volkswagen or Audi product, especially since there are many vehicles out there with predictably much higher reliability and certainly no worse customer care. My VW has turned out to be a poor value - and Volkswagen has denied any responsibility.
VW, like anyone else, is not above making a mistake. But it is unconscionable to abandon their customer when the blunder becomes known.
Note: Although my problem occurred with a Volkswagen, some Audi models also use the VR6 engine and presumably are subject to the same timing chain sprocket problems.
Update: I sent a email of explanation as well as a link to this page to Volkswagen of America CEO Stefan Jacoby (frequently spelled Stephen Jacoby or Stephan Jacoby in the media) and other executives. It was blocked by the lower level "Customer Care" people. I then sent it to Volkswagen of Germany. They forwarded it to the Volkswagen of America executive office. But, unfortunately, it was received by some lower level person who admitted that she "had heard" of the timing chain problem. However, she said that it was she alone who decided what Volkswagen of America CEO Stefan (Stephan) Jacoby and other executives would view. And she decided that they would NOT receive my email or view the web page.
Additional update: Ms Kathrene "Katie" Fox, the person who "had heard" of the timing chain problem, and who purports to be in the Volkswagen of America executive office, again called me to report that there would be no coverage of my defective sprocket, "until there is a recall...and that has not yet happened." She also reiterated that she DID STOP my communication to Volkswagen of America CEO Stefan (Stephan) Jacoby and other VW executives, but that she did send a summary of my summary - whatever that is.
We have been speculating about just what a summary of our summary reported to the VW CEO looked like. Our best guess is:
"Mr. Jacoby, our customer, Mr. Rees, has a web page about his VR6 engine problem. But actually it is a bad news and good news situation. The bad news is that another one of those timing chain sprockets that wasn't heat treated failed. That is bad. But the good news is that it was 2000 miles out of warranty, so we are off the hook. The even better news is that we sold him over $2,500 worth of parts to repair it - all at a handsome profit."
Now maybe that is not exactly what Ms. Fox reported, but then if she didn't send the web page, what might she have said.
Another update: Volkswagen of America has again changed their CEO. The new CEO is Jonathan Browning. So on the outside chance that Mr. Browning might be interested in hearing from one of his customers, I sent a email to Ms Kathrene "Katie" Fox requesting his email address (I already knew what would happen if I sent a email to him via her). Surprisingly she did answer. But predictably, she would not divulge his email address but rather gave me the general Herndon, Virginia postal address. Apparently the new CEO will not be making any changes in the customer relations area. But if he Googles "Volkswagen problems" or something similar this is the first entry that will come up and maybe he will get control of the PR department.
So I’m out the $4,500. But, the disgust is at least offset somewhat from the many responses I receive from people as they view this web page. I find that many VW customers have been abandoned by Volkswagen after problems have developed. It apparently is company policy.
One of the informative emails was from a VW mechanic who wrote: "Hello there, I am an VW technician and have seen at least 2 engines with this exact problem. In each case, the sprocket was NOT properly hardened at the factory but luckily for the customers, those engines failed while still under warranty. I can't believe they have still denied you ..."
A condensed representative response is, "I have been looking at VW's for years now and always hesitate to buy because of terrible reliability issues....however, time has passed and the Rabbit now has ESP, plus it gets a great review by most reviewers. I finally decided to go to the dealer to buy one...until I read your article...thanks for sharing your experience..."
Another email: "Dear Mr. Rees, I emailed you back in June about the defective parts on my car, and that Volkswagen denied that this was the same problem I had while the car was still under warranty. I thought you would be interested to know that I took your advice and filed a case in small claims court against them. They settled with me last week. Although I cannot discuss any of the details, I will say I was satisfied with the outcome."
And another: "... I am a foreign car shop foreman, and have been servicing vehicles at the dealership level for almost 40 years. We work on EVERYTHING, but cringe when a VW or Audi comes in with a problem because the fix is usually much more complicated and expensive than a similiar problem with say a Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mazda, Subaru, etc. MANY of our customers are former Euro car owners. So again I ask--with respect--why did you buy a VW?"
And another: "... I have now crossed VW off my list. Not because of the failure, not because of the complexity and cost to repair, but because VW failed to do the right thing and instead chose not to pay to cover the repairs of an obviously defective part."
A very informative email came from an engineer in California that gets to the heart of the problem. You can view his evaluation of the engine failure here. I did forward it to VW but, predictably, they did not respond.
One more engineer's comment: "...Having a non heat treated gear installed shouldn't be your issue but a quality control investigation at their supplier."
Ooo...here's a response that mirrors my thoughts: "After reading your web page and learning about your experience with Volkswagen, I'm no longer looking to VW or Audi. I'm in the market to purchase two vehicles this year, but I need good customer care after the purchase. The fact that VW cannot be attentive to their customers needs and apparently their company policy is to abandon their customers when in need ..."
Another view "...the dealership in my hometown is a family owned multi-brand dealer that realizes they are getting hammered by their VW problems (poor quality and overpriced parts) and is working to try and find a solution. Their service folks even said they try to steer people away from VWs. They don't want to hear the problems, or work on them for that matter."
Another: "As a VW fan, I was in the market for either a new Tiguan or used Touareg this year, but after reading your post (which, by the way, I really appreciated for its honest and factual approach), I have reluctantly decided to look for an Acura or Honda instead..."
And, another thought provoking email that get right to the heart of how poorly VW does business and it's ramifications.
Another in December 2011: "When I searched 'volkswagon timing chain' I saw your link. I am now also going to take VW off of my list when considering a new car ... after reading about your experience there is now no way I would consider a new or used VW. It is totally wrong for VW to charge you for what happened to you. I'm sure they don't want to eat $4500 x who knows how many would have the same problem but it looks like many but once again they blew it on customer service ..."