May 6, 2016

I am done with Volkswagen (, )

by fluffy at 7:12 PM

In college I drove my family's old 1985 VW Jetta, which was a lot of fun. It didn't have power steering, the air conditioner only had two settings ("warm" and "off"), and it would vibrate alarmingly when approaching New Mexico's freeway speed limit (which it took quite some time to get to), but I had many, many fond memories of that car nonetheless.

Last August I had a reason to have a car again, and I'd always been fond of the classic Beetle, so I figured I'd buy myself a New Beetle. I'd heard good things about them, and they definitely had a lot of devoted fans. The newest model seemed kind of fugly to me and I wasn't about to spend $24K for a car, though, so I decided to buy used. I looked around and found a used 2009 at a small dealership with all the options I wanted, and the Carfax checked out, so I took it for a test drive and fell in love, and bought it then and there.

That was my first mistake.

Soon after buying it, the battery completely died on me. It was clearly an aftermarket part, but the previous owner didn't bother to mark off the month and year of purchase. That was a little suspicious for a car that was only around 6 years old, but oh well. I bought a new battery and replaced it myself, which was surprisingly difficult due to the way the engine compartment is laid out.

The AUX input on the console was also failing, and rather than just replace it, in November I decided, heck, I'd might as well upgrade the head unit so I'd just have built-in Bluetooth and so on, so I bought a decent head unit that gave me all the features I wanted. Installing it was surprisingly difficult due to the way the center console is laid out.

I also discovered that a couple of non-critical systems weren't working right, and determined that many of the fuses had been pulled and swapped around, which was a little worrisome, but I bought a bunch of fuses and after doing a lot of research ensured that all of the fuses were the right amperages and made a chart to keep in my glove box (for some reason the owner's manual only listed the amperage of around half of the fuses and for the rest said "see dealer").

But then I had a car I was happy with for the next four months. I didn't drive it often (my reason for buying a car in the first place having disappeared on me), but when I did drive once every other week or so I enjoyed it.

Until the middle of March, when I turned the key, the starter cranked like crazy, and the engine never caught. And after waiting 15 seconds, the fan revved up to an alarming speed.

The next week I was at GDC so I didn't have a chance to take care of it, but when I got back I plugged in my OBD2 scanner, which couldn't connect to the computer. So I called a mobile mechanic, who plugged in his OBD2 scanner, which couldn't connect to the computer (and then he insulted my car on the basis of it being a "girl car" and doubled down on it when I said I liked girl things, which of course I told his company about and they said he'd get a stern talking-to). His theory was that the ECU (car computer) had died, and all of the symptoms fit that.

So, I talked to my neighborhood mechanic, and told him the symptoms and what the mobile mechanic had done to diagnose it, and he got snotty and condescending but said it should be easy to fix. I towed my car over there, and he went through the same steps as the mobile mechanic, and came to the same conclusion, and also said that this was the worst model year of VW Beetle and had plenty of recommendations for cars that I should have bought instead. He worked on it for a couple days and then said the ECU was dead and suggested a local independent mechanic who would be able to fix everything. So I got the car towed there. (There was some drama with the towing but that eventually got sorted out, so whatever.)

They had my car for a couple of weeks, found a bunch of problems with it (including a leaking oil pan, which I said to fix) and they ordered a new ECU. A week later the new ECU didn't work, so they ordered another one. A week later, that one didn't work either, so they (allegedly) swapped back in the original one, and then checked all the fuses - and said that one was burned out. (Why did neither of the two previous mechanics do this? Who knows!) Anyway, they said that the car was fine now, but it needed to be towed to the dealer to reprogram the immobilizer since for some reason its programming had been reset. Since the dealer would have to reprogram the immobilizer anyway, this would be a good opportunity for me to get a new key made (since when I bought it there was only one key). They said that the car had to be towed to the dealership to do this.

So I got the car towed, and ordered a new key. The new key cost $200, and they said it'd cost $50 to reprogram the immobilizer, no problem.

This morning they said that it wasn't just the immobilizer, the ECU had to be entirely reprogrammed. Which sounded suspicious, and would cost another $150. But, fine, if it means I'll finally have a working car again, might as well, right? (At this point I was regretting ordering the second key because I'd decided I'd just be selling the car to some other sucker anyway.)

This afternoon the technician at the dealership called me and said, "Your car is ready to be picked up. There were a few other problems - it needs new windshield wiper blades, and one of the license plate holder lamps is burned out, and the rear tires could do with replacement, but otherwise it's fine," and I said, "Sure, I can just take care of those things later on my own, right?" because I wasn't going to spend $40 for new windshield wiper blades. She said, yep, it's all fine.

So I took a bus to the dealership, paid, waited about 15 minutes for them to get my car out, thanked them, popped in the new key, turned the engine, and started to drive home.

But the check engine light was on.

So I turned right back around, and went back inside the service center.

"Uh, the check engine light is on."

"Oh, huh, let me get the technician who was working on your car."

So she came back out, and said, oh, yeah, there was an engine code that we couldn't clear, the secondary cooling fan isn't coming on. A second tech joined her.

"So, wait, what does this mean for driving the car?"

"Oh, you can drive it, but keep an eye on it because the engine could overheat."

"So... the car isn't fine, then."

"Well, it's fine, but just be careful, because it might overheat. Oh, also, when we had to reprogram it, that wasn't the original ECU."

"Wait, what? The previous mechanic said they put the original ECU back in."

"Well they didn't. See? The VINs didn't match. That's why the immobilizer had to be reprogrammed. Actually the immobilizer wouldn't have had a problem if they'd put the original ECU back in."

"This... doesn't give me a lot of confidence in this car. And why didn't you try to fix the cooling fan issue?"

"Well, you said you didn't want more work done on it."

"...because you didn't tell me about that problem!"

"Oh, yes, I forgot, and that's on me, sorry about that. But you can take your car home."

"But you say the fan isn't coming on, and it might overheat. I'm not going to drive this car."

"Well... then you can leave it with us and we can try to fix it."

"Yes," I said, as calmly and patiently as I could muster, "let's go with that."

So I left my still-not-drivable car with them and walked out, and then took a nice angry hike over to my favorite sock store so I could engage in some retail therapy, and then walked a few more miles, without a car, because holy hell was I pissed off.

Anyway now I've calmed down, but I still don't have a car, and I am also never buying a VW ever again.

  • Cost of the car: $11,000
  • Expected sale cost: $9000 or so (according to a quote from Tred)
  • Repair costs (so far):
    • New battery: $100
    • New head unit: $100
    • Mobile mechanic: $70
    • First garage (condescending asshole who told me what I already knew and referred me to the second garage who "could fix it, don't go to the dealership they'll just rip you off"): $250
    • Second garage (fixed oil pan, played ECU musical chairs, and to their credit did a nice job of reinstalling the new stereo, which had to be pulled out as part of a diagnostic rigamarole due to shitty VW engineering): $500
    • New key: $200
    • Reprogram immobilizer and ECU: $200
    • All the towing: thankfully, $0 because I opted to get Esurance's towing coverage (which has now been exhausted for the current insurance term)
  • Total repair costs so far: $1420 (okay, $1220 if we only count Very Recent Events)

So assuming that I don't have to spend any more money to get the car in a sellable state and get Tred's full estimated sale price, I'm still out $3420. I could have rented a whole lot of Zipcar for that much.

This is so frustrating.

Also note that I've left out a lot of details from this because I'm just tired, both physically and mentally, and I just want to make the following key points:

  • VW designs their modern-day cars in such a way that they require proprietary tools to fix them
  • Independent mechanics can't fix them (but they still think they can, until they're clearly in over their heads)
  • Even when a VW service center works on a VW, they can't actually fix it
  • And when they fix it but not totally they subtly blame the customer for their own ommissions, and do nothing to try to make up for it (and seriously how could they think I would want to drive a car where the cooling fan isn't working)
  • Never buy a VW

5/7/16, 10:50 AM The most recent issue turned out to be that one of the previous mechanics unplugged the cooling fans and forgot to plug them back in. The dealer mechanic was kind enough to fix that and not charge me for the time spent tracking that down. I'm still pretty livid that they thought it'd be reasonable to send me home in a car without a working radiator though. (And she tried to upsell me on factory spark plugs as one last thing, arhglahgal.) Anyway, since it was something so trivial in the end maybe I won't be selling the car right away, but I'm still not terribly pleased with VW right now.