Are Volkswagens Reliable?


vw engine

I worked as a VW technician during the VW emissions crisis, that was a crazy time, seemed like every customer was complaining about their VW.

So, are Volkswagen’s reliable? Yes, VW is a reliable car, their cars score highly in reliability tests, but all cars have a weak link.

In this post I’ll cover the 2.0 Tsi engine issues, common VW problems and the emission scandal.

When I was a kid growing up, the VW bug was the trusty family wheels to have. My friends dad had one and there was eleven in the family. Sounds like an impractical car for a large family, you’d think so, but no. Everybody loved it and it’s the only car they owned that I can actually remember.

VW got it right with the Bug and they’ve had a few number one hits since then, the Golf being the stand out superstar.

Unfortunately the VW satisfaction scores have taken a beating since the Dieselgate scandal broke.

vw engine

Many customers I met at the dealership after dieselgate, felt cheated by the brand. Part of my job at that time was to test drive with the customer, and verify their complaints.

Mostly there was no real complaint, the customer was either looking for comfort, or wanted to vent at staff. Hey, I don’t blame them, I owned a diesel VAG too.

Point is, the poor satisfaction score was not a direct result of a slew of new faults or breakdowns, but more a vote of how pi**ed they were at the company.

Volkswagen Badge

2.0 Tsi Gas Engine Faults

vw badge

There’s one major failure that potential buyers should be aware of. Some of the gas engine models are suffering from premature engine failure. The failure is caused by a faulty timing chain tensioner. Many have been recalled and repaired, but not all.

The 2.0 Tsi gas engine uses a timing chain to keep the top and bottom halves of the engine in time. Tsi stands for Turbo Stratified Injection, it’s a high pressure direct fuel injected with turbo charger. Not unlike the diesel Tdi set up.

The troublesome engines effected include engine codes CCTA, CBFA, CAEA, CDNC, CAEB, and CPMA manufactured mostly between 2008 and 2013. It’s fitted to lots of Vw models and some Audi’s.

The CBFA is a California compliant engine. You’ll find the engine code on a sticker on the engine cylinder, a sticker inside the door and inside the front cover of the owners handbook.

So what’s the problem?

These engines are known as interference type engines, meaning if the timing goes out, really expensive components will collide and cause a lot of damage, in some cases total destruction.

The timing chain tensioners job is to keep the timing chain taught, when it fails, the tension is released from the chain which allows the chain slip on the cam and crank gears. This means the engine is out of time, and the valves will hit the pistons.

Repairing this type of damage isn’t cheap, we’re talking thousands of dollars. Often a VW garage won’t attempt to make this repair, instead will only quote for a new engine.

The engine can be repaired, but will require, new timing chain, guides, tensioners, valves, valve guides, possibly cams, depending on the damage, head gasket set including bolts and a new front engine cover.

The procedure is a little technical, but it isn’t brain surgery. A special tool is required to hold the crankshaft timing in place, other than that it’s straight forward.

Symptoms

An early symptom is a loud rattling noise, not unlike a diesel engine, rough running with lots of vibration and possibly an engine light on.

Using a scan tool may show codes for cam, crankshaft alignment errors. The faulty family of tensioners can be viewed and identified by removing an inspection plug on the engine cover.

But too often, the car just stops dead on the road, a really quick crank speed is a bad sign, it suggests the top and bottom halves of the engine aren’t connected.

Other Issues

Also common, carbon build-up in the cylinders which can cause misfires and poor running.

This engine is also famous for intake manifold issues, water pump leaks and oil leaks. The manifold has been revised, replacing isn’t difficult or too expensive. The water pump is pretty easy to fix if caught in time.

A bad PCV (positive crankcase ventilator) also known as the oil separator, regulates air pressure inside the engine. Problems associated with PCV failure include, misfires, oil leaks and rough idling.

The oil leaks are a little more work, the rear main seal, variable spool valve seal and camshaft bridge leaks are common.

So maybe you’re thinking, yes but surely a low mile fresh VW won’t give these kinds of problems. I’m afraid they do, I’ve seen them give this kind of issues with as little as 20,000 miles on the clock.

Best advice here, if you are going to buy a 2.0Tsi engine VW or Audi, check that the faulty tensioner has been replaced and insist on written verification from the garage.

A three cylinder 1.2 Tsi engine, sold in Europe between 2005 and 2017 and 1.4 Tsi sold between 2008 and 2012 all gave very similar tensioner problems. The engine codes for the 1.2 Tsi – CBZA, CBZC and CBZB, and the code for the 1.4 Tsi – CAVD. They were all fitted to the smaller VW, Seat and Skoda model cars.

Effected Vw Cars

  • 2012–2014 Beetle
  • 2012–2014 Beetle Convertible
  • 2009–2012 CC
  • 2009–2012 Eos
  • 2008–2012 GTI
  • 2008–2010 & 2012–2014 Jetta
  • 2009 Jetta SportWagen
  • 2008–2010 Passat
  • 2008–2010 Passat Wagon
  • 2009–2013 Tiguan

Effected Audi Cars

  • 008–2012 A3
  • 2009–2012 A4 Avant
  • 2009–2013 A4
  • 2010–2013 A5 Cabriolet
  • 2010–2013 A5
  • 2012 A6
  • 2011–2012 Q5
  • 2009–2012 TT
  • 2009–2012 TT Roadster
  • Volkswagen steering wheel

Common VW Complaints

I use the word complaints here, but if the VW is a used model, it will naturally require some of these components during regular maintenance. In my own experience, I found that poor or no maintenance caused some of the problems listed below.

This is a list of the more common VW complaints, you’ll find some faults will be applicable to all models, as lots of components are shared across the range, including engines and transmissions.

This list isn’t here to stop you buying and enjoying your VW, I’m not in the business of bashing any brand. Every make and model ever made has bugs, which by the way, the manufacturers will rarely admit to.

  • Parking brake stuck on – Rear caliper failure or park brake switch failure
  • Brake lights won’t work – Brake pedal switch faulty
  • Trunk won’t open – Electronic trunk handle failure
  • Rear brakes dragging – Adjust handbrake bracket
  • Noisy brakes – Rear brake rotors corroding
  • Suspension noise – Console control arm bushing worn
  • Dashboard noise – Worn centre clips
  • Airbag light on – Broken clock spring/ wiring tension fault
  • Locked out – Door latch faults
  • Engine no start – Fuel pump camshaft wear
  • Engine light on – DPF filter blocked
  • Engine light on – Clogged EGR valve
  • Engine light on – Coil pack failure
  • Grease in wheel arch – CV boots torn
  • Air condition not working – Pump failure
  • Engine misfire – Carbon build-up
  • Engine cranks, but no start – In tank fuel pump failure
  • Engine cranks, but won’t start cold – Glow plug control module failure
  • Radio won’t work – Failures
  • Engine light on and in limp mode – Throttle pedal failure
  • Epc on – Throttle body/wiring fault P0221 + P0121
  • Tsi engine failure – Timing pulley, tensioner and chain faults
  • Tsi engine noisy – Cam and chain wear
  • Camshaft failures – Oil starvation
  • High pitched noise – Alternator pulley failure
  • Engine vibrating badly – Timing chain tensioner failure
  • Gas engine rough idle – Throttle body dirty
  • Diesel engine lacks power – Turbo fault
  • Major recall – Takata airbag recall
  • Poor running and hesitation – Faulty MAF sensor
  • Window drops down – Window regulator failure
  • Water leaks – Sunroof drains blocked
  • Engine vibration – Dual mass flywheel failure
  • Oil consumption and leaks
  • Noise from the engine bay – Engine mount worn
  • Intake manifold flap failure
  • Volkswagen Tdi engine
  • VW Emmissions Scandle

In 2015 the Dieselgate story broke. VW were caught cheating the diesel engine emission test, with approximately ten million cars affected, this was a sizeable problem.

Dieselgate

VW steering wheel

The scandal only affected diesel engines and only certain engine types, about a half million cars in North America and eight and a half million cars in Europe, that’s not counting commercial vans.

Modern diesel cars are designed to send un-burnt fuel into the exhaust system where it gets trapped in the NOx filter. This helps keep the NOx levels within legal levels.

Trouble is, sending un-burnt diesel into the exhaust pipe hurts fuel mileage, and bad fuel mileage hurts sales. And sales were pretty good, Volkswagen positioned itself as an alternative to electric cars in it’s “Clean Diesel “ marketing campaign.

VW Solution

Two software modes, a test (cheat) mode and a real world driving mode. The clever cheat software within the engine control unit, could actually recognise it was being tested for emissions.

This prompted the computer to jump into test (cheat) mode, sending extra fuel into the exhaust system. The NOx filter then kicked into action, dropping the NOx values below the EPA and Federal legal requirement.

In the real world driving mode, diesel was prevented from reaching the exhaust NOx filter, that allowed the car achieve great fuel efficiency. The engine was far from clean, it was actually pumping out between 8 and 40 times the permitted NOx levels.

Other manufacturers have achieved great diesel fuel efficiency, while still operating within legal NOx levels. However it requires the use of some extra hard and software.

A Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR)

engine

This is a process where a urea solution is injected into a catalyst in the exhaust system.

The fluid used, commonly AdBlue, is a mix of urea and distilled water, it requires its own tank, pump, injector, catalysts and software. When injected through the hot catalyst, it helps reduce NOx levels by turning the gases into nitrogen and oxygen.

VW have now embraced this system for their latest type model diesel cars, but retrofitting your old Tdi isn’t an option. So what does this mean for existing and future buyers of affected VW cars?

When owners realised the level of deception, they were left feeling helpless, disappointed and angry. Eventually VW put their hands up and started the repair process.

European VW

VW in Europe have been making software changes to the cars that have little to no effect on the NOx pollutant figures, and don’t seem to be coming up with any new solutions.

It appears, instead of finding a technical solution, they have lobbied the German government hard and convinced them to accept the current software as legal. They argued that the cheat software was in fact there to protect the car, a sort of protective limp mode.

The motor industry is extremely important to Germany and the VW scandal had the ability to pull the whole industry down.

North American VW

Volkswagen in North America began buying back affected diesel models. Vast previously abandoned parking lots in Detroit are now packed with once loved and otherwise perfect VW models. If your VW lives in North America, Volkswagen will offer to repair it, or buy it back and pay compensation.

Meanwhile, congress have proposed not re-registering any Volkswagen that hasn’t had its emission recalls, so if you’re considering buying a used TDI, check those recall updates.

List of VAG cars affected in North America

  • 2009–2015 Volkswagen Jetta 2.0L TDI
  • 2010–2015 Volkswagen Golf 2.0L TDI
  • 2010–2015 Audi A3 2.0L TDI
  • 2012–2015 Volkswagen Beetle 2.0L TDI
  • 2012–2015 Volkswagen Passat 2.0L TDI
  • 2009–2015 Audi Q7 3.0L V-6 TDI
  • 2009–2016 Volkswagen Touareg 3.0L V-6 TDI
  • 2013–2016 Porsche Cayenne Diesel 3.0L V-6
  • 2014–2016 Audi A6 3.0L V-6 TDI
  • 2014–2016 Audi A7 3.0L V-6 TDI
  • 2014–2016 Audi A8/A8L 3.0L V-6 TDI
  • 2014–2016 Audi Q5 3.0L V-6 TDI
  • Vw Golf engine cover


Related Questions

Are VW expensive to fix? No, most mechanics will have no trouble working on a VW car, parts are easy to get and not very expensive. However, VW parts are cheaper in Europe than North America.

How long will a VW last? Volkswagen’s generally, are good quality cars and should have no trouble covering 150,000 miles without any major faults.

John Cunningham

John Cunningham is an Automotive Technician and writer on Rustyautos.com. I've been a mechanic for over twenty years, I use my knowledge and experience to write articles that help fellow gear-heads with all aspects of classic car ownership, from tires to roof aerials and everything in between.

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