Nearly 12 years ago, I bought my second Volkswagen; a then brand new 2004 Jetta TDI Diesel Sport Edition (TL:DR — it’s (supposedly) not one of the models caught up in diesel-gate; those are cars from 2006/7 onwards). My first VW was a used Rabbit I briefly owned and drove in Ontario in the late 1980s.
I was very happy with the Jetta. I could drive from Vancouver, BC to Portland and almost all the way back on one tank of diesel. I was happy with the styling, the options, the brains in the car (the ESP — Electronic Stability Program — came close to saving my life once, helping me drive out of a situation where I was almost t-boned by an 18 wheeler because of a third car’s mistake in driving). Happy with the amenities, happy with the ride quality, just a happy VW owner.
In my 12 years of ownership, I have 57,000 kilometers (35,000 miles) on the car (less than 5,000kms per year (3,100 miles)). That’s not a lot. Most of that is highway driving too, as I don’t drive much in the city. I figured I’d own this car for about 15 years, and that looks to be the case.
So why, if I have such a satisfied experience with my Jetta, would I never buy another VW car again? Two things. First, the entire dieselgate situation has severely — and I mean severely — shaken my trust in the company as a whole. To within just a few iotas of never ever buying another VW vehicle again. Let’s face facts: Volkswagen lied to, and tricked its customers, and even had Powerpoints explaining to their inner circles about how they’d go about it.
But Volkswagen still had a few strands of my interest left, and all of that was based on my own experience with my Jetta. I’d say my trust and interest level was at about 0.5%.
What pushed me over the edge was this: My car had a recall for glowplugs and their harness, issued about 4+ years ago. I didn’t bother with getting the recall work done for a while because my car was running perfectly (you’d notice faulty glow plugs — your engine would run very rough). Fast forward 2.5 years and I ended up getting new tires and some routine maintenance on my car about 20 months ago, and decided to get all the recall work done at the same time (there were three recall items in total). All the work was done, got my car back, things seemed fine.
Now move forward about 15 months (so now about 5 months ago). While I normally put about 5,000kms on my car a year, in that 15 months, I put about 3,500kms on it (I wasn’t driving much at all! Mostly logging one or two 5km trips a week). One day, I got in the car and noticed the engine warning light was on, and stayed on. That’s new, never seen that before. And the engine was running a tad rough. This was after the whole dieselgate story broke, so I was super nervous about anything happening to my diesel Jetta TDI.
I get almost all my regular service on the Jetta done at my dealer (Cowell Motor Group, in Richmond, BC) including the recent recall work, so I called them up, explained the problem, and was told I’d have to bring the car in to have a diagnostics program run on it, and it would cost me over $100 to do so. I was nervous about driving the car that far a distance (about 25kms away), so instead I took it to a local VW repair specialist. They ran the same diagnostics program, for a $50 fee.
The problem? Glow Plugs malfunction, faulty reading.
So… my immediate thought was, 10 years of driving the car with some 53,000 kms on it, never a problem with the glow plugs or an engine warning light. Bring the car into my dealer for recall warranty work done on the glow plugs and harness, and about 3,500kms later, these parts are failing on my car. This is something VW should be fixing at their cost, not mine… or so I thought.
I contacted the VW dealer again. That was when I first learned the warranty on the recall work was for 10,000 kilometers… OR 1 year. Whichever came first. So I was SOL (shit out of luck) and I’d have to pay to have it fixed and replaced. Oh, and I’d still have to get them to do the diagnostics on it first (and pay for it), because they wouldn’t accept the third party report from my local VW repair specialists. Of course, they were very polite in saying all of this. I was just left frustrated.
Let’s step back here a minute. Volkswagen, in the fall and winter of 2015, was a company with a severely damaged customer relations problem (and they still are to this day). You’d think they would want to do everything possible to repair a problem that was most likely caused by themselves. That they would bend over backwards to make sure every customer they dealt with left their authorized dealers and repair centers happy. I do understand (now) that their recall warranty period is just 1 year; but I also understand that is an arbitrary number and what’s really important is actual use and mileage. In that case, I still had 6,500kms to go before I’d put 10,000 kms on the car after their work.
And here’s the real rub. Diesels are usually super reliable, low maintenance cars*. I had 10 years of trouble free driving with my engine as is. Within 3,500 kilometers of VW Canada changing my glowplugs under a recall situation (nothing was wrong with them in my car prior to this “repair”, I can tell you) these parts and its harness were failing. If it wasn’t obvious that this was the result of a faulty install, I don’t know what is.
So I contacted my dealer one last time. I really tried to play nice and calm, but was very insistent that, regardless of a 1 year warranty, this was a problem they caused and I should not be paying to repair it. Their only caveat to me was they wanted to run a diagnostic on the car and waived the cost. They too determined it was a glow plug and harness issue, but would not agree to fix it at their own expense. They did send it “upstairs” to something called “VW Cares” to see what corporate would do. Response? Nope.
Cowell was polite through the process, but ultimately, this was very unsatisfying and certainly didn’t feel like I was interacting with a company that was trying to keep its dwindling customer base (which is dwindling because of their own lying and cheating said customers). Now I felt cheated by the company too.
I should note, this isn’t a major repair; I believe, with the diagnosis included, this would have cost under $500 at dealer repair prices (I had the repair done at my local dealer instead and it was substantially less). This was never about the price or cost. It was about the principle — something a Volkswagen dealer did to my car during the recall “repair” work caused a long-life part to fail and it was my view is, it was their responsibility to repair the damage. They opted not to.
That was the final straw — as they say — the final breaking of the few remaining threads I had in my customer loyalty to Volkswagen. My next car? Won’t be a VW. Probably a Tesla Model 3. Tesla seems to love their customers with more than just advertising words. I am super loyal to companies that are super loyal to me as a customer.
*Diesels, by their nature and design, require very little maintenance; this is one of the reasons I bought a diesel in 2004. As long as you change the oil religiously and do other scheduled maintenance, most diesels (those without trickery built in, like VW did 2007–2015 with their diesels) run trouble free for 100s of thousands of kilometers. This includes things like the glow plugs and its connectors