The automatic transmission on my 2001 VR2 Volkswagen Jetta has failed twice.
February 8, 2012 11:57 PM   Subscribe

The automatic transmission on my 2001 VR2 Volkswagen Jetta has failed twice. The first time was at 40,000 miles, it was covered under the 10 year/100k powertrain warranty (but barely) and now I am 6 months out of the time period but the car only has 64,000 miles on it and has been impeccably maintained and gently used. How can I get the dealer to cover this under warranty?

To give a bit more detail: I am the original owner of the car. It has been a complete lemon and has given me nothing but trouble. The transmission originally started slipping at around 37,000 miles. I took it into the dealer at that point complaining about the slippage and they tried to sell me on the notion that the behavior was a merely result of the computer that regulates the transmission sometimes experiencing meaningless hiccups. During the 3k in between then and when it eventually stopped working entirely the car would lurch from a stop into first and then jerk into second.

When it did finally completely fail, I had it towed in and they attempted to charge me for an off-powertrain repair. I have a family member who knows the owner of the dealership who talked to him and got him to agree to perform the needed work under warranty. I am unsure as to the specifics of the service that was performed, but the car seemed ok thereafter.

That was now about five years ago. A few months after the transmission was fixed for the first time, I moved out of state to a series of cities where I didn't need a car. During this period, the car was in the care of my mother. She drove it 1-2x/week and religiously kept up with the required maintenance.

I just moved back in the middle of December and have been driving a lot since then. Last week I noticed the SAME exact problem with gear slippage as had happened at 40k. I did not wait to be stranded this time and instead took it right to the dealer, explaining that the transmission had already failed once before. They did a diagnostic and are suggesting that I need an entirely new transmission at a total cost of $5,000 as I am six months out of the warranty period.

I feel that it is completely unacceptable for a well maintained and gently used car with such low mileage to have had transmission failure TWICE in a row. I do not know what my options are or how to best approach the dealership but I do feel as though this should be a warrantied repair. The family member that I had talk to the dealer last time wants to go in with me in the morning and try to convince him to cover it as it seems like a complete repeat of the original problem but I feel as though neither of us has a very good game strategy for that.

I have done a lot of googling and this appears to be a VERY common problem with VWs but I have found little information beyond people complaining about the same thing. I sort of feel like my next step will be to contact the BBB and perhaps contact the Office of Defects Investigation. Aside from that, I am unsure of how to proceed.

Does anyone have any advice (besides, you know, never ever ever buying a Volkswagen again)?
posted by telomere to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total)
I hate to say it, but cars don't last forever, you have an old car, and it's a model with an apparent history of design problems. You could take it to another repair shop (which you probably should do, just to get another quote), but in your shoes, I'd cut my losses, as the repair cost may still be well over the KBB resale value (~$2.5K? and in working condition). Sell it for spare parts or trade it in, and get something else. That's about all you can do, realistically.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:43 AM on February 9, 2012

I wouldn't expect the dealer to go to bat for you here; I'd call Volkswagen of America (assuming you're in the U.S.) and address it with them directly: you are the original owner of a low-mileage Jetta, a transmission problem that showed up during the warranty period was incorrectly fixed and has re-emerged just barely out of warranty. Since it's clear that the repair wasn't done right the first time, you need to know how to get it corrected.

You'll probably meet a lot of resistance, but if you're lucky and persistent you may get somewhere.

FWIW, the last car I sold was a 2001 Jetta. I won't be buying another VW anytime soon.
posted by jon1270 at 2:28 AM on February 9, 2012

Definitely agree with contacting VW of Your Country and relating your story to them. You probably have no actual recourse with them, as replacement parts usually just take on the original warranty and don't get their own new warranty period. But if you are nice, you can maybe get them to do an investigation and maybe help you out with the repair. If you are "lucky", maybe they will find that the original repair wasn't done correctly and the dealer would need to re-do it. But that's doubtful.
posted by gjc at 4:22 AM on February 9, 2012

Unfortunately the MK IV Jettas, especially those built from 1999-2002 were utter, complete junk. I owned a 2000 GLS VR6 that, had I not owned an extended warranty would have cost me a small home.

That said, if you are in the United States you can try contact Volkswagen of America directly. Your dealership, if you have a good rapport with them, may assist you in seeking what is known as "goodwill warranty work" from the manufacturer.

Generally speaking your best bet is to collect all of your service records/repair records, scan and/or fax them to Volkswagen of America with a friendly yet stern cover letter seeking assistance. Your *best* bet is to find an attorney friend or hire an attorney to draft a letter and send the service records, along with attorney cover letter, to Volkswagen of America. That tends to get their attention pretty quickly.

The real issue here is the age of the car. If you had approached Volkswagen with these issues sooner they would be more inclined to provide assistance. At 100,000 miles it is very difficult to get manufacturers to goodwill much, especially if it isn't a safety component that is known to be defective.

I can tell you that in the past five years both Volkswagen and Audi of America have become far more proactive and accomodating toward goodwill repairs, especially for components that have a high failure rate (PCV, AC compressors, HPFP, window regulators, etc.) and it is not uncommon for them to issue extended warranties on certain components.

Obviously, your mileage may vary, but your best recourse is to get a letter sent off with attorney letterhead outlining the service history and hope for some kind of assistance from VW.
posted by tgrundke at 5:04 AM on February 9, 2012

edit on the last post: I meant 10 years, not 100,000 miles.
posted by tgrundke at 5:06 AM on February 9, 2012

I used to do fleet operations for a car sharing company that had ~25 of that generation golf/jetta/beetles. Blown auto transmissions were common, even within 20-30K miles. I loved older VWs, but yeah, I'm out now.

VWoA doesn't exactly have the best reputation when it comes to customer service, either. Good luck. If there were a way to get them to fix it for free/cheap, believe me, the people over at VWVortex would be all over it, like white on sauerkraut. If the BBB or any other regulatory type agency gave two hoots about this kind of problem, Chrysler, VW/Audi, Volvo, Land Rover, etc would be out of business.

IMO, you'll almost certainly have to suck it up and either sell it as is (what I'd do), or put in a used transmission and hope it lasts a bit longer this time...
posted by pjaust at 5:58 AM on February 9, 2012

I also had a new mid 90s Jetta that gave us endless headaches...
posted by toastchee at 6:35 AM on February 9, 2012

Well your first problem is that you have a 4th generation Jetta. Ugh.

My transmission went out on my 2000 Jetta GL after 9 years 11 months, so fortunately it was covered. There is a reason that VW doesn't do 10-year PT warranties anymore - they were having to spend too much money!

That being said, I'd contact VW of America and see what you can do. The dealership won't do anything unless pressured by corporate. I've had a good experience with them but haven't had to do anything out of warranty.
posted by radioamy at 7:56 AM on February 9, 2012

It has been a complete lemon and has given me nothing but trouble.

Assuming this to be true, and assuming that you're in the US, have you looked into your state's Lemon Laws? [Here's the wiki for LLs in general.] I'm not sure if your car would be covered due to its age, but each state's version of the law is different. You never know!
posted by Chutzler at 9:39 AM on February 9, 2012

Yeah, this is really common on those cars. We had a 2000 Jetta and had the same problem at (I think) 125,000 miles, so we were much luckier than you. We called a couple of VW shops and they said the same thing - new transmission. The VW shops quoted us about $4,000. A local transmission shop said they could do a rebuild for $2,500 to $3,000, but the VW guys specifically recommended against it. Ours hadn't failed completely yet, so we sold it as-is with total honesty for $2,200.

It's certainly worth trying to get the issue fixed, but you may end up having to sell it, as others have suggested.
posted by cnc at 11:20 AM on February 9, 2012

Thanks to you all for the great responses! I wasn't even thinking of contact VWoA directly before but that's such an obvious thing to do.

Today my relative called the owner and he is looking into what he can do. I wish I had been able to show her this thread beforehand but we just heard back and it is sounding like it may be possible that they will extend the warranty to cover the work. He has to get approval from corporate but he is trying. It always confounds me that you sorta have to know someone who knows someone to get anything done with stuff like this. It's gross, but well, I hope this works out.

I'll post back and let you all know how it unfolds (especially if the old boy network fails which it very well may and I need more advice) as I do greatly appreciate the input. It was very very helpful. Thanks!
posted by telomere at 3:15 PM on February 9, 2012

If you do end up complaining to Volkswagen, it never hurts to give them the "I've been a loyal VW customer for 20 years, and my parents drove VWs, and blah blah blah," and show them that you're worth bending the rules for.
posted by Slinga at 4:58 PM on February 9, 2012

Worst case: If you do end up paying for a repair out-of-pocket, find a parts car with a manual transmission and have a VW garage do a swap. The 4-speed automatic in these cars is complete junk, and it WILL fail early.

Besides, the VR6 is way more fun with another gear.
posted by bhayes82 at 12:37 PM on February 13, 2012

In case anyone is still following this I thought I'd check back in and report on what happened.

The dealer did talk to VWoA. They told him that they would not extend the warranty but that they would offer an $8,000 credit towards buying a new car. This works out well for them and maybe for me. For many reasons, I do not really feel as though I have the time or resources to pursue further action with them. I am considering just taking the offer and getting another VW and praying that it is not a lemon.

Is this a terrible idea? I did some research and it looks like the TDI models tend to fare better than the NA or other turbos. I am considering buying a 2012 TDI golf. Is this a huge mistake? Should I suck it up and try to pursue further action? The trick is that I am leaving for a trip that will have me out of the country for four months and I do need a car now.

They are also probably going to give it to me with the taxes and cost of installing leather seats knocked off. In all, if the car is good, it is a killer deal. I am just so burned on VW I am not sure if I want to pull the trigger.
posted by telomere at 11:35 PM on February 13, 2012

Should I suck it up and try to pursue further action?

I think you should quit while you're ahead. Regardless of whether the TDIs are better cars, $8K is enough of a discount that you might be able to sell the new VW and net more than the $3K or so that your old Jetta would currently be worth if the transmission wasn't borked. You'd be paying as little as $16k and change for a car that typically costs the dealer at least $23k, so there's real money there. Seems like a pretty reasonable resolution, so long as you negotiate well and down let them chisel away at the discount by inflating the pre-discount price.
posted by jon1270 at 2:00 AM on February 14, 2012

...down don't...
posted by jon1270 at 2:02 AM on February 14, 2012

I haven't heard much about newer Volkswagens having too many chronic issues, save for the High Pressure Fuel Pumps on the TDIs from around 2009-2010. That didn't happen toooo terribly often, and my understanding is that the pumps have been revised a few times since then.

Just something to think about (coz you need more stuff to think about).
posted by Chutzler at 8:35 PM on February 14, 2012

Anyone respectable would have mentioned what the pumps did that was so bad: they failed, releasing little metal particles into the fuel system. It wasn't cheap when it happened, but like I said, things seem to be doing better now. Maybe ask the dealer about it to be sure?
posted by Chutzler at 8:38 PM on February 14, 2012

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