Volkswagen Reliability: How Reliable Are They?

by Conner Mckay

As you probably know, Volkswagen is a German carmaker. They are currently the largest carmaker in terms of global sales and revenue. VW has a wide range of models, from city hatchbacks to large SUVs, and they’re usually quite good. But what about reliability? If you’re thinking of buying VW, we’re going to discuss all Volkswagen reliability in this post.

We’ll compile Volkswagen’s reliability record in this post. We’ll see what VW’s track record is like, what common problems VW has, and which models you should avoid. Hopefully, if you’re planning to buy a VW, we’ll help you make an informed decision!

Volkswagen Reliability: An Overview

Volkswagen is a German carmaker founded in 1937, which makes them 84 years old! VW sells mostly regular cars, but they’re often seen as the slightly more upscale alternative to its Japanese competitors such as Toyota and Mazda. Their current lineup consists of the Tiguan, Taos, Jetta, Atlas, Passat, Arteon, and of course, the legendary Golf.

German cars are perceived to be more reliable than other European cars. And while VW is usually quite reliable, this hasn’t been true in recent years. While not all VW vehicles are unreliable, some have had notorious reliability issues in recent years.

Volkswagen Reliability

According to some research, such as from Consumer Reports, VW ranks 22 out of 29 in a reliability survey in 2016. Another example from J.D. Power also ranks VW towards the bottom of the list in their Initial Quality Study (IQS). This list is based on the number of problems experienced by owners in the first 90 days. Meanwhile, Korean brands such as Hyundai and Kia top the list.

Of course, not all VW cars are bad. For example, the 2016 VW Tiguan won a dependability award from J.D. Power. The Tiguan is one of the three most dependable small cars, alongside the Audi Q3 and Chevrolet Sonic. In fact, the Tiguan is the most dependable small SUV according to J.D. Power.

To summarize, while some models like the Tiguan does well, not all of their cars are reliable. And you’ll typically find VW ranking somewhere in the middle to the bottom half in these studies. While brands like Toyota, Chevrolet, and Hyundai are likely to top the list.

Volkswagen Reliability: Common Problems In VW

The first thing you will need to understand is that different car models may have different problems, even if they are made by the same company. This means that different VW models may have different problems than other models. So, a common reliability problem in a certain VW model might not apply to another model.

This is because sometimes they use different parts. While cars these days often share the same platform, they will still often have different components inside them. Such as powertrain, suspension unit, and electrical components. This is because some cars will have different needs and specifications. For example, a certain VW model might need a more powerful engine rather than an economical one.

Another factor is inconsistencies in manufacturing. A large carmaker like VW usually already has a good manufacturing process. But from time to time, inconsistencies may happen, resulting in reliability problems for certain models. And finally, sometimes it’s just pure human error.

It’s not unheard of for carmakers to put badly-designed components into production. Maybe the design and production process was rushed. Or sometimes design flaws are completely missed during research and development, and they only found out about it after the car was on sale. For example, the transmission in the Nissan Rogue was notorious for failure due to overheating. As a result, many Nissan Rogue owners had to install an aftermarket cooler to solve the issue.

This is part of the reason why recalls and facelifts are necessary: to fix these problems. With that said, here are some common VW problems:

1. Engine Oil Sludge

The first Volkswagen reliability problem is engine oil sludge build-up. This problem mostly affects VW cars with the 1.8L turbo 4-cylinder engine from 1997 – 2005. To be specific, this problem mostly affects early 2000 VW Passat models. This problem usually appears somewhere between 70,000 – 90,000 miles. While keeping up with regular maintenance should prevent the issue, this is an inherent problem with the engine.

The problem seems to stem from an undersized oil capacity. This is because turbochargers run hot, and the small oil capacity means the engine has a problem dissipating the heat. Because of this, the engine has a very small margin of error for owners who are late to an oil change.

Volkswagen Reliability

This is of course a serious problem because oil sludge means that the engine won’t be lubricated properly. Without proper lubrication, the engine can become damaged. This leads to expensive engine rebuild bills for consumers. Some owners even had to pay up to $8,000 to repair their engines.

It’s easy to blame owners for not taking better care of their cars. But VW should’ve designed a better engine in the first place.

2. Timing Chain Issues

The next common Volkswagen reliability problem is the timing chain in VW’s 2.0L version of the EA888 engine. The timing chain is a chain that connects the crankshaft and camshaft. It’s there to make sure that the two components are always in sync, so the engine will operate smoothly.

The advantage of a timing chain is that it’s much more durable than timing belts. If your car has a timing belt, you’ll need to change it approximately every 60,000 miles. Whereas a timing chain can last up to 250,000 miles, just make sure to keep up with regular oil changes as the chain needs good lubrication.

However, VW owners that have this engine reports that they’re having timing chain issues as early as 20,000 miles. VW themselves suggests you shouldn’t worry about timing chain maintenance until 120,000 miles, so what’s the problem? It seems that the problem stems from a faulty timing chain tensioner. Both timing belts and chains need a tensioner to maintain the tension, as they need it to operate. It seems that the tensioner often fails prematurely, leading to the chain becoming loose.

When the timing chain is loose, it will result in symptoms like engine rattles, cylinder misfires, and difficulty starting the car. If left unserviced, a loose timing chain can eventually destroy the engine. This problem affects several VW models from 2009 – 2014. Such as the Beetle, Eos, Golf GTI, Jetta, Passat, and the Tiguan.

3. Front Collision-Avoidance System Problems

The front collision avoidance system is a safety feature that alerts drivers when they’re driving too fast and too close to the car in front. In some systems – including VW’s system – it can engage the brake on its own, minimizing the possibility of rear-ending the car in front of it or hitting pedestrians or other objects.

Sounds good, but VW’s system has received complaints. The system often engages the brakes on its own even when there’s nothing in front of the car. This results in the car braking suddenly, startling drivers and putting them in danger since the car would brake out of nowhere. While this reduces the chance of hitting the car in front, suddenly braking out of nowhere increases the chance of getting hit by the car behind.

The system was first offered in 2015 as part of VW’s optional Driver Assistance Package. It’s available in the Touareg, Jetta, Beetle, Golf, and many more VW cars. But this problem seems to persist, as recent as the 2019 model year VW Atlas is still having this problem.

VW currently isn’t offering any solution to this. If anything, they’re trying to conceal the problem and simply telling customers to disable the feature entirely. So what’s the point of having it if you have to disable it just to be able to drive your car safely? As of August 2020, a lawsuit against VW has been filed in court.

4. VW Atlas Fuel Injector Leak

This Volkswagen reliability issue affects just one model in the lineup: the Volkswagen Atlas. The Atlas is a mid-size, 7-seater crossover SUV that VW started producing in 2018. As you’ll learn later in this post, it’s one of the VW cars that you should avoid. And one of the reasons is a fuel injector leak problem. The fuel injector, as the name suggests, is a device that injects fuel into the engine’s cylinder.

Fuel injectors typically last between 50,000 – 100,000 miles, but owners are reporting a fuel injector problem as early as 21,000 miles. And it’s not just a broken fuel injector, it’s leaking. The problem is that if fuel injectors leak onto hot engine components, this can result in a fire. Not exactly what you want to happen to your car.

Thankfully, as far as we’re aware this problem hasn’t resulted in any fire nor casualties. But still, you don’t want to drive a car knowing it has fuel injector problems that can result in a fire. A federal investigation into the problem was opened as of April 2021.

5. Frequent Check Engine Light

The final Volkswagen reliability problem is the check engine light. VW cars illuminate their check engine light so often that it’s become a running joke nowadays. Owners often jokingly say that if the check engine light in your VW is off, you should take it in to check it!

Volkswagen Reliability

In case you’re not aware, the check engine light is the car’s way of warning the driver that there’s something wrong with the powertrain system. The problem can be as simple as a loose gas cap (yes, that can trigger a check engine light), or an electrical malfunction, to something more serious like a catalytic converter failure. So, why do VW cars illuminate their check engine light so often?

To be honest, no one really knows. The problem can range anywhere from faulty software, to ignition coil problems. For example, the early 2000s VW Jetta, Golf, and Passat had ignition coil issues. This was because of a design flaw that heats the coil excessively, leading to them breaking earlier than expected. A faulty ignition coil will result in engine misfires, which will trigger the check engine light.

To be fair, this problem may have been blown out of proportion. But it doesn’t mean that owners aren’t experiencing this problem. This 2018 VW Atlas owner had issues with the check engine light constantly flashing, and the dealer was not able to fix the problem and it constantly came back. Watch his story below:

Volkswagen Reliability: Avoid These Models!

Now you know the common problems with Volkswagen cars. So, which models should you avoid? We recommend skipping these VW models to avoid reliability problems:

1. VW Atlas

We recently wrote about the VW Atlas, and while it’s a decent SUV with lots of space and good performance, it’s one of VW’s most troublesome cars in recent years. Problems range from fuel injector issues to sudden engine shut down. There are also suspension problems, electrical malfunctions, and even rust and structural problems. And to make it worse, VW is not giving owners a clear solution for most of these problems in the Atlas.

It’s bad enough that they sold consumers an unreliable car, but it’s really out of line when they can’t provide a solution. Especially since some of these problems are serious and potentially dangerous. We recommend reading our article about the VW Atlas to learn more about its common problems. But we don’t recommend buying this car. Instead, consider its competitors such as the Hyundai Palisade, Jeep Grand Cherokee L, and the Mazda CX-9.

2. VW Jetta

Not all, but certain model years of the Jetta are very troublesome. As mentioned, the early 2000s Jetta models had ignition coil problems. The 2009 – 2013, 2016, and 2018 model years are also known to be troublesome. According to the NHTSA’s website, they received over 500 complaints regarding the 2011 Jetta, where owners complained that their car would stall out of nowhere.

If you were planning to buy the Jetta, we’d suggest you consider other alternatives. Some of Jetta’s rivals include the Honda Civic, the Hyundai Elantra, and the Ford Focus.

3. VW Passat

The VW Passat is a mid-size sedan, the larger brother to the Jetta. While not all models are bad, there are certainly some model years that you should avoid. For example, the early 2000s version with the 1.8L and 2.0L engines are susceptible to the engine oil sludge problem. This shouldn’t be the problem if you keep up with general maintenance, but the slightest negligence will result in a broken engine.

If you were considering the Passat but you’re now put off by the potential reliability problems, there are some cars we can recommend. The Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, and the Chevrolet Malibu are all decent alternatives to the Passat.

Volkswagen Reliability: Which Models Are The Most Reliable?

If you still want a VW, then here are some models we can recommend:

Volkswagen Reliability: The VW Tiguan Is The Most Reliable

As mentioned, the 2016 VW Tiguan won the J.D. Power dependability award for small SUVs. If you want a compact crossover SUV, we can recommend the Tiguan. It has a good reliability track record, decent interior, and performance. There also don’t seem to be any horror stories regarding the Tiguan.

VW Touareg

If you need something larger than the Tiguan, then there’s the Touareg. However, since 2018 VW has dropped the Touareg from their lineup in the United States, so you won’t be able to buy this car brand new. While there are engine and turbo failures, the problem has since been resolved.

The Touareg generally has a good track record. Some model years of the Touareg you should avoid include the 2007, 2010, and 2015 model years. These model years are known to have engine and fuel system issues. Additionally, you should also avoid the TDI (diesel) models of the Touareg. They’re known to have turbo and diesel particulate filter problems.

VW Golf

The VW Golf is one of the company’s most iconic cars. Enthusiasts love the GTI models because of how fun they are to drive, and the general public loves just how refined the standard Golf is. It has good handling, comfortable suspension, and it’s a practical compact car.

The Golf is among the most reliable VWs except the GTI that suffers timing chain problems

However, it has to be said that the VW Golf usually doesn’t rank particularly high in reliability ratings. For example, the 2017 model year ranks 79th out of 100 in the ReliabilityIndex Top 100 in 2019. But to be fair, it scored 65 which is above average, so the VW Golf is still worth checking.

If you’re considering the VW Golf, then you might want to skip the GTI models. They’re great fun to drive, but the 2.0L engine is known to have timing chain problems. This is especially true for the 2008 – 2012 model years. Other problems in the Golf you should be aware of are brake assistance issues, and electrical and ignition problems.

Volkswagen Reliability: Tips Before You Buy A Volkswagen

If you’re buying new, then there’s not much advice we can give you other than to avoid the models we mentioned. And cross your fingers when you make the purchase, hoping that you won’t get a lemon. But we do have a few tips if you’re buying secondhand Volkswagens.

Here’s the thing about buying secondhand cars: no two cars are the same. Even if they are the same car, with the same trim and specifications from the same model year, they are not the same. This is because they’ve led different lives with different owners. Even if both owners keep up with general maintenance, their different driving styles can affect the car’s condition.

As such, you should always thoroughly check the car before you buy a VW or any secondhand car for that matter. Considering that the Volkswagen reliability isn’t great, here are some tips:

See What Owner Have To Say

If you’re looking at a particular model, see online reviews of the car. You can find these reviews at Edmunds, or if you want to see what common problems a car may have, check owner forums and the NHTSA’s website.

You’re bound to see some complaints pretty much for any car since no car is trouble-free. But as long as it’s not a widespread issue, then you have no cause for concern. It’s normal to see isolated issues where a few owners are experiencing certain problems. But if a lot of owners are experiencing the same issue, then you might want to consider something else.

Check The Service Record

The service record is a great way to see if the car was well taken care of by the owner. Check if the owner kept up with regular maintenance, including spark plug and filter changes. Neglecting basic maintenance like this can damage the car in the long run, and you’ll have to deal with the consequences in the future.

If the service record isn’t complete, or you notice that the car isn’t well taken care of, run. Run away as far as possible.

Take It For A Thorough Test Drive

This one is a no-brainer. Always take the car for a thorough test drive before you make any sort of decision. Don’t feel pressured to end the test drive early just because the owner doesn’t seem very friendly. You’re about to make a big purchase, you need to consider it carefully!

Listen for any weird noises from the car, such as rattling noises from the engine, or clunking noises from the steering or suspension. Also, check if all the electrical components such as the lights, the air-conditioning system, and everything else is working. If you don’t mind minor electrical issues, this can be leverage for you during negotiations.

Finally, check if the engine feels good. See if there are any misfires or hesitation from the engine, and see if the transmission is operating smoothly. This is why a thorough test drive is important, just be sure to remain courteous during the test drive.

Pre-Purchase Inspection And Diagnostic Scan

We always recommend doing a pre-purchase inspection before you buy a secondhand car. Sometimes there are just some issues that only professional mechanics can spot in a car, and that we regular people will not be able to see. You can do a pre-purchase inspection at the dealer, or your local repair shop may also be able to provide this if you have a trusted place. There are also services online that can do this, and they should cost you no more than $250.

Consider doing a pre-purchase inspection when buying any used car with an OBD tool for diagnostics

Additionally, do a diagnostic scan of the OBD system while you’re at it. The On-Board Diagnostic system is a car diagnostic system that lists down trouble codes when the car’s computer detects an issue that it cannot resolve. If the car has a check engine light illuminating, then you should do an OBD scan.

The error codes will tell you what problems the car may have, and from there you’ll know what to expect. Pre-purchase inspections often include a diagnostic scan, but if not, it will usually cost around $150.

Get Extended Warranty (If Possible)

Extended warranties may be available for you to purchase at the dealer. But usually only cars under 10 years old will be eligible. It does mean that you’ll have to put up some money upfront, but when things go south, you likely won’t have to pay a penny to fix the problem.

Of course, this isn’t entirely necessary. It all depends on your tolerance of risk. But if you’d like more peace of mind, then we recommend getting the extended warranty.

Top 6 Reliable Volkswagen Models: Facts You Need to Know

  • Volkswagen is one of the world’s largest car manufacturers, producing several vehicle brands such as Audi, Seat, Skoda, Bentley, Porsche, and Lamborghini.
  • According to research by the Consumers’ Association, Volkswagen remains one of the most reliable German car makers despite questionable reliability ratings due to problems with certain models.
  • To determine the reliability of Volkswagen models, this article used data from various surveys, including J.D. Power, WhatCar?, and RepairPal, as well as car history reports.
  • The top six most reliable Volkswagen models are the Up!, Golf, T-Roc, Tiguan, Polo, and Jetta.
  • Each of these models has unique strengths and weaknesses, with the Up! being the most reliable Volkswagen model, based on its high reliability rating from WhatCar?.
  • Common problems associated with Volkswagen cars include excessive oil consumption, glitchy front assist technology, a constantly lit check engine light, and premature clogging of the diesel particulate filter.

Volkswagen Reliability: In Conclusion…

So, what’s the verdict on Volkswagen’s reliability? Well, to be honest, it doesn’t look very good. Early 2000s models are susceptible to engine problems, and even recent cars are not looking great. You probably should avoid the Atlas, the Jetta, and the Passat. But if you’d still like to own a VW, then the Tiguan and certain models of the Touareg and the Golf are great options. Hopefully, this post will help you decide on your VW purchase!

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