Sue Winters loves her 2011 VW Tiguan so much that she affectionately named it “Ethel” — as in Lucy and Ethel. So when Sue found “Ethel,” a relatively new car, dead in the driveway this summer, it came as a bit of a shock.
"The car doesn't start. It’s completely dead,” Winters said. “I was sad. I really was. I just love this car. "
It was surprising to Winters because the car had only 46,000 miles on it and was just out of warranty. She had it towed to her dealer, where it has sat for the last 3 months, and got a grim diagnosis.
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"I had never even heard of a tensioner,” Winters said. “That’s the part that blew."
The part that failed is called a timing chain tensioner, which keeps a car’s valves and pistons operating in sync. When it fails, the engine can fail too. According to VW’s maintenance schedule, the timing chain system should last at least 120,000 miles without the need for repair or replacement. Yet Winters said the dealership told her the problem part had ruined her engine and that she needed a brand new one, at a cost of $7,000.
It was something Winters could not afford and something she believes could have been prevented if the carmaker has issued a warning to drivers before it was too late.
“They knew that this was happening and they did nothing about it,” Winters said. "Sorry you’re out of luck, you know. The warranty is expired and there’s nothing we can do for you."
The timing chain issue has been on VW’s radar since at least 2010, when it began sending out technical service bulletins alerting dealerships about the problem – affecting VW’s and Audi’s with 2-liter gas engines made between 2008 through 2013 – but not alerting drivers.
Here is a list of the affected cars:
• 2008-2010 and 2012 VW Beetle
• 2009-2013 VW CC
• 2008-2012 VW EOS
• 2008-2012 VW Golf
• 2008-2012 VW GTI
• 2008-2012 VW Jetta
• 2008-2012 VW Passat
• 2008-2011 VW R32
• 2008-2010 VW Rabbit
• 2009-2012 VW Routan
• 2008-2012 VW Tiguan
• 2008-2013 VW Touareg
• 2011 VW Touareg Hybrid
• 2008-2012 Audi A3
• 2008-2012 Audi A4
• 2008-2012 Audi A5
• 2010-2012 Audi A6
• 2012 Audi A7
• 2008-2012 Audi TT
• 2010-2012 Audi Q3
• 2009-2012 Audi Q5
• 2012 Audi Q7
It’s a practice Winters calls outrageous, at best.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “And then, well, I thought for sure VW would do something. And then we went on and on and on. They just ignore the issue like it’s not their problem. There was no recall on it. It’s a defect."
The same allegations are echoed in a recently filed, but not yet certified, class action lawsuit alleging VW has “fraudulently concealed a defect” in the timing chain, calling the problem a “significant safety risk.” VW denies those allegations.
There is no shortage of VW owners speaking out about the problem. NBC 5 Responds found at least 166 complaints on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website alone:
“This is a dangerous problem,” one complaint stated. “There should be a recall on these vehicles,” according to another. “VW is aware of yet refuses to properly address or provide remedy.”
Drivers aren’t the only ones not getting remedies or answers. NBC 5 Responds reached out to VW about Winters’ car 10 different times -- by phone, email and social media – and never got a response.
With no “Ethel” and no help from VW, Winters’ commute continues to be a struggle. But with no other option, she refuses to let this go.
"I’m just not going to give up. It’s not only me. I’m not the lone duck out here. There’s a lot of people that this has happened to," Winters said.
After this piece aired, the consumer says VW corporate called her the next day and offered to fix the engine problem. VW has not responded to our request for comment.