Sunday, March 06, 2005 Christopher Jensen
Plain Dealer Columnist
Imagine three guys standing around talking about oil changes. There’s an old-fashioned, quaint tableau, although in this case there was a bit of an edge.
In this case, I was talking to two top Audi officials about sludge problems on the 1.8-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder used on the Volkswagen Passat and Audi A4.
Last August, Volkswagen said it was extending the warranty on that engine – on its 1998-2004 Passats and the 1997-2004 Audi A4s – for eight years (from when the vehicle was new) without any limit on mileage.
However, a few consumers have complained to me and the Center for Auto Safety Web site (www.autosafety.org) that Volkswagen is being extremely fussy about coverage when those engines fail, in some cases refusing to honor it because a dealer did not do the repairs.
In January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, I encountered Johan De Nysschen, executive vice president in charge of Audi of America, and Marc Trahan, Audi’s director of aftersales. We talked about the problem. Here’s how it went:
By extending the warranty, isn’t Volkswagen/Audi admitting there is a weakness in that 1.8-liter turbocharged engine?
The warranty extension was more to give the customers a little bit of peace of mind and is not at all an indication that we believe there is something wrong with the design of the engine. One of the issues clearly . . . is there are people who have not followed the mandated maintenance and a guy who is not going to change his oil, at some stage something could happen that was not according to plan.
There are people out there who buy cars and just don’t take care of them – customer cases where people have gone more than 20,000 miles without changing their oil.
Why would people be having problems with the 1.8-liter four-cylinder and not your other engines?
It might well be due to the fact that 1.8 engine is forced induction [turbocharged], which means the engine does operate under more severe load conditions which means the oil . . . is more critical.
Those [other] engines don’t operate at the same temperatures, they don’t have turbochargers and in general a little larger oil capacity as well.
I have heard from some people that even though they had their oil changes at the proper intervals, their claims for help with a sludged engine were rejected, sometimes because the oil change was not done at an Audi dealership.
No, it does not have to be an Audi dealership. Independent is fine. We are pretty liberal, we let them go up 20 to 25 percent exceeding the maintenance [recommendation]. They just need to show us documentation that they changed the oil.
If the customer can provide some supporting evidence he had an oil change that is OK with us. We do not want to treat anybody unfairly, and if there are such cases I would like to know about them.
His address is Audi of America Inc., 3800 Hamlin Road, Auburn Hills, Mich. 48326.