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VW Ignition Coil Problems?



  • altair4altair4 Posts: 1,469
    I have a 1.8T with the H coils, and haven't had one go bad. I think it's unfair to say that every 1.8T has had a bad coil. I'm not saying that this isn't a widespread problem, because it is, just that your statement is not correct.
  • pkraddpkradd Posts: 358
    My 2001.5 Passat has not had any failures after nearly 21 months. The occurance is incredibly small considering the amount of cars with the 1.8T engine (and the others that used the coils). It's an unfortunate situation but it's being addressed now by VW, albeit a little late.
  • swschradswschrad Posts: 2,171
    because it appears to be a production design issue. from articles posted, when read, sounds like the potting compound shrinks and cracks open in heat, allowing moisture to short the coils out. run long enough and hot enough, with those coils bolted to the back of the block, and you will have failures.

    that's why the recall for replacement letter is the only thing VW could have done to restore confidence in the product. once all vehicles are shed of the old coils, the clock starts anew on a fresh clean world.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 58,445
    Have you all seen this site? It's interesting. It monitors 152 coil failures and the circumstances surounding them.

    It doesn't shed light so much on which percentage of VWs will exhibit coil failure but it does shed some light on the worst production dates, the dealer's success rate in fixing the problem and also seems to be the "safety" issue to rest.

    One interesting fact is the relationship to cold weather I thought.

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  • newcar31newcar31 Posts: 3,711
    Thanks swschrad. Are those of you who haven't had a coil failure yet not going to get coils replaced at VW under the recall?
  • pkraddpkradd Posts: 358
    If and when there's a recall I'll certainly get my coils changed even though they haven't failed. Better safe then sorry. I note the chart doesn't include my manufacture date of March 2001 (2001.5 Passat).
  • altair4altair4 Posts: 1,469
    That's an interesting comment regarding the actual cause of the malfunction. I've read lots of articles on this and, at best, most people have drawn conclustions on their own as to the actual cause. Most simply describe the symptoms, without analysis of the actual defect.

    What article definitively describes this? Would love to read it. Thanks!

    pkradd: I'll be in line right behind you! Just because I haven't had a failure yet, doesn't mean I don't fear having one occur at an inopportune time.

    PS: Mr my eyes deceive me? You posted a link to, gasp!, another automotive website!! I got a lovely note from one of your cohorts explaining that I violated the usage agreement from Edmund's for doing the same thing on another thread on these boards! Hah!
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 58,445
    Ah, busted. I just thought it was very important information. There are a few times when we do allow links to other forums strictly for the conveyance of important info that we can't provide. Host's call here. Sometimes "links to other forums" do get deleted because it is interpreted as an actual solicitation to post there regularly. See the distinction?

    You are all on the honor system never to post there :)

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  • swschradswschrad Posts: 2,171
    >> "What happens when a coil pack goes bad – how do I know if I have it? The problem is reported to be caused by inadequate sealant which leaks and lets in moisture which in turn causes the coil pack to short out."




    >> "Volkswagen of America Inc. and Audi of America Inc. last week said they are voluntarily recalling the cars because of the faulty coils. Sources say the German parts supplier had problems with the insulation material of the coils. If the plastic becomes brittle, spark plug failure can result."

    it is possible for HV coils to fail because of gaps in the insulation material... RCA had a legendary series of tube color-TV sets in the late 1960s or early 1970s in which the flybacks got too hot, melted out their potting compound, and some caught fire. the only good flybacks for those sets were from Thordarson-Meissner. the other way HV coils fail is exposure to water or water vapor when it penetrates inadequate insulation. I had a friend who built a half-million-volt tesla coil in high school, and his glass-plate capacitors exploded all the time until he submerged them in oil. that's something siemens learned from X-ray transformers around the turn of the century, and it made their reputation.
  • I recently lost my VW 2002 Passat to an engine fire. I recently had the coil pack replaced. The car was running well until 2 days ago. It started the same as the last time with the blinking engine light. After a few minutes it quit running while I was on the interstate. I pulled over and the engine burst into flame and the car was engulfed in a matter of minutes. Does anyone know of similar stories or reasons for this. The car had 14,000 mile as was not one year old yet.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 58,445
    Well for one thing you'd need to have had leaking fuel somewhere.

    Are injectors normally disturbed in the coil replacement process? Anyone know?

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  • altair4altair4 Posts: 1,469
    On another automotive website (which I can't mention by name unless Mr Shiftright wants to give me absolution), at least one member had a fire directly related to a coil pack. He provided pictures of the melted coil pack in his note. Another member (on this other site) is a fireman and related two fires to the coilpack issue. I'd guess that perhaps it wasn't the coil pack taht was replaced but one of the original ones that went bad (but only a guess).

    A fire doesn't necessarily have to have leaking fuel as it's initial source. The coil packs have plastic components and are located under the plastic engine shroud and have high electrical voltage involved. Once you have an ignition and fire started, then a fuel line could be involved, as well, I guess. Check some other Passat-dedicated websites for additional info. I'd e-mail dpbreenmd directly, but he doesn't have an e-mail address posted.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 58,445
    I'd pay more attention if professional accident investigators posted a report. These are just more of those typical anecdotal speculations by people fishing for answers, worried abourt re-currence (understandably!) or looking for a reason for a lawsuit. Coil packs will soon be blamed for backaches I'm sure.

    I am in complete sympathy with anyone whose car catches fire (it is traumatic and life-threatening) but such speculations are just bad science and shouldn't be encouraged or emraced without healthy curiosity and skepticism IMO.

    A professional fire investigator should be able to determine the cause of the fire, but these people are quite expensive to hire. We'll probably, ultimately, have to rely on government agencies for an answer, should there ever be anything beyond the random number of usual car fires that any brand of car will sustain.

    Cars catch fire all the time. Ask your local Fire Department.

    I can't see how the fusing system in the car would allow that to happen anyway, but I can see a fuel fire melting the coils and a good deal else.

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  • altair4altair4 Posts: 1,469
    1) I don't believe that the coilpacks are fused. It's part of the primary ignition system.
    2) The photo that was posted on that "other" site clearly showed a melted coilpack. I'll post a link if you want to see it. Damage was completely localized to the coilpack area and, when replaced, the car ran normally (i.e., no fuel leaking).

    Ah, here's the link...since it doesn't go to the actual posting, but to an image hosting site. 6405ee066257/fcabe192.jpg
  • I would be interested in other experience with coil pack fires. I have posted my email now with my profile. The fire is being investigated by the insurance company.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 58,445
    Looks like the coil overheated. It looks like a slow flameless meltdown, very gradual heat buildup, since the plug-in is quite intact.

    You can't burn a car down with a melted coil. You'd really need gasoline or insulation or some other flammable substance to fuel it. So this is why a thorough investigation is need to see if it's even possible....maybe it is, I'm really not in a position to know. It requires an expert.

    That's for the photo...very interesting.

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  • altair4altair4 Posts: 1,469
    I'll admit that this one looks melted. Driver said it was smoking, he stopped the car (cutting further juice to the coil), and had a happy ending.

    Let me posit this possibility:
    1) Coil goes bad, overheats.
    2) Overheating reaches ignition temperature of plastic on top of coil.
    3) Top of coil is in close proximity to plastic engine shroud.
    4) Shroud catches fire, enveloping other engine components, including fuel delivery system.
    5) Car is toast.

    But, other things can happen. I recently read a case where the fire department supositions that a mechanic left a rag on the engine, that it caught fire and caught other components, and "poof", car is gone.

    I emailed dpbreenmd with some other's up to him to pursue what he needs. Thanks.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 58,445
    That's plausible enough certainly, except that the coil would fail almost certainly before any combustion and why would a driver keep driving?

    What I'm getting at here is that if you drive say an overheated car engine it too can cause a fire, but you can't say that the burst radiator hose caused the fire. The driver caused the fire.

    There's a point where owner responsibility enters into any disaster and this seems like one of them to me--at least PARTIALLY.

    I just can't imagine a coil on fire actually working just fine and not alerting the driver long before combustion.

    Can you?

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  • altair4altair4 Posts: 1,469
    Yep, I agree with you 100% - it apparently wasn't working 100% fine before.

    I re-read the original post from the member whose car burned. He states, "The car was running well until 2 days ago. It started the same as the last time with the blinking engine light. After a few minutes it quit running while I was on the interstate. I pulled over and the engine burst into flame and the car was engulfed in a matter of minutes."

    While I don't have my owner's manual right in front of me, I believe that it states you should immediately stop driving when the engine light flashes (I believe it's okay to continue to drive on a solid light), so that's an issue. The car apparently wasn't running right for two days (but we don't know what that means - engine light on for two days or just before the fire, rough idle, bucking like a bronco, who knows?).

    In reference to your comment about the coilpack failing before catching fire...who knows? If by failure, you mean that it no longer was firing that cylinder's spark plug, probably. That's possibly what triggered the flashing MIL light. As one other member mentioned, the insulation fails, and the unit shorts out. This is not a fused or protected circuit since it's part of the primary ignition system, so I'm going to say that I believe it's possible that it was still shorting, creating heat. Do I believe that a coil is capable of getting hot enough to ignite? Yep, I do, since it's partially made of plastic. Do I believe that it's possible for a burning coil to ignite other parts and finally compromise the fuel system? Yep, I do - the fuel rail is not very far away from the coilpacks and the plastic engine shroud. Do I believe that under these circumstances, a car could be engulfed in fire? Yes, again.

    Driver responsibility? Yes, it could be an issue if my recollection of the manual's statement about what to do when the MIL light flashes is correct. A shortcoming of the Passat is that the engine light flashes, but the MFA display doesn't say, "shut off the damn engine." I will tell you that the letter that VW sent out, dated 01/31/2003, says that in the event of a coil pack failure it is okay to drive the car to the dealer. However, my reading on this topic reveals that many coilpack failures have resulted in a flashing MIL light. So there's a conflict between what the letter from VWoA states and what's in the manual.

    As you probably realize from being a moderator here, way too many people never read the owner's manual cover-to-cover. This member has a 2002 Passat. Even if he read the manual when it was new, it's possibly been more than 1.5 years since then. The letter is only a month old...see where I'm going with this?

    Here's the text of the letter that owner's received:

    Dear Volkswagen Customer:
    We are writing to provide you with important information about your Volkswagen.

    Through our monitoring of vehicles in the field, we have determined that some 2001 and 2002 Volkswagens equipped witht he 1.8t four-cylinder engine or the 2.8l VR6, and some 2002 Passats equipped with the W8 may experience a malfunction of an ignition coil. The 2001 and 2002 engines are equipped with cuch coils for the 4-cylinder engine, six coils in the 6-cylinder engine and eight coils in the 8-cylinder engine. Some owners have experienced a malfunction of one or more of these coils. If an ignition coil becomes inoperative, the engine and its electronic controls are designed to keep your vehicle running. Some deterioration in performance, however, can be expected. You can contine to drive with reducted power and should take your car to the nearest Volkswagen dealer for repair. If you do not feel comfortable driving with reduced power, you may call Volkswagen 24-hour roadside assistance at (800)411-6688 for towing to the nearest dealer.

    Should you experience a malfunction, your Volkswagen dealer will be able to repair your car with an improved igintion coil. In order to minimize inconvenience to you, your Volkswagen dealer will offer alternative transportation to you at no cost.

    We want to make it clear that your car may not exhibit this problem. However, if you have already experienced this malfunction and for some reason you had to pay to have it repaired, we are, of course, prepared to reimburse you. If this has been your experience, please contact us. We apologize for any inconvenience you may experience and we assure you that resolving this issue is the top priority for Volkswagen of American, Volkswagen AG and our Volkswagen dealers. If you desire any assistance, or have any questions, please contact us at (800) 822-8987 or click on (contact us).

    In closing, you have my peronal apology for any inconvenience , and my thanks for your business.

    Frank Maguire
    Vice President

    This letter minimizes the problem, and I believe gives poor advice what to do when a coilpack fails.

    I'm done with this topic. I wish "good luck" to Dr Breen. I hope that either his insurance or VW gets him in another car.
  • I am having the coils replaced one at a time. What a pain! I also had a window regulator problem on both windows of my 2002 GTI. I recently sent VW a registered letter notifying them that I intend to declare my car a LEMON. The car has been out of service for 31 DAYS!
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 58,445
    thanks altair that was very interesting. I'm a bit concerned that people would be encouraged to drive on a dead cylinder. How does the catalytic like all this? I wonder if THAT caught fire from being doused for two days with unburned fuel. It must have gotten pretty warm in there.

    1black gti: Did you study the details of the Lemon Law in your state?

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  • I checked with the State Lemon Laws and I qualify because the GTI was out of service for over 30 days.
  • swschradswschrad Posts: 2,171
    and so we know that answer, too. all my manuals from the 70s on have said don't drive on a bucking engine because it will overload the catalytic, possibly causing fire danger, certainly heavy expense.

    so since VW says it's OK to drive the limping cars to the dealer, I would think they are assuming the liability for catalytic replacement, irregardless of the EPA warranty.

    somebody needs to take it to court and get a pathfinder ruling.
  • pkraddpkradd Posts: 358
    ... when it comes to VW. It seems that they are very confused in regards to the letter I (we) received concerning what one can and cannot due when a coil fails. Call a tow truck. It's on them (according to the letter).
  • altair4altair4 Posts: 1,469
    apparently doesnt' like it! It's been written that, theoretically, the engine management system shuts down the fuel injector for the dead cylinder. But I guess there is a difference between the real and the theoretical.

    And your comment regarding the cat as a source of combustion...could be very possible! Some have seen their converters actually glowing when in the failed coilpack mode.
  • rubicon52rubicon52 Posts: 191
    I worked on a program in the 80's where we had a problem with defective tantalum capacitors causing fires on electronic backplanes. These were very small devices (about 0.25" square) that would develop a short, get very hot, melt, and sometimes cause a fire. We even made a movie of a defective cap getting hot and bursting into flame. I guess the thing that was actually burning was the backplane which I seem to remember was composed of layers of epoxy fiberglass coated with polyurethane. The picture that someone posted definitely looked like a coil melting due to excessive heat.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 58,445
    Well, it's something that needs thorough investigation certainly. My idea of good diagnosis is always look for the simplest explanations first, which would be broken or leaking fuel and overheated cat, both of which are notoriously and well-known causes of engine fires.

    Having excluded that, then we go on to electrical fires from any source, and further down the diagnostic chain to the coils, and further down the diagnostic chain to determine if coil failures and coil melting are even related or if they represent two separate types of defect occurring at different frequencies.

    An expert should be able to determine the first source of the engine fire, or at least general locale.

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  • pkraddpkradd Posts: 358
    An article in the New York Times, shows the company still being defensive about how they handled things. They seem to reluctantly agree they could have handled things better. Here's the article (you'll need to register): ted=3
  • yosmanyyosmany Posts: 13
    My girlfriend's 2000 Jetta 1.8T tachometer needle bounces when the car is on and stopped. It causes the engine to idle poorly as if the timing was bad. Sometimes it goes so low that it seems that the car might shut off, but it never does. Could this be that coil problem everyone is talking about? I also heard that it could be the fuel filter. She has never changed it in 60K. She took it to that mechanic a while back without me and he said it had something to do with the injectors and charged her for a cleaning, yet it did not help. Could anyone help with this? Thank you.

  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 58,445
    Sounds like it could be, maybe. She should have it checked. Did the check engine light go on?

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