VW pulls plug on helping with £2,500 repair bill

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Our VW Passat GTE – a plug-in electric hybrid – completely died a few months ago. Because it is just outside its three-year warranty, VW wants to charge me more than £2,500 to fix it.

The car refused to turn on and, instead, displayed a “hybrid system error”. My breakdown firm took it to my local dealership . They thought they’d fixed it and charged me several hundred pounds.

Two weeks later, the same error occurred, and the car was once again recovered to my local garage. This time, however, I was told they couldn’t work on it as the problem was with the high-voltage power system. I therefore had to pay my recovery service to ship it to a different VW dealer more than 30 miles away.

It has diagnosed the problem to be with a battery control switch which, it argues, is not covered by the seven-year extended battery warranty.

Despite buying the £40,000 car brand new from VW and having it serviced entirely by the company, it is refusing to contribute towards the repairs. I feel I have been sold a defective car and am very unhappy at the way I have been treated. What would you do in my shoes?
TB, Surrey

I bought a secondhand VW Passat GTE in June for £20,000. It had done 34,000 miles and was out of the manufacturer’s warranty by about 10 months. It had always been serviced by VW main dealers. At the same time, I purchased a private warranty.

The car was initially great to drive. However, after three months and 4,000 miles, it stopped working.

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VW initially said it needed a new mechatronics assembly, plus a few other parts, at a cost of just over £2,700, including labour. It has now said it needs a new gearbox.

My warranty provider has agreed to pay its share as per the policy terms – about 40% – but VW has refused to help on the basis that the car is outside the warranty.
by email

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Unusually, both of these letters arrived in our inbox on the same day, complaining about the same car, of similar age, low mileages – and the same treatment by VW.

These hybrid GTE cars allow the driver to run solely on the battery in town, or to use the petrol engine for longer runs. Hybrid cars are very much the future, but our readers are not the only ones to have had electrical problems with these models.

VW, in our experience, often refuses to deal with problems once the three-year warranty, and the legal obligation, has expired. However, after we raised these cases, it says it will fix both cars.

TB’s car, which had only covered 28,000 miles, has also suffered further complications since he contacted us. After initially refusing, VW has provided a courtesy car while his is being worked on.

NF has been told he will have to pay the first £500 of what will be a huge bill, which is a good outcome, given that the dealer he bought the car from is no longer trading.

In TB’s case I would ask for some of the other costs – particularly the charge to transfer the car between dealers – to be refunded, too.

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Had VW refused to help, the Consumer Rights Act gives car buyers redress in cases like these. However, it is the retailer (selling dealer), rather than the manufacturer, that is responsible. The owner has to produce evidence that the fault existed at the time of purchase, usually in the form of an engineer’s report. They often have to threaten the small claims procedure to be taken seriously.

Such claims are helped if you have a full dealer service history, as you can show that you have done everything expected of you as the consumer.

Meanwhile, anyone else looking to buy a hybrid car may want to stick to one of the brands that offer a five-year warranty. These cars are so complex and expensive to repair, you’ll want a model with the longest possible warranty period.

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