VW Passat Diesel Recall Issued Due to Electrical Fire Risk

Almost 100,000 diesel Volkswagen Passat sedans are being recalled due to a risk of corrosion, which could cause an electrical short and a potential fire hazard. 

The Volkswagen Passat recall (PDF) was announced by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on March 23, following several reports of the vehicles overheating and catching on fire due to improperly assembled wire seals in a connector of an underbody sensor that may allow water to enter the electrical terminal and cause an electrical short. To date, no injuries have been reported in connection to the recall.

Volkswagen Group of America, Inc. was first notified of the potential short circuiting problem in November 2015, when production plant workers reported several underbody vehicle fires and overheating incidents to Volkswagens product safety committee. Further analysis through January 2016 determined that the wire seals assembled around the electrical components to prevent water intrusion were installed improperly during production, allowing water to enter the electrical terminals and cause the malfunction.

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Vehicles that experience electrical shortages due to moisture intrusion are at risk of electrical shorts that will likely cause overheating at the connection, and in certain circumstances cause a fire underneath of the vehicle.

The recall includes an estimated 91,000 model year 2012 through 2014 Volkswagen Passat vehicles with TDI diesel engines that were manufactured by Volkswagen Group of America, Inc. The vehicles were distributed for sale throughout the United States and Canada at licensed Volkswagen dealerships.

According to Volkswagen’s defect report, owners with defective vehicles in danger of an electrical short may see the Malfunction Indicator Light (MIL) illuminating on the dash display. The NHTSA reports that it estimates 100% of the vehicles recalled contain the defect and should be repaired immediately due to the potential fire hazard.

Volkswagen officials say they are still working on a full list of recalled models and will notify the NHTSA and Transport Canada when the detailed list becomes available. A recall repair schedule has not been released at this time but is anticipated to be in effect by June 2016. Owners will be notified by mail with instructions on how to schedule an inspection in which dealers will check the electrical connections and replace the connectors with new ones that properly seal.

Customers with further questions regarding the recall may contact Volkswagen customer service at 1-800-893-5298 and reference the recall number 23T3. The NHTSA is also encouraging customers report related adverse events to the agency’s Vehicle Safety Hotline at 1-888-327-4236.

VW Diesel Emissions Problems

The recall comes as the automaker faces potential legal problems after admitting to breaking the law and installing “defeat devices” in more than 500,000 TDI diesel vehicles sold in the United States since 2009, including the Passat TDI.

While advertising that its TDI diesel vehicles were environmentally friendly, the company equipped them with software devices that artificially lower emissions while the vehicle is undergoing emissions testing. However, the vehicles have been found to release exceedingly high levels of pollutants during normal operation.

Volkswagen has already set aside nearly $7 billion to handle the penalties, lawsuits and repairs; however, it may not be nearly enough to cover the claims raised by vehicle owners. While vehicle repair costs remain exactly unsure, the EPA and the NHTSA have estimated potential fines for the company at just under $40,000 per vehicle for the four violations of law, which could amount to nearly $90 billion in total.

In addition to vehicle repair costs and fines, thousands of Volkswagen diesel emissions lawsuits across the U.S. were consolidated as part of a federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) in December before U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer in the Northern District of California.


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