The Volkswagen Passat is widely known as one of the best mid-size family sedans, but is the Passat without fault? In this article, we will go in-depth about all the issues you need to look out for if you are interested in buying the 2011-2022 Passat. Before doing so, we will first offer you a short answer, and then we will go all in.
Volkswagen Passats commonly have problems with failure of the airbags caused by a faulty clock spring or electrical problems caused by faulty batteries, alternators, or corrosion of the wires. Oil and fuel leaks causing engine, drivetrain, and/or transmission failure are also reported.
This answer only offers a glimpse of what the Volkswagen Passat is all about. Because of that, it’s time to dig deep and tell you everything in greater detail. If you want to know more of the lifespan of the Passat, read this article as well, in which we dive into how many miles it can drive before reaching its end.
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The 2011 and on Volkswagen Passat seems to be suffering from various airbag-related issues, so much so that airbag-related issues make up more than 30% of all the problems reported to NHTSA. Earlier Volkswagen Passat models were known to experience issues with the airbag clock spring, which was a known failure point, and thus would sometimes fail to deploy the airbag when necessary.
Other airbag issues include problems with the frontal airbag inflator, which is known to rupture or even explode completely and cause injuries or even death. Airbag warning lights tend to come on for no apparent reason, and some owners even complained about the car not deploying the airbags in fairly substantial accidents.
2020 and later Passat models also experience issues with the airbags, such as the airbags being improperly placed within their housings or VW using a faulty airbag altogether. Sadly, Volkswagen recalled the Passat due to airbag-related issues as much as six times throughout the past ten years. These go as follows:
- 15V483000: Volkswagen recalled specific Passat models in August of 2015 due to a potential airbag clock spring failure that can prevent the airbag from inflating.
- 16V078000: Volkswagen recalled specific Passat models in February 2016 due to potential ruptures of the driver’s airbag inflator, which can cause injuries.
- 18V148000: Volkswagen recalled specific Passat models in March of 2018 due to potential ruptures of the driver’s airbag inflator, which can cause injuries.
- 19V218000: Volkswagen recalled specific Passat models in March 2019 due to faulty side airbags.
- 19V862000: Volkswagen recalled specific Passat models back in December of 2019 due to a risk of an exploding driver-side airbag which can result in severe injury or death.
- 20V533000: Volkswagen recalled specific Passat models back in September 2020 due to an improperly welded driver airbag.
Issues With Electrical Systems
German premium cars are no strangers to countless electrical issues, and it seems like the 2011-2022 Passat is no different. These issues include clock spring failures, problems with the battery, problems with the door lock actuators, the exterior lights, connector corrosion, and various other electrical problems.
Issues With The Clock Spring
We already mentioned that the VW Passat was recalled due to clock spring airbag-related issues, but the fact is that the clock spring causes all sorts of additional problems with the Passat. For starters, a failed clock spring will likely disengage the car’s horn completely, which can sometimes be dangerous.
Also, as most cars these days come with multi-function steering wheels, these will be impaired if the clock spring eventually fails. Probably the most frustrating aspect of owning a Volkswagen Passat and actually doing all the recalls is that these sometimes tend to persist even after all the recalls.
Battery And Alternator Issues
If you are having trouble starting up your Passat, and if the noises are accompanied by clicking sounds, chances are that your battery is to blame. The clicking sounds will tell you that your battery has enough juice to kickstart the solenoid but not enough juice to fire up the starter motor. Another symptom of a dead battery is flashing dashboard lights, also common with the VW Passat.
However, some of these issues might even lead you to alternator problems which was the main reason why your battery has no juice left in the first place.
Exterior Lights Issues
According to quite a few owners, many Volkswagen Passat models also suffer from exterior lighting issues, some of which are worse than others. Owners complain about the low beams either going dim or going out altogether. Some of them even complained about the high beams for the same reason.
Finally, quite a few Volkswagen Passat owners complained about the headlights switching off entirely, sometimes even after those were replaced. As the prices of these can often climb over $500 for a single unit, this is certainly a big issue. To top it all off, VW also did a few recalls caused by exterior lighting failures:
- 14V125000: Volkswagen recalled specific Volkswagen Passat models in March of 2014 due to a complete loss of low beams. This can reduce the driver’s visibility at night and cause an accident.
- 19V389000: Volkswagen recalled specific Volkswagen Passat models back in May of 2022 due to drivers being able to adjust the headlights out of specification and thus reducing visibility and increasing the risk of a crash.
Issues With Electrical Corrosion
The Volkswagen Passat is a car filled with acres of wires designed to do everything from heating your seats to turning on your rear turn signals. These also lead to various sensors tasked with monitoring the heat signature of multiple components. If one of these sensors fails to read the temperature correctly, it can cause the car to burst into flames.
This was also why VW recalled the Passat in March 2016 (16V171000). The reason for the recall was the presence of corrosion on the electric terminals, which can cause a short circuit and thus overheat the sensors and set the car on fire.
The engine and the transmission are arguably the two most essential components of any car, as they are tasked with creating the power and sending it to the road. Sadly, powertrain issues are common across all Volkswagen Passat generations. These issues include loss of power, heater core problems, and issues with the camshaft.
As far as transmission issues are concerned, the VW Passat tends to suffer from slipping transmission gears, transmission fluid leaks, and the inability to select the reverse gear.
Loss Of Engine Power
Many Volkswagen Passat owners complained about a loss of engine power, which can often be accompanied by check engine lights. It seems like this issue is down to a faulty throttle body, and the only way to repair it is to replace the entire throttle body. Moreover, these issues can often cause the car to hesitate and stall.
Heater Core Problems
The heater core is tasked with warming up the car’s cabin by using the engine’s warmth and is not known to fail often. However, this is not the case with 2011 and later Passat models, as the heater core in these cars can fail without any prior warning and thus leave you freezing inside your car. VW recognized this issue and even extended the warranty on these heaters.
The Volkswagen Passat is plagued by more than one issue with the camshaft, which can also become a severe issue. A few owners complained about oil leaks caused by failing gasket covers and camshaft chain tensioner gaskets.
However, the dangerous issue with the camshaft is where the camshaft lobe can shear off and affect the car’s braking performance. This was precisely why Volkswagen recalled specific Passat models in October 2015 (15V705000).
Specific 2014 VW Passat models equipped with the 1.8LT engine and a torque converter automatic gearbox were prone to transmission fluid leaks. This is not all that rare in itself, but it is rare when his fluid finds its way onto hot nearby engine components and causes the car to burst into flames. This also prompted VW to recall these 2014 Passat models in April 2014 (14V182000).
Fuel System Issues
Both gasoline and diesel-powered VW Passat models seem to suffer from various issues associated with the car’s fuel system. Early 2011-2012 diesel Volkswagen Passat models came with a faulty fuel filter that could cause fuel leaks and even set the car on fire. On the other hand, gasoline-powered Passat models come with defective fuel rails, which can also cause leaks.
Issues such as these resulted in three separate recalls associated with fuel leaks. These go as follows:
- 12V146000: Volkswagen recalled specific 2011-2012 diesel-powered Volkswagen Passat models back in April of 2012 due to faulty fuel filters, which can cause fuel leaks and thus set the car on fire.
- 15V028000: Volkswagen recalled specific gasoline-powered Volkswagen Passat models back in January 2015 due to fuel leaking into the engine compartment and possibly starting a fire.
- 16V403000: Volkswagen recalled specific gasoline-powered Volkswagen Passat models back in June of 2016 due to the possibility of the fuel rail detaching and causing fuel leaks which can set the car on fire.
Also read: What Gas Does A Volkswagen Passat Take? (Explained)
Issues With The Seats and Seatbelts
The Volkswagen Passat is not necessarily all that problematic when it comes to seats, but there are some issues worth talking about in greater detail. One owner complained about low-quality seat upholstery, which is prone to tearing. Volkswagen also issued a recall for specific Volkswagen Passat models back in October of 2014 due to unexpected movement of the driver’s seat, which can distract the driver and even cause an accident.
Regarding seatbelt issues, there are a few complaints where owners stated that the Passat’s seatbelts failed to tighten in the event of an accident. Moreover, the seatbelt warning chime is sometimes known to turn on even if no one is sitting in the seat.
To top it all off, we will also mention specific issues with the Passat’s suspension system. Owners of the 2011, 2012, and 2013 Passat models complained about the rear suspension coil spring breaking off. Sadly, replacing the spring is the only way to fix this issue. Other suspension issues include faulty bolts used to attach the suspension to the vehicle, which can cause rattles.
A few owners complained that the Passat is prone to pulling to the right without apparent reason. They also said that this can be extremely dangerous and that VW says this is normal. Either way, these issues are likely caused by improper wheel alignment and thus ought to be dealt with as early as possible.
Finally, some reports about the Passat emitting clunking noises from the front. Per a few VW technicians, these issues are likely due to loose lower control arm joint studs.
Marko´s interest in cars runs in the family. His father was a car trader and regularly took him to car dealerships when he was younger.
These days, when he isn´t watching Drivetribe or Doug DeMuro videos, he´s building up quite a resume as an automotive writer since he´s also a regular contributor on Cararc.com, Tirehungry.com, and Luxurycarsa2z.com.