TECH TALK: Volkswagen engine and DSG related issues. How to try avoid them (UPDATED)

There has been a fair bit of Volkswagen related news this week and I thought I’d continue with something technical related. Over the last few months I have been driving a slew of Volkswagen cars. From the basic Volkswagen Polo 1.6 hatchback to the latest locally assembled Volkswagen Jetta 1.4TSI. All are decent cars to drive around and some, like the Polo GTI brought a smile to my face because it was simply satisfying to drive fast in a tiny car over a nice mountainside road. The latest Mk7 Golf  1.4 TSI was also remarkable in that after a few days you realise why this car has been the benchmark in family hatchbacks over the years. A tad soulless, but a feat in packaging and also overall vehicle performance. And oh, nothing broke, nor did any issues creep up as regards to them.

Anyway, the main issue why this article has come about is the fact that I hear and have listen to friends as well as others who tell me the horror stories relating to Volkswagen ownership in Malaysia. Most of this are related to engine troubles as well as the DSG transmission. But there is an exception. Now, if you have the Polo 1.6 sedan or hatchback, none of these problems should surface as the engine is not turbocharged so it is not sensitive to boost or extreme heat or load and that it runs a traditional torque convertor gearbox which is smooth and does not have two things that DSG gearboxes have that could wear out – the mechatronic gear change controller and two sets of clutches and pads.

With that lets start with the engines and known VW engine issues -

The fact that it has two forced induction turbines as well as being direct injected (which means a higher than usual engine compression ratio) should tell you that this isn’t an ordinary engine. After a long drive in a Polo GTI when you try pop the bonnet you will find an extremely hot engine which engine bay heat reminds me of a friend’s Lancer Evolution.

The one in the Jetta 1.4TSI is the same as the one in the Polo albeit in a lighter state of tune. This means that it runs less hot that the Polo. Slightly less so.

Having such a technologically advanced engine (even though it is from the factory) means that one should treat it with more respect than that of a normal engined car. I would suggest owners to maintain the Polo GTI  as well as the Jetta 1.4TSI religiously and not miss any service intervals. In fact if VW says 15,000km, do it even lesser if possible. There is a 1,500km tollerance for bringing the car in for service – use it at 13,500km INSTEAD of going over the 15,000km mark.

In fact, if you own ANY direct injected Volkswagen and like to drive silly fast all of the time – 1.2TSI, 1.4TSI, 1.8TSI, 2.0GTI or whatever I have not mentioned herein send it in 1,500km earlier or if the car is out of warranty, send it in every 10,000km so that the engine oil does not degrade from the heat. Even expensive engine oil will not cure all heat releated issues like pistons melting and what not. Most of you aren’t aware that those who used to play with tuned Mitsus or high compression Honda VTECs had experienced engine meltdowns before from the heat (and turbo) releated issues so these turbocharged, high compression-ed, direct injected engines are no different from tuned engines that my friends and I used to dabble in years and years ago.

Do make sure that the service centre provides VW504 grade engine oil (which is VW’s long life oil rating) for this and do not skimp on the quality of oil.

Update:  Do also wait before you turn off the ignition. Let the oil and the water circulate around a bit after a spirited drive. It lets the fluids cool down as if you turn the ignition off the water and oil stops circulating and heat is stuck in the engine block instead of having some of it return through the radiator and disperses off. In some VWs the radiator fan stays on after the car stops, but you can assist the car by keeping the engine on for at least a minute or so. What is a minute against a destroyed engine? Note that some of us use aftermarket timers (turbo timers) to do this for us. But if your car is new and under warranty, this may void warranty as it is not a warranted addition. So do it manually.

As for coil pack issues, this is a known VW as well as Audi problem. Again, this is heat related. If you are whacking the car silly all of the time this may arise. It isn’t as often as you think as I have heard of many VW owners without such issues. It is simple, with great horsepower and torque, comes higher servicing and maintenance costs. I thought it was logical.

The same goes for the DSG. 

Remember this – 6/7 speed dry clutch DSG for anything below the 2.0liter VW/AUDI engines (1.2, 1.4, 1.8)
                          – 6 speed wet clutch DSG for 2.0liter and above VW/Audi engines

Buyers must note that unlike a traditional torque convertor gearbox or even a wet clutch DSG (which will suffer at the very least some mechatronic issues if you drive like an idiot most of the time – explaination below) a dry clutch DSG has two clutches to assist in the changing of gears. Anything dry rubbing against another surface would cause friction. And like a traditional manual gearbox’s clutch (which is a dry clutch most of the time) the clutch plate(s) would suffer from wear. So remember if you looooove flooring the accelerator at traffic lights all the time, a DSG clutch will wear out.

This is different from something used in say, a Toyota Vios automatic. That Toyota can do ‘Go Greens’ at the traffic lights every time of the day without any problems for years (as it has no torque from the normally aspirated engine to destroy the clutch pads too). So I would suggest buyers be prepared for a change of clutches if you intend to use the car for its duration if you are heavy on the accelerator pedal  here and there all of the time. Drive normally most of the time and the DSG may survive as long as it should. The occasional spirited driving and lighting up the tyres at the traffic lights are acceptable.  Again, note that it has clutches that may wear out and be prepared for it and you should do fine!!!! Remember, it is a double clutch gearbox – two of everything.

The most important issue when driving anything DSG (both wet or dry clutch DSG) is that when you drive it, make sure you come TO A COMPLETE STOP BEFORE CHANGING GEARS. DSGs suffer from drivetrain shunts or shift shocks if you do not shift properly. When reversing, do not enter into forward until the car has stopped rolling backwards. Put your foot on the brake, come to a complete stop before shifthing into Drive.

I know a whole lot of people who are so rough on their automatic transmissions that they break them. A DSG isn’t a traditional automatic. In fact a CVT isn’t that traditional too. I have encountered friends who have complained about jerky shifts on a CVT but when I thought them to actually shift properly, the issues stop happening. This is the same with maintaining a DSG. You shift properly and it will extend the lifespan of the gearbox. Especially the mechatronic controller which gets totally confused (it suffers from transmission shock when you shift on the fly) and then dies on you if you aren’t doing it right.

Oh, make sure you change the oil in the DSG at least once a year regardless of how much you drive it.


Of course, what I’ve stated will NOT alleviate issues totally. It may mitigate or prolong the life of the engine and gearbox longer than before. It is all about owner maintenance and also how the owner drives the car.

These cars are affordable for technologically advances cars that come from Europe. Can you imagine 156hp and 250nm torque from a 1.4liter engine with a supercharger and a turbocharger and comes in at RM130,888? Or can you imagine a 220hp /350Nm torque 2.0liter engine at around RM230,000? Which other company gives your a brand new car with so much performance for so ‘cheap’? Maybe Ford, but its line-up isn’t as comprehensive as this but the technology given to you isn’t half baked no direct injection, no turbocharger, no dual clutch gearboxes like cars twenty years ago. Everything with tons of technology is bound to cost more to maintain them.

There is no such thing as a free lunch, a MMA (mixed martial arts fighter) who give it all he’s got is bound to suffer years down the road from the punishment he gets from giving out punishment to others. So it is the same if you take your Volkswagen by the neck and wring out every last breath of its TSI engines and gearboxes (which are relentless and intoxicating I have to admit). This is the price you have to pay for power and performance. And note they are European, this means parts may come from over there and may cost more. Simple logic would also tell you that.

With great power, comes great responsibility. Like Nissan GTR owners, you ask any of them how much it costs to maintain their rides. The GTR may cost half as much as a Ferrari 458 Italia, but the maintenance is not half the cost to maintain a 458 if you drive the darn thing like an idiot most of the time. It is the same with the Volkswagens that you bought, they may be ‘cheap’ to buy, but don’t imagine that with all that tech it’ll be cheap to maintain okay.

So just be prepared and remember that everything comes with a cost at the end of the day and your ownership of a VW with lots of performance will be fine. If not, may I suggest the base Polo 1.6 in either sedan or hatchback then ? They aren’t fast, but they’re well built, refined, efficient and European designed (AND personally the only VW I’d buy for now as I have no time for headaches and such responsibilities). You can’t get everything for peanuts okay.

3 thoughts on “TECH TALK: Volkswagen engine and DSG related issues. How to try avoid them (UPDATED)”

  1. “Can you imagine a 220hp /350Nm torque 2.0liter engine at around RM230,000?”
    Ford Mondeo 237hp/340Nm 2.0L at RM19,4000.

    You are welcome.

    1. Ops, should have read the next sentence before commenting. Sorry.

      Still, Ford Ecoboost 2.0L engine actually quite new and fully baked. The Mondeo has it’s own fault such as an old platform waiting for renew in 2014/2015.

      About car technology, it’s funny but I foresee in twenty years time, we’ll be all driving electric cars with an 440Nm engine the size of a watermelon that requires little maintenance.

      - Pat (Not login to any account at this moment)

    2. Hahaha…mistakes happen. But the thing is the Mondeo is huge…I like driving large Fords and the Mondeo is one of ‘em. But in this case the examples were more on the smaller performance car category. Not many Mondeo owners drive like VW Polo, golf, jetta owners. These cars break more than people driving the Passat if you know what I mean.


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