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Antilock Braking System (ABS) Failure

VW owners have had a lot of ABS complaints over the years, and rightfully so. Not only are their ABS modules failing early, but they also fail at the most inopportune time – like when slamming on the brakes to avoid an accident. And the repairs are costly.

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Dash cluster with ABS warning light on
A BS problem if we've ever seen one.

What is ABS?

ABS is designed to help maintain traction between your wheels and the road. It does this in a number of ways.

First, ABS replaces the practice of “cadence braking” or pumping the brake pedal to come to a stop. Ever hear the term “pump the brakes?” Of course you have. Every dad and high school math teacher has used the phrase excessively over the last half-century.

Pumping the brakes is very important – it brings the car to a stop without locking up the wheels. As long as your wheels are spinning, you maintain control. And we all like control. Thanks to ABS your car now pumps the brakes for you, and you probably don’t notice it because it’s doing it much faster than you could.

Second, a modern ABS encompasses other electronically-aided systems like emergency brake assist, traction control, and electronic stability control (ESC).

All that is to say, ABS is meant to keep you safe. But it comes at a cost – complicated electronics and code that are subject to failure.

ABS Failure

When your car’s ABS fails, there’s a sudden loss of traction and stability control. There’s a jarring display of warning lights on your dashboard that makes Times Square cringe. And then, of course, there’s the crippling fear as your car slides out of control.

ABS Problems in Volkswagen

ABS has a central electronic control unit (ECU) that controls and monitors the system. Everything from data from wheel speed sensors, to controlling hydraulic valves inside the brake lines. If anything goes wrong (in any part of the system), your ABS will hurl some lights at you and go full out fainting goat.

Your ABS, when something goes wrong

And it never seems to happen at a good time, like this story from a 2009 GTI owner:

Without notice, traffic suddenly slowed to approximately 40 mph, causing me to hit my brakes hard. The ABS system engaged and my car was thrown sideways off the road at approximately 70 mph. I pulled the car back left, causing vehicles in the left lane to swerve to miss hitting me.

The ABS and brake light illuminated on my car, indicating a failure however, a dummy could figure out the brakes were not working. There is no doubt in my mind, had my car been thrown left when I hit the brakes I would have been smeared by on coming traffic, likely a fatality.

Many VW vehicles – particularly those from the 2009 model year – are seeing their ABS fail early on in the vehicle’s life.

Volkswagen built vehicles with ABS problems
Make Model Years
Audi A4 1998 /  1999
  A6 2000
  S4 2000
Volkswagen Eos 2009
  Golf 2008
  GTI 2009
  Jetta 2002 /  2004 /  2005 /  2009
  Passat 1998 /  1999 /  2000 /  2002
  Rabbit 2009
  Routan 2009

The Repairs are Costly

And the repairs are complicated and expensive. A new ABS module isn’t much, but the part is located in the middle of the braking system and requires a lot of disassembly to replace. Plus there’s all the scanners and oh, yeah the “recoding fee” to integrate the module into your car’s computer.

Many owners are getting quoted $2000 to $2800 without any guarantee the new ABS just won’t do the same thing.

OK, Now What?

Maybe you've experienced this problem. Maybe you're concerned you will soon. Whatever the reason, you can help make sure it gets the attention it deserves.

  1. File Your Complaint at CarComplaints.com

    CarComplaints.com is a free site dedicated to uncovering problem trends and informing owners about potential issues with their cars. Major class action law firms use this data when researching cases.

    Add a Complaint

  2. Notify the Center for Auto Safety

    The Center for Auto Safety (CAS) is a pro-consumer organization that researches auto safety issues & often compels the US government to do the right thing through lobbying & lawsuits.

    Notify the CAS

  3. Report a Safety Concern to NHTSA

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the US agency with the authority to conduct vehicle defect investigations & force recalls. Their focus is on safety-related issues.

    Report to NHTSA

  4. Spread the Word

    Social media is all the rage these days. And for good reason – it can help spread a message quickly. So get out there and start spreading this page.

On the Record

“Same problem on many VW cars incl Golfs, Passats, others - multiple flashing dashboard warnings lights signal failure of ABS module, even at low mileage, huge cost to fix but VW not being responsible”

2009 Rabbit Owner in Washington, DC

“I have read many other complaints that the ABS control module fails and consumers have lost steering. This part is $1550 and another $375 to install, total of $1925. You can only buy this part new at the VW dealer. I can't believe this has not been recalled by now.”

2009 Jetta Owner in Florida, USA

“This is the single most offensively overpriced, unforgivably coercive customer hostage taking piece of electronic garbage I have ever had the misfortune of encountering in a vehicle I've owned.”

2009 Rabbit Owner in Pasadena, CA

“Not sure why this hasn't been recalled yet. I take extremely good care of my car and hardly ever use the Turbo or sport mode ... there are several online forums and posts regarding this happening even at 30K. I am not just going to settle for this $2800 repair.”

2009 Eos Owner in Los Angeles, CA

“My 2000 Passat has started reporting errors, including brake faults, ABS errors, check engine lights. I've taken it to mechanics and they are unable to find any problems. They simply reset the codes and send me on my way. A few hours of driving and the errors come back. It's incredibly frustrating.”

2000 Passat Owner in Van Nuys, CA

“My ABS pump & module were determined to need replacement. Searching online, it seems a large number of people with the 2009 model are having this issue. I was quoted at $2200 to fix it.”

2009 GTI Owner in Charlotte, NC