Oil Sludge in the 1.8L Turbocharged Engine

From 1997-2005, VW manufactured a 1.8-liter turbocharged engine with a tiny 3.7 quart oil capacity. That’s simply not a lot of oil to compensate for the amount of heat this engine generates.

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A Heart Attack For Your Engine

What is Oil Sludge?

Sludge is the thickening of engine oil. It’s caused by moisture, heat, and other contaminants that break the oil down, causing it to gel and reducing its flow and lubrication qualities.

1.8L Turbocharged Engine Sludge

From 1997-2005, VW manufactured a 1.8-liter turbocharged engine with a tiny 3.7-quart oil capacity.

Turbochargers are hot. Combine that with an undersized oil supply to dissipate the heat, and you have trouble on your hands. Mechanics have said the 1.8-liter engine’s oil capacity essentially removes any margin of error for owners who are a little bit late on an oil change, or those that mostly do short-trip driving.

It’s worth noting that VW did install “oil coolers” in these engines to help with the problem. However, most owners say they didn’t do much (other than leak). And, yes – there are certain oils that can handle engine heat better, but they’re more expensive and owners are often not informed that they need it.

VW’s Extended Warranty

Volkswagen acknowledged the sludge problem in 2004 when they extended the warranty on some cars to 8 years / unlimited mileage. They promised to help customers who had already paid for repairs, but only if they could provide documentation showing adequate maintenance records.

It sounded great, but owners quickly found out that by adequate, VW actually meant perfect maintenance records.

  • Accidentally throw out one of your oil receipts? Denied!
  • Decide to change your own oil to save a few bucks? No warranty for you!
  • Miss a recommended oil change by a few miles? Stinks to be you.

Class-Action Lawsuit and Settlement

Complaints poured in to the Center for Auto Safety about VW’s ridiculous restrictions and their continued denial of claims. Owners were left with expensive repair bills running anywhere between $4000 and $8000.

Eventually, lawsuits were filed against VW claiming that 500,000 of the automaker’s vehicles were prone to sludge-damaged engines. They also said that VW committed fraud by telling owners it was their fault for not changing the oil enough.

In a 2005 interview with The Plain Dealer of Cleveland, Len Hunt – who was then vice president of VW – said he thought the requirements for consumers to get reimbursed were too strict.

“When you’ve got a reputation for not such stellar quality, you’ve to treat the customer properly. Sometimes your rules and regulations and the culture of the company can be a little bit harsh when it gets translated down to the customer level,” he said. “We’ve got to have some latitude in there.”

VW eventually eased the restrictions on sludge claims and reached a settlement agreement on their lawsuits. They denied any wrongdoing in the process.

Vehicles Covered in the Settlement
Make Model Years
Audi A4 1997 /  1998 /  1999 /  2000 /  2001 /  2002 /  2003 /  2004
Volkswagen Passat 1998 /  1999 /  2000 /  2001 /  2002 /  2003 /  2004

Settlement Provisions

  • Owners will be compensated 100% of the repair costs if they can prove they performed the last two oil changes within the recommended specs before any oil sludge or engine failure started. There is a 20% “permissible variance” on those time and mileage limits.
  • Owners will receive 50% of the the repair costs if they cannot provide proof that the last two oil changes were made within the recommended specs before the oil sludge or engine failure happened.

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.

Below are a handful of steps you can take to make sure this problem gets the attention it needs.

  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.