Wednesday, 2 September 2009

My 2001 Golf Mk IV- Driver's seat 'Burn Alert!'

My 2001 VW Golf Mk IV Gti

How many other Golf Mk IV drivers may be at risk of being burned by their seat while driving, or even worse have the seat catch fire?

They're funny things the design features which we love about the products we buy. I wouldn't have specified it, but I grew to love the driver's heated seat which my VW Golf came fitted with.

But recently I was driving along at 50mph when I felt an intense hot, burning sensation in my right thigh. Shocked, I pulled the car over and found that the heated seat had become exceptionally hot. The burning pain in my thigh faded after a few hours, but the small hole which the heating element burned straight through the fabric car seat is permanent and the heater no longer works.

Last week when I took the vehicle into the main VW agent for servicing I asked them to investigate. They simply quoted £251.09 to replace the burned seat pad and heater element.

Looking online later that night at various VW owner forums I discovered that VW had recalled 2002 Golf MK IVs because of a safety issue with the driver's heated seat.

I ask the garage to check with VW if this affects my model. No, apparently the recall doesn't cover my chassis number - even though I do appear to have a fault with the driver's heated seat. They suggest I speak to VW Customer Service.

Today I telephone VW and explain how I have been burned while driving. The operator tries to fob me off. 'Your vehicle registration isn't the subject of any recalls', she states and goes on to explain;

'VW cannot assist with any repairs because of the age of your vehicle'.

So much for VW's concern for their customer's safety.

I give her Volkswagen's own recall reference number 74B4 - can she tell me the exact nature of the safety issue the recall covered? No she can't, because she doesn't have those details.

I request my call be escalated to a more senior manager. Nick agrees that I may be alerting VW to a safety issue. Drivers shouldn't receive an unexpected burn from their seat while driving at speed. He promises a response within 24-48 hours.

Within 2 hours a bad tempered man called Brian phones me. 'Your vehicle's chassis number isn't covered by the recall' he announces. 'I know, I didn't say it was.' I reply. 'So what can I do for you?' he demands brusquely.

I explain that I'm concerned that although VW didn't identify my model as having this safety fault, it may be that other Golf owners are at risk of burn, or even vehicle fire. Sadly Brian has learned his craft from the 'Just Say No' manual, so he's unlikely to uncover any safety issues by talking to customers.

Funny that, because the VW website says 'Contact Us - we're always happy to talk to our customers'.

Brian dismisses my concerns and says VW monitor all safety issues very closely and regrettably my heated seat sounds like 'Just a routine failure of the heating element. There is no proof that the heater burned the seat fabric.'

I ask how VW can monitor customer feedback so carefully when the first customer service operator dismissed my safety concerns.

I ask if Brian can tell me exactly what the safety fault is which led to the VW recall reference 74B4?

His response is staggering. He doesn't know what the safety recall covered. He hasn't even checked.

So how can Brian possibly claim that VW take safety feedback from customers seriously? He hasn't even checked to see if the safety fault I'm alerting VW to is the same as the recall fault.

Then just as unexpectedly as my driver's seat malfunction, Brian's call to my mobile is cut off. Surprisingly he didn't phone back...

I googled 'seat heating element failure golf'

The first result to come up is VW's website for New Zealand. It helpfully lists full details of the recall reference 74B4 for all their Golf Model Year 2002 - 2003 customers to check.

"On vehicles of the affected chassis number ranges the cable for the seat heating mat of the driver seat may break because of a not optimal cable routing. This can lead to sporadic overload and failure of the heating mat.

For safety reasons a check of your vehicle is necessary. The check and repair are free of charge to you. "

I searched further online, many VW Golf Mk IV owners report failed driver heated seats. There does appear to be a common fault - but is the failure part of a wider safety issue facing other VW Golf Mk IV owners?

I looked at VW's Annual Report. "2009 will be a very difficult year for the Volkswagen Group" writes CEO Professor Martin Winterkorn. Interestingly the document details the 'cost intensive provision' VW makes for cases where US customers assert claims for vehicle defects individually or by way of a class action.

It's reassuring to know - VW does care about being sued when its cars have defects.

Well, unfortunately VW won't find out about a safety issue as a result of my alert. Let's hope it's not you driving at 50mph when your seat fabric catches fire, or VW's friendly customer service agent Brian, or even CEO Prof Winterkorn.


Anonymous said...

I have had a similar incendiary seat problem over 10 months ago. Fortunately, there was no one sitting in my passenger seat when the seat began to smoulder so the only caualty was my briefcase.

I have an older VW Golf TDI (2005). When I took the car to the dealer I was initially informed that I would have to cover the cost of repairs. After some personal research I discovered that the warranty had been extended to June 2010 but I was then told that there were no longer any parts to make the necessary repairs.

It seems that VW is not as good as they might be at supporting their older vehicles. So those of us that had been swayed to purchase a VW by the apparent quality and potential longevity of thir autos can find themselves out of luck when parts run out.

I am stillwaiting to learn what decision VW management will make in order to honour the warranty. Meanwhile I have a 2" hole in my passenger seat.

Carl A. said...

i have a MarkIV 2003 VW Golf TDi. I am here in the United States. MY driver's side was under a recall years ago for the heater element. it didnt burn through my seat but i could smell the cushion melting. VW replaced it and checked my passenger side. it was fine. Again, this was probably in 2004.
Last week, the passenger side starts doing the same thing.
Contact VW of America, very helpful, they told me to get a dealer diagnosis, fax them the info, and they would possibly reimburse me. Unfortunately, the part is no longer made by VW (after 7 years. They did offer me a 1,000 dollar credit towards the purchase of a new VW, but im not looking forward to that, i just would like a new seat heater. good luck finding one out there...

Ofra said...

Amazing . My story is so similar . My VW was bought in 2003. I am still recovering the shock of driving on the A1 in London UK while my car seat was burning. I too felt an intense heat so turned the heater off thinking, naively as I then realised , in retrospect, and drove on for about 10 min while the seat was cooling down. Upon arriving at my destination , I discovered to my horror that my car seat had got burnt; the Right handside is damaged . I took it to the main VW dealer in London , today and still waiting to hear from them how they are going to proceed with my case from hear.
To begin with they said that they will need I to investigate the damage to see whether the car seat had been tempered with... ??? Or, it is possible this gelntleman insisted, that because the car is old (8 years) the seat may have sunk and caused wires to rub ueach other....???? So I said, if this is the case VW should have warned me upon purchsing the vihrcle
that If I nor carful 10 years on I may get my self burnt or , for that matter,kill someone else should I have sold the car....,such nonsense.
they have given me a curtesy car , obviously realised how aggravated I had become by their responses. They will inspect the car and let me know. I forgot to mention that they presented me with an invoice of over£1000 to have the sest replaced which I obviously dismissed,needless to add.
If I don't get joy from them is hall contact Germany. this I is such a disgrace. Oh ,yes, last but least my car was not undef recall judging by the sashay number looks like from their point of view that in this case it really doesn't matter if I get burnt or not.... I will never buy VW again.

Ofra said...

Posting this again as the above was sent too soon and was written on an Ipad.


My story is so similar. I bought my VW Golf in 2003.

I am still recovering the shock of driving last Thursday on the A1 in London UK while my car seat was burning. I too felt an intense heat so turned the heater off thinking naively so, as I realised in retrospect,and drove on for about 10 min while the seat was cooling down. Upon arriving at my destination, I discovered to my horror that my car seat had got burnt.

The right hand side of my driver's seat is burnt.

I took the car today to the main VW dealer in London and now I am waiting to hear from them how they intend to proceed with my case.

To begin with they said that they will need to investigate the damage to see whether the car seat had been tempered with??? Or, it is possible, this gentleman insisted “that because the car is old the seat may have sunk and caused wires to rub each other???? So I said “if this is indeed a possibility should VW not have warned upon purchasing the car that 8 years on I may get myself burnt or?....such nonsense.

They gave me a curtsey car, obviously realising how aggravated I had become by their responses. They will inspect the car and let me know the outcome; manufacture fault or whatever else their highly imaginative mind is suggesting. I forgot to mention that they presented me with an invoice of over £1000 to replace the seat and to have the electric circuit repaired which I obviously dismissed, needless to add.

If I don't get any joy from them I shall contact Germany. This is such a disgrace.. Oh, yes, last but least, my car was not under recall either, judging by the chassis number so it looks like from their point of view it really doesn’t matter if I get myself burnt or not... I will certainly never buy VW again.

The Chief Executive said...

I should have added a post-script to my original post. After emailing my article to Martin Winterkorn, VW Germany contacted me to say the repair would be carried out free of charge at a dealership of my choice. Although the response I received from VW UK was very poor, the parent company lived up to its reputation. My faith in VW was restored. My heated drivers seat now works just as it should and has a new seat cover.

Ofra - you will probably need to email Germany to get any satisfaction.

Ofra said...

I have good news
my dealer fixed it free of charge but they disconnected the electronics, they left the passenger side live ???
when asked why, they just shrugged...they see it as VW responsibility, they just did me a (big) favour out of good will, they said
I will not use the passenger's heater and I shall not bye VW ever again. I am too scared of heated care seats from VW...but I hope I can sell the bloody thing now

glad you have had some joy from VW

Anonymous said...

I have a golf mk six, today 05.03.12 the heated seat on the driver side caught fire, within 30 seconds the car was an inferno and gutted. thankfully I was the only occupant and my children and wife were not in the car. there has been problems with the central locking as all of the doors except the drivers door would lock themselves.

The Chief Executive said...

Since I wrote this original article just over 2 years ago, almost 350 readers have visited this page - usually after searching Google with the words 'VW seat burn'.

I can only conclude these readers were looking for more information after suffering this alarming incident themselves.