NHTSA Launches New Probe of Volkswagen Passat over Potential Ignition Coil Defects

For the second time in three years, federal regulators have launched an investigation of model years 2002 and 2003 Volkswagen Passats over complaints about ignition coil failures that have resulted in fires in the vehicles’ engine compartments.

On August 2, officials with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said they have begun a preliminary investigation into the matter. The preliminary probe, which could lead to a formal investigation, involves reports by 16 Passat owners and could eventually involve as many as 199,000 vehicles.

The agency said that some of the complaints it has received were from owners who said their vehicles “hesitated or lost power” when the ignition coils failed. Some other owners complained about having to replace the ignition coils in their vehicles more than once.

One complainant alleged that his 2002 Passat began “shaking violently and shut down in the middle of an intersection.”

A spokesman for the German automaker said the company is cooperating with federal regulators.

In 2007, the NHTSA began an investigation of model years 2000-2003 Passats after receiving complaints about crashes and engine fires related to possible ignition coil failures. The agency closed its investigation after Volkswagen recalled 412,000 of the vehicles.

Regarding the current investigation, Volkswagen spokesman Kerry Christopher said, “We take all of these investigations seriously, and we’re working with NHTSA on this matter.”

In 2008, the NHTSA speculated that the Passats it had investigated “may have an underbody heat shield that can become damaged. A heat shield that may contact the exhaust system can result in a vehicle fire.” The agency also said that some of the recalled models may have also had defective fuel lines or fuel tank ventilation valves that could have cause fires in the vehicle’s engine compartments.

The NHTSA said that Volkswagen instructed its dealers to install additional heat shields on the recalled vehicles. Fuel lines and fuel tank ventilation valves were also replaced if they were found to be defective.

Passat sales in the U.S. rose 26% to 7,707 during the first half of this year. The imported Passat will be replaced in 2011 by an all-new, U.S.-built model. Volkswagen plans to build the unnamed model at its new plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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