CANbus, replacement car stereos and dodgy steering wheel controls!

This content is 9 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

One of the side effects of no longer having a company car is that I’m having to take direct responsibility for maintenance again. It’s a world away from my days of learning how to maintain my Mum’s 1980 Ford Fiesta! For example, I recently learned how the wiring in modern cars is totally changed so that it uses a controller area network (CAN) and a serial bus to integrate the various electronic components and to reduce the amount of physical wiring in use. This CANbus system uses common wiring (CAN high and CAN low) and each device communicates using its own frequency… or at least that’s how it was explained to me.

Last month, I had a new car stereo fitted in my family’s 2008 Golf. The Pioneer DEH-4700BT was a bargain at just under £79 (from Halfords) including Bluetooth connectivity to multiple phones for calls and media playback but, by the time fitting and the various cables/adapters/fascia components had been added, the cost had gone up by another £100!

I’m amazed what a difference the new head unit makes on the existing speakers (apparently manufacturers tend to over-specify the speaker to avoid warranty claims if they are “blown” early in the vehicle’s life) but I also learned a little about the car electrics whilst it was being fitted for me.

Initially, the unit was wired in with a live feed taken from the cigarette lighter socket; however that wasn’t needed once all of the necessary parts arrived – the final piece being a stalk control adapter for integration with the steering wheel controls (I can re-use the permanent live if I buy a dash cam in future). Unfortunately, the use of these third party interfaces to the Volkswagen CAN has an interesting side-effect as it seems it listens for control on a range of frequencies, rather than a specific signal. This means that, when I use the steering wheel controls to adjust the car’s multi-function computer (e.g. to switch from fuel economy to distance driven), it skips forward/back a track on the stereo! One workaround is to switch the stereo to Aux input before changing the computer settings, then switching back again – but it is a bit clunky really!

I’ve since found a Mk5 Golf GTI forum post that suggests using Volkwagen’s own single-DIN facia unit and a Connects2 steering wheel interface. It certainly looks like a better finish but having already shelled out over £100, our car (which is certainly no GTI) will keep the AutoLeads version for now (I have an AutoLeads PC99-505 with PC99-SON, which I’m told is the same as the PC99-PIO Pioneer version, a PC2-75-4 harness adapter and an FP-17-03 fascia adapter with removable pocket).

Stuck door lock on Mk5 Volkswagen Golf

This content is 10 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

My wife’s ’08 registration Volkswagen Golf (Mk5) refused to unlock the rear passenger door earlier this week.  After trying various combinations of keyfobs, inside door locks, locking and unlocking, I hit the ‘net and found a multitude of articles with various bits of advice – usually resulting in trying to remove door trims and expensive garage bills.  I did find one post on the Mk5 Golf GTI forum that looked hopeful though (even though ours is a Match not a GTI!) and decided it was worth a try:

“You do need two people.

One operates the central lock switch on the drivers door while the other tries to open the passenger door. You try and open the door at the same time as it tries to unlock.

Can take ages.”

I tried this a few times with the outside handle (I could hear the lock “clunking” but the door still wouldn’t open) then I tried with the inside handle a couple of times and – hey presto, an open door!  I think the mechanism could do with some grease (not sure what sort), but seems to be working at the moment.

Internet search saves Mark a couple of hundred quid at the local Volkswagen dealer…

How Volkswagen turned an angry customer into a happy one

This content is 12 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Every now and again, it’s nice to post a “good news” story. This one’s about great customer service. You see, I’ve criticised Volkswagen before because of the problems with water-based paints on their cars, so it’s only right to call them out when they see sense and give great service too. Unfortunately, there is a sting in the tail for one dealer, who will never see my credit card (or any other method of payment) again…

Indeed, one afternoon last week it was a minor miracle that I didn’t tweet my anger and frustration at Volkswagen’s attitude to repairing a known issue on my wife’s low mileage car. The only reason I didn’t was because one of my friends had asked earlier in the week if I needed a “virtual hug” as it seems I’ve been very grumpy on Twitter recently!

A known issue

Our family Golf, which is just over 4 years old (so out of warranty) but has only been driven around 14,000 miles and has a full Volkswagen service history (it’s only just come off a Volkswagen service, maintenance and tyres agreement) was showing a warning lamp for the Electronic Stability Program (ESP). According to the handbook, that means the Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) isn’t working either (normal braking will be fine) and that’s not so great with standing water on the roads and ice to follow later this week.

I booked the car in with a local mechanic, who very kindly, diagnosed the fault and advised me to take it to Volkswagen instead, as the “G201 brake pressure sensor” issue is a known problem on Mk 5 Golfs and Tourans (indeed on a number of other VAG, BMW, and even Citroen cars). Whilst he could take my money, he thought I might be able to get Volkswagen to contribute to the cost on such a low mileage car, as it’s not really a service item and shouldn’t wear out or get damaged.

Furious with the Volkswagen dealer’s response

So I called the local Volkswagen dealer, Wayside Volkswagen in Milton Keynes (Jardine Motors Group), from whom I have purchased the last two (new) cars for my wife and one company car (with a previous employer) as well as placing almost all of my Volkswagen servicing business with them since about 2003. I didn’t even get past the service reception. In fact, I hung up the phone in frustration at the unhelpful, obstructive Service Manager who wanted around £90 for someone to take a look, couldn’t carry out the diagnosis whilst I waited and wasn’t even prepared to discuss the possibility of any goodwill repairs on a car out of warranty*.


After taking a few deep breaths, I tried another dealer, My Volkswagen in Northampton (Parkway Motor Group) who were sympathetic to my problem, explained they would have to charge a diagnostic fee of £69 (including VAT) but that, depending on the outcome, they would speak to Volkswagen UK on my behalf to see if there was any goodwill available. And they could look at the car only a couple of days later (usually I have to wait weeks to get some time with a technician at Wayside).

Good news all-round!

I took the car over today and was delighted to hear a short while later that Volkswagen UK had looked into the circumstances and would carry out the repairs free of charge. Even better, the technician was working on the car and it would be ready the same day. Clearly this won’t happen for everyone – I was really lucky – but this is excellent customer service from a brand I trust, with a car that shouldn’t exhibit this issue (indeed, my Tiguan has been driven more miles in 7 months than my wife’s Golf has in 4 and a half years).

Furthermore, rather than using an independent garage (although I do feel bad because of my local mechanic’s honesty and that might swing things) I’m considering entering into a service contract with Parkway now, which sees the next five years worth of servicing go their way. Oh yes, and my (leased) company car is due for a service in a few thousand miles too, so guess where that will go… and guess where it won’t? So, a part that should cost about £132+VAT, plus labour, and some brake fluid (probably about £400 in total) has cost Wayside Volkswagen a lot of goodwill, together with thousands of pounds worth of servicing and parts over the next few years, maybe even our next family car too.

Customer service matters. Thanks to my local mechanic. Thanks to MyVolkswagen. Thanks to Volkswagen UK. And to anyone reading this blog in the Milton Keynes area, I’d avoid Wayside Volkswagen if I were you…

*I also had cause to complain to Wayside Volkswagen in Milton Keynes when I was choosing my last car, as the pre-sales service I received was so bad – but that’s another story.

The hardest thing about choosing my new car? The colour!

This content is 13 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

A few weeks ago, I received the paperwork to replace my company car. My car scheme gives me the option of taking an allowance or leasing a car via the company and I’ve always chosen the latter option – there may be other ways to save some money but it’s probably not that far off the mark, it’s not my problem when things go wrong and it doesn’t leave me committed to payments on a car if I lose my job (not that I plan to… but you never know in the current economic climate).

I really like the Audi A4 Avant S-Line I drive at the moment so I considered getting another one – until I found that the same car with the same specification was going to cost me considerably more money (partly due to price increases and partly, I think, due to Lloyds TSB Autolease being sold to Lex). I also liked the idea of a Q5, but would have had to drop from the S-Line to an SE in order to stay within my budget, effectively placing Audi out of reach for me. So I looked at BMW and even test drove a 318d Sport Plus Touring (which is very tax-efficient due to its 120g COemissions). Unfortunately, for all its many qualities, the 3 Series failed to inspire and its orange dashboard felt like I was being transported back to the 1980s.

With all of the favourites out of the running, I started to thinking about other options and it seemed that the choices to suit my lifestyle came down to mid-powered diesel estate car (wagon for US and Australian readers), MPV (I think the Americans call these minivans) or an SUV.

A few years ago, one of my friends suggested that men who drove MPVs had given up on life. Clearly he gave up before me (last time I saw him he had sold his Porsche 911 and the family car was a Ford S-Max) but that has stuck in my mind, particularly as I approach my 40th anniversary on this planet.  After a succession of estate cars (Passat, Saab 9-3, A4), it seemed like my time had come but when Mrs W. and I tested a Touran (with Audi off the table, Volkswagen was next in line) she didn’t really like it. Result – no MPV for me! We also test drove a Passat but, even though it’s a great car, the days of having to fill its cavernous boot with pushchairs and assorted baby/toddler paraphernalia are, thankfully, behind us and it would be  just a little too long with a 4-bike cycle carrier on the back.  Then I saw the Tiguan.

Built on the Golf’s PQ35 platform, I thought the Tiguan would be too small for my family but the high driving position means you sit up, rather than back, which means more leg room in the back. Combined with rear seats that slide forward to give a choice between leg room and boot space (for camping trips, holidays, etc.), it seemed like it could work well for us (at 470 litres, the boot is larger than a Golf’s 350 and only marginally smaller than my A4 Avant’s 480, but a more practical shape).

Leasing the Tiguan will involve “topping up” my monthly allowance and so I looked at the Skoda Yeti as a less expensive alternative, except that it was missing some options that I find useful (like iPod integration). I also considered the Audi Q3 but there are none in the UK yet so I would have been ordering “blind” and the brochure indicates a body shape that leaves too little boot space. I was pretty sure that the Tiguan was the right choice and a couple of weeks ago I had one on a 72 hour test. We all loved it so I decided to order one.

Unfortunately it wasn’t quite that simple. Most of the options were straightforward (this is the configuration I went for; sadly there is no R-Line Tiguan at the moment) but I was stumped on the engine choice and the colour.

Engine first and, contrary to popular belief, SUVs do not have to be gas-guzzling monsters. I was tempted to go for the 2.0 TDI 140PS model with BlueMotion technology, but my Audi A4 has a 170PS  variant so I’d be looking at quite a drop in power (20% lower output and 10% less torque), combined with a 50% heavier car. If all my driving was on motorways that wouldn’t be too much of an issue but I live in the sticks and being able to overtake safely on rural roads is an important consideration.  I got in touch with Volkswagen and they told me that a local dealer had a 140PS version that I could test so I arranged to drive it, only to check the sticker next to the spare wheel and find that it was actually a 125kW version (i.e. 170PS).

A friend told me about an £89 “economy tuning chip box” that can be fitted to take the power from 140PS to 165PS and I have to admit I was tempted, but  I didn’t really want to make unauthorised modifications to my company car (I figured that could get me into hot water). So, with no opportunity to drive the low-power diesel, I decided to played it safe and to take the tax hit on the 170PS version – vowing to walk/cycle a little more often instead of driving… (had it been my own car, I would have gone for the 140PS and the box of tricks).

That left the colour. I didn’t want to pay for metallic or pearlescent paint but there are only two solid paint options on the Tiguan in the UK. Mrs W doesn’t like “Candy White” so that left “Deep Ocean Blue”,  for which Volkswagen didn’t have a swatch.  Brochures and websites are no good for colour matching (even the pictures in the brochures are computer generated these days) so I spent hours on the ‘net one evening last week searching for Volkswagen Deep Ocean Blue cars…

I found that Deep Ocean Blue has a colour code of LA5H but I couldn’t find any examples (except the same colour code, called Blue Lagoon, on a 2001 Jetta). After about 4 hours of searching I found a Deep Ocean Blue Touran for sale at an Audi dealership in Germany… and was not convinced.  With minutes to go before the end of the month, and fearing a manufacturer price increase, I decided to pay for metallic paint (Night Blue) and placed my order anyway.

There’s a 5-6 month wait for it to be built (Volkswagen seems to have particular delays on 2.0 TDI engines right now) but I’m looking forward to taking delivery in the spring… in fact, it should arrive just about in time for my birthday…

[Update 20 November 2011: I finally found a swatch for “Deep Ocean Blue” and it’s not the colour in the links above… it’s not too bad actually (the website colour is not far off) – probably best thought of as 1970s British Rail blue…]

The effects of sunscreen on Volkswagen/Audi paintwork

This content is 14 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

A couple of years ago, my wife and I bought a brand new Volkswagen Golf.  We’d been happy with our previous VWs (a Mk2 and two Mk4 Golfs, a 2004 Polo and a 2005 Passat) so were more than happy to purchase a Mk5 Golf 1.9TDI Match (in Blue Graphite Metallic) as a family runaround.  Fast forward around a year and we were slightly less pleased with our purchase…

…The car had started to develop white marks on the paintwork.  Each time they were polished out, they came back.  Strangely, some of them looked like little handprints and, when I asked the dealer about them, they instantly recognised the problem.  “That’s sunscreen”, they said, “and it’s not covered by the warranty”.

Sunscreen?! Yep. It seems that the modern (water-based) paints are not as hard as the nitro-cellulose or isocyanate paints used on older cars and that they are susceptible to damage from titanium dioxide – an ingredient found in many sun protection products, including the sunscreen we had applied regularly to our young children.

With just a few thousand miles on the clock, I wasn’t taking no for an answer, but we decided to use a little of the motor industry’s sexism to our advantage too as, from this point on, the negotiations weren’t with me but with Mrs W. instead!  After escalating the issue to an appropriate level within the dealership, it was agreed that the car would go into the bodyshop and the offending panels would be machine polished, as a gesture of goodwill.  Even though the job took much longer than it should (most of the panels on the rear and sides of the car were affected – have you ever tried keeping toddlers from plastering their hands on a car?) they dealer was true to their word and the car was returned to us in as new condition.

Damage caused by sunscreen coming into contact with car paintworkWhen I asked if this was a regular issue, Volkswagen told me that it wasn’t (although, later, an Audi dealer was a little more truthful, admitting that it happens a lot with modern VW-Audi paints and that the resolution is usually a machine polish – we also have friends with similar marks on their silver Bora).  Had it been necessary, I would have kept on pushing until the car was completely resprayed (I might have settled with a compromise agreement to pay for the materials but not the labour) but, as it happens, the problem seems to have been resolved, with just one small area of damage still visible.

We were lucky.  With just a few thousand miles on the clock, it was difficult for Volkswagen to suggest this was “normal”.  If the car had been used a little more, we might have been seeking legal advice to see if we were entitled to a return under the Sale of Goods Act (it is a family car after all, and blemishes as a result of contact with sunscreen might question its fitness for purpose) but I frankly wouldn’t fancy our chances at suing Nivea et al. for damages because their products don’t carry a warning that they may damage car paintwork!

Needless to say, these days we’re ultra-careful to wipe our childrens’ hands with wet wipes after applying sunscreen…

[I waited a while before publishing this because a) I wanted to be sure we had resolved the issue and b) it’s not the normal sort of content for this blog. As a result, the events in this post are written as I remember them; however it’s entirely possible that there may be some minor errors as part of the effect of time on my memory]

[Update – 5 September 2012: Two years after writing this post and I’m sorry to say that fingermarks are back again. It seems that the long term damage of the sunscreen goes deeper than a polish can deal with and our choice is either to accept the damage (on our now four-year-old car), or respray.]