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2012 Volkswagen Passat Twelve Month Test - Months 10-11

March-April 2013: Our undertray comes undone

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2012 long-term Volkswagen Passat undertray

Our long-term Passat's undertray comes loose

Photo © Aaron Gold

It's one of those sounds you don't want to hear when you are driving: Cffft--ccrrffft---crrrffffffffffftttt. That's my best attempt to phoneticize the sound of plastic scraping expensively against pavement, and it's what my son Andrew and I heard as we wheeled the Passat home from Arizona to Los Angeles.

She's come undone

We pulled off the highway to check out the problem and found that the plastic undertray that sits behind the bumper had come loose, folded backwards, and was being dragged underneath the car. (At least, what was left of it -- as you can see in the photo -- bigger version here -- a good-sized section on the passenger's side had disintegrated.) In the process, it also managed to pull the bottom edge of the bumper away from the grille. I fitted the undertray back into place as best I could and we hit the road. Lucky we were only about fifty miles from home, because it came loose two more times during our trip. (Once home, we removed it.)

Careless design or careless driver?

If you've crawled underneath a modern car, you've probably seen this sort of undertray. Most are securely bolted into place, but the Passat's is attached with clips at the back and tabs that fit into slots in the bumper cover up front. My best guess is that the bumper was pushed enough to flex the cover, and that enabled some of the tabs that hold the undertray in place to come adrift. A couple of weeks before the trip, I had noticed that the tray was sitting low on the right side the car, just ahead of the front wheel, but I didn't worry much about it -- I assumed it was still securely bolted on, and I'd just ask the dealer to pop it back into place at the next service. Well, we all know what happens when you assume: You make a mess out of your front-bumper undertray. Ten hours of 75 MPH freeway speeds to Arizona and back was apparently enough to pull the undertray further away from the bumper cover and start the cacophony of cffffft.

Is it fair to chalk this up as a design flaw? I really don't know. On the one hand, I should have inspected the car more closely when I noticed the tray had come adrift -- I probably could have popped it into place and potentially avoided this whole scenario. On the other hand, why did the tray come loose so easily? There's no visible damage to the bumper, so I can only assume it got a gentle nudge when someone was parking in front of the car. Surely a couple of bolts to back up the tab-and-slot arrangement would have kept the undertray in place. The whole thing is enough to make me wish for the good ol' days of big steel bumpers.

The Volkswagen that thinks it's a Honda

Why so much detail about the saga of my front undertray? Because, my dear readers, I have nothing else to report. In April, the Passat sailed through 25,000 miles without one single mechanical problem. One of the reasons I chose a long-term Passat was to find out if Volkswagen's build quality has improved. We're almost at the end of our year-long loan -- geez, I hope I'm not jinxing the Passat's greasy bits by saying this -- and so far the answer is a resounding yes. Eleven months in, the Passat has proven to be every bit as reliable and well-constructed as our long-term Honda Insight -- and nearly as fuel-efficient, with our to-date average holding steady at 41.1 MPG. Have I mentioned how much I love driving a diesel car?

May will be our twelfth and last month with the Passat, and we're having a hard time getting ready to say good-bye. Robin and I agree that the Passat is the best family car we've owned. We're planning to move on to another long-termer, but we have seriously discussed the idea of buying a Passat TDI of our own.

Next: May-June 2013 update: Our Passat sales past 30,000 miles
Previous: February 2013 update: Is this thing ever going to break?
Test index

March 2013 summary:

Starting mileage: 21,780
Ending mileage: 24,821
Mileage this month: 3040.0
Average fuel economy this month: 42.1 MPG
Average fuel economy overall: 41.1 MPG
Repair/service costs this month: $0
Total repair/service costs: $0
Problems observed this month: Undertray came loose and dragged under the car

April 2013 summary:

Starting mileage: 24,821
Ending mileage: 26,462
Mileage this month: 1641.7
Average fuel economy this month: 40.9 MPG
Average fuel economy overall: 41.1 MPG
Repair/service costs this month: $0
Total repair/service costs: $0
Problems observed this month: None

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