hardly worth mentioning
Crashes / Fires:
0 / 2
Injuries / Deaths:
0 / 0
Average Mileage:
49,584 miles

About These NHTSA Complaints:

This data is from the NHTSA — the US gov't agency tasked with vehicle safety. Complaints are spread across multiple & redundant categories, & are not organized by problem.

So how do you find out what problems are occurring? For this NHTSA complaint data, the only way is to read through the comments below. Any duplicates or errors? It's not us.

2003 Volkswagen Passat engine problems

engine problem

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2003 Volkswagen Passat Owner Comments (Page 1 of 2)

problem #38

Aug 162011

Passat 6-cyl

  • 78,000 miles


2003 Volkswagen Passat has had recurring problems with ignition coils over the past two years (have already had two replaced at personal expense, as they were not under recall/warranty) most recent issue with such has occurred the past two weeks, beginning with the appearance of the check engine light along with periods of my vehicle running very rough (a "rumbling" type sensation, particularly when idling/while stopped) this soon escalated into a total loss of power while driving on the freeway the other day, which necessitated in me having to abruptly pull onto the shoulder, smoke came out from under the hood for a minute or two. Took my Passat to a local repair shop the next day, where they read the error code(s) for my check engine light---turns out there are 10 in all, 1 for each cylinder in my engine (I have a V6), 3 for each ignition coil, and 1 general engine code. This will be the third time I have dealt with this issue in a very short time frame. I will be calling the dealership first thing in the morning but I do not believe there is any recall/warranty out for this issue still. I am very upset and displeased with VW and their lack of reliability/credibility regarding this issue. It seems that it is quite widespread from what I have researched and read and I hope that something will be done about it soon, I cannot afford to keep paying for this and certainly cannot afford for the safety hazards of it to get any worse, im afraid an engine fire will be next!!

- Rochester, NY, USA

problem #37

Jun 152011

Passat 4-cyl

  • 123,000 miles
Engine failure.

- Portsmouth, VA, USA

problem #36

Mar 012008

Passat 4-cyl

  • 80,000 miles
I purchased a used 2003 VW Passat 1.8T wagon in 2006. It worked perfectly until the warranty ran out at 75,000 miles and a number of issues occurred that I found out are know issues with this vehicle and issue. First the engine coils started failing and needed to be replaced. I ended up replacing four of them and then VW issued a recall but only covered a fraction of what it cost to replace. Then the stop turn engine oil pressure light started coming on and I found out that the 1.8T engine has a known design flaw that leaves this engine susceptible to creating oil sludge even with routine maintenance. VW issued a warranty extension for this engine and issue because they know it is a design flaw but will not fix the issue unless you show them a complete record of all oil changes. I maintained this car routinely but do not have all records millions of owners of this vehicle are now stuck with a dilemma of spending a lot of money to fix something that VW knew about and should have fixed. VW needs to be held accountable and made to repair this issue for vehicle owners regardless of a complete maintenance record, because it is clear that this is an issue even with complete maintenance.

- Oconomowoc, WI, USA

problem #35

Mar 152010


  • 60,000 miles


The check engine light on my VW Passat 2003 with only 60 K miles came on while I was driving and as a result of that the thermostat and the oxygen sensor had to be replaced. The car mechanic was is an independent VW mechanic and he was of the opinion that at such mileage such malfunctions should not occur in this car.

- St.Paul, MN, USA

problem #34

Jun 122009


  • 91,631 miles
I purchased a 2003 Volkswagen Passat from flow motors of greensboro, nc. The vehicle was certified by Volkswagen with a two year 24,000 warrant. The engine blew when is was 260 miles over or outside the warranty. The cause of the engine blowing was due to oil pressure and the lack of oil pressure in the engine. My wife and three year old were driving back from Washington, D.C. to greensboro and broke down in lynchburg, V.a. the service manager at terry's Volkswagen in lynchburg towed the vehicle in to their shop and looked at the engine. They reported that a cam bolt snapped in the engine which caused the oil pressure to cease and in return caused the engine to blow. They told me that a cam bolt should never snap and this was a product failure. Flow motors retrieved the vehicle and denied any responsibility for the product failure and recommended I put a new engine in the vehicle at the cost of 6,500. I replaced the engine and a couple of months later had to replace a cooling flange at $300 and after that a vacuum hose at $300. Before replacing the vacuum hose there was a leak in my back floorboard and had the vehicle in at flow motors on two occasion but they could not locate the leak but still charged me $50 to look for the leak. I've had to cut the carpet out of the back floorboard because of mold. Volkswagen broke my hood support bar and also refused to cover the expenses to pay for that. When the vehicle's engine blew my wife called me immediately to tell me the engine light was on. I told her to pull over immediately and she did. When she came to a stop the engine cut off and would not start back up. The engine had just over 91,000 and can't accept having to replace the engine when all the maintenance was kept up. Terry Volkswagen says the cam bolt snapped and stated that should never happen on a vehicle with only 91,000. I have complained to Volkswagen, the BBB, and currently am speaking with an attorney.

- Greensboro, NC, USA

problem #33

Dec 312009


  • 119,000 miles
My 2003 VW Passat 1.8T has the well documented sludge issue that thousands of VW/Audi owners are experiencing. Initially I had to have the car towed B/C a gasket was leaking oil into the spark plugs, and my engine coil pack was bad. I paid $700 to repair and replace the parts. 80 miles after leaving the mechanic shop, the oil light and stop engine lights came on. Towed the car again; no oil pressure. Collected all of my maintenance records and took them to VW to get approval of the warranty issue before letting them "confirm" engine sludge ($500 diagnosis fee for dropping the oil pan). If the issue is engine sludge, the engine is a lost cause because the low oil pressure starved the engine head for oil. The VW dealership is waiting for my money before they'll diagnose the engine sludge- which you can see in the engine head with your eyes. Vwoa has issued an extended warranty, unlimited mileage, 8 years from sale date, to owners with all of their oil change/maintenance receipts. Yet, despite the "effort" by VW, they deny all the claims I've researched- saying everyone was irresponsible with their maintenance- no one took care of their engine. Loopholes left and right to blame the consumer, while we sit powerless to get our cars back on the road. Yet, this issue leaves me with no car. All of us "sludge" owners are left with cars dead on the side of the road, all with the same problem and VW turning their heads the other way.

- Dacula, GA, USA

problem #32

Sep 032009

Passat 4-cyl

  • 95,500 miles


Our 2003 Passat wagon (4 cyl 1.8 engine) had a fire in the engine last week. After driving about 20 minutes and parking, my husband noticed the check engine light and then smoke coming out from under the hood. He opened the hood and saw a fire in the engine. He was in a parking space and drove it a block to a service station, where the mechanic put out the fire with water. The fire had started in the ignition coils (which had been replaced in 4/2003, before the recall) and would have required the replacement/rebuilding of the engine harness. Our insurance company declared the car a total loss.

- Newton Center, MA, USA

problem #31

Mar 212009


  • 127,000 miles
Apparent engine oil sludge problem. The oil light came on with a warning to stop the engine. The car is currently in the shop awaiting evaluation of the extent damage. I purchased the car used and have no record of the previous owners maintenance. I maintain my own vehicle therefore do not have receipts to prove each oil change according to the schedule. VW recommends changes every 5,000 miles; I changed it every 3,000.

- Montrose, PA, USA

problem #30

Jul 042008


  • 44,000 miles
My oil pressure light came on. I was driving on a mountain, and there was no where to pull over, so I had to keep driving. The engine locked up and the car lost power. I was able to steer it off onto a shoulder. I have also been burned my the heated seat when the wiring overheats, and it has both shocked and burned my skin.

- Mesa, AZ, USA

problem #29

Feb 132008


  • Automatic transmission
  • miles
I purchased a 2003 Passat and have been in for two coils, engine light, back hatch lock broken, fuel pump but the most important one thus far was when I told them my oil pressure light came on two days prior and they told me it will cost $4000 to fix it because the engine is full of sludge. I would produce receipts for services that I actually do regularly every 3-4 thos. Miles or three months. However they informed me from VW of America that 99% of the people have to pay for it because their receipts don't meet the requirement of the mileage of the services. They state that it must be done prior to 5 thos. Miles but the book states every 7 thos. Miles for services to be done. When I bought the car they didn't tell me that I should use the expensive filters/and synthetic oils when servicing the car. Is everyone !@#$% out of luck on them covering this. And once done what prevents it from doing it again? I am getting rid of this asap and never buying another VW ever! I will spread the word about buying a VW to everyone I know.

- Wallkill, NY, USA

problem #28

Oct 152007

Passat 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 115,000 miles


The contact owns a 2003 Volkswagen Passat. While driving 40 mph smoke came through the vent inside the vehicle. There was also smoke present in the engine compartment on the passenger side. The fire department extinguished the fire. The failure has not been diagnosed. The vehicle was towed. The current and failure mileages were 115,000.

- Summit , NJ, USA

problem #27

Aug 232007

Passat 4WD 4-cyl

  • Manual transmission
  • 62,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Volkswagen Passat. While driving 60 mph the vehicle began to make noise and then stalled. The vehicle did not restart and was towed to a mechanic. The mechanic advised that the engine needed to be repaired. The purchase date was unknown. The current and failure mileages were 62,000.

- St. Petersburg, FL, USA

problem #26

May 122007

Passat 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 55,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Volkswagen passas. While driving 65 mph the check engine light illuminated then the engine failed. The dealer repaired the vehicle and stated that it was drivable. Approximately an hour later the check engine light began to illuminate intermittently. The dealer stated that there could be a faulty engine sensor. The next day, the check engine light illuminated and remained on and the engine eventually failed. The VIN was unavailable. The failure mileage was 55,000 and the current mileage was 58,000.

- San Diego, CA, USA

problem #25

Jul 252007

Passat 6-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 0 miles
I own a 2003 VW Passat V6 AWD that currently has ~37000 miles on the odometer. This car uses an excessive amount of oil ever since I bought it new in 2003. The last estimate of oil consumption (July 25, 2007), was ~0.75 quart per 600 miles, which is what the dealer and VW have said is within the factory specification of 1 quart per 1000 miles. However, neither the dealer nor VW will provide me with written evidence or bulletins describing these specifications. In my opinion, this is excessive oil consumption, which reflects an underlying defect in the design/function of VW engines. Apparently, I am not the only one with this complaint as several of the bulletin boards and internet discussion groups have similar postings. This oil consumption problem may also be related to the accumulation of "engine sludge, " which apparently led VW to extend the warranty on certain models. I do not know whether this type of problem falls within the purview of the nhsta, but I am filing this as a complaint and requesting further investigation.

- Amherst, NY, USA

problem #24

Jun 012007

Passat 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 40,000 miles
While pulling the dipstick out of the engine in order to check the oil, the pull ring/handle broke off. I contacted my dealer for a replacement as the car is still under a bumper to bumper warranty. The dealer informed me that because I pulled the dipstick out of the engine rather than a dealer service department, the warrant is not applicable. In effect, the dealer told me that they must do all of the oil level checks, otherwise I do not have a warranty on the components affected. I appealed to customer service and they confirmed the dealer's decision. The consequence of the failure is that the oil level, necessary to ensure safe operation of the car, can not be checked.

- Northport, AL, USA

problem #23

Feb 082007

Passat 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 49,034 miles
A problem with the malfunction of the coils on the 03 engines of VW gl turbo. The problem causes the engine to misfire, making accelerations difficult and continuation of the operation of the vehicle dangerous. I was unable to continue driving, had to have it towed and then was charged an excessive amount at the dealership to replace the coils, even though this problem has been prevalent in these engines.

- Los Angeles, CA, USA

problem #22

Jan 052007

Passat 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • miles
At 40K miles the low oil pressure indicator light came on, at dealership the technician "could not duplicate concern." At 42K miles the car stopped working while on the freeway. Once towed to the dealership, the tech tried to identify the problem. Again, in the invoice was noted that he removed the oil cap and noted "a lot of burned oil on under-side of cap and on oil deflector tray." Yet, that was not pursued as the technician notes on the following line that "checked further and found no fuel delivery." Oil change was also done on the car w/ a new oil filter and car was returned. At 50K miles low oil pressure indicator light again came on. Stated in invoice that "did not perform diagnostic." Technician notes in invoice, based on a visual inspection through oil cap yet, there appears to be oil sludge build up. No diagnostics were ran and no mention of oil sludge being a known problem with the 1.8L turbo engine in the 2003 Passat. At 52K miles, the low oil pressure indicator light yet again came on, this time car was taken to independent shop. They ran diagnostics on oil pump, based on low pressure results, pump was replaced. 16K miles later, low oil pressure indicator light came on, oil pump identified as problem and replaced under part warranty at no cost. Another 16K miles later, this oil pump also failed. Garage removed valve cover revealing extensive amounts of burnt oil carbon deposits that as per their mechanics are only possible from a petroleum based oil. I seeked a second opinion on the engine and second garage confirmed that damage seen was only possible from the use of a petroleum based oil. Volkswagen changed their engine oil specifications in August of 2004. When I received my car in November of 2002 and all oil changes performed on the car by the VW dealership until August of 2004 were done so with petroleum based oil. The cause of the problem was created from November 2002-August 2004, although I was not aware of it until 1/5/2007.

- Sacramento, CA, USA

problem #21

Jan 062007

Passat 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 30,000 miles
My 2003 VW Passat 4-door sedan has experienced multiple occurrences where the brake lights continue to remain on while driving and even after the engine is shut off. This happened again today and I noticed this time that the emergency engine light came on while driving earlier in the day - this is also another issue that also comes on/off for no reason. I've reported the warning light a couple of times as well to the VW service and they don't know why that happens either. The warning light will at least shut off when the car is turned off, unlike my brake lights. Since today is Saturday, leaving my brake lights on until the service department reopens on a Monday is probably going to run my battery dead. With that concern in mind, I immediately called the VW roadside assistance hotline, 800-822-8987, to see if they had any repair instructions I can look into and the operator said she was unable to find any documentation. She advised that VW roadside can come tow my vehicle to a dealership (that won't reopen until Monday) or they can come to jump-start my car (which can take up to 45-60 min. After dispatch). This seems a terribly long time to wait & a huge inconvenience esp. Since it also took 30 min. Just to reach the live operator in the first place. I love driving my Passat; I bought it brand new direct from the dealership in 2003. Car safety is very important to me which is why I'm adamant about following service guidelines and bring my car in for regular maintenance & oil changes. I only bring it into a VW dealership service, never a local garage mechanic. Can NHTSA please look into both issues: 1. sporadic check engine light warning while driving 2. brake lights remaining on while driving and after the car is shut off. I am very concerned as both are major causes for safety concern, in addition to further expensive repairs which may be defects that the manufacturer should cover instead. Thanks.

- Nanuet, NY, USA

problem #20

Nov 132006

Passat 8-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 34,500 miles
2003 VW Passat W8 overheated after being serviced for temp sensor. Engine seemed to blow head gasket. Car had to be towed back to dealer where service was performed. Vehicle still there and damage maybe worse.

- Kingston, PA, USA

problem #19

May 052006

Passat 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 84,500 miles
I have a 2003 Volkswagen Passat and about a month ago my engine light came on. I took it to montesi Volkswagen dealer in hamden, Connecticut. They charged me $85 to determine the cause. And then they told me that there is nothing wrong with the engine, but the software which controls this light must be updated and that costs about $235. I told them that it is not my fault that the existing software on the car is not functioning properly, and you must install the software free of charge. But they didn't accept it. I think this not right, and they are responsible if the original software that they installed is not working properly.

- Orange, CT, USA

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