A special scanner is needed that can "talk" with the computers on the car. Beginning around 2002 to 2004, the industry began switching over to a new "language" that the computers use. It is somewhat standardized among all manufacturers as far as emissions-related stuff, but then each manufacturer goes their own way for other things. The aftermarket industry has been getting better at figuring out the secret computer signals and building their own scanners to work on these cars, but they're always a few years behind. For that reason, the aftermarket stuff never accesses all of the dozens of computers on a car or can perform all the functions that the dealer's equipment can.
To add to the complexity, most computers now are programmed or updated over an internet connection. Volkswagen, General Motors, and a few other import companies are real selfish when it comes to providing access to those web sites for independent repair shops. They want all that money for themselves. GM was forced by the government to allow anyone access to three computers because they have an affect on emissions. I'm sure Volkswagen falls under the same rules. Still, there are a lot of things the Engine Computer is responsible for that do not affect emissions, and it's those things independent shops can't reprogram or test. On older cars where everything was done with a handheld scanner, it was possible for a shop to buy that scanner but it was prohibitively high cost. Some equipment can cost way over $10,000.00, then it costs a lot more to update it every year, and it may only work on one brand of car. Multiply that by dozens of car brands that mostly need different equipment and you can see why shops have to charge so much. And it doesn't make good business sense to spend thousands of dollars on equipment that might get used once or twice that year. Instead, they have to spend their resources on cars they see a lot of.
Most cars in the last few years are connected to the internet through a laptop computer the mechanic takes to the car. The "platform", or operating program for Fords can not exist in any way on the same computer as the platform used by other manufacturers. Even when the program isn't turned on, it will cause conflicts that crash the computer. That means if a shop wants to be able to work on Fords, they have to buy two of everything.
The dealer is forced to buy the equipment from the manufacturer and update it many times per year. For trade-in cars with problems, they will usually farm them out to other shops or that brand's local dealer rather than invest in more equipment.
Regardless who buys which piece of equipment, it has to pay for itself in a few years before it becomes obsolete, otherwise it is costing them money to own it that they will never recover. That's why YOU pay stupidly high repair bills, ... And I drive an '88 minivan. Most dealers and most independent shops don't like handing you big repair bills, but it's either that or go out of business.
As far as being customer-friendly in that regard, Chrysler and Toyota allow any independent repair shop access to the same web site and information the dealers use for an annual fee and a small fee per download per computer. Only the Security system computer is off limits so the dealer can verify the car isn't stolen. GM keeps everything to themselves. Only Hyundai allows anyone access to their entire web site completely free. They are very customer-friendly and their sales are going up. GM has been losing repeat customers for years. I've written five-page articles on many of the things they do to separate owners from their money after the sale.
You have one thing going for you. Since the car is four years old, there's a good chance there is aftermarket equipment available to the independent mechanics. Often that just means buying a plug-in VW cartridge for a scanner they already own or updating the software over the internet. Either of those usually costs hundreds of dollars but that gives them the tools to work on more brands of cars that show up at their door. I would call a few local shops and ask if they're equipped to work on your car. Also, most body shops have favorite places they do business with after the bodywork is done. The electronics is WAY too involved for even the best-intentioned body man to solve.
No-starts after the battery was disconnected is the most common problem on Volkswagens but an equally common problem is if the engine starts, it won't raise above idle regardless what you do with the gas pedal. That is because they replaced a simple, reliable, two-ounce throttle cable with a complicated, trouble-prone computer, motor to run the throttle blade, and a position sensor on the gas pedal. That's the same system that put Toyota in the news a year ago. Just because they CAN come up with some new technology doesn't mean it's better than what it's replacing. If the throttle is bumped under the hood while the engine is running, the computer locks up and will not let you accelerate and on some models it will not let you shift out of park. You must drag the car off the hoist, onto a flatbed truck, and haul it to the dealer to have them reprogram "minimum throttle" to unlock the computer. The same thing is done on Chrysler products by coasting from highway speed for at least seven seconds. Don't know why some manufacturers had to complicate the issue unnecessarily. The dealer I used to work for refused to sell used Volkswagens and didn't really want to trade them in. When they did, they went straight to an auto auction because people expected us to be able to repair any used car we sold and we couldn't guarantee that with VWs.
If you have to have a Volkswagen, you're better off buying it from a VW dealer and having it serviced there. They have the equipment, the factory training, and the factory help when it's needed. Unfortunately whatever nonsense VW or GM dream up, other manufacturers often copy a few years later. That's been the case with "throttle-by-wire" gas pedals, high intensity, (blinding) discharge head lights that belong on a pole in a parking lot, and computers that lock up for no good reason. That's why I'm sticking with the old stuff. My last repair on my Grand Caravan cost me a nine dollar part a week ago, and the previous repair cost me a 15 dollar part almost two years ago. No computers to reprogram and it just keeps on going. I'd gladly buy another new car if ANY manufacturer would build one with common sense.
Well, hope you found the answer you were looking for somewhere in that story. Holler back if you have more questions. I'll type another chapter!
Thursday, October 27th, 2011 AT 12:41 AM