2002 Volkswagen Passat Brake Fluid Contamination

  • 6 CYL
  • AWD
  • 80,000 MILES
Just got an estimate for $4275 to replace my entire brake system. Monday of this week I noticed my car didn't coast as freely as normal as I slowed to a stop in a parking lot. When I tried to drive off a few minutes later, I could only go about 100 yards. The brakes were completely locked up. Called tow truck and brought to local tire service center that also does brakes (Les Schwab). They immediately did a test with the brake fluid. Put a couple drops into a glass of water and swirled it around. Showed me the fluid coming to the surface and beading up. Said I had contaminated fluid and brake system needed to be replaced. I checked my records and the last shop that did any work on my car did so in late Nov. 2007. Records indicate topping off of all fluids. Took car to same service center (authorized VW center) and did not tell them of the fluid test. I thought I would let them find it themselves. After 4 or 5 hours they said they didn't know what caused the lock-up. I took the mechanic outside and informed him of the test performed the day before. He shook his head and said the fluid tested fine by him. I said ok and suggested they flush the system and I would be back in a day to pick the car up. Called next day to let them know I would be picking the car up on Friday (today) instead of Thur, they said "we have bad news". Your fluid is contaminated. Called me later with the total of $4725. My 1st thought is that they were going to let me drive that car 80 miles home on a highway after their first diagnosis. My brakes would have either locked up at 70 mph or completely failed trying to stop. There would have been an accident either way. Secondly, they were the last shop to work on my care prior to this contamination. Does it seem that they might be responsible for the contamination? How long does it take after contamination before symptoms begin? When I confronted the manager with my thoughts, he told me the mechanic that worked on my care in November 2007 had been working on VW's for 40 yrs and would never make a mistake like that (power steering fluid into brake fluid tank). Also he said they never top off brake fluid. What is your take on this? I've contacted an attorney, but I don't know if I can prove it was their fault. Any advice would be helpful.

Do you
have the same problem?
Friday, April 18th, 2008 AT 3:53 PM

1 Reply

Well. It is hard to prove and it is possible that they are not at fault. Let me explain.

IT is not uncommon for some shops to not top off brake fluid. My opinion is that you shouldn't need to unless you have a leak. Not everyone shares that opinion.

Since this was in 11- 2007, The car was last serviced 5 months ago. That is a long time between oil changes. This is a thought in my head that just came through to my fingertips.

Being a VW shop, I would be surprised that happened, but not uncommon for a human to make a mistake. The truth will never be known.

On the other side, you have a contaminated system that at the very least should be your fault assumed you flushed the system every few years. The contamination can come into the system without it being added. Brake fluid will take on moisture if it is exposed to it, not to mention the build up of dirt like particles.

I don't like the fact that they said it tested good and later said it tested bad. Is it a case of a tech talking out his butt the first time as in he didn't check it but his ego caused him to say it?

Maybe the contamination was the wrong brake fluid, dot5 doesn't mix with dot 3 or dot 4.

I think if you were here in Niagara Falls, the court would side with you. I would talk again to the manager to try to get this rectified especially if you are going to court. It isn't murder, you don't have to prove this beyond a reasonable doubt. You might use an anology about somthing humanlike, such as casually ask him if he ever lost his keys. Everone does it. It is a human thing. If says yes, you can ask how could you haven't you been driving for 20 years. If you know where I'm going.

You can try to prove the brake fluid fil with someone else that has a vw and take some brake fluid in and have an oil change done and see if they fill it.

I did an expiriment with soaking o-rings in different fluids for a bout 30 days and measuring them on thousandths for changes. My conclusion was in one month there is no perceptible changes. 5 months? Maybe.
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Friday, April 18th, 2008 AT 5:29 PM

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