VW steps up service timetable for diesels

VW, Audi diesels head to service bays more often; oil changes coming due 30,000 kilometers sooner than expected

Wolfsburg, Germany. In vehicle fleets and service garages across Germany, people are puzzling over the service intervals for Volkswagen and Audi's diesel vehicles.

The reason is that the on-board computers are sending cars equipped with TDI engines for maintenance much earlier than the manuals indicate -- primarily at 30,000 kilometers.

Early last year, Volkswagen had extended the interval from 50,000 kilometers to four years or 60,000 kilometers.

The assumption was that special oils that cost between 15 euros and 18 euros a liter and are designed for longer service intervals were on the way. Another rationale was that vehicles were now equipped with better oil-monitoring systems.

VW manuals refer to service intervals tied to kilometers driven or to months and years of operation. Longer service intervals have been a great selling point among fleet customers and consumers who regularly drive long distances because maintenance is expensive and can tie up a vehicle for a day

VW instructions change

In practice, VW has seemed unable to keep its commitment to intervals between service for its diesel vehicles. Reports are circulating in the industry that VW is apparently trying to boost utilization of its service facilities.

In recent months, the on-board computers were ratcheted back to 30,000 kilometers, according to information obtained by Automobilwoche.

"VW has drastically scaled back service intervals," said one fleet manager in an interview with Automobilwoche. His 65 vehicles aren't reaching the 50,000-kilometer figure that VW originally promised. Instead, the vehicles are heading for maintenance after 30,000 kilometers.

The Berlin-based Verein Automobile Konzepte, a syndicate of fleet operators, maintains 15,000 vehicles -- about 10,000 of them VW and Audi models.

"Instead of the planned 50,000 kilometers, the computers' lights are coming on at between 22,000 and 25,000 kilometers," said technician Volkmar Zoefelt.

None of the organization's VW and Audi vehicles has reached the planned 50,000-kilometer mark before being summoned for service

The organization hasn't had any experience yet with new vehicles benefiting from VW's expanded, 60,000-kilometer service interval.

In Wolfsburg, VW contends that the service interval can certainly go as high as 50,000 kilometers, depending on the model. But much depends on the owner's driving habits and how the vehicle is used.

Service intervals can end up shorter when a vehicle often is subject to cold-engine starts or is driven short trips -- or long trips carrying heavy loads, the company says.

Zoefelt disagrees. His vehicles have been used in a variety of ways, by different drivers, he said. And none has been able to reach its prescribed mileage.

VW beats a retreat

To avoid more trouble, VW has pulled the maximum interval figures from its brochures. A VW spokesman says consumers and fleet customers have misinterpreted them.

But he insists the company isn't backing off on the schedules it has promised. A maintenance interval of 60,000 kilometers has been in effect since the Golf V's introduction, he said.

VW, however, indicated in its operating manuals recently that diesel vehicles require oil changes after 30,000 kilometers.

That's not all, Zoefelt said. His inspections of a smattering of newly delivered vehicles show that processors in VW's on-board computers are no longer programmed with the maximum mileages.

Now the interval is set for 25,000 kilometers.

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