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VW looking into engine cut-off claims

Fast facts: Volkswagen says “sudden deceleration” was not a factor in a fatal crash involving one of its cars.

Volkswagen investigating customer complaints ahead of making its next move

Volkswagen logo3 Jun 2013

UPDATED: 4/06/2013VOLKSWAGEN says it is looking into claims that its cars can experience a sudden loss of power, potentially placing drivers at risk of a crash.

Volkswagen Australia general manager of communications, Karl Gehling, said today that the car-maker was “thoroughly investigating” customer claims raised in the media last week “and will respond once we have all of the details”.

The car-maker has remained tight-lipped about issuing a recall for for its cars after media reports last week that the engines in some models were unexpectedly losing power.

A Fairfax Media story on Friday aired concerns from several Volkswagen owners in the wake of a coronial inquest into the death of 32-year-old Melissa Ryan, who died in 2011 after a truck ploughed into the back of her Volkswagen Golf on the Monash Freeway.

The inquest heard Ms Ryan’s Golf had unexpectedly slowed down to about 20km/h in the right-hand lane of the freeway shortly before the B-double truck slammed into the rear of her car, forcing it into the central barrier.

The coroner is expected to hand down a finding on Ms Ryan’s death later this month.

The media group later reported that the story had prompted several other Volkswagen owners to come forward with similar experiences of power loss.

The federal Department of Infrastructure and Transport regularly assesses cars for safety defects and non-compliances with Australian Design Rules. It also provides advice to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission on automotive product recalls.

It revealed on Friday that it had launched an investigation into several Volkswagen models, including the Polo city hatchback, Golf small car and Passat mid-size sedan and wagon range.

“The department is investigating recent reports of safety concerns with Volkswagen vehicles to establish whether systemic safety issues are involved and is liaising closely with Volkswagen Australia,” a spokesperson for the department told GoAuto today.

Volkswagen posted a short statement on its public-facing website last week to distance itself from the coroner’s inquest.

“The coronial inquest regarding the death of Ms Ryan is still ongoing, (so) we will not comment on the investigation, except to say that we are cooperating fully and the assertion by Fairfax that Ms Ryan’s death appears to have been caused by sudden deceleration is incorrect,” the statement read.

“There has been no finding of this nature by the coroner.” The German premium car-maker also questioned the link between owners’ complaints and the car at the centre of the coroner’s inquiry.

“There is also no correlation between the inquest, and the customer reports presented in the media regarding issues with diesel engines and DSG (automatic) transmissions,” it said.

“The vehicle at the centre of the inquest is equipped with a petrol engine and a manual transmission. Neither of the customers interviewed for the story has a vehicle fitted with a DSG transmission either.”

The car-maker also said it had no plans to issue a recall to fix vehicles despite the rush of complaints.

GoAuto attempted to contact dealer principals at various Volkswagen dealerships today to ask if there was any fallout from the Fairfax Media story felt in showrooms over the weekend.

All declined to comment, instead referring to the Volkswagen Group Australia statement.

Speculation is rife that the issue may be to do with the cars switching to a “limp home” mode, which radically reduces engine power in response to a technical issue that may damage one or more of the vehicle’s components, including its engine and gearbox.

However, Volkswagen points out that it is not the only maker to build a limp home mode into its cars.

The car-maker has also emphasised that the crash involving Ms Ryan had nothing to do with its DSG gearbox, despite talkback callers to Melbourne radio last week describing their own problems with DSG-equipped vehicles in relation to the 'loss of power' issue.

A spokesperson from Volkswagen AG in Germany, Harthmuth Hoffmann, told GoAuto: “The tragic accident involving a Golf GTI in Australia on 31st January 2011, in which the female driver suffered fatal injuries, was a very sad incident. Volkswagen gave every possible assistance to the investigating authorities looking into its cause.

“There is no reason however, why this accident, which occurred now more than two years ago, is gaining attention again in connection with the recalls in China and Japan in relation to the dual-clutch gearbox (DSG).

“The accident definitively had nothing to do with the DSG, as the Golf GTI involved was fitted with a manual gearbox.”

Several manufacturers have recently recalled a large number of cars in Australia to correct problems that have affected the safety of a vehicle.

Last year, Toyota Australia ordered 300,000 vehicles back to its workshops to replace a window control switch that could potentially heat up and melt.

Earlier this year, 25,000 Japanese-made cars needed to have their airbags replaced after fears they could either catch fire or injure occupants.

Chinese car-makers Chery and Great Wall issued separate recalls after asbestos – a product that is banned in Australia for health and environmental reasons – was discovered in exhaust and intake manifold gaskets.

Just last week, Aston Martin said it would contact the Australian owners of almost 90 of its sports cars to replace an accelerator pedal that could break, making the vehicles unresponsive.

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