by Susan Fahnestock

Recently, automatic transmissions have been dropping like flies around our shop.  We have had to rebuild over 10 transmission in the last two months. That is more transmission work then we have done in the previous 5 years combined!  These are not just the 99-2003 ALH 4 speed auto trannys that notorious for failing - we have had to rebuilt the BRM Dual mass tranny, the BEW 5 speed tiptronic,  and two BHW Passat 5 speed tiptronic transmission. One of the Passat tdi wagons that had a transmission failure only had 66,000 miles on it!  

VW tdi owners have been reading on the various forums that these transmissions need to be serviced.  VW has stated that these automatic transmissions do not have a recommended service interval and that the ATF fluid is lifetime.  Tons of VW tdi gearheads particularly on the tdiclub forum are saying that the failures of transmission may be caused by the lack of transmission servicing.  They are recommending transmission fluid changes every 50,000 miles.  I am not going to agree or disagree with them, only offer a word of caution that these services might be having a counterproductive effect.

The Passat tdi that only had 66,000 miles on it with a failed transmission was LOW on fluid when we checked it out, yet there were no fluid leaks on any kind!  My guess is that at some point in the cars life, the previous owner read about the transmission service on the tdi forums and ran to a shop to get this done. Unfortunately, the shop did not follow the rather complicated procedures in refilling the transmission and shorted it a half quart. It probably was driven thousands of miles on low fluid then sold to my unfortunate client who had the transmission fail on him the day after he bought the car!  

So the moral of my long winded story is that IF you are going to get your VW tdi automatic transmission serviced, PLEASE PLEASE take it to a VW dealer or shop who knows exactly how to refill it perfectly.  As for me, my 2004 Jetta tdi wagon is coming up to 150,000 miles - still with original transmission fluid and still going strong.  I might just leave well enough alone.