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Audi A4 Car Timing Belt Quality
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If you're considering buying an Audi, particularly the A4, we suggest you consider our experience in regards to the product and service quality as outlined in the correspondence below.  Search newsgroup postings and you'll see that our timing belt issue is not unique; Audi's change in the replacement interval for newer models shows they knew of the problem.  Yet, they don't tell owners...  Does this inspire confidence?
The correspondence runs from oldest to most recent.  
How did this end?  Fortunately for us, a class action lawsuit regarding the timing belts was filed in NJ.  Audi agreed to compensate all in the class for these timing belt repairs.  
January 14, 2005
Mr. Axel H. Mees, Vice President
Audi of America
3800 Hamlin Road
Auburn Hill, MI 48326
Dear Mr. Mees:
Thankfully, this is a letter about unnecessary maintenance due to over promising on the life of a part rather than a letter about a horrific accident and personal injury.
We love driving our 1998 Audi A4 1.8T, but repair maintenance since the warranty expired has been taxing.  We replaced the serpentine belt tensioner at 61,003, a windshield wiper motor at 62,400, and both rear wheel bearings at 70,240.  Now we've learned that there are front suspension problems.
But the real driving force behind this letter is the premature breaking of the car timing belt.  The maintenance interval is 90,000 miles.  Ours broke at 87,830.  Fortunately, we were on an exit ramp off an interstate highway with enough momentum to get onto the shoulder.  A mile sooner and we would have been driving in the middle lane - in traffic.  
As you know, the breaking of a car's timing belt creates huge incremental repair cost, not to mention the great inconvenience of being towed, scheduling an emergency repair, and being without the car for an extended period - in this case almost two weeks.  As the enclosed invoice shows, most of the valves and lifters were destroyed.  
Why the maintenance interval is 90,000 miles is a perplexing question.  Now that I have perused discussion boards on the web, I can see that our problem is far from unique.  It's a known problem that these timing belts frequently fail before 90,000.  (how frequently?)  I also noted that Audi has changed the maintenance schedule for timing belts for A4s from 90,000 miles to 75,000 miles.  I doubt that was done because you reduced the engineering specifications of the timing belt.  Which begs the obvious question: why weren't current A4 owners advised to advance the schedule for replacing their timing belts?  Somewhere between Marketing and Engineering the 90,000 miles interval was chosen with potentially significant consequences to long-term owner satisfaction and loyalty.  Trust me; this new belt will be replaced in 60,000 miles if we still own the car.  
We feel quite justified in asking for the incremental repair cost, parts and labor, caused by the premature failure of the timing belt.  We would appreciate a response within two weeks.  Please contact us by phone during the day, by email, or by postal mail.
Christine A. Mudget & Frederick C. Van Bennek

Audi's Response

February 9, 2005

RE: 1998 Audi A4

Dear Ms. Mudget:

Mr. de Nysschen thanks you for taking the time to contact Audi of America regarding your 1998 Audi M. Mr. de Nysschen has superseded Mr. Mees in his Vice President responsibilities as of December 1, 2004. A copy of your correspondence has been forwarded as we have been asked to respond on behalf of Mr. de Nysschen.

We sincerely apologize for your dissatisfaction with the quality of your with the need for recent repairs to your engine while outside of warranty. Audi of America strives to provide a great ownership experience both before and
after the expiration of the manufacturers warranty. We are sorry that your experiences have not met your expectations.

Audi of America publishes time and mileage recommendations for general vehicle maintenance and provides you with this publication upon the sale of your vehicle. This maintenance manual provides an outline for recommended service intervals, including the timing belt, so your vehicle can be cared for in  the best possible way. Please understand that in no way, do these recommendations provide a guarantee that you will not experience a shortcoming in manufacturing with any components), if is for this reason that your vehicle comes equipped from the factory with a 3 year and 50,000 mile that warranty, expiring upon whichever occurs first.

We have thoroughly reviewed your correspondence and your service documentation from the Little Foreign Car Garage. Audi of America takes a broad and liberal view when helping customers to be satisfied with their Audi driving experience but we are not able to assist in all cases. As your vehicle is significantly beyond the terms of the warranty by both time and mileage, we are precluded -from honoring your request for financial consideration.

We apologize we are unable to provide more -favorable information. We appreciate the opportunity to respond.

Ingrid Evert
Audi Regional Coordinator
Audi Executive Offices
CC: Johan de Nysschen, VP

Our Second Letter

March 20, 2005
Ms. Ingrid Evert
Audi Regional Coordinator, Audi Executive Offices
Customer Care, Mail Code 2 West, Hills Corporate Center
3499 West Hamlin
Rochester Hills, MI 48309
Dear Ms. Evert:
We are in receipt of your letter of February 9.  Obviously, we are disappointed, surprised, and intrigued by your response.  Clearly, the “recommended service intervals” of 90,000 for the timing belt did not lead to our vehicle being “cared for in the best possible way,” and the fact that you have shortened the recommended interval in newer models indicates there were known problems with this part.  Notifying us of this changed recommended interval would have led to our car bring cared for in the best possible way.
We are intrigued by your response since we know of someone who had almost exactly the same problem yet the company covered the damage, including the cost of the timing belt, which is more than we requested.  How often your timing belts fail before your “recommended” change interval and how often you cover the damage we'll find out during discovery.  Soon we will be checking listservs for others in this predicament.  
We suspect you saw the recent article in the Wall Street Journal about Audi quality problems (March 3, 2005, page D1).  The author found our situation, including your response, of interest as an example of Audi product and service quality.  
In our last letter we forgot to mention some other examples of Audi quality: 1) the molding on our doors has fallen off since the fasteners rusted - have your design engineers heard of road salt? - 2) the driver's outside mirror is rusting badly from the edges of the mirror, 3) our sun roof now has a mind of its own, opening randomly.  True, you have great warranty coverage during the warranty period - a marketing technique to compensate for Audi's poor reliability image - but we expect cars to have far, far lower maintenance costs during their second 50,000 miles.  Our Subarus have spoiled us.  
In an odd way, thanks for your response.  Fred is a consultant in customer support services - with a specialty in design for supportability - and a professor of operations management with a penchant for the quality module, and you've provided fodder for articles, conference talks, and classroom discussion.  (See Garvin's “Competing on the Eight Dimensions of Quality,” Harvard Business Review, Nov.-Dec. 1987.)
We hope to hear from you in the next ten days with a change of heart.  
Christine A. Mudgett & Frederick C. Van Bennekom, Dr.B.A.
[Note: I "fixed" the door trim problem with a good shot of caulk.  It's not a forever fix and it ain't real pretty, but it's held for a year now.  And I hate to imagine when the repair would have cost!]

Audi's Second Response

April 7, 2005


RE: 1998 Audi A4
VI N: xxxxxx

Dear Ms. Mudgett and Mr. Van Bennekom:

I am in receipt of your March 20- 2005 letter. Your letter was received internally on March 31, 2005.1 apologize that we were unable to respond within your requested 10-day window as the U.S. Postal service and our internal mail screening does not allow for it. I am responding as quickly as possible. Since your letter is written to me, I apologize on behalf of Audi of America that you are not satisfied with our decision. Please know, however, this decision is one of Audi of America's; It is not my decision personally.  

Any financial consideration provided outside of your original factory warranty is voluntary and without obligation. We take several factors into consideration and each case is different and has different merits. In your specific case, we declined your request as your vehicle is significantly beyond the terms of the warranty. Please allow us to further explain our decision.

Audi of America does not place a life span on vehicle components, the number of owners, general care and adherence to the maintenance recommendations, environmental conditions, driving habits, are just a few of the other factors that play a role in the life of your parts. As your vehicle is significantly beyond the terms of the factory warranty, it is difficult for us, as the manufacturer, to determine what the exact cause of the failure is and to be able to attribute failures to a manufacturing issue when time permits so many other influences.

Additionally, you did not provide Audi of America with the opportunity to look into your concerns at the time of the component failure. Instead, your vehicle was taken to an independent repair facility. Independent faculties tike the Little Foreign Car Garage are not affiliated with our organization in any way and for this reason, we are unable to confirm or deny the validity of the diagnosis, the extent of the necessary repairs or even the nature of the repair.

Again, we apologize our decision is not what you were looking -for. At this time we consider this matter closed and all further correspondence will be placed on file.

Ingrid Evert
Audi Regional Coordinator
Audi Executive Offices
CC: Johan de Nysschen, VP