Saturday, 26 September 2009

VW Driver's Seat Burn Alert! - Update

The story so far: The heated driver's seat of my VW Golf MkIV malfunctioned and burned through the upholstery, scorching my thigh. VW UK told me this was simply a sign of the vehicle's age (8 years) rather than a safety issue - even though there was a recall of some VW Golf Mk IVs because of a safety issue affecting the driver's heated seat. They completely failed to investigate whether there was a link. so I emailed a link of my last blog post 'Driver's Seat Burn Alert!' to the President of VW in Germany.

I guessed that while the UK distributor may be too arrogant to investigate customer safety alerts the Germans would be much more concerned. My instincts were correct.
A week or so after emailing the most senior man in Volkswagen I received an email advising me they were looking into the matter. The German parent replied:

We refer to your e-mail dated September 3rd 2009, addressed to our Chairman Prof. Dr. Winterkorn. As you will have noted from our interim reply, our department has been requested to reply and we were sorry indeed to read about the disturbing experiences you have made, which prompted you to write. In view of these, we like to liaise with our importer Volkswagen UK in order to look for an appropriate and satisfactory solution. Either our importer or we will get back to you then.

Three days later VW UK's safety liaison officer phoned me to apologise and explain that correct procedures had not been followed.

He understood that I had been quoted for a new seat, when I was actually concerned about safety.

A safety report should have been completed by the servicing retailer, and this would have come to his attention.

By way of apology and as a gesture of goodwill VW would like me to take the vehicle to any dealership - where they would carry out the report and at the same time replace the seat at no cost to myself.

I've found emailing my blog posts to the relevant company Chief Executive produces a remarkably swift result.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

My 2001 Golf Mk IV- Driver's seat 'Burn Alert!'

My 2001 VW Golf Mk IV Gti

How many other Golf Mk IV drivers may be at risk of being burned by their seat while driving, or even worse have the seat catch fire?

They're funny things the design features which we love about the products we buy. I wouldn't have specified it, but I grew to love the driver's heated seat which my VW Golf came fitted with.

But recently I was driving along at 50mph when I felt an intense hot, burning sensation in my right thigh. Shocked, I pulled the car over and found that the heated seat had become exceptionally hot. The burning pain in my thigh faded after a few hours, but the small hole which the heating element burned straight through the fabric car seat is permanent and the heater no longer works.

Last week when I took the vehicle into the main VW agent for servicing I asked them to investigate. They simply quoted £251.09 to replace the burned seat pad and heater element.

Looking online later that night at various VW owner forums I discovered that VW had recalled 2002 Golf MK IVs because of a safety issue with the driver's heated seat.

I ask the garage to check with VW if this affects my model. No, apparently the recall doesn't cover my chassis number - even though I do appear to have a fault with the driver's heated seat. They suggest I speak to VW Customer Service.

Today I telephone VW and explain how I have been burned while driving. The operator tries to fob me off. 'Your vehicle registration isn't the subject of any recalls', she states and goes on to explain;

'VW cannot assist with any repairs because of the age of your vehicle'.

So much for VW's concern for their customer's safety.

I give her Volkswagen's own recall reference number 74B4 - can she tell me the exact nature of the safety issue the recall covered? No she can't, because she doesn't have those details.

I request my call be escalated to a more senior manager. Nick agrees that I may be alerting VW to a safety issue. Drivers shouldn't receive an unexpected burn from their seat while driving at speed. He promises a response within 24-48 hours.

Within 2 hours a bad tempered man called Brian phones me. 'Your vehicle's chassis number isn't covered by the recall' he announces. 'I know, I didn't say it was.' I reply. 'So what can I do for you?' he demands brusquely.

I explain that I'm concerned that although VW didn't identify my model as having this safety fault, it may be that other Golf owners are at risk of burn, or even vehicle fire. Sadly Brian has learned his craft from the 'Just Say No' manual, so he's unlikely to uncover any safety issues by talking to customers.

Funny that, because the VW website says 'Contact Us - we're always happy to talk to our customers'.

Brian dismisses my concerns and says VW monitor all safety issues very closely and regrettably my heated seat sounds like 'Just a routine failure of the heating element. There is no proof that the heater burned the seat fabric.'

I ask how VW can monitor customer feedback so carefully when the first customer service operator dismissed my safety concerns.

I ask if Brian can tell me exactly what the safety fault is which led to the VW recall reference 74B4?

His response is staggering. He doesn't know what the safety recall covered. He hasn't even checked.

So how can Brian possibly claim that VW take safety feedback from customers seriously? He hasn't even checked to see if the safety fault I'm alerting VW to is the same as the recall fault.

Then just as unexpectedly as my driver's seat malfunction, Brian's call to my mobile is cut off. Surprisingly he didn't phone back...

I googled 'seat heating element failure golf'

The first result to come up is VW's website for New Zealand. It helpfully lists full details of the recall reference 74B4 for all their Golf Model Year 2002 - 2003 customers to check.

"On vehicles of the affected chassis number ranges the cable for the seat heating mat of the driver seat may break because of a not optimal cable routing. This can lead to sporadic overload and failure of the heating mat.

For safety reasons a check of your vehicle is necessary. The check and repair are free of charge to you. "

I searched further online, many VW Golf Mk IV owners report failed driver heated seats. There does appear to be a common fault - but is the failure part of a wider safety issue facing other VW Golf Mk IV owners?

I looked at VW's Annual Report. "2009 will be a very difficult year for the Volkswagen Group" writes CEO Professor Martin Winterkorn. Interestingly the document details the 'cost intensive provision' VW makes for cases where US customers assert claims for vehicle defects individually or by way of a class action.

It's reassuring to know - VW does care about being sued when its cars have defects.

Well, unfortunately VW won't find out about a safety issue as a result of my alert. Let's hope it's not you driving at 50mph when your seat fabric catches fire, or VW's friendly customer service agent Brian, or even CEO Prof Winterkorn.

M&S Wine Watch - New Promotion

A colleague who has been following my M&S misleading wine promotion saga tells me that M&S have completely replaced the old 'Save 10%' promotion with a new 'Save 25%' offer.

He's right, they have.

Does that mean M&S shoppers save more when they buy wine?

Unlikely because they have also increased the price of many of the bottles (by removing other discounts).

But more importantly has M&S made the terms of their offer clearer to their customers?

Previously not even the staff could exlain how the discount operated.

M&S has now added their terms 'Discount applies to multiples of 6' and they've gone even further.

They have added tags round the necks of many of the display bottles (pictured) which also clearly state the terms of the offer.

While I was on holiday M&S's Head of Food Operations also emailed to say that he hopes I'll find that the new wine discount is 'clear and up to our usual standard'.

Could my email to M&S Chairman Stuart Rose really have prompted a nationwide rethink of M&S signage?

Yes, It seems so.