Saturday, 30 April 2005 10:00

VW Golf owners experience nightmarish auto body repair

Written by Dick Strom

The owners of this 1999 VW Golf GLS-TDI were irritated, and rightfully so, at their whole sour, frustrating repair experience at a Northeast Georgia collision shop they'd entrusted to repair their vehicle. They have filed their experience in their personal files as "Our Golf Nightmare." 

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The nightmare began for the Thomases soon after their Golf was rear-ended just one month before they were scheduled to move their family and possessions from Georgia to the North-west. Having had a great previous repair experience at a Georgia collision shop, they felt comfortable returning there. And when a representative of their insurance company mentioned that this shop was on their "recommended" list, their confidence increased.

The insurance company's appraiser wrote a sheet and cut a check that the Thomases deposited in their personal account, along with a supplemental check the repairer had submitted to the insurer, fearful they might lose these in the shuffle of preparing to move. They would write a personal check for the full amount upon delivery of their vehicle, repaired to their satisfaction. Then they contacted the shop owner, again stressing the very tight timetable they were under, and were assured that the shop could finish it before the move. On his word, they had their Golf towed to the repair shop.

Out of the frying pan...

But soon things began to deteriorate. For starters, they discovered that ownership of the shop had changed hands since their former good experience. And as the Thomas family busied themselves with packing for their 3,500-mile cross-country move, back at the repair shop their damaged vehicle sat, and sat, and sat some more. With each progress check, it became more obvious they'd made a huge mistake in choosing this particular shop, not made any easier when another representative of their insurer mentioned that this shop had been removed from its "preferred" list. Little noticeable work was performed on the vehicle until just days before the Thomas family left Georgia. According to the insurer, since the shop had no DRP contract with them, they were no longer responsible for repairs and the owners were on their own.

...into the fire

Just one day before their move, the Golf was still in shambles; the rear of the interior gutted, parts strewn about, virtually nothing yet assembled. And the engine would not run… forcing them to bear the added expenses of additional fuel and rental of a car-trailer. Shop personnel apparently stayed late into the last night in a futile effort to pull one over on the Thomases. But to no avail, for though not trained in detecting shoddy repairs, the owners were appalled that the shop would attempt to deliver a non-running, filthy, not fully assembled car that now was also cursed with a strong odor of diesel fuel.

Out of time and patience, as the shop owner held their car hostage for the full amount of the insurance checks, with no other option the Thomases wrote a personal check, loaded their car on the rental trailer, and began the long drive to the Northwest.

Once on the road, though, they decided to cancel the check until the mess was straightened out, which instigated a threat of lawsuit for damages from the shop. As attorneys for both parties sparred, the attorney representing the vehicle owner plus several other individuals suggested they bring it to our shop, which they were assured could be trusted for a fair appraisal, and a quality repair if it was still repairable.

Enter the experts

With the Thomases permission we contacted Mark Olson, co-owner of Future Forensics and Integrity Automotive, (www.integrityauto3i.com), who specializes in Post-Repair Re-Inspections (PRI). When Mark arrived to inspect this vehicle, we had it on a frame rack with our Genesis calibrating and dimensioned system in-stalled and all trunk-area coverings removed. With a video camera rolling, using no tools other than a dull 24-inch pry-bar - and without even breaking a sweat - Olson easily removed the entire trunk spare tire-well portion of the rear floor, the rear panel assemblies and the like - all within half an hour!

What the shop had attempted to do as time ran out, was to cut out only the damaged rear panels and tire-well portion, and glue in its place a new panel. Totally dismantled, we counted only four spot-welds holding the entire rear panel assembly (tire well, rear panel assembly pieces, etc) of this vehicle together. The only other solid support was the mounting plates of the rear bumper shocks where they bolted thru the rear panel to the rear frame members, one of which had been hacked off and improperly welded in place before being measured and pulled into rough alignment, the shop apparently figuring they didn't have time for complete replacement of the rail. In fact, the only thing remotely holding the rear of this vehicle together was some form of black adhesive that was improperly and insufficiently applied where factory spot-welds were meant to be.


Last ditch effort

What Olsen discovered was that, as time had run out on the shop, they had attempted to simply cut out the damaged rear panels and tire-well portion, and glue in its place a new panel over a remaining 4" perimeter of factory metal on one side and the front. Though a minimal attempt was made by the shop to grind off the factory Q-pads in the trunk floor, much of the original Q-pads, along with other panel coatings remained, interfering with the adhesive, making it a cinch to pop the panel out

Once the spare tire panel was removed, the reason for the diesel smell was exposed: In using a cutoff wheel to remove the spare-tire panel, the shop had cut through the top of the plastic fuel tank and part of a frame rail member, which they hadn't even attempted to re-weld. They then attempted to cover their shop-inflicted fuel tank damage using the same black adhesive goo that they used in their futile attempt to glue down the spare tire panel. Obviously, the diesel fuel migrated out in spite of this shop's best efforts.

Though the shop had used new OEM parts (the original tags were still at-tached), they had attempted to section in a new right rear frame rail where the insurer-generated sheet had specified entire rail replacement. And no attempt was made to "sleeve" the sectioned rail, and weld quality was far below acceptable. Over-spray covered various parts, no final work-order was offered to the customer, nor were they given any written explanation of what was supposedly done. The rear hatch had been so severely shop-tweaked to make it fit the improperly aligned rear panels of this car that we eventually had to replace it with new.

Hidden danger

Though we could continue on and on describing the unbelievable incompetence of this shop, and their complete disregard for the safety and investment of the repairs they supposedly performed, suffice it to say that had the shop delivered the vehicle on time, complete, cleaned up, running, and with a fuel tank that didn't leak, most vehicle owners might never have suspected anything wrong.

The tragedy is that if this vehicle had been subsequently rear-ended at virtually any speed, there was no structural stability remaining that would keep the offending vehicle from seriously injuring, or possibly killing, the occupants.

The good thing, that which all repairers had better note well, is that the Post-Repair Inspection (PRI) industry is growing by leaps and bounds, detecting and leading to the proper re-repair or totaling of improperly repaired vehicles, ranging in seriousness from that of this Golf to much milder. Most of that which the PRI industry detects previously wouldn't have been found out, were it not that today's vehicle owners are much more cognizant of the proper functioning of their vehicles, knowledgeable concerning their rights to a proper repair, and rightfully demanding.

As a postscript, our shop re-repaired the vehicle to the tune of a much-needed additional $3,000 above the amount of the two insurer checks. The reason for the starting problems turned out to be an impact-related cracked fuel pump. And after we sent both attorneys the videotaped screwdriver-disassembly of this vehicle, not another word of threat of lawsuit has been uttered.

I left a message with the shop owner to call me to discuss what went wrong in this repair, but he hasn't yet responded, and I doubt he will. Fortunately for the repairer, the Thomases decided against further pursuing him for additional damages and out-of-pocket expenses incurred because of his incompetence, though they have every right to do so.

And I'll bet that should that shop's attorney, plus any friends of the attorney, someday need the services of a collision shop, I know one shop they definitely won't be taking their vehicles to.

Dick Strom, Modern Collision Rebuild, 9270 Miller Road, NE, Bainbridge Island, Washington 98110; (206) 842-3621; e-mail: moderncol@qwest.net.