If you thought Volkswagen was out of hot water after owning up to its actions in the “Dieselgate” scandal, a proposed class action now claims otherwise.
The case alleges newer Volkswagen models have been known to take on water due to a defect in the cars’ panoramic sunroofs that causes them to leak.
According to the 71-page suit out of California, defendants Volkswagen Group of America, Inc. and Volkswagen AG have “long been aware” of the alleged leaky sunroof defect, yet have concealed it from consumers and even gone so far as to deny warranty claims when drivers attempt to have their cars fixed.
The two named plaintiffs claim Volkswagen’s so-called “People First” new vehicle limited warranty that was meant to restore consumers’ trust in the brand has done little to win back their faith. Instead, the plaintiffs argue, the automaker’s failure to honor the warranty and fix the problems caused by the alleged sunroof defect has only led to “another scandal” that stands to further harm Volkswagen drivers.
“VW may have intended its new warranty to win over consumers after Dieselgate, but given that VW failed to inform consumers of the Defect, failed to acknowledge or repair the known sunroof Defect, and failed to honor the spirit of the warranty by concealing the Defect from consumers while the express warranties expired, the warranty has not restored Class Vehicle consumers’ faith in VW,” the complaint states. “VW has created another scandal through its deceptive and fraudulent business practices wherein VW’s profits soar while its consumers suffer.”
Volkswagen Sunroofs Prone to Leaking, Class Action Claims
The lawsuit alleges that a fleet of newer Volkswagen and Audi models comes equipped with a defective sunroof that causes water to leak into the vehicles. According to the case, the affected vehicles include the following sunroof-equipped models:
2016-Present Audi A1 Mk2;
2016-Present Audi A3 Mk3;
2016-Present Audi TT Mk3;
2016-Present Audi Q2;
2016-Present Audi Q3;
2016-Present Volkswagen Arteon;
2016-Present Volkswagen Atlas/Teramont;
2016-Present Volkswagen Golf;
2016-Present Volkswagen Jetta;
2016-Present Volkswagen Passat;
2016-Present Volkswagen Polo;
2016-Present Volkswagen Tiguan;
2016-Present Volkswagen Touran; and
2016-Present Volkswagen Touareg.
The lawsuit alleges the sunroofs in the above vehicles have been found to exhibit “inherent problems” in their manufacturing, design, and/or workmanship that causes water to leak into the vehicles during rainstorms, extreme weather conditions, and even at the car wash.
According to several Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs) issued by Volkswagen to dealers, the sunroof leaks are linked to one or more possible causes, including incorrectly assembled rear sunroof drains that have been “pinched shut,” outer sunroof seals that don’t properly adhere to the body of the car, and stress cracks that occur due to the “difference in the expansion rate between the plastic water channel and steel reinforcement plates.”
Citing numerous online consumer complaints, the lawsuit alleges the sunroof leaks have damaged vehicles’ interiors and even the cars’ electrical systems. Besides causing drivers to pay significant repair costs, the case claims the water leaks also pose a safety hazard as damage to the vehicles’ electrical system can cause a car to malfunction while on the road. As the complaint puts it:
“Consumers have experienced the forward/front and rear sensors malfunctioning which causes their vehicles to slam on the brakes and stop on their own – even when the vehicles are moving at high speeds in the middle of a road.”
The case claims water leaks in a car can also cause mold to grow in the vehicles’ interior and condensation to form on cars’ windows, which reduces visibility and can distract a driver.
More Like “Profits First”
The lawsuit claims drivers’ discovery of the alleged sunroof defect is especially troublesome given Volkswagen’s newly adopted “People First” bumper-to-bumper limited warranty for new vehicles, which the case alleges was instituted to “win back American customers” in the wake of the Dieselgate scandal.
The suit explains that after Volkswagen was found to have installed secret devices in more than half a million vehicles that allowed the cars to cheat emissions tests, the automaker attempted to rebuild its reputation by broadening its written warranty to cover 2018 and 2019 models for six years or 72,000 miles—which is supposedly “longer than any other [warranty] offered in the industry.”
The case claims, however, that despite Volkswagen’s promise under its so-called “People First” warranty to make “any repair to correct a defect in the manufacturer’s material or workmanship,” the automaker “systematically denies coverage and/or refuses or is unable to adequately repair” damage caused by the allegedly defective sunroofs in the vehicle models listed above.
Volkswagen, according to the lawsuit, has been able to charge more for cars equipped with sunroofs—“one of the most profitable features in the automotive industry”—while failing to honor the warranty on which consumers based their trust.
Case Claims Volkswagen Concealed Sunroof Defect “For Years”
The proposed class action alleges Volkswagen has been aware of the alleged sunroof defect in its newer model cars since at least 2016.
Pre-release testing data would have revealed the leak problem, the case says, as well as early consumer complaints, investigations performed in response to those complaints, high failure rates, and replacement part sales data.
In fact, the lawsuit claims Volkswagen not only knew of the defect, but took active steps to conceal its existence from consumers. Citing various internal documents—including at least 25 TSBs, “Tech Tips,” service actions, notices, and other communications with dealers—the case alleges the automaker had diagnosed the problem and determined how it should be fixed as early as January 2016.
Despite issuing numerous communications to dealers regarding the alleged sunroof leaks, Volkswagen failed to disclose the problem to consumers and took “no preventative measure” to repair the defective parts while the vehicles’ warranties were in effect, the suit says.
March 2020 Service Action
The lawsuit goes on to criticize a recent letter sent to some Volkswagen owners in March 2020 in which the automaker informed drivers of a service action that provides for the cleaning and modification of the front sunroof drain on 2015 to 2019 Volkswagen models.
The action is deficient, according to the lawsuit, in that only “a limited number of consumers” will actually receive the letter and have their sunroofs repaired by the December 2021 deadline. Further, the case points out that the service action only applies to the front sunroof drain, while Volkswagen’s internal documents have revealed the sunroofs’ propensity to leak “from several areas.”
The case goes on to point out that the service action is not a “permanent fix” for the alleged defect and does nothing to compensate drivers for the damage caused to the interior of their cars or for previous repairs that were paid for out of pocket or through drivers’ insurance policies.
The lawsuit suspects the March 2020 letter was only sent in reaction to another proposed class action filed in January that makes similar allegations related to Volkswagen models’ apparent sunroof defect. The case claims the letter is “too little, too late,” stating that the proposed solution “does not right the wrongs VW has committed.”
Who Does the Lawsuit Look to Cover?
Unlike Volkswagens’ apparently leaky sunroofs, the lawsuit seeks to cover anyone who purchased or leased a Volkswagen vehicle with a sunroof in California, including but not limited to the models listed above.
How Do I Join the Lawsuit?
At this point, there’s nothing you need to do to join the lawsuit. If the case moves forward and settles, anyone affected should receive notification of the settlement with instructions on what to do next.
If you’re concerned about your legal rights or have questions about what you should do while you’re waiting, you may want to reach out to an attorney for legal advice.
In the meantime, you can have class action news and updates sent to your inbox by signing up for ClassAction.org’s newsletter here.