Volkswagen key class action

by Walter Olson on July 27, 2008

Two readers have written to alert us to this settlement (PDF), including frequent commenter Todd Rogers:

I received notice in the mail [this month] that I’m party to a class action suit against VW USA. I drive a Passat with a “Smart Key.” According to the suit, VW has been naughty because they did not make the key duplication apparatus available enough to locksmiths, third party key duplicators, and the like, in the event that I (we) want to make another key. What would my settlement be? I’m the benefactor of “greater communication” from VW USA.

What do you know…owners of Mercedes Benz suffered the same injury and it was the same firm, Lurie & Weiss, who helped make them whole, as well. Who’s next?

Objections and requests for exclusion must by filed by the end of August, and a fairness hearing is scheduled for Sept. 22 in the courtroom of the Hon. Audrey B. Collins in federal court in Los Angeles.

{ 25 comments }

1 Fox2! 07.27.08 at 12:32 pm

So is any manufacturer that uses an unusual key (my BMW key, while not “smart” remembers things like VIN, mileage and driver’s seat position and mirror orientations) subject to similar sanctions? I doubt I could go to the local ACE hardware and have a copy made.

2 billb 07.27.08 at 2:41 pm

Fox2!: I doubt your BMW key remembers anything other than its own serial number. It’s almost certainly the computer in your BMW that associates the key’s serial number with all of those settings a preferences and stats you mention.

3 Todd Rogers 07.27.08 at 4:52 pm

I think the lawyers at BMW might want to keep and eye on their mailbox(s) for pending service.

4 Ted Frank 07.27.08 at 7:50 pm

And Toyota. I’m certainly going to object if a class action is brought on behalf of my keys. The two times I needed a key fixed, I got charged under $2.

5 shaggy 07.28.08 at 10:52 am

So VW consumers want the key duplication process and technology to be blindly available to 3rd party locksmiths? Why does the company even bother trying to create such a secure key then? Don’t complain when your car is stolen…

6 Steve 07.28.08 at 4:50 pm

This is a customer service issue.

It looks like these car companies should be more concerned about having the infrastructure in place for issues like this…

Oh Crud! I forgot that, due to lobbying by connected car dealer owners, there is no help on Sundays in most if not all states(no I did not check.)

Guess it’s just one more reason to sue that the market doesn’t provide a service that you want. Even if it is the govs fault.

Although, I suspect that this has to do with not even allowing the aftermarket to compete. And, we can’t have that.

7 Todd Rogers 07.28.08 at 5:03 pm

Shaggy, by virtue of the very purpose of this website, it’s not the owners of VWs (or any other brand of vehicle) who want this technology universally available. It’s the attorneys who want to line their pockets by creating an “injury” where one otherwise did not exist. I have never tried to “dupe” my smart key. I do know that it will cost me about $70. I knew this when I bought the car. If this caused me much discomfort, I would let the free-market guide me to a different brand in the future.

8 Steve 07.29.08 at 1:26 pm

Todd,

Unfortunately, the free market does not give you this option when the gov requires these type of anti-theft devices.

This will also cause an increase in your chance of being carjacked since the thieves will need the key.

The market almost certainly would not want anything to do with these types of immobilizers, and there are lots of oppotunities for alarms that can offer incredible security.

GooooOOO Gov!!

9 R. Shackleford 07.29.08 at 2:19 pm

First there is no security in the system. If a “bad person” has a “friend” at the dealer then nothing else is needed. They can order keys pre-cut to your car and program them with no issues.

Second, the settlement is a joke. VW needs to provide to the owners of the car the code (SKC) upon demand. Sorry but dealer is not competitive. I can buy on ebay a used remote for $30 buy a key blank for $5 swap the key blade on the remote and program it myself for free. With the system that was implemented in 2004 I have to pay the dealer $100 to program the key so it can start the engine for more than 3 seconds.

Third, yes VW makes available to anyone the equipment to program the key. What it does is it connects to their system, downloads the PIN code and inputs it directly into the car. There are 3rd party systems (VAG-COM, namely) that can do this programming if one can manually input the code. A full VAG-COM setup costs approx $800 including the required laptop computer. The “official” solutions (A VAS-5052 machine) costs over $10,000 and has required subscription fees and also one must maintain an internet connection in the shop.

None of this negates that a “bad” person can purchase or lease the VAS-5052 machine, order keys from VW and use their equipment to program keys for stolen cars. Neither does it negate that after market solutions exist to extract the PIN code (the SKC is the PIN code encrypted with some arbitrary data) from the immobilizer system without creating any record in the VW central database. The only reason these tools were developed is because VW halted the distribution of the SKC codes to begin with.

10 kd 07.31.08 at 12:51 pm

Found this site because I am now suffering from this action on VW’s part. Folks should know that a new VW key is now available only from the dealer, costs in the neighborhood of $250, not the $70 reported above. I know , I’ve had to get a new key.
not a typo: $250 plus a programming fee of something like $75

But wait, that’s not all.

Sometimes the key and car lose the ability to communicate and the car becomes immobilized. If this immobilizer is triggered, and it sometimes just happens, then ONLY THE DEALER can clear the codes and start the car again. This is even if you have the proper key(s).

This is the proprietary info that VW refuses to share with qualified locksmiths and mechanics. At this very moment my car is being towed 16 miles from my competent mechanic to VW to solve this problem of VW’s creation. So, I’m all for this class action. Even if the lawyers walk away with the bulk of the settlement,

I’d still rather licensed locksmith or mechanic could gget and use the codes and make keys. Since VW can’t tell you exactly what to do to avoid this (Aside from the obvious “don’t put your key in the microwave or try to activate it from too far away from the car.) I’d rather something force VW to change.

11 Steve 07.31.08 at 2:57 pm

Kd,

I installed alarms and remote starts for 10 yrs. Everything from GMs VATS to Mercedes infrared keys has the same issue. If the system fails, the car will need to be plugged into a scan tool of some sort to reset/bypass the immobilizer. Hence the name, “immobilizer”.

I would say that your beef is with the government requirement to have g

12 Steve 07.31.08 at 3:09 pm

Whoops…typing is not my strong point :).

What I was saying is that the gov requires this and this can also be the trade off for security of any type.

The beef here seems to be that VW decided, for whatever reasons, not to offer the info to the aftermarket. Thier choice.

This could be to have a monopoly on the replacement keys-most lost item in the history of the worl. Or, it could also be to protect it to at least some extent.

There was no need to have a lawsuit for VW to release it to others.

Payday!!

13 Al Naclerio 08.02.08 at 11:29 am

The real problem is that the keys keep failing in the first place. This has been the 4th time both keys have de-activated since I got my Passat. It costs $40 per reactivation and I have to travel 50 miles to the nearest Volkswagen dealership to get it done, and at the latest gas prices on top of it. If any of you can’t see how much of a scam this is and defend Volkswagen, then you’re idiots. I hope they drown in lawyers.

14 Steve 08.02.08 at 10:03 pm

Wow.

That VW dealership’s service smells like poopy!

Any issues with ANY immobilzer that has not been touched by any aftermarket wiring would normally be the complete responsibility of VW.

They should have towed your car to the nearest service and reprogrammed for free. From my experience, they all do.

15 Ted Frank 08.03.08 at 9:27 am

If it’s happened to Al four times early enough in his car-ownership history, he may have recourse from his state’s lemon laws, which tend to be lawyer-friendly, and get a brand new car.

But note that the suit isn’t about the low quality of the keys, but rather whether Volkswagen is allowed to have a certain customer-service model.

16 waylon 08.04.08 at 2:02 pm

I have had this problem 3 times in the last 3 years. My key will work then all of a sudden the key doesnt read anymore. Therefore I have to pay for a tow to the nearest VW dealership $100 and get charged atleast $250 to reprogrammed just because my SMART KEY (not so smart) wont read. My immobilizer has cost me $1,100 in the last 3 years. I will tell everyone I know to never buy any car the requires a smart key. WOW!!! I was just waiting for the tow truck and the immobolizer read my key. This is the best we can come up with for technology. DISGRACE

17 Taft 08.07.08 at 3:18 pm

Given my experience with VW’s, their keys and their dealerships, I think this class action has merit. VW, by refusing to publish relevant codes, has effectively shut out any third party from offering service to VW keys.

If this was the case and they offered competitive service on their keys, I wouldn’t have a problem. However, their service policies around the keys are a JOKE. They have tried to charge me $98 dollars to replace a battery. When my keys have become “unsynched” with my car, they blame bad batteries (which are easily replaceable by the customer for under 10 dollars) and try to charge ridiculous prices for the work.

VW (or at least my local dealer) is obviously acting in bad faith regarding service to their keys. They are exploiting a bad and nonsensical policy to charge highly inflated prices on service and support for their keys.

18 Garry 08.09.08 at 10:08 pm

All this is very easily solved, especially you people that are spending $250+ everytime your keey drops.

Step 1- Get the SKC from the dealer if you car is newer than 02, if it’s older than 02 it’s already in the vehicle.

Step2- Visit http://www.ross-tech.com and buy the Vag-Com cable, download the software to a laptop and you can reprogram your key anytime it fails.

Total cost- $250 for the cable and software.

Having rhe peace of mind that you can fix it yourself? Priceless.

19 Joe 08.17.08 at 9:48 am

billb (post #2),

BMW keys store the car’s mileage, service information, current check control messages (idiot lights), along with the VIN. When the car goes in for service, the dealership puts the key in a reader. The key reader takes the information from the key and lets the service writer know what services are due.

20 Steph 10.08.08 at 4:58 pm

Great to know. We just bought our daughter a ’99 Super Beetle and she lost the key at college. Todays quote was $250 but the kicker is that the closest dealer is 180 miles away. Had I known this I sure as hell wouldn’t have bought the VW.

21 Jerry Robertson 10.18.08 at 10:02 am

Yes, you are all hearing right. A replacement key for a VW bug is $175 plus a $75 programming fee in Norfolk, VA. The programming fee is virtually all profit to the dealer. What a poor excuse for a policy. Anyone that would but a car that has a key replacement policy like this is an idiot, including me.

To the clown that thinks it’s ok….locksmiths are bonded and there’s no risk in letting them provide the key. The current model has a name. Monopoly!!

22 Ted 10.18.08 at 10:43 am

There’s no monopoly, because Volkswagen has no market power to sell its cars with the numerous alternatives to Volkswagens on the market. The ability to anticipate profits on future key replacements merely means that Volkswagen has additional incentive to lower the upfront price of the vehicle.

23 sobstory 11.12.08 at 3:56 am

I’m a Saab mechanic, and I have to tell you that the $250 you report is CHEAP and reasonable. In all saabs after MY 99 the keys also have a programmable chip that is required to match the car’s serial in order to start. However, the keys have to be ‘married’ with a dealer’s equipment. The problem comes when someone loses ALL keys to their car. At this point the only option is to replace a $1000 security module, plus the new set of keys as well as re-keying the doors. This is an almost $2000 job at the dealer and it is not uncommon…

24 Elizabeth 12.08.08 at 10:58 am

I was a huge VW fan until recently. When I purchased my used beetle, I was advised that there was only one key available to the car. If I wanted another, it would cost me $300 (Clear Lake Volkswagen, TX).

My purse was recently stolen, with my one key to my vehicle in it. I am away at college, and am 300 miles from the closest Volkswagen dealership.

I’ve spoken to numerous customer and service department personnel with Volkswagen now regarding a resolution. They insist the only option available is to have the vehicle towed (with a sticker price of $600.00), and then pay $300.00 to get one new key made, for a grand total of $900.00 for a new key!

The real resolution? I’m buying a bike, and will continue to pay a $350 a month car note, for a vehicle I cannot operate. And going home for Christmas definately ain’t happening. Happy ho ho, Volkswagen.

25 alex 04.05.09 at 12:06 am

Just my story: I got a second key for my VW beetle on ebay for 30$.
When I tried to get it programmed at VW in Oakland they told me my ebay key was wrong/bad/unusable … They could sell me a good one for 240$ !!! (yes, the key, not the car).

I then went to VW in San Francisco and they programmed my ebay key with no problem (charging 90$ just for programming).

Still way too expensive but 50% cheaper than the nice Oakaland colleagues …

San Francisco – Oakland 1 – 0

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