QOTD: Ever Had A Car Problem A Mechanic Couldn't Solve?

Illustration for article titled QOTD: Ever Had A Car Problem A Mechanic Couldn't Solve?
Photo: Mercedes Streeter

I used to own an almost perfect Volkswagen Passat TDI wagon. I say almost perfect because it suffered from some unknown demon that kept acceleration leisurely and forced it into limp mode when approaching highway speeds. The previous owner had brought it to his local Volkswagen dealership, and he decided to sell when the dealership mechanics couldn’t figure it out.


The seller convinced himself the problem was poor flow from the fuel tank and he tried an eBay-sourced inline fuel pump to fix it, but that diagnosis proved incorrect. I bought the car for $600 and drove it home slowly. All I had to do was figure out why it had a 0-60 time of 43 seconds and a top speed of 65 miles per hour.

In the end, with the help of Jalopnik readers dieseldub and bhtooefr I found the real issue was a leaky boost pipe on the inlet side of the intercooler. It looked OK, but it would split open under boost. Somehow the dealership missed that. I had a friend with a pile of these hoses in his garage, so it would have been free for me to fix.

But as COVID hit hard and my anxiety shot off the charts, I was too stressed out to undertake even a no-cost repair. I sold the car. The buyer later informed me that my diagnosis was on point. He fixed the hose and the car drives great now. I regret the decision to sell almost every day.

So how about you? Have you ever left a mechanic baffled by your particular set of automotive woes? Have you ever had to throw in the towel and admit that your car was possessed by a demon you couldn’t exorcise? Have you ever had something go wrong that even a trained mechanic couldn’t fix?

Staff Writer at Jalopnik and learning pilot. Smart Fortwo (x4), Honda Beat, Suzuki Every, AmTran Bus, VW Jetta TDI (x2), VW Touareg, Audi TT, Buell Lightning, Triumph Tiger, Genuine Stella...



We had an issue on my 2004 (X350) Jaguar XJ Vanden Plas.

I replaced the leaking struts (all four of them) with Suncore-brand units in late 2019, in my driveway. After that, the car refused to raise itself off the ground and air up the new struts at all. I ran it through all the procedures, but it refused. I limped it to the local Euro shop on its bump-stops, and they had me replace the compressor. That worked.

But then, the car sat high after a minute or two and and triggered an air suspension fault, resulting in a prominent orange light in the instrument cluster and a permanent “Air Suspension Fault” message on the instrument cluster.

That same Euro shop replaced a ride-height sensor bracket and jacked with the Jaguar/Land Rover software, but could’t get it to recalibrate. They found a short in the rear body computer, and had me replace that, and it was to no avail. As a matter of fact, it became very crooked after their handwork, so they didn’t charge me. I did like the fact that they would let me source my own parts, though.

The local Jaguar specialists down the road convinced me to let them put a new air strut on the front driver-side, saying that the one there was failing. The only reason I did it was because the wheel fell off the car on that corner (incorrect lug nuts) a couple of months after the Suncore air strut went on, so it was possible that it had been damaged. That didn’t fix it, either.

My client that is factory-trained for Jaguars and Land Rovers had it for a long while. He is a true mechanic, in every sense of the word. He determined that the release valve—which, for some reason, is on the compressor rather than the individual air struts—was stuck, preventing the struts from releasing air properly. As you couldn’t just replace the valve, he had me order a new compressor. Which...

...still didn’t work. As I was going to sell it anyway (I really wanted the long-wheelbase model, which they didn’t begin making until 2005), I had him remove the air compressor and install a coil-over conversion kit, in place of the air struts. This also came with some sort of module that plugged into one of the body computers to trick the car into thinking all was well with the (nonexistent) air suspension kit, and prevent the “Air suspension fault” light from coming up. I feared it still wouldn’t work, but...

Fortunately it did. So, to recap, between November ‘19 and October ‘20, it took:

  • 5 air struts (3 front, 2 rear)
  • 1 rear body computer
  • 2 air compressors
  • 4 coil-overs, and
  • 50-odd man hours

Just to get the thing to sit correctly and not have fault lights. And that’s not to mention:

  • The broken trunk lock I tried to replace, whose replacement ended up also being faulty
  • The cost of replacing the sagging headliner
  • The cost of driving three hours each way to/from Dallas for a replacement sunroof cassette (mine broke) that the junkyard said they had, although when I got there, they had managed to misplace the entire donor car with sunroof cassette, causing me to leave empty-handed
  • The rear Alpine speakers that were blown and needed to be replaced (I would have used generic ones, but they used a proprietary connector and housing), and
  • The cost of a new rotor, hub, wheel liner and front fender when the wheel fell off

And I’m in this thing for way more than it’s worth, even though I was able to return some of the parts. Oh, and I was getting ready to sell it the other day when the hood cable broke, so now I’m waiting on

  • A new hood cable and
  • New hood latches

As these X350s are touted for being fairly unsophisticated and easy to repair (versus a contemporary German flagship), I’m not sure why this one was so finicky.

I love the styling of the X350 XJ so much though, that I’m actually prepared to try again with another example someday, likely a face-lifted 2008 or 2009 in pristine condition.