M drove the car into Manhattan twice last weekend. On the way back from her second trip the car wouldn’t start; it would turn over, catch, rev, and die, but it wouldn’t stay running. Eventually we realized that the little “immobilizer” icon on the dashboard remained flashing after the car died, which indicated that the anti-theft device had kicked in and we’d have to tow the car. After some late-afternoon calls, dead cell phone batteries, and inevitable wrangling with AAA, the car was towed to Cobble Hill Super Service (I was unhappy last time I had service done there, but it was the only place I could find that would take it). The owner/manager assured me that they could fix the immobilizer on Monday, if in fact that was the problem. FIne. So he called me on Monday and informed me that the alternator was dead to the tune of $700 (he also told me that I need new struts and my battery is leaking). However, he was unable to get the car started… even when he strapped in a new battery. That sounded fishy to me so after he had bullied me into authorizing the repair I called him back and asked a couple more questions (me: “how do you know the alternator’s bad if it wouldn’t start?”, he: “I’ve got computers that tell me” etc). I was in touch with some mechanics I know and they said it sounded funny too, so I called him back and cancelled the service… “Fine,” he said, “I wouldn’t work on your car anyway… are you questioning my diagnosis? Fine! Take it to the dealership and pay THEM to change your alternator. Come down here and tow your car away…” etc, etc. So I took half a day off work and went down there. It turns out that Cobble Hill Shell — of all people — is the outfit who AAA has called to tow my car! They cancelled the tow and procrastinated for nearly three hours while I stood on Atlantic in the cold. Finally after a dozen calls to AAA and an eventual death-defying, 55-MPH ride down 4th Ave in Brooklyn, we narrowly made it before the VW dealership in Bay Ridge closed. The folks there took a look at it today and chalked it up to a weak battery. They reset the immobilizer, reprogrammed the keys and we were on our way. It wasn’t an inexpensive “repair” from VW, but they did the job right: no threats and no bullying. I will never go back to Cobble Hill Shell/Super Service and I recommend you don’t either!
UPDATE: here’s some crazy documentation on the VW TDI immobilizer system… I especially like the emergency override feature (from chittychittybangbang on tdiforum).
UPDATE: the car’s been running fine this week.

2 thoughts on “Immobilzed!”

  1. These guys are thieves. They bait you to get extra repairs done on your vehicle with scare tactics and act very rude if you have the audacity to question their diagnosis. Do your self a favor and take your vehicle somewhere else!

  2. My brother-in-law just had this problem. His controls were all messed up, the odometer was scrambled, and everything on the dash was lit up. He had tried just about everything short of taking it to the mechanic for fear of the huge expenses. I found your blog and went to the links you have listed and decided to try leaving the key in “auxiliary” for ten minutes. We were sitting there waiting, worrying about all of the possible scenarios, when “beep, beep, beep!” The dash went back to normal and the car started right up. Thanks so much for the tips!

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