This article includes a response from Audi UK as well as advice from our vehicle repair and motoring law experts — find these at the bottom of the page
ALTHOUGH NO car is immune to faults, owners of premium cars expect a certain level of quality and, should a problem arise, for it to be dealt with promptly and with reasonable competence by the manufacturer. This is not always the case, though, and one frustrated Audi owner has contacted Driving claiming the German car maker won’t cover the cost of making her vehicle safe.
Jessica Barker’s 2012 Audi Q5, bought in 2015 as an approved used Audi with full service history and one year warranty, was recalled due to an issue relating to corrosion of the curtain airbag cylinder, which, could lead to “sudden pressure release possibly with fragments” and “possible rear passenger injury”, according to the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency. The recall was announced in May 2017 and affects 14,157 Audi Q5 cars in the UK, built between May 28, 2010 and July 28, 2016.
The car was handed over to Sydenham Audi in South East London to carry out the recall work. On inspection, Barker’s car was indeed found to have a corroded airbag cylinder.
“We were informed that the damage to the canister was caused by the frame to the sunroof leaking,” Barker said. “The thought that I could be putting my children and passengers into the path of a potential, hidden, small exploding metal bomb, fills me with horror.”
Her Q5 has since been returned but that was not the end of the story. Sydenham Audi told her the frame of the sunroof needed to be repaired or replaced to avoid the damage occurring again, and that this would not be covered by the details of the recall. She was quoted £2,010 by Sydenham Audi for the additional work, comprising £1,037.94 for parts and £972 for six hours labour.
Barker says she has seen no paperwork relating to the recall work
This unexpected cost came as a big shock, given that she was told the cause of the corrosion was a leaking sunroof that she believes should not have leaked. She contact Audi customer services without any luck, so took to Twitter to try and get a response. “Audi customer service remained unhelpful and only took it seriously once I tweeted them, after the car was returned,” she said. “I’m not the sort of person who does that sort of thing, but I felt I had no choice.”
Audi’s customer service team on Twitter did get back to her, saying the case was being “fully investigated”. The following day she was told that the investigation had concluded Audi UK would be unable to assist any further.
Fortunately the dealership appeared to be on Barker’s side and offered to shoulder some of the financial burden. “Sydenham Audi didn’t think there was an adequate response from Audi, and as a good will gesture, they offered to contribute towards the work, asking us to pay £500,” she told us.
Barker, who is nine months pregnant at the time of publishing, said Sydenham Audi also arranged for her to use a courtesy car (“although I was the only one insured to drive it… not great for that emergency drive to the hospital”).
However, conflicting information since the car was returned has caused additional stress. A note on Twitter from Audi UK read, “…we can see that it was not possible to carry out the recall due to unrelated faults on the frame of the vehicle itself…”, while a subsequent email from a customer relations manager for the manufacturer stated, “Having liaised with [name redacted], Service Advisor at Sydenham Audi, I understand that your vehicle has returned to you having the recall (69P1) completed.”
Barker says she has seen no paperwork relating to the recall work, and so cannot verify that the important safety work has been carried out.
It was also initially unclear whether the recall work means that the airbag canister cannot corrode in the future. While the dealership said that the remedial fix to the sunroof frame would need to be carried out to prevent the corrosion reoccurring, the email from Audi’s customer service manager states: “It is important to note the recall (69P1) deals with the consequences of a water leak and the possible effect of corrosion of the head airbag canister. The recall repair will mean there is no risk, even if there was a leak later in the life of the vehicle.”
Barker told us: “There is no visible sign of water ingress in the car, so I have no evidence or way of telling if what they say is true, which would suggest that the internal drain is at fault too.”
Driving.co.uk contacted Audi for confirmation that the recall work had been carried out, and that the car was now safe. A spokesperson said: “That is correct – after carrying out the relevant recall process on Mrs Barker’s Audi Q5, technicians at the Audi Centre [Sydenham Audi] advised as a precaution that the sunroof frame itself would benefit from replacement. However, this was purely communicated as an advisory notice, and there is no obligation for the frame to be replaced if Mrs Barker does not wish to proceed.”
This is obviously good news for Barker, who was concerned about driving her Q5 since it was returned from the dealership, and had not done so with her two-year-old son for fear of the airbag going off.
However, there is further confusion in the fact that Barker’s email from Audi states: “[Name redacted] also confirmed that the water leak on your vehicle is caused by the rubber sills perishing which is a separate issue from 69P1 recall.”
Barker told us rubber sills were not mentioned by Sydenham Audi at any point; having called other Audi dealers, she says replacing the sills would cost around £150 —less than a tenth of replacing the whole sunroof frame. It all adds to the confusion for the case.
“I just don’t know who to trust now”
However, Barker has had enough information to decided that the leaking sunroof issue is a “latent defect”, rather than one unique to her car, which led to the initial water ingress and corrosion of the airbag canister and should therefore be covered under the terms of the recall. She also points to the fact that the car was bought in good faith from an Approved Used Audi centre in 2015.
“I’m not a mechanic, and the problem is not visible on the car, so I just don’t know who to trust now,” she said.
In response, Audi says the recall does not mean that the sunroof frame within Audi Q5 models has a design fault. The Audi UK spokesperson told us:
“To clarify, the work undertaken for the curtain airbag gas generator recall is in no way connected to the sunroof replacement recommended here, and the separate recall repair ensures there is no risk of an unintended pressure release of the curtain airbag gas generator on Q5 models affected, even if a water leak was to occur later in the life of the vehicle.”
Robert Barker, Jessica’s husband, is now even more confused. He told us:
“We’ve had three versions of events. First, they said it was the frame that needs to be replaced to prevent it occurring again, but that this would not included in the recall. We were then told the leak is caused by the sills and they need to be replaced, but that this is unrelated [to the recall]. Now they’re saying it is actually the frame, and we would benefit from replacing it, but they claim it won’t cause the problem to occur again.
“Can we really trust anything Audi say anymore? I honestly don’t know what we are supposed to believe. Do we need to replace the frame or the sills? Will the problem reoccur? Given that it failed as a result of water ingress, how can they be so sure it won’t happen again? Surely there is a latent defect if the frame is letting water in to the inside parts of the car and presumably has been for some time. Therefore it should be replaced?
“Audi is creating an unnecessary amount of stress to us at a very stressful time.”
Jessica Barker does not believe her car is the only one with this problem and is trying to find other Audi drivers that may have been affected in a similar way by this, “so that we can join together to lobby Audi to feedback into their recall policy and change their guidelines, in order to maintain a safety level that one would expect from this type of brand.”
Regardless, the experience has meant that the Barkers have lost faith in Audi and they are unlikely to remain customers.
“I am appalled at the attitude to safety displayed by Audi,” Jessica told us, “and I will continue to campaign for others who have been affected, as Audi don’t seem to take safety seriously.”
Advice from the Sunday Times Driving Car Clinic experts
Nick Freeman (aka Mr Loophole), motoring law expert at Freeman and Co.
Whilst I am not of the view that the “good will gesture” conclusively implies fault on the part of the manufacturer, it does seem peculiar for there to be a distinction between the recall work and work that would prevent the recall fault from reoccurring.
If the sunroof replacement is not within the scope of the recall work I would enquire as to why this is the case, especially as on the advice of the dealer themselves this is a necessary job to ensure that the recall issue does not reoccur.
The DVSA provides guidance to manufacturers on recalls in the UK automotive sector. It specifically states that incentives can be used to encourage consumers to have recall work done but that these are:
“… not a marketing exercise and not about revenue gain and must not be used as such”
It goes on to list discounts to services, repairs and checks as an unacceptable incentive.
The argument that all work required to rectify the fault should be free is supported by the Consumer Rights Act 2015, this is the case regardless of the scope of the manufacturer’s recall.
S.9(1) of the 2015 Act states that:
“Every contract to supply goods is to be treated as including a term that the quality of the goods is satisfactory”
S.9 goes on to set out that the relevant standard is that of what a reasonable person would consider satisfactory taking into account, the description, price and other relevant circumstances. When considering the quality of goods, s.9 (3) makes reference to factors including fitness for purpose, safety, and durability.
S.23(2) of the act states that if the consumer requires the trader to repair or replace goods the trader must do so within a reasonable time, without significant inconvenience to the consumer and bear any costs incurred in doing so (including in particular the cost of any labour, materials or postage).
With all of the above in mind, if the Audi dealer is asserting that the sunroof frame replacement is necessary to prevent the reoccurrence of a fault in the car, particularly if it has safety implications, it may well be open to the client to argue that there should not be any cost for its completion.
Tim Shallcross, former AA patrol trainer and currently an adviser for the Institute of Advanced Motorists
At a guess, the parts for the sunroof repair will come to roughly £500 cost price and they’re not charging for labour, so the actual cost to the dealer is the mechanic’s wages – say £20 per hour if it’s in London, in spite of what their hourly labour charge to the customer is.
There are very few reported problems with the A5 and Q5 sunroof leaking, although there are lots of cases of rattles from it, which needs extra lubrication to fix. Even then, it’s not part of the normal service, just if a customer complains about rattling. However, since there were no signs of leaking on the reader’s car, there may be other leaking roofs out there – maybe other Q5-owning readers can tell us.
Nevertheless, there could be a connection. Here’s some advice for anyone in this situation:
First of all, ask your dealer to explain what work has been done under the recall and exactly what is wrong with your sunroof frame. Has the corroded airbag canister been replaced – it’s not clear in Jessica Barker’s case whether it has or hasn’t. Were the sunroof drains working properly when they investigated? What specifically is leaking on the sunroof frame, what caused that component to go wrong and what work needs to be carried out to fix it?
From the price, it sounds as if the complete sunroof needs to be replaced which makes corrosion (rust) the most likely problem. If so, blocked sunroof drains could be a cause of the problem because water will sit in the frame instead of draining away. The dealership says this was not the case with Barker’s Q5.
The recall is “Curtain airbag cylinder may corrode leading to possible rear passenger injury” and you could certainly argue that they should be attending to the root cause of the problem, whatever that is.
It is also worth asking whether the corrosion would have been taking place a year ago, while the car was still under warranty, although they will probably just shrug their shoulders and tell you it’s impossible to say.
However, the car is no longer under warranty and the dealer could argue that you had the option to extend it but chose not to. The dealer has also made a pretty fair offer to cover more than three quarters of the bill. Unless more owners are found to have the same problem when the recall work is done, the dealer’s offer is probably the best you’re going to get.
Responses from Audi in full
Email to Jessica Barker:
Dear Ms Barker
Thank you for your contact to our Social Media Team regarding your Audi Q5.
I do understand that when purchasing an Audi, expectations of reliability and build quality are very high and it is therefore, disappointing when something goes wrong.
Your dissatisfaction that your Audi Q5 requires remedial repairs to the sunroof frame and sills is understandable and I apologise sincerely for the inconvenience caused.
We do take our reputation for quality very seriously but like any other manufacturer, we cannot guarantee that the many components which go into the complex build of our vehicles will never fail. That’s why all new Audis are supplied with a comprehensive three year/60,000 miles warranty.
We monitor any failure rates on all components within our vehicles very closely and pride ourselves on acting swiftly, should any trend become apparent. This is achieved by working with our excellent Centre Network and our Technical Experts within the UK and at the Factory. Having spoken to our Technical Team regarding your concerns with sunroof frame and sills, I can confirm that there are no known issues. It is important to note the recall (69P1) deals with the consequences of a water leak and the possible effect of corrosion of the head airbag canister. The recall repair will mean there is no risk, even if there was a leak later in the life of the vehicle. It does not mean that the sunroof frame within Audi Q5 models has a design fault. There is no ongoing safety concern after the recall is completed.
When a vehicle is outside of warranty, we will always endeavour to assist our valued customers wherever possible. Our Audi Centres are empowered to make such decisions regarding levels of support available for their customers.
Having liaised with [name redacted], Service Advisor at Sydenham Audi, I understand that your vehicle has returned to you having the recall (69P1) completed. [They] also confirmed that the water leak on your vehicle is caused by the rubber sills perishing which is a separate issue from 69P1 recall. I believe Sydenham Audi have offered 75 per cent goodwill contribution towards the sunroof repair cost. This has been offered to you as a valued customer and should not be seen as admission to liability.
We believe that the goodwill support offered for the repair is both fair and reasonable considering your vehicle is out of warranty and there is no outstanding recall related to the sunroof on your Audi Q5.
Whilst I am mindful that this is not the answer you were hoping for, I trust you understand the reasons for this decision.
Thank you for taking the time to contact us and for giving me the opportunity to respond.
Emails between Driving.co.uk and Audi:
Driving.co.uk: …the recall work would be carried out but to prevent the same problem happening again, the frame to the sunroof needs to be replaced, which, she has been told, is not covered by the details of the recall and will cost £2,010.
Audi UK: That is correct – after carrying out the relevant recall process on Mrs Barker’s Audi Q5, technicians at the Audi Centre advised as a precaution that the sunroof frame itself would benefit from replacement. However, this was purely communicated as an advisory notice, and there is no obligation for the frame to be replaced if Mrs Barker does not wish to proceed.
Driving.co.uk: The dealer is offering to reduce that cost to £500 as a good will gesture. Does that not imply some fault on the part of the manufacturer?
Audi UK: To clarify, the work undertaken for the curtain airbag gas generator recall is in no way connected to the sunroof replacement recommended here, and the separate recall repair ensures there is no risk of an unintended pressure release of the curtain airbag gas generator on Q5 models affected, even if a water leak was to occur later in the life of the vehicle.
It is important to note that there is also no ongoing safety issue after the recall is completed. This is because part of this process involves permanently removing a foam insert which could have had the potential to hold water and corrode in the vicinity of the curtain airbag gas generator if a water leak was present. Once the foam insert is removed and the gas generator checked for corrosion & either replaced if corroded or extensive anti corrosion measures applied if the gas generator is free of corrosion, this will prevent a repeat of the aforementioned effects.
Sydenham Audi has offered to significantly reduce the cost to the customer, despite the car being outside of the three-year/60,000 warranty period, in recognition of the individual customer circumstances and owing to the fact that the car has a full Audi service history from new. This is also unconnected to the curtain airbag recall work, and is an independent offer that has been made to the customer at the discretion of the Centre itself. This is common practice in our UK network for loyal customers.
Are you an Audi Q5 owner with the same problem? Add your experiences in the comments, tweet us @ST_Driving or email mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org with subject line “The Fixer”. To view other The Fixer articles, click here.