Article Updated: January 24, 2023
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The Vr6 engine was introduced in the early 1990’s and is still being used in the Atlas and Passat. However, we are starting to see a shift from the Vr6 towards more efficient engines with progressing technology. When Volkswagen introduced this engine, it was ahead of its time, with it being almost the same size as their signature inline 4s but having 6 zig zag cylinders resting on one cylinder head.
Before we get into common problems with the engine, we want to preface that not all engines are made the same, so these may be applicable to some, but not to others. If taken care of properly, following maintenance schedules, this engine can be very reliable.
Also, for the replacement options listed below, PLEASE make sure they will fit your vehicle before ordering. Since there are many different types of the Vr6 engine, we couldn’t list them all.
Vr6 Common Problems are Applicable for:
MK2 Corrado 1991-1995
B3 Passat 1988-1993
MK3 GTI 1991-2000
MK3 Jetta 1992-1999
MK4 GTI 1999-2005
MK4 Jetta 1999-2006
New Beetle RSi 2000-2003
MK5 R32 2006-2010
B7 Passat 2010-2015
The 6 Most Common Volkswagen Vr6 Engine Problems
- Ignition coil pack failure
- Leaking head gasket
- Serpentine belt tensioner failure
- Warm stalls
- Water pump failure
- Timing chain failure
1. Ignition Coil/Coil Pack Failure
To no surprise, ignition coils going out is a common problem in almost all VW vehicles. Depending on which engine your vehicle has, you could be looking at coil packs (12v) or 6 individual coils (24v). The ignition coils are a very important part for your vehicles to start and move. It converts the battery’s lower voltage into a higher voltage that is needed to spark the spark plugs, which in turn ignites the fuel.
Coil packs house ignition coils within them. They are a more modern take on individual ignition coils and serve the same purpose. In some cases, coil packs may even be more efficient and provide a better spark, but this is on a case-by-case basis and depends on which engine your vehicle has. Something to note is that a coil pack is just one ignition coil for all 6 cylinders, whereas individual coils go into all 6 cylinders.
Symptoms of Ignition Coil Pack Failure:
- Engine misfires
- Vehicle not starting
- Rough Idle
- Reduced Power
- Check Engine Light (CEL) or Engine Management Light (EML) flashing or staying on
Ignition Coil/Coil pack Replacement Options:
Regardless of single ignition coils or ignition coil packs, the install or replacement is a fairly easy task. If you were to take your VW to the dealership or local shop to replace your ignition coils, you would be looking at a cost of $600 for labor, parts, and diagnostics. If you are a handy mechanic (or even semi-handy), we would highly advise DIYing. Something to note with individual ignition coils is that if you need to replace one, replace all, that way there are all in the same condition.
DIY Difficulty: Easy
2. Vr6 Leaking Head Gasket
Another issue in these engines is a faulty head gasket. The head gasket is one of the most, if not the most, important gaskets your engine has. It seals the cylinders’ pressure to make sure that maximum compression is achieved. If you have a blown head gasket or leak, you will be able to tell immediately.
A leaky/faulty head gasket is much more common as your vehicle’s miles increase, depending on maintenance. Since the head gasket is the seal from the engine block to the cylinder head, it experiences extremely high temperatures from the combustion gases and extremely low temperatures from the engine coolant. With a part that undergoes such a variance in temperature, if not maintained properly, can slowly develop a leak and cause real problems for your vehicle. To ensure your head gasket’s reliability, make sure your coolant levels are where they should be.
Symptoms of a Leaking/Blown Head Gasket:
- Engine overheating
- Unexplained coolant loss without evident leaks
- Oil and Coolant Mixing
- Fast pressure rise in the cooling system
- White smoke emitting from the exhaust
- “Milky” oil or bubbles from the dipstick
Vr6 Head Gasket Replacement Options:
Unfortunately, if your head gasket is blown or has a leak, the cost you will face to take this to a shop will be around $1,500. Now we have seen people DIY this, but it is for the more advanced mechanic.
DIY Difficulty: Advanced
3. Vr6 Serpentine Belt Tensioner Failure
The serpentine belt (also known as the accessory belt or the drive belt) tensioner is one of those parts that is destined to fail in any VW’s. As the name says, the serpentine belt tensioner keeps the serpentine belt tight. The serpentine belt is important because it powers a lot of accessories in the engine, such as the water pump, power steering pump, alternator, and A/C compressor.
Just like every part inside of an engine, the higher miles your vehicle has, the more likely it is the tensioner will start to fail due to normal wear and tear. If the tensioner does fail, you’re at risk of your serpentine belt snapping entirely, which would cause issues with the accessories listed above.
Symptoms of a Serpentine Belt or Accessory Belt Tensioner Failing:
- Squeaking noise when starting or stopping your engine
- Unusual serpentine belt wear
- Power steering not working
- A/C not working
- Engine Overheating
Serpentine Belt Tensioner Replacement Options:
If you are a semi handy mechanic, you can DIY this relatively easily. However, if you’re not or would rather it get done professionally, then you will be looking at a cost of $150 – $300 mostly because of labor. One thing we would suggest if you are DIYing this, make sure to replace the serpentine belt as well as the tensioner just so you don’t put a new tensioner on with a weak belt. Lastly, make sure to check all the pulleys the serpentine belt runs on as well just for precautionary measures or future damage.
Purchase Here: Vr6 12v Serpentine Belt Kit
DIY Difficulty: Intermediate
4. Vr6 Warm Stalls
Don’t worry, although warm stalls may be EXTREMELY annoying, they usually don’t lead to extreme issues. As the problem states “warm stalls”, this means that the vehicle stalls when the engine warms up to the optimal engine temperature. Warm stalls can also cause your vehicle not to start when the engine is warm. For example, you take a quick trip to the store, it starts up fine when cold, but when leaving the store, it won’t start.
If you run into the above issues, the first step we would advise would be to reflash your ECU. If the problem still persists, take it to a local shop or check the following for replacement: water pump or alternator. This could also just signify that your vehicle needs a cooling system service. Lastly, check your ignition coils! It could be a simple fix to replace your ignition coils to alleviate the problem.
5. Vr6 Water Pump Failure
The Volkswagen water pump is also one of the most common problems in the majority of the engines. Water pumps push the coolant from your vehicle’s radiator through the cooling system, into the engine, then returning to the radiator. There are many important running parts in a vehicle’s engine, but water pumps are easily one of the most important.
Unfortunately, water pumps fail just because of everyday wear and tear. You will likely replace at least one or two water pumps in your vehicle’s lifetime. If the water pump fails completely, you will be looking at an overheating situation, which if not handled ASAP will lead to more serious engine damage. So, what symptoms can you look for to ensure there isn’t further engine damage.
Symptoms of Water Pump Failure:
- Coolant leak at the front of your vehicle (Low coolant indicator on)
- Engine overheating
- High pitch noise coming from the motor
- Steam coming from the radiator
- Deposit buildup or corrosion on the water pump
Water Pump Replacement Options:
If your water pump goes out, we would highly advise trying to DIY it because it will save a bunch of money. If you’re looking to take it to a dealer, you’ll be looking at a bill anywhere from $500 – $900. But if you decide to work on it yourself, then you could be looking at anywhere from $50 – $250 depending on if you get a set or just the water pump. We would always advise getting the set, just because normally when a water pump goes out, it is best to replace your timing belt as well.
DIY Difficulty: Intermediate
6. Vr6 Timing Chain Failure
Lastly, timing chain failures seem to be rather prominent on VW vehicles once you reach around 100k miles. A timing chain is a very crucial component in your engine that connects the crankshaft and camshaft together for the transmission to turn in unison with the engine.
Unlike timing belts, timing chains don’t fail due to the normal wear and tear. If your timing chain fails, it’s more than likely due to poor maintenance of your vehicle. If the timing chain does fail, your vehicle will not start or will turn off while driving. The reason this is, is because the engine won’t have enough compression to start.
Symptoms of Timing Chain Failure:
- Check engine light or engine management light on
- Engine rattling while idle
- Metal shavings in your oil
- Engine skipping a gear
- Engine misfires
- Vehicle not starting or failing while driving
Timing Chain Replacement Options:
Volkswagen built timing chains to last at least 120,000 miles but depending on vehicle maintenance that could be longer or shorter. Unless you are an expert mechanic, we would not advise DIYing this because it is difficult and there are a lot of moving parts you need to worry about, such as how to properly time the chain for your engine to run properly. If you are looking to take it to a shop, you will more than likely be looking at a bill around $1,000 – $1,500.
DIY Difficulty: Advanced
Volkswagen Vr6 Engine Reliability
Although there is a laundry list of problems listed above, the Vr6 engine is very reliable if maintained properly. They can run for up to 150,000 miles or even longer, we’ve even seen some last longer than 300,000 miles.