There’s An Engineer In Germany I’d Like A Word With; Tale Of A Crumbling Volkswagen Lock

In common with quite a few in the hardware hacking community, I have a fondness for older vehicles. My “modern” ride is an older vehicle by today’s standards, a Volkswagen Polo 6N made in the late 1990s. It’s by my estimation a Good Car, having transported me reliably back and forth across the UK and Europe for several years.

Last week though, it let me down. Outside the church in a neighbouring village the driver’s door lock failed, leaving me with my igniton key stuck in the door, and a mildly embarrassing phone call to my dad to bring the Torx driver required to remove the assembly and release it. I am evidently not 1337 enough, I don’t carry a full set of Torx bits with me everywhere I go. The passenger side lock has never worked properly while I’ve had the car, and this is evidently my cue to sort it all out.

Dodgy Die-Castings And Impossible Springs

The VW replacement parts
The die-cast horrors of a VW door mechanism in all their glory.

Withdrawing the door handle and lock assembly, there’s a paddle on a stalk that’s turned by the key, and this locates in a slot on the door catch mechanism. At the base of the stalk assembly is a die-cast circlip, and it holds a spring in check that secures the stalk, a die-cast insert, and a die-cast outer shell. The insert in my lock had failed, it sports a couple of tabs which had fatigued and broken off, jamming the mechanism.

Taking it apart is easy enough but fraught with danger as the spring can make a bid for freedom, but in short order I had all the pieces on the bench. Having a quick look online it seems that this is a notorious problem with VW, SEAT, Škoda and other VAG cars from the early 1990s through into the 2000s, as the same mechanism found its way into many models. Mine seems to have been a good one, because most failures seem to have been on younger cars. An aftermarket kit of parts is available from multiple online sources, and mine cost me only around $5. In the pack, replacements for all four die-cast parts plus a new spring.

Looking at the assembly, it rapidly becomes obvious that this mechanism is hardly Volkswagen’s finest hour. Not only has its designer chosen to make the parts from a slightly dubious zinc-based die-casting, they’ve chosen to secure it with a spring that needs three hands and the dexterity of a contortionist to both compress length-wise and rotationally before it can be reassembled. A lot of swearing and maneuvering with a pair of snipe-nose pliers can get it into place, but I can’t honestly call it anything but an atrocious design in both materials and assembly. I’m sure a dealer would charge me £100 for the privilege of doing the same task, but it just shouldn’t be that way.

Stand Back, I’m An Engineer!

My OpenSCAD take on the part
My OpenSCAD take on the part

In our community these things may be sent to try us, but they are opportunities as much as they are failures. I’m a hardware hacker, I’ve got this! So since I have the passenger side door to look at too it was off to OpenSCAD to create a CAD model for a replacement insert. All it takes is careful measurement of the die-cast part with my Vernier caliper.

It’s quite a complex shape, but in the OpenSCAD code it boils down to a simple case of a cylinder with a range of parts carved out of it to reach the required shape. An inner cylinder hollows it out, then some cubes to carve out and shape the various slots, and finally an additional protrusion on the rear. In about half an hour I had the part on the screen, and in a further ten minutes or so I had it printed. It fits into the assembly perfectly, I will never lose that air of wonderment at how we now have the means to make such complex high-precision shapes  on our desktops.

Broken part, die-cast replacement, 3d-printed replacement
The part in the middle will do a better job than the part on the right of replacing the broken part on the left.

But before I replace my die-cast piece with a 3D printed one, have I just fallen into a trap? Because we have 3D printers there’s a temptation to use them to solve all problems, but am I just about to replace a part with a failure lifetime in years with one that’ll break after weeks? While the part is a minor thing of beauty I can’t even say in my wildest imagination that FDM-printed PLA is the strongest of materials Perhaps it’s time to back away from 3D printer evangelism and recognise that everything has its place. A nylon print would be stronger and lost-PLA casting would deliver a part equivalent to the original, but when I’m talking about a sub-five-dollar part what’s the point?

I’ll print a couple and keep them in my emergency stash in case I need to do a roadside fix to last me home, but I’ll order another kit for the passenger side. It’s a salutary warning, from an afternoon in the life of a Hackaday scribe, that sometimes when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem is not a nail.

149 thoughts on “There’s An Engineer In Germany I’d Like A Word With; Tale Of A Crumbling Volkswagen Lock

  1. Have you checked to see if you could replace the door lock with a more generic lock? It seems it would be easier to hack a generic lock to work than to deal with parts that you know are gonna fail miserably.

      1. I remember reading on USENET (early 1990s) how easy it was to break into a VW.
        Something like using a large screwdriver to punch a hole above the door lock…
        Aftermarket shields for the locks soon became available.

        1. Mk1/mk2 VWs were notoriously simple to break into. Basically you could pry off the rear of the door handle. Aftermarket companies started offering “armor door plate” sets that installed underneath the door handle to prevent it.

        2. That was Mk2 Golf and prior era handles. That design was completely Replaced across the VAG range with this type now found on everything. VW are not alone using this zinc based crap in their locks. Citroen use the same and their locks fail quicker.

          1. Zamak castings are awesome for the first few years: cheap, dimensionally accurate, 2/3 the ultimate tensile strength of steel. They also handle corrosion better than steel for the first few years, possibly indefinitely. But after a while, they sure do fall apart. Although most of my lathe’s small parts are zamak, and it’s been running since the 1950’s, but it lives inside in a desert, not exposed to UK weather.

    1. Yes and no. I found out that aging in the sun (or annealing in the oven @90C for 1h) makes PLA good enough for outdoor use. I’ve been using black PLA since day 1 and only started treating it some months ago. All outdoor parts have survived, plus some indoor parts that have been several times in the dishwasher.
      It also becomes much stronger than ABS or PETG, something I did not expect.

  2. Entertaining article and, in my mind for what it’s worth, well written. As I read the article and saw 3-D printing, I’ll admit to thinking briefly, OMG! NO! I was pleasantly surprised to see you arrive at the same conclusion.

  3. “Volkswagen: turning owners into mechanics since 1938”- I have a 2000 1.8t Passat (230K miles and still going) that had this exact problem, fixed it two years ago. I still need to adjust it though, I need to raise the handle a few times before the door opens. There are lots of other little things like this: a plastic part in the window regulator fails. The plastic crankcase breather fails. The plastic part of the seat adjust cable fails. The plastic holding the under-dash cover fails. The plastic waterpump impeller fails. You get the idea…

    1. Back in the early 1990s I followed USENETs (before the split between aircooled and the other.)
      It was a treasure trove of information by VW owners of what part will fail next!
      The consensus was, “VWs are not ‘gas and go’ cars, they need certain parts replaced at certain intervals if you expect them to last a long time”

      1. That’s called “maintenance” something many don’t think is nesesary these days. Stuff wears out, always has, always will. Especially without lubrication.
        Me, I have a 2018 Passat, and a Land Rover (109/110 “bitsa”, used to be a SIII, its similar now to a 110 prototype.)
        Used also to have a 6Volt Beetle decades ago too (those leaky heat exchangers!)
        And a 72 Ford Transit.
        But nothing lasts forever.

        1. Brakes wear out (far too quickly). Tires wear out. Engines need oil. Windshield wiper blades wear out. Everything else should be maintenance free and last a century or 1 million miles, whichever comes first. Car parts that don’t are defective by design.

    2. You forgot the plastic coolant system couplings that VW likes to use. They become brittle from heat and the internal o-rings start to leak, but the coupling will disintegrate when you try to disassemble them.

      I’ve fixed this door lock problem too and the spring was a pain. I did consider CNC’ing more robust parts when i discovered the official replacement was still pot metal

    3. The instrument panel light dimmer fails, turning off the bulbs permanently except for the ever important clock. The rear lights connectors corrode giving the most amusing symptomes when braking/using turn signals. The 1.6 engine has an aluminium oil pan that invariably strips the threads for the oil drain plug. Changing the spark plugs on the 1.6 is a pain in the arse since the engine is installed in reverse. (Gen III issues) VW is called ” Hitler´s revenge” in some languages.

        1. Blacksmith (and Whitesmith) are entirely descriptive terms relating to colours, so are unlikely to change.
          Blacklist and Whitelist, much less so, though the etymology might be more from “blackballing” in the Masons (?) more than anything else.
          SPI pin names? That’s a thing to discuss between friends, not here amongst strangers.

    1. Might want to grind the slots out first – going to produce lots of heat and might remelt the brazed join (obviously avoidable but if its in your vice and you are grinding away its easy to not notice the part is that hot). Otherwise that was my first thought too.

      I wondered about using the lathe (as I have one) But in this case assuming you can source a tube of around the right diameter and thickness to make the mechanism work that and a washer are by far the quickest method and will hold up to the load just as well as a machined part.

    2. That’s a good idea. My had to repair his lathe gearbox on a couple of occasions, and he did just that: metal deposition with an arc welder, and grind the shape. And the repaired teeth withstand the power of the lathe, which I think is about 1hp. So should definitely do the trick for a lock. Where I work, we are also investigating a similar arc welding deposition to make aerospace parts; granted a bit more advanced than dad’s arc welder!

      1. I just remembered this morning, reading a 1930s car repair manual. In that they described rebuilding worn parts, steering arms, crankshaft journals, with lines of weld and regrinding them back to spec, and also how to cast babbit bearings in place etc. It was also something I saw in a 1950s performance tuning book. In that case, used to build up journals for offset grinding, building up cam lobes for more lift or dwell, reshaping the combustion chambers or ports with additional material.

        1. I just bought a semi loaded caliper pair for wife’s car. The brackets were supposed to be remanufactured. They were worse than the ones I was replacing, which was really the reason for the work in the 1st place. The pads wear a little groove in the bracket where they rest, when pads are new its good, when they are worn their good BUT in between and the pad sticks in the groove. All they had to do was weld and grind that area flat again. Might as well do it myself, figured I’d get the calipers and bracket together since it was like 20 bucks more than just the bracket. Now I don’t trust remanufactured brackets either since they have to be ordered.

          1. Yah, I’ve had trouble with supposedly reman brake calipers being full of ridges and rough spots in the bore even, piston sticking. I make all efforts to avoid reman brake parts now.

        2. In the USA, ever the hold-out for obsolete systems, Chevrolet was still making babbit bearings until 1953. I have a friend with a vintage pickup truck. He said the only places that can still repour babbit charge you like you have a pre-war racing Duesenberg, because there’s very little competition.

  4. German engineers have not been doing a good job since at least late 2000s. Ask anyone with an Audi A4. Looking forward to replies indicating otherwise or explaining what is going on.

        1. 2005 mk5 golf doesn’t need anything to eat the wiring the insulation falls off on its own.

          My daughters golf is back with me for its annual “what do we need to rewrite this year”

          When they go they are a awesome little car and mechanical they they are great but the electrics are absolute rubbish. It makes Lucas (god of darkness ) electrics look good.

          1. As a past owner of several Minis and Fiats, I find that statement absolutely terrifying. My first Mini modification involved dumping Lucas electrics for Bosch units.

          2. In my opinion the departure from CE electrics and over to this can bus system was a mistake. CE is easy to work with, an entire loom cam be spread out on the workshop floor and be hooked up and work., while modding etc. 20v conversions into the CE1 and 2 looms are easy. The OEM loom for the MK4 Golfs are a mess and overly complex for no good reasons. The can bus systems are a mess of wires that look like a snakes wedding when spread out on the floor, thats provided you can remove them in one piece.

          3. “the spring can make a bid for freedom” and “Lucas (god of darkness )” are the two funniest things I’ve read in weeks. Thanks so much.

    1. Look up the Hoovies Garage YouTube channel. He’s had some ‘adventures’ with a relatively cheap BMW he bought.

      The Swedes are no stranger to shite design choices. In the 1980’s they used what must be considered air-soluble insulation on their wiring. A friend with a brick wagon carried several spools of wire, solder and iron, electrical tape and shrink tube (along with a well stocked toolbox) to keep it running as the wiring harness continually got worse.

      Then he got a newer wagon. First thing that happened the first winter he had it, went to get gas and the *plastic rivets* holding the fuel filler door on just snapped in two from the cold when he pulled it open. A car, built in Sweden, where it gets *really friggin cold*, had a part mounted with plastic pieces that could not withstand cold weather.

      1. On the contrary, what happens is the plastic doesn’t take heat. It’s designed for a typical 15-20 C Scandinavian summer temperatures with only a handful of days going above that. Keeping them in warmer climates makes the plasticizers evaporate faster and the plastic turns brittle.

    2. Don’t blame it on the engineers, blame it on the MBAs which they are made to report to, and “strategic” supplier partnerships. I left the automotive field in April 2002 and never looked back. IMHO it’s not fixable.

    3. My A4 has been on axel stands for 3 months. I broke a pinch bolt when trying to remove the suspension. If it wasn’t for COVID I’d be boned. I love the car, …when it is on the road.

  5. do not use the aftermarket kits, you’ll be doing it again in 6 months. VW do their own kits, and while it’s a crap design, they have revised it several times and they do last a decent amount of time, the genuine kits are not £5 but they are not £50 either so doesn’t hurt to ring.

    im a mechanic, done so many of these I could get that spring in, in my sleep.

    1. I’ll monitor the kit, and yes, if it fails I’ll shell out for the VW part.

      On the passenger side door I tried an experiment, snipping the ends off the spring. It goes in so much easier, and all you lose is the spring centring. I ,may regret this, but at least I know how to fix it.

      1. loosing the centering is no bueno, especially if your lock barrels a bit sticky or wallered out. reason is the spade bit can (and does) hold the open or closed micro-switch engaged, depending on the trim level of your car this may lower the windows, but 9/10 times the result is it remains in the locking position, windows stay up, car stays locked, but mysteriously, your battery is dead the next morning.And its delightfully random :) Hopefully it works out for you, I have just had very poor luck with the aftermarket kits I only fit them when Im trying to help someone whos skint, then they break again and we have to buy the vw bit anyways, and I do the job twice for no pay. so nowadays I just dont.

        my best recommendation would be to retrofit remote central locking, the aftermarket kits are cheap, or upgrade your convenience module and use vag-com to match the remote part of the key, then any locksmith can cut the blade and clone the transponder part (for the immobaliser). For a tech savvy DIY-er this is an interesting and rewarding project, you may find your cars convenience module is already OK for remote locking..

    2. It is, indeed, not that hard at all and really doable with just your own hands. But that’s only if you know how, especially if you didn’t take care enough to remember how it was before taking apart (like a decade or 2 ago without enough Youtube instructions or a camera on hand to film your own process). So fix this without knowing the best way can easily ruin your happy day.
      This one is probably the best filmed one:
      And with this simple and few minutes repair (in total, when you have the torx at hand) the cheap replacement might be a good choice also.

  6. Personally I’d cast the replacement part using lost PLA method…

    On related note Volkswagen literally means “Peoples’ car”. Don’t except quality from something that is based in National Socialism ideology of Nazis (sorry, Mr. Goodwin)…

    1. [WARNING: explicit troll follows …]
      Well, I guess that you don’t drive a Ford too, because Henry Ford contributes a lot to the nazis during the second war: every benefit from a car sold in Germany at that time was given to the nazis. Plus Mr Ford sent $35.000 to Hiltler each year for its birthday (he may have appreciated that it was cited twice in “Mein Kampf” ?).

      Seriously, I own 3 VW: one golf (2010) with 260.000 km, one polo (1996) with 230.000 km, and one T25 (1990) with 335.000 km … All behaving nicely, and that can be repaired by “people” :) the greatest thing about it is the way they reference parts : you can find the reference for a part using available schemas (search “etka ifi”…), and you will find parts with a reference… You are not forced to go to the VW dealer to look parts, and to buy parts there (personally, I buy some parts there because the quality is far way better than chinese copies).

      Oh … I forgot, the key on my Polo and on my T25 has “AH” marks on it … does it means “Adolf Hitler” ? (seriously, AH stands for the key profile ;)

      1. @badangel said: “…you can find the reference for a part using available schemas (search “etka ifi”…)”

        Thanks for the tip, this is going to be very helpful. I have a low miles 2016 VW Tiguan 2.0T S AWD (4Motion).

        For others, here’s a link to the 7zap international auto parts trading platform that has what seems to be a front-end for VW’s ETKA. The link below is for the U.S. ETKA, there are tabs for other countries. 7zap’s VW ETKA has not asked me to login or anything so far, which is good:

        * Volkswagen ETKA Online Parts Catalog

        * ETKA – Wikipedia

        ETKA is the official electronic parts catalogue (EPC) for Volkswagen Group[1] motor vehicles. Launched in 1989, ETKA superseded the older parts books and microfilm-based catalogues. ETKA is an abbreviation from the German: Elektronischer Teilekatalog. It is produced for Volkswagen AG by the Munich-based specialist automotive industry information systems software publisher LexCom Informationssysteme GmbH. As of July 2019 the latest release of the ETKA software is ETKA 8.2.

        * BTW, this is a pretty good VW parts catalog that’s quite similar to ETKA:

    2. “Don’t except quality from something that is based in National Socialism ideology of Nazis (sorry, Mr. Goodwin)…”

      Heck! Don’t expect quality from the average American (or Chinese, or…)

    3. I do a lot of lost-PLA casting. Home aluminum casting has a lot of issues holding dimensional tolerance because of uneven shrinkage (different casting temperatures, non-ideal gate and riser) and a lot of the time they have a ton of porosity. They look good but aren’t really that strong. I usually double the wall thickness and then I get pretty durable parts, but even then I’m nervous about using them for automotive (after having a water pump cover I cast fail in the middle of nowhere.) Though I guess you could make several and carry them along… Lost PLA is a ton of fun, and it’s how I made my intake manifold, but I don’t really think it’s the best choice when you expect reliability in a high vibration environment. Maybe if you’re doing vacuum casting.

    1. By that same (tongue in cheek) logic we also shouldn’t buy cars from the US, France, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, India, or China. Seems to limit choice a bit. I’ll stick with my Subaru for the time being. It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough for me.

        1. ahh French cars. why does the electric windows go up and down when i indicate and the horn sound when i turn the headlights on….

          (crappy electronics for those who’ve never experienced them!)

          1. PSA’s /shitty wiring/ including their notorious COM2000 or Renault’s famous CANbus collisions and “Christmas tree” lights?
            Consider yourself lucky not to drive an Italian car.

          2. My Peugeot 206 has been surprisingly reliable, it’s more the odd engineering decisions that confuse me.
            I mean, I can sort of imagine why they decided that the obvious place for the electric window switches was in the centre of the car, behind the handbrake. What I’ve never understood was why the switch for the brake lights, (which is normally mounted on/next to the brake pedal), is mounted in the passenger foot well.
            Of course, the car was designed as LHD originally, but they managed to move the steering column, dashboard, pedals etc to the right hand side, but for some reason the brake light switch is still on the left, and is actuated by a bar stretching across the whole car.

          1. The Javelins were pretty good. I reckon I was probably concieved in one. I aspire to owning one.
            I already have a Yorkshire motorcycle.
            But let us draw a discrete veil over the Scott “Sociable”.

          2. @ Andy, RW, etc: Two words, “Hillman Imp”.

            Of course I’m absolutely bonkers, I want a Bond Bug and I’m not even in Europe (alas, I’m stuck in that rather portly country off across The Great Mud-Puddle, the one that’s not only quite too big, but rather big for its pants as well, and is currentlybeing run by Bill Watterson’s comedic duo made all too real)… nor do I have the slightest inclination that driving would be anything short of putting everyone within an hour’s travel by car into immediate and absolute mortal danger… although, I can be bribed ;) everyone has their price, after all. Mine is a Bug.

      1. James May during the Top Gear Italian mid-engined supercars for less than a second-hand Mondeo challenge:
        “[on his Lamborghini’s chronic electrical problems] The Italians invented electricity, as we all know.”

      1. That was my plan. Partly because it isn’t my hand.

        Actually, entirely conditional on it not being my hand. Being the only one able to open Jenny’s car door would be no good to either of us.

  7. I’d take a piece of 6061 AL rod and mill this fairly easily. Or 1018 cold rolled steel. Either would be far stronger that the cast crap. As someone said, depending on the diameter a piece of stainless tubing, a flat washer and some TIG work would probably be even better and faster than a mill.

  8. There’s a lot of engineers I’d like to have a word with. Software engineers who designed security in Windows 10 for one; the EE who designed the electronics in my keyless door lock (which stopped responding to all keypad clicks the second time I went to use it leaving me completely locked out (and this is the kind that doesn’t have a backup key, it has “jump start” terminals so you can use a fresh 9V to revive it long enough to open it and get a new 9V in, except if it isn’t responding at all the fresh 9v doesnt help)

    1. (wasn’t done) the engineer that designed the head of my airless paint sprayer with a pot metal part so thin that it broke right off and high pressure paint went in every direction except the intended direction.

      shall I go on?

      1. Windows security is still a poorly made joke – though you are right of the windows OS new enough to connect to the internet and function in the expected (modern) way they are improving.

        That said Apple security tends to be much much much worse (blank root passwords, put in blank passwords 3? times and it works on this screen etc – all touted by their support as a feature for recovery) and Linux security is only as good as the distro/user can make it (if you know what you are doing that is very good – but when the distro is assuming to give a less than guru user a good experience its not certain). So its not like they are the only ones.

        1. >Linux security is only as good as the distro/user can make it

          Please. Linux security is a joke – as is all open source “security”.

          When you give a thief the blueprints to the lock you are using, it’s only a matter of time before they figure out how to pick it. What’s worse, since you’ve given them all the reference material they need, you now have to be smarter and faster than the thief. A million pairs of blind eyes won’t help you.

          All software security is security by obscurity.

          1. Open source security is generally actually functional security – as it can’t just rely on being obscure. Assuming the monkey like object setting it up and using it know what they are doing. There is a reason most of the web is GNU Linux based and while security isn’t the only reason its a factor.

            Open source securities biggest vulnerability isn’t the software at all. Its the social engineering type stuff all security is vulnerable to. As any holes found in the open source software have companies, and individuals all wanting it fixed – there is a huge vested interest in protecting themselves – and because its open they are able to solve or work around until the real fixes come in!
            Your Apple/MS system has a bug – or your Android phone and you are at the mercy of a third party to actually decide its worth fixing/ pushing out the patch – and guess what they don’t give a crap about your data as long as you will still pay out for the next Iphone/Mac etc – As long as the bad press they get when such vulnerabilities get revealed doesn’t hurt sales more than the cost of fixing it fast they don’t give a crap! (Even if its revealed they were told months (or more) ago and still haven’t fixed it it never seems to make a dent in sales because most folk are ignorant of such security issues not having an interest in looking it up – they just want the shiney new bling)

          2. >as it can’t just rely on being obscure.

            Then it is not secure. ALL security is breakable, so it’s simply a matter of not knowing how to get in.

            > a well peer reviewed and documented encryption standard as AES then.

            Encryption alone is not security – just like putting the unbreakable lock on a cardboard door won’t keep the bad guys out.

  9. VW made a kit with reinforced parts for just that, but was only covered for few years after original warranty.
    Thankfully it was cheap and included everything so you didn’t have to take the doorcard off when the original spring disappeared into the abyss of the door.
    Had a golf 3 with same problems, AND the original vacuum central locking system.
    And of course the lock thing broke as I was locking the door so the vacuum motor kept on trying to lock until the battery ran dry.
    And passenger lock was also toast, which I forgot to check at purchase second hand.

    It pays to be on good terms with a parts guy at a dealership, otherwise I wouldn’t have known said kit existed.

      1. I’m a sadist because I kept that system working (except for the trunk afterwards so I could unplug the pump), because it was required for the factory sunroof to also work properly without wiring it up as “standalone”.
        Also being able to open or close the sunroof by holding the drivers side door lock in either open or close is pretty sweet.
        It was also one of the last turbodiesels from vw without electronic diesel injection pump, so it was a bit of a unicorn.

      2. Or learn how to repair the rather simple system by following the repair procedures in the factory repair manuals.

        Also, junkyards, ebay, parts recyclers, etc all exist for a reason….

      3. My first car was a 1959 Beetle. None of this fancy “locking” you speak of. Did not even have a gas gauge (reserve tank lever like a motorbike). Easy to work on and almost everything was broken, so I got a good tour through all the systems.

        But, aside from the leaky battery under the rear seat, and the heat exchangers, and the insufficient engine cooling, it was a pretty good ’round town car design. Of course, the modern VW has little in common with the old Beetles, more’s the pity. Sometimes, simple is better.

    1. Some French cars don’t share that magnificent design, but they share the unreliability. BTW, the manufacturer can fit only one keylock on the driver’s side by fitting a small DC motor in each door instead of expensive linkages and proper locks.

      Hence the only option when it fails:
      Shoelace tied to the lock with the motor removed while waiting for a butchered replacement. I’ve been told it’s a way cooler than the “slide to unlock” on smartphones.

      1. Why am I not surprised it’s a Renault.

        Reminds me of the times I had to do alignment on some PSA’s and despite the official data having PLENTY of tolerance for slop, I still had to bust out the mallets and breaker bars.
        And even within that huge tolerance, you’d still get uneven Tyre wear unless you managed to align it spot-on in the middle.

        1. My fil Dodge Dakota only has one keyed door lock on drivers side. So if that breaks you can’t go unlock it on the passenger side. How much did the factory really save not putting a keyhole on the passenger side?! Of course the electric locks already failed so it can’t be unlocked with the fob either.

          1. Older Fords only had the keyed door lock on the passenger side.
            Henry Ford said it was because a gentleman will open and close the door for his passenger.
            (yeah, right!)

  10. My 2006 BMW has a similar mechanism. It also failed, but the part that broke was not the insert. I came to the conclusion that some of the pieces are designed to fail, so that a forced lock will not allow the door to open.

    It did take three hands to reassemble the mechanism; well technically four. I held the mechanism from turning with one hand while rotating the spring using pliers in the other hand, then my son compressed the spring axially with one of his hands and slid in the clip with his other hand.

    The instructions that came with the kit, as well as YouTube videos, showed the spring clicking into place; that never happened for me, if it did I could have rebuilt the mechanism by myself.

  11. VW and locks have a long history of complete incompetence…

    I have had a Porsche Boxster where the ignition lock from VW parts bin was revised many times including after production of the cars that used those locks.

    My Porsche 914 has horrible door handles that break leaving you locked out of the car. Fortunately, the locks are terrible, so getting into the car is easy.

  12. If you met this engineer some day, here are some important words:
    should i go on?

    Me too i would like to have a word with quite a lot of programmers that designed “security” as in “IOT” and so on…

    1. “Not only has its designer chosen to make the parts from a slightly dubious zinc-based die-casting, they’ve chosen to secure it with a spring that needs three hands and the dexterity of a contortionist to both compress length-wise and rotationally before it can be reassembled.”

      No they designed it so that it would be secured by the assembly line machinery that made the parts, with all the jigs and actuators built into the line. In all likelihood designing it for easy manual assembly would make it more complex for automated assembly.

  13. I printed some power window regulator rollers for a 1998 Dodge Ram a few years ago. The originals seem to have just fallen apart (truck only has 70k original miles).

    PETG seems to work…new regulator would have been over $100 and they do not sell the rollers.

    Mostly though I use my printer for making jigs which help with car repair such as plugs for brake caliper cylinders so I could bead blast them ( )…or a clip to hold the banjo bolt together so I could get it in the car without dropping it ( ),

    Lots of uses for printers in the garage.

  14. I had my rear driver side door lock fail on my Polo 2007 9N. I love the low CO2 figures from its miserely 2L TDI, and in fuel saved it paid for my SH purchase in 4years after ditching my 3L guzzling Toyota 4WD. So I was happy to get the lock repaired. Due to an ingenious VW design that incorporated a dead (literally when it fails :-( ) lock mechanism, it cost me $300 labour to get it unlocked and replaced. On top of that it cost $400 plus to buy the new lock from VW Australia.

    When the second lock went dead, I used the old lock to search online, and bought a matching lock from China for $55 delivered, and $100 installation. Eventually I did the other two locks the same way.
    This was an epic VW fail, but I have kept the car, for the afore said economy reasons. But bad design is is one thing, but remorselessly gouging the owners to fix failures from bad original design is unforgivable.

    So far my choice to deal with the Chinese directly has been very beneficial and will be the only way in the future to stop local companies ripping us off. With current anti-Chinese sentiment being popular with populist western governments, other manufacturers must see a gold mine ahead if they don’t have compete with China.

    1. “after ditching my 3L guzzling Toyota 4WD. ”

      Yeah, during the 1970’s Toyota (cars) had quite the reputation for fuel economy. I’m sure a lot of people found out after purchase, that paradigm did not apply to their trucks.

      1. Depends on the engine. I have a mid-80s Toyota Pickup with the 4cyl 2bbl as a daily driver. I average MPG’s in the mid to high 20’s with a decent mix of highway and city driving. Sure it’s under-powered; but it still gets you from A to B without breaking your wallet on gas or maintenance. It’s honestly the easiest vehicle I’ve owned to work on. Very few things ever break, and when they want to they are nice enough to give plenty of noisy warning well ahead of failure.
        I also own a couple of VW Foxes (basically the Brazilian made VW Gol modified for NA sale), and I can say that while both vehicles where engineered for a low price point; the Toyota did a much better job. The Foxes are a nightmare to work on, spare room under the hood is not a luxury the engineers at VW wanted to give. Also, some small details boggle my mind with the VW. Despite the complexity of the CIS fuel injection system; the hot-air intake is full time instead of on-demand like on the Toyota. What does one more vacuum or electronic flap cost you?

        1. What some people did with Japanese trucks from the 70’s and 80’s was swap the engine out with one from a RWD car of the same make and year or close to it. The car engines were setup to have more horsepower, sometimes quite a bit more.

          American brands have also done that for a very long time. For example the 60 degree V6 engines of similar displacement that GM and Ford used. Take something like an S-10 Blazer with its gutless 2.8 and swap that with the (not very common) 2.8 that was an option for that era of Camaro. For Ford trucks the donor could be the (quite common) 2.8, 2.9, or 3.0 from a Mustang.

          Go back to the 1940’s and it was very common for the car chassis based pickup trucks to only have the smallest, wimpiest engines available, able to maybe top out at 40 MPH, downhill, with a tailwind.

  15. So much stuff that wears out on cars and makes you wonder what were they thinking of when that part went into production? A combination of compromises between original design, bean counters, marketing , desired profit and price point result in many vehicles that do not stand up to the test of time. My challenges are a 2010 PT Cruiser, 1995 Ford Thunderbird, and 2000 Chrysler 300M. The PT Cruiser fails in marvelous ways compared to the older cars, especially electrical and early life suspension failures.

  16. The locking mechanism in all cars are pretty much pieces of ill made shit. Regardless if they are hand operated or electric. The SO had a ford van. Nice ride until the back door lock broke. The entire thing came into one very small and elaborately shaped piece of plastic where all of the various control rods could slip through one way or pull the piece the other way. What was surprising is how many pieces of it has previously cracked off before the one that got used all the time gave up the ghost. I never did seek out a replacement. My guess, perhaps incorrect would be a new door kit, or a trip to the junkyard and spending an afternoon tearing one out of another car that was in similar condition. Just crappy plastic in a place where it gets really hot really cold and bounced around and tugged on. I would up rebuilding it with high quality tie wraps and lots of 24 hour epoxy. Call it a hillbilly fix but it lasted longer than the factory part.

    1. @ Miss (or is it Ms or Mrs? I want to be proper!) List:

      Oh, dear… here in Murrika-Land we call that appalling alloy “pot metal”. It is made of a large quantity of zinc, with whatever is spare and easily rendered at-hand thrown in to bulk it up, cheap it down, and hopefully strengthen it and not weaken it, although since it’s about as cheap as metal gets, generally there’s not even a pretense made of caring about its other characteristics. It is absolutely always cast — I can’t imagine it’s terribly workable, but the tooling costs of a machine shop are going to be the determining factor there. Forgive the politically-insensitive bluntness, but the cheapest chap in India with hammer, vise, and snips will cost far more for an hour’s labor than the per-each cost of a cast pot-metal part ordered in mass-production quantities.

      I can tell you that it’s exactly as horrible to use as it sounds — at best — and that repairs are generally more expensive, and require both more effort and more finesse, than went into the original part — and by a considerable margin, at that, even when using dollar-store superglue!

      Unrelated: in what you might call a past life (as in, before, somewhat literally, everything changed), my mother was an attorney for about seven years, and we were able, during that time, to visit Europe for two weeks every summer. You have an absolutely lovely country, and I dearly, dearly miss London and the time we (Mom & I) spent there… :( I’m on the [dot]io side under the same username, reach out if you’d like… or not. No pressure :)

      1. There’s a difference between pot metal, which is awful, and zamak, which is less awful. Zamak is predicated on use of better than 99.95% zinc as one of the alloying components, and equally pure copper, magnesium, and other bits in precise amounts. If you look at the cost of a finished part made of pressure cast zamak, and its performance, it absolutely outperforms anything else. Of course, if you’re more concerned about reliability and are flexible on cost, it’s not such a great choice long-term. But for the warranty period of most cars, it does very well, as long as a company doesn’t care about its reputation for durable used cars.

  17. I’d suspect there is a special spring compressor tool for that assembly. IMHO a great use of 3D printing here would be sharing a printable tool for the design. You aren’t likely to use it more than a few times so cheap and expendable would be advantages for this. The design work would be hard though :(

  18. I seem to recall one of the old timers I worked with telling me about a particular model of Ford motor cars back in the 1970’s that were keyed to only about 16 variations of the key. He told me he found out one day when he accidentally drove off in someones elses car using his car key.

    1. One of my cousins had a Mustang II. Went to the store one day, when she left and got into her car, she noties there was a bunch of stuff in it that wasn’t hers. The two Mustangs had the same paint color, trim, and interiors, and door keys – which for most Fords are the same as the ignition. the trunk and glovebox used the second key.

      1. I had a Ford F-100 back in 1970s, it had a separate key for the doors, ignition, locking box (under the truck bed), and I added a lock for the spare tire. (I was thinking about adding a lock for the Hi-Lift jack, but you know, that would have meant another key.)

    2. Sounds familiar. As a garage mechanic circa 1970, we had a couple of collections of keys — GM, Ford and Chysler — I never once saw a car I could not unlock with one of those keys.

  19. Don’t have a word with the engineer, have a word with his bean-counting superior. If the engineer could design as he or she pleases then the car and all its parts would last forever.

  20. I nursed my ’99 Outback to 480,000kms before I retired it. Leaky HGs but not leaky enough to justify AUD$2500 to deal with it.

    It finally blew an exhaust gasket. Maintenance, people. RTFM and don’t skip the maintenance.

    Now I have a second-hand ’08 manual Outback about to go in for a 250,000kms service. I bought it because every service interval in the handbook was stamped.

  21. Now there’s a thought – Ms List whacking away at the anvil, sparks flying as she manufactures new parts for the VW door lock.

    Might be a market in bespoke forged-iron door lock mechanisms.

  22. Hm, I thought the conclusion of the “3D printers don’t fix every problem” part was going to be “so I stuck a bit of steel round bar in the lathe and turned a piece that was stronger than the original – sometimes Person Hand Control is better than Computer Numeric”.

  23. I can see two drawbacks to the emergency stash in your car:
    1) The lock is broken and they are inside.
    2) You don’t carry a fill set of torx. :eek: Shame on you. You will be admitting next that you don’t carry a Leatherman.

    1. In the UK most Leatherman would be illegal to carry as they have locking blades. Nice tools though.

      I am surprised somebody in this community doesn’t have the full driver bit set of security bits kicking around always handy. Of course bit drivers might not always reach, but when you are forever being asked to just look at something for your non-handy friends having the get into devices is so useful. Even if you cant hope to do the fix with just them get the case off and find out if its even remotely sensible to try and fix it there and then…

  24. The design is used in other brands aswell as vag, also if they made it super strong out if someone forces the lock with a screwdriver it will unlock instead of breaking and just making the barrel spin in the lock housing,
    Rather have to replace a lock barrel then a car

  25. Time to add a CNC router next to your 3D printer. A basic model costing less than 1000 USD would be able to mill that part out of aluminum or even steel, if you go slow enough. Of course it is still a waste of time, and once you break that 20 USD endmill, you’ll be cursing.

  26. Mechanical engineers seem to like springs and gears and stuff, and don’t seem to mind using lots of parts that take three hands to assemble, and then everyone praises them for fine craftsmanship. I don’t quite understand it….

  27. Had a Volkswagen Rabbit, about 1985 vintage in about 1996. Bought for $500 and ran like a champ for several years. Door locks never worked well, or at all and I had to dissemble one when the key got stuck, and the side windows all fell out when the temp dropped below 10F. Better than the old ~1982 Volks Quantum I had that someone had jammed in 4wd with four different sized wheels on it that sort of “crabbed” down the road, vibrating like crazy, but that car was only $100 and was better than walking through the subzero cold when I was in college. Later, quite happy with a 98 Jetta that lasted until a 2003 Porsche 911, that the window has only fallen out of once…

  28. I had a “similar” issue with a Bosch dishwasher. The power button (ABS) had tabs for a pivot joint that, over time, broke. We were without I pulled it apart and found that the plastic part simply pushed on a switch. I pulled the broken plastic “button” out and for a few days we used the switch, while I looked for a replacement. The asking price for that plastic part was $60! I decided that at that point, I didn’t care if it cost me $100s in the equivalent man hours I was going to design and 3D print a new “button”. And that’s exactly what I did. I posted the design on Thingiverse.

  29. Count yourself lucky. The 1994-vintage VW door handles had a slightly different mechanism with a casting “finger” that pushed down on a… steel(ish) lever. Problem: said lever definitely is compliant, and in time it oh so very much does bend, stopping to do any opening no matter how much you pull even though the rest of the lock mechanism is perfectly fine. At which point you’re welcome to disassemble all your door handles and pry said lever back the fuck up, hoping it will last at least until the next time it’s extra-cold and something jams bending the fucking thing straight back in one single swift pull of the door handle. If you ever meet said engineer… once you’re done with him kindly consider handing him over for a bit of slight but very painful murderising.

  30. Done a couple of these on a mk4 golf, I don’t remember it fondly. No idea how it lasted as I passed it on soon after. As for security, I managed to lock the keys in twice whilst fitting the new lock. Not to worry, wire coat hanger down the window seal worked every time.

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