TDI Tech: Life After 100 (Thousand) — Part One

As time goes on, our TDIs that were once shiny new cars are now beginning to age and accumulate miles. Many of our customers have over 100,000 miles on their TDIs, quite a few have over 200,000, and a handful are even pushing 300,000! TDIs can continue to be dependable, safe, efficient, and great to drive as they rack up the years and miles, but there are a number of important items to keep on your radar for the long haul. In the coming weeks we will be putting up a series of posts related to helping your TDI stay healthy, efficient and reliable as the odometer climbs towards six digits and beyond. Read on!

Timing belt intervals.
In Part One of this series, we are covering timing belt replacement interval for TDIs. This can be a complicated subject, since VW’s recommended interval has changed many times over the course of TDI production. There is a different interval for almost every year of TDI, and sometimes even within the same year depending on transmission type! To make matters worse, in the case of some models Volkswagen updated the interval after the cars were produced, so even your owner’s manual may not give you the current correct information.

All of this can make it difficult to know exactly when your car needs its belt done — including for VW dealers themselves, who we have known to commonly replace belts too early or too late. Fortunately, we have made this part easy for you. To find the most up-to-date interval for your particular car, just check out the handy PDF table we have compiled here, and look up your year and model.

Not all timing belt jobs are equal.
A proper timing belt replacement on a TDI involves more than just changing the timing belt. In addition to the belt itself, the belt tensioner roller, all idler rollers, the water pump, and the serpentine belt should be replaced, as well as a handful of seals and hardware bits. Installing the new belt correctly is a complex task that involves a large number of special tools and procedures, including a computerized injection timing adjustment. Cutting corners on any of these steps can result in the car running poorly, having difficulty starting, getting worse mileage, or in extreme cases experiencing internal engine damage.

Many mechanics and most VW dealers tend to replace only some of the required timing belt components or skip steps in the installation process, compromising the car’s operation or longevity. We have repaired many incorrectly or incompletely done timing belt jobs, some of which were on the brink of a major failure! The timing belt and its associated parts are critical components that can cause serious damage if they malfunction or break, so skimping on parts or procedure in this area is not a smart idea.

An opportunity for savings.
In addition to being one of the most important parts of maintaining your TDI, timing belt changes are also an opportunity to perform other work that involves labor that is duplicated during the timing belt job. If your 1996-2003 TDI has a leaking injection pump, or if your 2004-2006 PD TDI needs work on the camshaft and lifters, timing belt time is the ideal time to do those repairs, since much of the labor involved with injection pump or camshaft work overlaps with the timing belt replacement. This allows for significant savings if they are done at the same time.

A tip for the long term.
A broken timing belt is one of the few things that can bring a TDI (or older VW/Audi/Volvo diesel) to a sudden early demise. Repairs after a broken belt on a TDI can range from $2500 to $5000 or more depending on the extent of the damage… this is not an experience you want to go through! The trick to economical long-term ownership is avoiding surprises and taking preventive action. If your car is due for a belt, or you don’t know when the belt was last done, don’t wait until a routine service turns into an expensive repair — get it done, and get it done correctly.

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Sustainable Fuel Co-op Kickoff Event

As you may or may not be aware, a group of loyal Dr. Dan’s customers and others in the community generally concerned with sustainability have formed the Sustainable Fuel Co-op in an effort to keep Dr. Dan’s Biodiesel business running and offering the most sustainable fuel from the nearest reliable source possible.

This process has been, at times, slow and difficult, and it has truly been a “grass-roots” effort of people who have given their time to help get this idea off the ground.  But we are happy to announce that we are prepared to offer memberships to people looking to help build this exciting new business from  the ground up along with us!

SFC Fundraiser and Membership Drive

On Sunday afternoon, February 20th, from 1:00 to 5:00 at Agua Verde Cafe, the new Sustainable Fuel Co-operative, Seattle, will be hosting its inaugural membership sign-up and fundraiser. Formerly Dr. Dan’s Biodiesel, the Co-op was formed as a means of keeping sustainable biodiesel available to Seattle customers while better serving the community, and promoting the transition to a green future. If you have been a Dr. Dan’s customer, have a biodiesel vehicle, or are interested in switching from gasoline to cleaner, environmentally responsible fuel, come and get involved. There will be information, food, beer, free music, custom cars, and more. Agua Verde is located at 1303 NE Boat Street, west of the UW Medical Center and at the bottom of 15th Ave. NW on the water.

What will be your contribution to a greener future? Thousands of responsible car owners have switched to biodiesel from petroleum diesel or gasoline. While alternative fuels offer a mixed blessing for the environment, some fuels are more sustainable than others. For nearly two decades, biodiesel from local sources, either recycled oil or regional seed crops, has been available to Seattle customers through Dr. Dan’s Biodiesel in Ballard. Dr. Dan’s loyal customer base has now formed the Sustainable Fuel Cooperative, Seattle, to assure a more constant source of high-quality, sustainable biodiesel. The Co-op will provide jobs and a democratic, truly co-operative framework for marketing alternative fuel and will help educate the public about energy issues.

Any diesel engine can run on biodiesel, which is simply oil from biological sources, such as seeds, animal fat, or recycled cooking oil. Only minor modifications are required for most diesel engines to use this alternative energy source. Compared with petroleum, it burns more cleanly, is better for the engine, is non-toxic and non-flammable, and can be locally obtained. Although not as green as riding your bicycle or the bus, using biodiesel in your car is a big step away from dependence on foreign petroleum and an easy step toward a more sustainable lifestyle. The Co-op’s fuel sources are exclusively from the Northwest, including a farmer grain co-op in eastern Washington that produces biodiesel oil and high protein animal feed from camelina, which is also a soil-building rotation crop that helps maintain farmland for wheat production. How green is that? Joining the Co-op is the high road on your drive to sustainability, reducing your environmental impact and promoting the local economy in many ways. Come to the membership event to keep it up or to get started on your petroleum-free ride!

To contact the Co-op or for more information:
ph (206) 659-8530

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Cold weather follow-up

A lot of biodiesel customers had trouble with our recent freeze and cold fuel in their cars. With overnight temps in the teens, and over 48 consecutive hours of sub-freezing temps a lot of people’s fuel gelled despite their adding petro-diesel to their tanks. Here are some things to keep in mind:

— When in doubt, add diesel.
In can be discouraging for the individual concerned with sustainability and reducing their carbon footprint to have to burn petroleum in their cars, but unfortunately this is going to be a fact of life this winter with our supply of waste-oil derived biodiesel (keep in mind that the canola-derived bio we have had in the past is unfortunately not available at this time).

The cold hard fact is that a lot of people with too high a blend of bio in their tanks had problems. If you had B99 and you topped off with B80, then you likely had problems because your mix was closer to B90. If you don’t fill up your car very often you need to be aware of what is in your tank.

But you also have to be aware of the source of the petro-diesel. Buy from a high-volume source that stringently filters their fuel, as diesel that isn’t well-filtered, can cause problems for your car..

Adding a winter additive to the fuel helps. It is unlikely that local retailers will have winterized diesel, and using the right additive can make all the difference.

Your best bet is to get fuel from Dr Dan’s, where we have high-quality and well-soured petro-diesel with the correct winter additives. It is available during normal office hours (10 am until 6:30 pm) and a good way to go would be to bring by a fuel can and fill it up so you have some available at home. Keep the can in your garage or basement, somewhere it’s at least a bit warmer than outside. This few gallons to add to your tank can make a huge difference (keep in mind that diesel is not volatile like gasoline, and not dangerous to keep stored)

— 24-hour temps and thermal masses:
As we have mentioned, it is important to keep in mind a little bit of physics and thermodynamics. Your car is a thermal mass, and running your car warms up the entire car, including the fuel system. When your car sits, it starts to cool down, and how long it sits and how cold it gets will determine how big a problem you can have.

What we saw last week were 24-hour average temps barely above 20 deg F, if at all, and once all the heat from running your car dissipated, and the fuel system reached ambient temperatures, there was no way for it to warm up. If your car sat for any length of time without running, there wasn’t enough heat energy, even after temps climbed back above freezing, for the thermal mass of your car and the fuel system to warm up and thaw the fuel.

Cold-weather fuel issues are a function of both TIME and TEMP!

— What to expect.
Forecasts for the coming week call for 24-hour average temps right around 40, which for the most part shouldn’t be a problem. Long-range weather models are calling for an unusually cold winter, however, and it’s probably best if we all heed the warnings from this last week.

Be prepared. Mind the mix in your tank. Pay attention to weather forecasts. None of us want to burn more petroleum than we have too, and its unfortunate that we are in this position, but this is probably going to be the case for this winter.

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Winter Fuel

Dr. Dan’s will be offering a WEATHER APPROPRIATE FUEL BLEND during the winter months, to ensure that there are not problems with cold-weather gelling of the fuel.

We have been blending our fuel since Tuesday (11-16) for the winter weather. The Fuel we have in our station should be okay down to 20 deg. F. Before Tuesday it was good down to 30 deg. It is also important to remember that 24-hour average temperature is usually what to take into consideration. When you drive your car regularly or it warms up enough during the day it is far less likely you will have problems.

Adding a mix of petroleum diesel and winter additives to your fuel will reduce the gelling temperature and reduce the risk of your having problems.  Keep in mind that typical Seattle winter weather does not typically see cold enough weather for long enough for there to be serious issues with this method, despite the fact that forecasters tell us to expect a particularly cold winter this year.

Our supplier tells us that the recycled-oil biodiesel we have available at this time is good down to 30 deg. F.  It is always good advice to keep track of temperatures during cold snaps, if you park your car outside for any long periods of time and use B99.  One trick is to keep a small sample in a re-used plastic drink bottle inside your car.  If the small sample has gelled, chances are the fuel in the tank has too.

Canola/camelina biodiesel we have had in the past is good down to 18 deg. F, according to our supplier; but Dan himself will testify to its cold-start abilities down to single-digit temperatures!

Some B99 users have problems with running a blend during the winter, and this is mainly a problem due to using dirty petroleum diesel.

Last winter, we had no breakdowns as a result of people using our fuel!

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MkV Jetta TDI DSG Transmission Service: Every 40k!

As a conscientious, caring TDI owner, you’re religious about having your engine oil changed every 5,000 miles (with proper diesel-rated 5W40 synthetic or 505.01 PD oil, of course!), having the timing belt replaced on schedule, and keeping up with filter changes and other routine engine maintenance. But what about your transmission??

If you have a 2005-2010 Jetta TDI with an automatic transmission, you need to make sure you are keeping up with your fluid changes. The “DSG” dual-clutch automatic VW began using in the fifth-generation (2005.5+) Jettas and Golfs requires a service every 40,000 miles, consisting of fluid replacement, a new filter, and a computerized calibration. DSGs are expensive to fix, and the best way to keep yours happy and trouble-free is to keep it serviced on time! These cars are now reaching the age where almost all of them are due or overdue for their transmission service. However, we have noticed that many owners who have not read their maintenance schedule in the owner’s manual (have you?) are cruising past 40k without having their DSG service done. The DSG service at the VW dealer costs over $400! We are able to perform the full DSG service for more than $100 below the dealer’s price, using the same OEM filter and fluid.

Routine preventive maintenance is the key to a reliable car, low ownership expense, and a mutually positive relationship with your TDI! If you’re over 40k and you haven’t had your DSG serviced, or if you bought your car used and aren’t sure if it was done or not, call us for an appointment to make sure you are caught up and avoid expensive trouble down the road.

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Can you use biodiesel in the new low-emission diesel vehicles??

This is a question we get asked nearly every day. The answer is… YES, but you have to be careful and smart about it and take certain precautions that were not necessary with older vehicles. Read on to learn more!

The latest “clean diesel” vehicles from VW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW are equipped with a number of sophisticated emissions control devices, including high-pressure common rail injection systems, NOx catalysts, urea injection, and/or a diesel particulate trap. Biodiesel CAN be used in these vehicles in high concentrations, including up to B99. However, it is not quite as simple as it was in the pre-2007 vehicles, and requires more forethought and planning. This is especially true in vehicles that use in-cylinder post-injection such as some 2009-up TDIs and late model Powerstrokes.

We have several customers that have been running B99 biodiesel in their brand new TDIs, Benzes, and Sprinters for tens of thousands of miles, with no trouble whatsoever. The key to their success has been in their driving patterns, which include mostly long-distance commuting and few short trips. For people who tend to use their cars for highway driving, biodiesel has worked great. For people whose routine includes mostly short-distance city driving and infrequent longer-distance highway use, using biodiesel may present some technical issues related to the more frequent DPF regen cycles necessary in cars that see lots of short trips. Our recommendation at this time is to stick to lower bio concentrations if this describes your use pattern.

If you are thinking about running biodiesel in your new diesel, or are considering a new diesel for biodiesel use, we recommend giving us a call to learn all the gritty details and figure out if it will work for you. Contact us at (206) 783-5728 or stop by!


A 2008 Mercedes R320 CDI Bluetec and a brand new 2010 VW Golf TDI filling up on Dr. Dan's B99


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TDI Fall Check-up Special

With the seasons changing and colder weather on its way, it’s time to make sure your TDI is ready for fall and winter! TDIs need a strong battery to start well in the cold, and a functional glow plug system and clean fuel filter are important for helping keep your winter starts quick and easy. We are offering a September service special that includes a new fuel filter, glow plug system check, battery load test, brake check, and full vehicle look over for $99.00 plus tax. Call 783-5728 to schedule an appointment to keep your TDI running happily through the colder months!

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Biodiesel for Home Heating

As the days get shorter and the weather gets cooler its time to start thinking seriously about heating and lighting our homes in a sustainable manner with a low-carbon footprint. Fortunately, if you heat your home with heating oil, Dr. Dan’s offers a great “green” alternative!

Biodiesel is perfectly suited for standard oil-fired furnaces or boilers.  For more info, see our “Home Heating” page, and call or email to schedule a delivery!

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TDI Service: Keep your TDI Reliable and Healthy at Dr. Dan’s

Greetings from Dr. Dan’s —

We have noticed that many VW TDI’s are not getting the maintenance they require, leading to expensive repairs and breakdowns.

VW TDI BiodieselTDI timing belts must be replaced on time or very expensive damage can occur when it breaks! In the front of your owner’s manual there is a maintenance schedule that shows what maintenance needs to be done when. On most TDIs the timing belt needs to be replaced every 60,000 miles, but it may be required as frequently as every 40,000 on early cars with automatic transmissions (1998-2000), or up to 100,000 miles on some TDIs from 2003-onward. Check your manual and service records to make sure you know when yours is due. If you bought your car used and don’t know if the timing belt has been replaced or what maintenance has been done we are happy to check it out for you.

We provide expert, biodiesel-friendly auto repair and service for TDI’s and all diesels from Benzes and older VWs to Jeeps and Powerstrokes. We are one of the most experienced automotive diesel repair shops in the area and I am a national expert and trainer in Biodiesel mechanics. Almost every week we save our customers thousands of dollars in repairs recommended by other shops and we probably work on more TDI’s than anybody including the dealers. Biodiesel is wrongly blamed for emission testing failures, injection pump failures, plugged intake manifolds and turbos, leaking hoses and seals, and more! We can prevent and repair most of these problems quickly and cheaply.

TDIs are fantastic vehicles and love biodiesel, and they are not expensive to own as long as you stay on top of the recommended maintenance and fix problems before they can cause additional harm. However, time is going by and these cars are getting older! As they age, we have been starting to see more frequent issues with a number of components. We have been seeing more and more mass airflow and coolant temp sensors going bad on 1998-2003 cars, fuel pickup valves sticking, electric fuel pumps dying on 2004-2005 Golfs and Jettas, and several other common issues.

The onset of symptoms of these problems is often gradual, so they can sneak up on you. When you are driving the car every day it is difficult to notice subtle changes in its operation. It is important to pay attention and have the car checked out occasionally in order to keep your TDI happy and avoid big repair bills. If you catch these issues early on when they first arise, the repairs are quick and cheap — but if you let them go too long, they can cause damage to other components and then the repairs start to get expensive. If your car doesn’t have as much pep as it used to, is getting harder to start, has a check engine light on, or is showing any other sign of needing help, be sure to have it checked out sooner rather than later so we can address the problem before it becomes more serious.

The two keys to being a happy biodiesel user are good, local, sustainable fuel and a healthy car! Awareness and prevention are your main tools. Give us a call or stop in next time you fill up if you need to schedule an appointment for service.

For additional information, take a look at our new Youtube Channel:
There are several videos which explain many of the common TDI maintenance issues and how to deal with them. We also encourage you to share some of your own stories about biodiesel, maintenance and your TDI on our Dr. Dan’s Facebook page.

Have a great summer and thanks for supporting sustainable biodiesel!

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