Volkswagen recalls 246,000 SUVs due to unexpected braking

Volkswagen is recalling more than 246,000 SUVs in the US and Canada because they can sometimes brake unexpectedly in traffic due to faulty wiring harnesses.

The recall comes three days after The Associated Press reported that 47 people complained to US security agencies about the problem, with some reporting that they were nearly stopped by other vehicles. Many reported warning lights and alarms going on, driver’s side windows slamming down, and SUVs suddenly braking in traffic.

Volkswagen says in documents released Friday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that the recall will cover certain 2019-2023 model year Atlas SUVs, as well as the 2020-2023 Atlas Cross Sport.

The documents state that the electrical contacts on a wiring harness in one of the front doors can corrode and break electrical connections. The problem can cause the side airbags to deploy late in a crash and the parking brake to activate unexpectedly. Volkswagen says in filings that the SUVs can brake at speeds below 1.8 mph.

But many of those who complained to NHTSA said the unwanted braking happened while they were driving on city streets, putting them in danger. A Mansfield, Ohio driver wrote in a complaint that braking had happened multiple times at speeds of 25 to 70 mph.

Kendall Heiman, a clinical social worker from Lawrence, Kan., said her 2021 Atlas Cross Sport tried to stop multiple times while driving on roads, often while slowing down. Heiman said she was almost stopped by another SUV while going into a roundabout. It also braked when she pulled off a freeway, she said.

She and others complained that VW did not have parts available to repair their vehicles that had been at dealerships for more than two months. Heiman was given rental cars, but some of those who complained to NHTSA said they were told by dealers that VW would not provide rental cars.

Kendall Heiman
Kendall Heiman said the 2021 Atlas Cross Sport tried to stop several times while driving on roads, often while decelerating.

Documents filed by VW with the government show the company received complaints in 2020. An analysis was initiated, but VW initially treated the issue as a normal quality issue. In 2021, the company began analyzing parts from vehicles and found the corrosion problem in a lab.

In February 2022, NHTSA requested a meeting after seeing consumer complaints, and a meeting was scheduled for March 10. VW decided to do a recall on March 4 “out of caution,” the documents say.

Kendall Heiman's Volkswagen SUV dashboard.
Kendall Heiman said her Volkswagen SUV gave off beeping alarms and the dashboard lights warned something had gone haywire.

The documents state that a repair is being developed. Letters will be sent to owners informing them of the safety vulnerability starting May 10th, and a second will be sent when the cure is available.

Complaints were received by the NHTSA in the fall of 2020. Many owners, including Heiman, said alarms would beep, dashboard warning lights would illuminate, the driver’s side windows would roll down and the mysterious braking would happen. A review of the complaints found no reports of crashes.

Heiman’s SUV received a replacement wiring harness last week, shortly after a reporter contacted their dealership. Wire harnesses are bundles of wires that handle multiple electrical connections in vehicles. Volkswagen recalls 246,000 SUVs due to unexpected braking


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