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Discussion Starter #1
I'll have to preface my post by saying I know next to nothing about cars, so please go easy on me. Anyway, I got my 2002 Golf about six months ago, and it has been running pretty well. All I had to do so far was get the thermostat replaced (after a little run-in with cold weather in Fargo!) and go in for an oil check.

Now, however, I've had a couple of problems creep up, so I wanted to get a second opinion from people in the know, because it seems like the guys over at the local VW dealership are trying to rip me off.

Problem #1: About a month ago, my airbag light started to come on and stay on. I went to the dealership, and they hooked up the car to the computer. It came back with "Scan fault memory, faults found for LEFT FRONT seatbelt buckle switch." I guess that's an understandable problem--wear and tear, and all that--but the "cost to replace buckle" is $400, which is insane for a car I bought for $3,500. My question is: is this something I can fix by salvaging a part from a wrecked car? What part would that be? More importantly, does this problem affect the actual operation of the driver-side airbag?

Problem #2: Every time I go to the dealership to get something small looked at, they find at least one new problem that they want me to fix. Last time, they identified four rather dramatically-described issues (at over $1,200 in repairs!), but when I got my father (who knows about cars) to look it over, he told me that they were mostly full of it. Could you please have a look and let me know which one of the following are more serious and which ones can wait (if, in fact, these issues exist)?
  • Handbrake cables binding ($225)
  • Rear axle bushings separating ($440)
  • Front strut mounts & bearings collapsing ($330)
  • All 3 under-engine covers ($220) -- They actually claim that the covers are missing?!
 

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let me start by saying i used to work in a volkswagen stealership as a mechanic. now with that said the most important thing you need to get done thats impeding your safety is that air bag light. when that light is on the entire air bag system is disabled meaning that if you were to get in a crash theres a very good chance none of the airbags will go off. if it were my car i would go to a junkyard that has a car with no airbags that have gone off. and then buy the buckle off of them and have a TRUSTED local shop do it. no quick fix places that will more likely screw up your dub instead of fix it.

now on to the other issues.

the front strut bushings are the peices of soft rubber that go in between the strut and the strut mount. they are ment to be a one time use only item if for some reason some one were to take apart your strut assembly they should have replaced the bushing as it will not re conform to the strut mount once its already been used. also it is a very common problem with these cars for the strut bearings to go bad these are located ontop of the bushings i was recently talking about and under the strut mount. these very commonly wear out and will cause a grinding or rubbing sound when you steer the vehicle.

the handbrake issue isnt that important but it is something to think about, these cables are not that expensive but if u have them installed by a dealer its goin to run u at least 2-300 bucks where if u took it to a local shop it would probably be much less.

as for the rear bushings i would buy the part online or from a napa or autozone and have a shop do them im pretty sure u need to have them pressed into place its not just a unbolt replace and rebolt deal. so that should run on the more expensive side.

lastly i highly reccomend dieselgeek.com's panzer plate it is hands down the best skidplate you can buy for these cars and it is very easy to install if you are somewhat mechanicly inclined.

other than that i would recommend not goin to the dealer unless its a serious issue like a recall or something a local shop cannot do. the dealer will always be more expensive than a local shop thats why i always called it a stealership. they also will try to sell you on any little thing they can find wrong with the car.

hope this helps you. :K:
 

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Probably cost around $100-120 to get the front strut mounts done elsewhere.

The rear bushings can be fitted with the rear axle in place but often the axle has to be dropped to make it easier to press the bushings in. That makes it a little more labor intensive - otherwise the bushings themselves are dirt cheap.

Wouldn't worry too much about the engine covers - you can get them online cheaper maybe at ECStuning. Somebody took mine off when I had my car in a shop years back and didn't put them back. Sadly, I didn't pick up on it till a while later. Still makes me mad to think about that shop and the bad job they did for me. Learnt it's always better to do your own stuff where you can.
 

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Discussion Starter #4 (Edited)
@Brian You really put some things into perspective for me, and your explanations were very helpful. I'm going to start scavenging for parts now.

I've got one follow-up question: since the buckle is so important to the airbag system, I'd like to get it repaired ASAP. However, is it the buckle itself that needs to be replaced, or are there any sort of pins/mounts/special connector-type things I need to get as well, in order to install it? Also, is this what I need to get? http://www.automotix.net/usedautoparts/2002-volkswagen-golf-seatbelt-inventory.html Mhumm... It turns out that most of the stuff available online doesn't actually have the electronic airbag sensor. Also, I'm afraid that whatever I find in a wrecking yard will crap out on me soon enough, too. I've been looking online, and it seems that this seat belt buckle/airbag issue is actually pretty common. Any thoughts?

@AgGTI Thanks as well!
 

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The thing that pisses me off is that all of that could have been fixed for under $500. The freaking e brake cables are $25 a pc. Strut bearing and bushings $60 for the pair. Dealerships are a joke. They are thieves.
 

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Discussion Starter #7 (Edited)
Check to see if its even plugged in. Disconnect the negative terminal though.
fubardub, I just went to the car, and I do see two metal cables and a small connector (with three multi-coloured wires) going into the bottom belt buckle part. The insulation around part of the cables has been cut, but everything seems to be connected...



Is this what you are talking about when you say I should check that it's plugged in? Also (another stupid question), where exactly is the negative terminal located?
 

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the negative terminal he is referring to is the negative battery terminal (black one) on the battery.. u disconnect it .. make sure ur not touching ne thing metal with the cable end.. and u can do anything electronic on the car.

secondly.. yes.. that ripped insulation on the wire is ur issue.. its creating a short.. therefor tripping ur right.. show ur dad.. if ur unsure.. and then either A. splice in a new wire. Or B. u can shrink tube it. ORRRR C. electrical tape it. then disconnect the negative terminal.. and it should turn of ur airbag light. Cheap fix.. most likely tore the insulation from people over time moving the seat back n forth.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
@fukn_dubn_gti I can probably fix a short by taping over any frayed wires, but (and this is probably a lot more obvious to you than it is to me) how do I get at these wires?

Please have a look at the photo I posted above. The exposed parts look more or less OK. Is there a way to open up the belt buckle part to see where the wires go?
 

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Discussion Starter #10 (Edited)
OK, although I'm not ruling out the short circuit scenario, I'm beginning to think this isn't a productive direction.

First, what I did was get the part number off the belt buckle receiver. It's 1J3 858 471MFCN.



Now it turns out that this belt buckle/air bag issue is actually quite common in the 2002 Golf (a manufacturing defect?). Have a look here and here. From this last link it's obvious that this issue occurs across the board with the 2002 Golf and the GTI. More interestingly, there is another link, where a guy is offering another guy the whole module (receiver and cable) from a 2000 GTI.





This means that I can send my dad to Mitchell Island (a huge wrecking place back in Vancouver), to rip the whole thing out of another Golf or GTI and mail it to me.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
The plot thickens: I found the entire belt receiver assembly at a local scrapyard. They're willing to let it go for $45--quite a step down from $400!!
 

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Discussion Starter #13
I don't know if anyone still cares, but I finally got the (slightly different) belt buckle from another wrecked Golf, and the people over at the local VW dealership installed it for $60 (I know what you're all going to say, but I didn't trust myself with removing the entire seat and attaching it correctly).

Problem solved--and for a lot less than the original $400 estimate!

 
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