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Crash Autopsy

The end of an era. Here are a few pics of the remains of my '98 Passat from a high speed impact into a cliff face. The car crumpled beautifully - the cabin interior held up well considering that the car flipped and slid on the roof for around 50 feet (a little over 15 meters). This, despite having the sunroof open.

Other notes:

  • Airbag burns? Not with this car. For whatever reason, the airbag deployment was powder-free and very, very soft on impact (like hitting a comfortable down pillow). This may be because I don't drive with the seat crammed up against the steering wheel - with a bit of distance, the airbag can fully deploy in the space between the driver and steering wheel, rather than forcing the driver backwards during expansion.

  • The panasonic made changer is really great. Despite the trauma to the car, the sound system kept playing away happily, with the changer cutting out for a 2 second period. The rescue crews finally had to just rip off the semi-removable faceplate to kill the sound.

  • Engine protection. I assumed the engine would have been severely damaged because of the direct front collision. However, the car crumpled around the engine, leaving it perfectly intact. It could easily have been transplanted to a needy car.

So there it is. The Passat really is as safe a car as I thought it would be - I walked away without a scratch. The EMS crew was in disbelief. :)

Of course my next step was to find another one - a few of the writeups online now are from the current B5, a 2000 1.8t manual.

Front end

While the damage looks severe, the car held up well overall. At the time of the crash all of the windows + sunroof were open, leaving an easy route of exit. However, the car doors all still functioned perfectly, despite frame damage. The hood was a bit more reluctant but it didn't take a lot of effort to free it, either.

Lower front end (passenger)

The bumper cover was sheared away, but the bumper itself sustained very little damage. This was puzzling - the bumper should have impacted and crumpled.

Lower front end (driver)

There wasn't much in the way of fluid leakage. With the damage to the radiator, coolant was pretty much the only leak.

Engine bay

Lots of damage surrounding the engine, but none internally.

Engine bay (detail)

The radiator assembly was pushed close to the front of the engine, but didn't actually touch it. The accessory belts were still in place and in good condition. If the battery hadn't died from the emergency lighting and the fuel lines hadn't been shut down, the car probably would have started.


The roofline between the A pillars compressed about 1.5", but other than that the cabin was in good shape. Nothing detached and flew around wildly. Note that the sunroof motor covering (above the sunroof control) had been removed a few months before to integrate a car computer/LCD system. The stereo face plate was removed by rescue crews to kill the music that refused to shut off.


  • Incredible! Very similar to how I wrecked my B4 which was the impetus to get me into a B5.5. Glad you were whole enough to share. Thanks.
    Weusi - Atl, GA, USA - Aug 20, 2014 @ 9:45 am
  • Great site.I am not even a mechanic but have try all sorts of stuff.Replace my CV joint myself 2001 V5 2.3 Passat.
    Julian - Apr 5, 2011 @ 10:44 am
  • I´m from Nicaragua, I´m the owner of a Passat 2001 1.8T.. thank you very much, is an excellent and very useful site.
    Saludos!!! y que estés bien, espero puedas mantener el sitio por mucho tiempo más!!

    Feliz 2011!!
    Raúl Gutiérrez - Jan 12, 2011 @ 8:03 pm
  • I recently bought a 2002 VW Passat 4L, 1.8 turbo (70,000 Km) I\'m a real \"do it yourselfer\" and fortunately I found your site. It has been very useful to me indeed. I feel some kind grateful to you for your great effort putting in your site all that detailed and useful information and all those links to interesting related sites. I only want to tell you thank you very much.
    Oscar Garcia (Mexico) - Nov 4, 2010 @ 7:38 pm
  • Great site for '98 Passat - I love mine and glad to see (vis a vis your crash photos) it's as solid as it feels. I've always felt safe in it and your experience supports my feelings. I'm working on fixing my front passenger side window with Audi pink clips, and hope to fix the interior door latch soon.

    Thanks for all the great information.
    jeannine USA - Oct 30, 2010 @ 10:05 am
  • Hello Friend,

    You have done a very nice job maintaining this website.

    I have an AUDI A4 had a problem with my CV joint and replacing it would have cost me almost $400.00 at cheapest repair shop.

    But I took courage and wanted to do it by myself. In order to educate myself for the job, I grabbed every information available online.

    In this case, your website helped me very much on this as the AUdI\'s basic framework being the VW Passat.

    Thanks again.!

    Andy California USA - Jul 11, 2010 @ 2:07 pm
  • I Came across your site while looking for information about replacing the drivers door latch for my 2002 passat (2.0 L, automatic, 76,000Km).
    I realy had fun reading your articles, and it was interesting even if I can\'t do the job myself since I don\'t have the tools needed.
    BTW, nice Chupa they had at the wedding pictures. Was it a jewish ceremony?
    Keep up the good work.

    Weissman Shmuel, Jerusalem, Israel - Sep 1, 2008 @ 1:09 pm
  • Great content and a great site! Having the same door lock problem and need to address it one of these days. Getting over the habbit of checking to see if the lock will is actually down will take far longer!

    Poor, poor Passat. Although I\'ve been secretly hoping to be \"hit\" of late as my \'99 2.8 is constantly coming up with new ways to tax my wallet! Love the car - hate the maintenance and problems I\'ve had. Worst VW so far to be sure - maybe my last for a while too?! I guess if the service issues were not the problem they are an awd 1.8 turbo (4Motion?) wagon would be a nice replacement. Getting tired of the thirst of the 2.8 as well, although switching to regular has helped lessen the sticker shock of fill-ups with no impact to driveability.

    P.S. for those looking for parts, I\'ve found a great place for parts is \"Parts Place\" located near Detroit. They ship anywhere and are very knowledgable.
    Eric G. from the USA - May 16, 2007 @ 4:47 pm (website)
  • Interesting read, but not what I was hoping for. I have an \'01 Passat Wagen GLS with front wheel drive only. The engine code is AUG. This is the early version and \"not\" the 01 1/2. It is equipped w/ a 1.8T gas enginew/a 5 speed automatic w/ the Tiptronic feature. The transmission code is EFP. After 255,000 km\'s I need to replace the transmission. VW is no help and I need to know if I can use an EZS code transmission.
    H Allen from Canada - Feb 16, 2007 @ 2:48 pm
  • Interesting read, but not what I was hoping for. I have an \'01 Passat Wagen GLS with front wheel drive only. The engine code is AUG. This is the early version and \"not\" the 01 1/2. It is equipped w/ a 1.8T gas enginew/a 5 speed automatic w/ the Tiptronic feature. The transmission code is EFP. After 255,000 km\'s I need to replace the transmission. VW is no help and I need to know if I can use an EZS code transmission.
    Sorry, my e-mail addy is alvandoorn@gmail.com or phone (905) 682-4812

    H Allen from Canada - Feb 16, 2007 @ 2:48 pm
  • It looks like a very safe car indeed. I enjoy mine very much, it is a 1997
    TDI 110 hp.
    It does have a tendency to oversteer when traveling with a boot full of
    luggage. I spun it 180 degrees at 135 km/h when avoiding a roebuck deer but
    the car came away without a scratch. The car was loaded with diving and
    camping gear.
    The first owner, a friend of mine, almost spun it in a tight bend at an
    autobahn intersection in Italy. He had 2 passengers on board and the boot
    was full of diving gear. A violent countersteer action saved the day but
    orange juice was all over the interior.

    About your crash: I noticed a round dent in the windscreen on the passenger
    side. Did you carry a passenger without a seatbelt? If so, what does this
    say about the passenger airbag?

    Johan Labberté, Netherlands - May 26, 2006 @ 3:52 am
  • Real creepy. I drive a 2000 passat with the same interior, and i have my graduation tassle with the same damn color, hanging off my rear view mirror. Does that mean im goin off a cliff too?
    Tristan USA - Mar 27, 2006 @ 2:43 pm
  • Sorry just realised you had a 20v turbo. but if anybody knows where i can locate an auto box for 98 tdi i would be very grateful.
    justin England - Dec 27, 2005 @ 11:16 am
  • hi i\'m looking for a automatic gearbox for a passat on a 98 /sreg to fit 1900 tdi would you still have yours
    justin England - Dec 27, 2005 @ 11:11 am
  • I\'ve been dropping in here for advice for years. Always meant to say thanks... so Thank You for the excellent, clear & easy-to-follow maintenance writeups. Glad you\'re well & I hope your replacement car was also a Passat! :)
    Pete S. (Kentucky, USA) - Oct 23, 2005 @ 5:33 am (website)
  • Sorry about the accident, however it is nice to know that the \"Safest in Class\" rating holds up. Can you give me some info on your MP3 server set up? How well it works? Is it 100% accessible over the internet? Is it streaming? What programs are you using (open source?)? Thanks.
    - Oct 4, 2005 @ 9:12 pm
  • GREAT SITE YOU HAVE - keep up the great work. I just totalled a B5 it was rough - the car saved me. GREAT solid and safe cars!
    Stephen - USA - Aug 9, 2005 @ 10:09 am
  • great site.. typed in google and there you were. what a great find
    mike USA - Aug 6, 2005 @ 11:52 pm
  • The amazing things Google searches will find. I thank you for the repair information on the door lock that is a good Saturday morning Project. As for the lack of airbag burns, not a miracle. The 98 Passat has pyrotechnic seat belt retraction. These ignite milliseconds after the airbag and pull you away from the cast shell that houses the solid fuel propellant for the airbags.
    Jason S. USA - Jun 30, 2005 @ 9:15 pm
  • so, Update this with how fast high speed is?
    Sorry for your loss, glad your ok. Your web page is giving me rekindled appreciation for my wifes 01 passat.
    Thanks for the effort
    andy g - Mar 3, 2005 @ 10:03 pm
  • Able to part with that engine cover at all with the badges?
    - Jan 23, 2005 @ 9:50 am
  • To me, it\'s times like this that determine the true \"performance\" of a car. Most people focus on forward propulsion and dynamic handling.. but what I really like to know is how well that all comes to an end within milliseconds of not expecting it.

    Scott McPhee - Jan 21, 2005 @ 8:22 am
  • Sorry to see the end of a great B5. Wonderful to see you are safe and sound. This car is able to protect drivers and all passenegers very well in all the crash reports I have heard.
    - Jan 18, 2005 @ 7:40 pm

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