VW Passat coil packs: How not to get return customers

I was driving my 2003 Passat home from the office on Tuesday when something weird happened: the car started idling very rough at a stoplight. I haven’t had a car run that rough since the days when I was driving my 1977 MGB. I thought that perhaps I needed to get a tuneup. I did what I used to do on the MG: put the car in neutral and bring the engine speed up. That calmed the idle a little bit, but when I started driving it past the light the problem came back. Then the check engine light came on. And started flashing.

At that point, I should have pulled over and turned off the car, but I was less than a mile from home so I nursed it there and parked it. Then restrained myself from kicking the car.

The rough running turned out to be caused by misfires in two of my four cylinders; when I got the car home I was only running on two cylinders. I was without the car for two days while the dealer replaced two ignition coil packs that had failed and reprogrammed the car’s computer. To my relief the bill wasn’t exorbitant, but it makes me wonder whether the other two coils are due to go too.

The capper is that I happened to look up Volkswagen Passat in Wikipedia, and found this lovely piece of text for the Mark 5 version:

A common problem that arose along with the introduction of the 2001.5 “B5.5” models was a common failure of ignition coil packs. This problem applied only to owners with the 4 cylinder 1.8T engine, whose coil packs are marked with the part number “06B 905 115H”. The solution is a simple swap of the coil pack for a newer version, a minor repair in both time and cost.

The article even cites a very detailed page on MyLemon.com about the problem, which apparently mostly affects late 2002 and early 2003 models. My car was one of the first 2003s.

So the question is: why hasn’t Volkswagen issued a recall of these cars?