2021 Volkswagen Atlas Problems and Top Complaints – Is Your Car A Lemon?

Electrical system, forward collision-avoidance, airbag, fuel system, and engine issues are among the top complaints received by the NHTSA from vehicle owners

Updated on Author: Brian Jones | Reviewer: Sergei Lemberg

Was VW not able to honor the airbag recall? Read our post on what to do in this situation.

For families looking for a large SUV, the options seem to be endless. Still, customers continue to flock to the refreshed 2021 Volkswagen Atlas. After all, the automaker suggests drivers “Bring everyone along for the ride.” Unfortunately, this model is plagued with problems, with many passing on the opportunity. Complaints reveal a multitude of issues relating to a faulty electrical system, defective engine, malfunctioning fuel system, and safety issues with the airbags.

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Most Common 2021 Atlas Problems

Complaints lodged with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and other reliable sources indicate a plethora of problems with the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas. In terms of volume, it looks as if the most common problems relate to the electrical system. But these complaints cross reference a myriad of other problems. They include problems with the engine shutting off, windows randomly opening and closing on their own, emergency and parking brakes malfunctioning, and the wiring on the door harness that controls the airbags failing. A large number of owners also complain that they continually get error messages and malfunction warnings. Affected components and systems include the airbags, engine, brakes, forward collision-avoidance, and vehicle speed control.

There is also a huge volume of complaints that relate to forward avoidance-avoidance. But again, these relate to the electrical system, airbags, brakes, vehicle speed control, and other components. The same applies to airbags complaints, which rank third in terms of numbers of NHTSA complaints. Engine and fuel issues are also relatively big on numbers.

But that’s not all! Let’s not forget that owners have also found fault with backover prevention, equipment, exterior lighting, lane departure, latches/locks/linkages, the powertrain, seats and seat belts, steering, structure, tires, visibility (including wipers), and the wheels of the SUV. That’s quite a list.

Lemberg Law has also received complaints from consumers about 2021 Atlas malfunctions. On top of that, there are, incredibly, 16 recalls that affect the 2021 VW Atlas. So, let’s look at some of the many challenges owners are facing.

Reported problems tally with those highlighted in NHTSA complaints. They include emergency brakes engaging while driving, windows rolling down spontaneously, battery and electrical issues, and vehicles shutting off. One notable complaint is from a woman who sums up her bad experiences: “Awful service on a terrible car that they keep telling me is fine.” There are many issues, but the one worth highlighting relates to the wiring harness recall. She says, “you know relating to an airbag that could save my life was “fixed” with a *** zip tie, how is that legal?”

2021 Volkswagen Atlas Complaint Summary

Complaint CategoryNumber of Complaints
Electrical System
Service Brakes
Forward Collision Avoidance: Automatic Emergency Braking
Air Bags
Unknown Or Other
Fuel/propulsion System
Forward Collision Avoidance: Adaptive Cruise Control
Forward Collision Avoidance: Warnings

Recalls Issued

Some of the 16 recalls that affect the 2021 Atlas are extremely serious and even life-threatening. Of these, two relate to tires, one warns that 760 2020-2021 Atlas vehicles may have tires that have been over-cured. NHTSA Campaign Number 20V712000 urgently advises owners to stop driving their vehicles until they have been inspected. If necessary, dealers will replace the tires free of charge.

A recall that involves the electrical system warns that damaged relays in the fuse box may overheat over time, increasing the risk of fire. A recall motivated by long fuel injectors with missing filters possibly leaking fuel also increases the risk of a fire.

Additionally, three of the recalls relate to faulty airbags, two to backover prevention due to rear view camera issues, and two to steering problems that can cause a loss of vehicle control. Others relate to exterior lighting because the driver’s side headlight is aimed too low, seats with backrest frames that are not welded properly, and an incorrect label that could result in overloading. Front wheel bearing bolts that have not been properly tightened affect the wheel and suspension of the SUV. A second wheel-related recall is due to wheel lug bolt holes that have not been correctly machined.  This may cause wheels to separate from the vehicle.

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Airbag Recalls

The first airbag recall was issued on November 17, 2021. NHTSA Campaign Number 21V892000 states that a water leak may damage the airbag control module. This could cause “an inadvertent airbag deployment” that increases the risk of a crash and/or injury.

The second airbag recall was issued on March 28, 2022. NHTSA Campaign Number 22V152000 warns that 222,892 Atlas vehicles may experience a delayed airbag deployment. This increases the risk of injury. The fault lies with the door wiring harness electrical contacts that may corrode. If this happens, the electrical connection is likely to be disrupted, which is what will delay the deployment of the driver and passenger front side airbags if there is an impact crash. Dealers were instructed to replace faulty door wiring harnesses free of charge.

There have been countless complaints that the parts required for the recall repair haven’t been available. The most recent document on file states that by July 27, 2023, 191,342 vehicles had been inspected. Those requiring the remedy were fixed. This indicates that tens of thousands of vehicles haven’t been fixed. But another issue is that numerous owners have discovered, after experiencing problems that appear to be in keeping with the fault, is that they aren’t included in the recall.

Airbag NHTSA Campaign Number 23V215000 dated March 29, 2023, affects 143,053 2018-2021 Atlas and 2020 Atlas Cross Sport vehicles. “The passenger occupant detection system (PODS) may experience a fault in the wiring and deactivate the front passenger air bag when the seat is occupied.” But the recall notice states that the remedy is not available.

Fire Issues

Knowing that there are several recalls that warn of fire dangers, it’s not surprising that some owners have become victims of fire.

In a complaint listed as an engine and engine cooling issue, an owner tells how there was hot air blowing out of the air conditioner. The air became cool, but there was a smell of burning rubber. Also, smoke was coming out from under the hood on the driver’s side. When she stopped at a traffic signal, the dash alarms started to flash and there were warning chimes. She pulled into a parking lot and turned the SUV off. By then there was black and white smoke pouring out of the hood and it burst into flames.

“The entire front end of the vehicle was engulfed in flames.” The fire department extinguished the flames, but “the heat and flames melted the front tires.” The Atlas was “declared a total loss” by her insurance provider.

An owner from Iowa was driving when the electronic power control (EPC) light came on. There was a heavy smell of gasoline and the vehicle went into limp mode. “Gas was pouring out the bottom of the hot engine and dripping onto the ground below.” He opened the engine hood and there “was lots of smoke or steam.” His main concern was that the vehicle was about to catch fire.

Wiring Harness Problems

The wiring harness problem is linked to the recall initiated because the fault can result in delayed airbag deployment. A huge number of complaints state that the recall remedy wasn’t available after they received the recall notice. There are no complaints that are limited only to the recall though. Most are listed as being an electrical system and sometimes a brake and/or forward collision-avoidance problem too.

For example, an owner from California experienced numerous warning lights and the SUV wouldn’t start. “After leaving it a few hours I was able to start it but the engine light was on and warning that ABS (anti-lock braking system) was not active. Took it to the dealership who said there is a recall with no fix for a door wiring harness. Today, while driving the car, it came to a complete stop on the roadway and would not allow me to turn it back on. I drove the car back home and it would continuously stop and I would have to restart. I almost got into two accidents. There needs to be a more serious recall as someone is going to get hurt. Dealership says there is still no fix.”

An owner from Los Angeles had the emergency brake spontaneously engage, the windows roll down, and then there was a loud beep and warning lights. The dealership said it “sounded like a door harness issue because I wasn’t the first one. They went ahead and ordered a part for my vehicle, but informed me that the part was on national back order.” Eventually, they replaced the wiring harness two months later. “However, the wiring harness they replaced it with is faulty just like the one they took out, and it doesn’t satisfy the recall at all.”

Problems with the Engines Shutting Off

There are multiple complaints about the engine of the 2021 Atlas shutting off suddenly and dangerously. They are all very similar in context.

An owner from Nevada states that the “Engine cuts off at slow speeds or at a stop.” To overcome this failure he has to place the SUV in Park and then restart it – and it happens at least once every day. But the dealer maintains there is nothing wrong!

Another owner also reports start/stop problems, stating that the “electronics start glitching when the car shuts off.” The complaint states that he’s had this experience three times in three weeks.

“When we try to jump start the vehicle it has taken up to 30 minutes to sit on charge to get the car to turn over. We have had the battery tested and charged at VW (and) all tests come back (indicating) that it is a good battery. Seems that the start/stop system is faulty and drains the battery.” The complaint goes on to say that many posts show that others have had the same experience. Ultimately, it leaves families in “dangerous situations because the car just shuts off and won’t re-start.”

An owner from Pennsylvania states how while driving at about 30-35 mph, the SUV “suddenly shook violently and the engine shut off. There was loud beeping and the computer system lit up saying Error: Engine at the same time the emergency brake was activated. There was also a message about a Door Error.” This happened three more times on the same trip. “If you were traveling on a major highway going 70 mph and your engine just shut down you could be seriously injured or killed.”

Brake Problems

Emergency and parking brake malfunctions are rife. Most commonly the brakes apply themselves unexpectedly. An owner from North Carolina states that this usually happens at slow speeds below 5 mph. “The electronic parking brake engages automatically making the vehicle come to a sudden stop with jerks. Weird thing is, the problem is present on some days and some days the vehicle is completely normal without any warnings (or) sounds.” The owner took the vehicle in for an oil change and routine maintenance and was told “this is a known issue and there is a recall on it, but no fix (is) available.”

An owner from Pennsylvania had a problem with the parking brake going on automatically while the engine was on. The dealer said this was because of the door harness that was on backorder. “I was told (there were) 41 customers ahead of me waiting for (the) same part in (the) Northeast USA. The car is not safe to drive due to (the) parking brake automatically engaging.”

An owner from New York is brief but explicit. The complaint states that the car will “brake unexpectedly while driving, which almost caused me to have several accidents while approaching traffic lights. Windows also open unexpectedly. All dashboard lights turn on while driving. Not very safe to drive at all.”

Airbag Problems

There are many complaints about parts not being available to fix recall problems. There are also many airbag complaints linked to the wire harness problem. But, while the latter results in airbags deploying late, there are several complaints relating to airbags that are deployed even though the vehicle hasn’t crashed.

One of the incidents described in an NHTSA complaint involves side airbags that were deployed “after checking a curb at 30 miles an hour.” Additionally, the passenger seat airbags were also deployed even though there was no one sitting there. This caused the driver, “my wife, to receive a concussion.”

Another owner tells how when his wife was driving the SUV with their two children in the back, the side airbags deployed suddenly for no reason. Unsurprisingly, they were scared … more so when the car spun out of control. She was able to stop when the tires “scratched against the curb.” The dealership maintained that the airbags deployed because of impact against the curb. “My wife was going at 35-40 miles and the tires rubbed the curb after airbags deployed all of sudden. VW also has a recall for 2020 and 2021 Atlas as their airbags are going off unexpectedly. My Atlas is (a) 2021.5 model but it is too much of a coincidence and maybe VW needs to add 2021.5 models to recall.”

Fuel-Related Problems

The electronic power control (EPC) system is a bugbear for many 2021 VW Atlas owners. Other problems involve mechanical fuel pump failure, stalling, and leaking fuel.

An owner from Michigan describes how the SUV was “basically limping” after the EPC light came on and all the basic functions stopped. The dealer said the problem was that the SUV was misfiring due to bad gas and charged $2,000 to fix the problem. Even though the vehicle was only 9 months old, they maintained that the warranty wasn’t valid because “the fuel injector was damaged after what they said is bad gas. It is a known issue (that) the fuel injectors are bad with the VW atlas. The government needs to stop VW from selling vehicles in the states and needs to recall the atlas for safety issues as this caused me to almost crash my car due to a faulty fuel injector!”

Another owner who stalled on a highway states that the check engine light came on. This was due to mechanical pump failure.

When an owner from LA experienced an issue with “Low Pressure in Tank Fuel Pump Failed,” he had the vehicle towed to a dealer. He said that the SUV had “lost all power at speed on (the) highway.” The dealer was unperturbed, stating that the issue “is not uncommon,” and more than 1,800 fuel pumps were on backorder!

Problems with Windows Randomly Open & Close

A large percentage of electrical system complaints to the NHTSA state that windows randomly roll up and down. But, most of these combine other issues in complaints, including loss of motive power and brakes engaging spontaneously.

This is what a few owners state:

  • An owner from Oregon states: “while driving approximately 2 mph, the rear windows inadvertently rolled down independently.”
  • The “driver side rear window going down by itself,” states an owner from Florida.
  • It happens in Massachusetts too: “I tried to roll down the driver’s window. It would not roll down. Then the back driver’s window started rolling down. Then the front driver’s window rolled down. Then both windows were going up and down.”

What If Your 2021 Atlas is a Lemon?

If you think that your 2021 VW Atlas might be a lemon, you could be right. But it’s a good idea to get an experienced lemon lawyer to assess your case, because the law makes Volkswagen pay legal fees.

Also, every year, auto manufacturers buy back, replace or pay cash settlements to thousands of ‘lemon’ owners. This means that if it is proven to be a lemon, you can get your dud 2021 Volkswagen out of your life. Call our Helpline or fill out a contact form if you’d like us to help.

Brian Jones

About the Author:

Brian Jones spent more than 30 years working as an ASE Certified Master Tech and Parts Specialist at multiple dealerships. Brian has become an authority in the industry, traveling across the country to consult for car dealerships and contributing his expertise as a writer for several major automotive publications. In his spare time, Brian enjoys working on pickup trucks, muscle cars, Jeeps and anything related to motorsports.

See more posts from Brian Jones
  • Rein W

    Have taken my Volkswagen 2021 Atlas SE 3.6 vehicle in so many times for the vehicle shutting off by itself while driving, was told they couldn’t find no issue, brakes are squealing, scrubbing, and sounds like they are ready to just fall apart, only to be told it looks brand new under the vehicle. Took the vehicle in recently to be charged for an oil change, which I paid for that maintenance package. Haven’t receive my refund on that as of yet. Now there’s an issue with the passenger window rolling down on it’s own, and receiving notifications that there’s a window and door opened when it’s not.

  • Tristinna S

    Awful service on a terrible car that they keep telling me is fine, bc I’m a woman of course. Brought it in multiple times for the screen blacking out – just happened again during backing up and almost hit someone in Walmart parking lot! Had an issue with windows randomly rolling down for a few days and after they stopped the rear windows are now very loud rolling up and they guy told me it sounds fine to him. Joke. The windows were related to safety recall … The wiring harness recall – you know relating to an airbag that could save my life was “fixed” with a *** zip tie, how is that legal? I have also had a coolant issue twice now – once a couple months after purchase it all “evaporated” and needed to take it in. And now for last 8 days keep getting coolant warnings everyday – can’t wait to see what BS they tell me today.

  • Christy D

    Had electrical issues due to the wring harness, went through before the recall was even issued. Not the heat shield is loose above the gas tank making terrible noise. The dealership guys are terrible, said they tightened it and now it’s back in the shop. Has 14000 miles

  • LisaS

    I have a 2019 with 24k miles. The battery goes bad because of the auto stop feature which costs $400+ to replace. They sold it with tires that go bad at 20k miles. Other small issues too which would be manageable, but the service centers at VW are horrible. Because of the service centers, I won’t buy another VW, ever. It’s a shame.

  • Dennis Y

    My 2021 Volkswagen Atlas with 8000 miles.
    Warning lights go on and the emergency brake engages when driving. Windows roll down when driving. Brought to 2 dealerships and they say it is a common problem with parts on back order.

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