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

Fuel system and engine issues among the top complaints received by the NHTSA from vehicle owners

For families looking for a large SUV, the options seem to be endless. Still, customers continue to flock to the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas. After all, the automaker instructs drivers to “Bring everyone along for the ride.” Once driving the Atlas, customers have a new take on the SUV. This model is plagued with a faulty electrical system, defective engine, malfunctioning fuel system and a poorly-made structure.

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Problems with the Electrical System

The electrical system needs to run as intended to ensure a smooth ride. Yet, inside the Atlas, everything seems to be going wrong.

One example can be found on the Edmunds website. “I bought a brand new VW Atlas SEL and it was sold from the manufacturer at the dealership with a faulty car net system that never worked.  My wife drove it for two weeks and took it into the dealership to get replaced.  The part was removed and replaced with a part that also never worked.  The part currently is on back order and the car has been in the shop for a month.  VW corporate has done nothing to make things right and tell me to be happy with getting a rental from the dealership.  Meanwhile I am paying a car payment and car insurance on a vehicle that we are not driving.  BEWARE Do not go with VW they are not for the customer.”

It turns out that there is a long list of recalls associated with electrical system problems. First, NHTSA Campaign Number 20V716000 states that affected vehicles have a defective rear view camera that freezes during the ignition cycle, leading to a black screen or the wrong image. Without this information, drivers can’t receive an appropriate amount of visibility while backing up. Additionally, NHTSA Campaign Number 21V616000 states that a damaged relay could have been installed in the engine fuse box. This issue can lead to the engine starter or horn being activated when it shouldn’t, which can cause an overheating situation and car fire. However, that’s not all. NHTSA Campaign Number 20V504000 also says that some headlight assemblies were aimed too low from the factory, making it more difficult to get the visibility needed in low-light situations. It appears that from whatever angle the Atlas is looked at, it’s trying to cause problems.

Problems with the Engine

A powerful and reliable engine is what customers want when getting into the 2021 Atlas. Yet, that’s not what they find.

Another Edmunds review states, “I can’t say enough how much I wanted to love this car! It looks amazing with the black rims and brown interior but I’m fed up with the performance! I know most brand new cars need a break in period, but this is ridiculous. I’m purchased my new 2021 Atlas SE Technology R-line October 14, 2020. Initially I loved the car. It drove well, but I did notice a jerking with acceleration, and when restarting from auto start/stop at red lights, but it didn’t really bother me since I was used to it in my BMW. But I’m the last month, it’s gotten really bad! Slams to a stop if someone makes a u-turn near you or attempts to come into your lane, or even just backing into your garage! It will freeze if you’re trying to park and changing gears, then jerks forward or backwards! No fun if you’re in your garage and fearful that you’ll drive into your house or structural pillars outside the garage. I could go on but think you get the general idea that it’s not a good car! 8 months in and I’m ready to get as far away from this car as I can!”

Sadly, other Atlas models have been the subject of class action investigations. It turns out that previous models were equipped with a thermoplastic water pump module that could overheat and fail prematurely, leading to irreparable engine failure. It’s unclear if the 2021 Atlas will also be included in class action lawsuits, but it’s not too far-fetched considering how poorly this SUV was built. For now, customers should “bring everyone along for the ride” before the SUV no longer moves.

Problems with the Fuel System

The fuel system runs hand-in-hand with the engine to power the vehicle. When this system malfunctions, there’s little that can be done about the engine.

One more Edmunds review states, “EPC and check engine light. Start/stop issue loss of power jerking motion Fuel pump replacement still unresolved.”

The fuel system is a basic system that should have been perfected many years ago, sort of like the steering system that is also causing issues. NHTSA Campaign Number 21V026000 states that the front steering knuckle could fracture and lead to vehicle loss. NHTSA Campaign Number 20V712000 states the same thing but includes more vehicles. These are all very basic automotive functions that VW should understand how to build but just seems to fail at every try.

Problems with the Structure

Finally, a closer look at the structure of the 2021 Atlas reveals how poorly this SUV was truly built.

One NHTSA complaint shows, “The plastic trim on the doors failed and became lodged between the seam of the fender and the front doors. The adhesive on the trim/badges failed and allowed it to partly peel off the door. I became trapped in the vehicle and was unable to open either door because pieces were jammed in the doors range of motion. I had to physically slam my body against the door from the inside of the car to break the jammed piece and open the door. My safety was at risk as I was not able to get out of my car and it was urgent. I would not have been able to get out of my car in the case of an accident or if my car became submerged in water such as a flood. I frequently transport my 70 year old father to medical appointments and I was unable to open the door to get him out of the car due to this issue. I reported this problem in April when I first noticed the trim badges coming loose, but VW failed to fix it properly. They took a metal putty knife and attempted to bend the fender and trim back into place in the parking lot. They did not take this issue seriously and pushed off repairs for months until I finally had this event and demanded they make this car safe. This car would not have passed the State Inspection and should have never left the dealers lot. I had another mechanic assess my car and he confirmed that this was extremely unsafe and the delay in repair could have been catastrophic. I have several pictures from April until present that show how severe the defect is on my car. There are several other reports of this problem in the VW forums where the badges on the doors have become jammed in the fender seam and prevented range of motion of the front doors.”

Sadly, the Atlas is overflowing with structure-related concerns. The first comes in the form of class action lawsuits on previous models that claim the panoramic sunroofs are leaking. From here, there’s also NHTSA Campaign 20V505000 that shows the front seat frame and backseat adjuster might not have been welded correctly, causing it to break in a rear-end crash. Additionally, NHTSA Campaign Number 20V702000 shows that some of the tires might be over cured, leading to a sudden sidewall break and possible tread separation from the tire, both of which can increase the chance of a crash. If that’s not enough, NHTSA Campaign Number 21V132000 shows that some of the lug bolt holes holding on the wheels might have been improperly machined, keeping the wheel from attaching to the hub. If the wheel isn’t attached, it can cause a major accident, just like all of the other defects coming with the Atlas. At this point, the only appropriate place for the new Atlas is in a junkyard.

Your Lemon Law Legal Rights

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About the Author:

Brian Jones spent more than 20 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.

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