Sedans & Coupes

The 2003 Volkswagen Jetta Had a Recall For Burning Drivers With Seat Heaters

The Volkswagen Jetta is a top-selling import from Europe on the U.S. market. It has enjoyed great popularity for many years. Today, the Jetta is a stylish sedan that offers great fuel efficiency with its hybrid model. It’s fun to drive and offers a lot of space for cargo. The small sedan also offers a lot of options for great flexibility.

While today’s Jetta offers few problems, there was one Jetta model recalled because it posed a real threat to its occupants. What model of Jetta was this and what was the danger?

The 2003 Volkswagen Jetta

The 2003 Volkswagen Jetta was the sedan and wagon version of the Golf at the time. It offered a comfortable ride even while making the driver aware of every irregularity encountered in the road. It offered an impressive list of standard features with each trim level. It had a comfortable interior with top-quality materials. It also had the blue and red nighttime illumination Volkswagen was known for.

Part of Jetta’s fourth generation, it was perpetually upgraded and offered the 1.8T engine that started with the 2000 models. 2001 brought a sport suspension option and the wagon model.

The Jetta wasn’t the most affordable in its class, but it wasn’t the most expensive. That year it offered the GL, GLS, GLX, and GLI models as a sedan and GL and GLS wagon configurations.

Its standard features included side and head-curtain airbags, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, telescopic steering wheel, power locks, mirrors, and windows, cruise control, traction control and more. It also offered optional heated seats.

The hot seat

One Canadian Jetta owner thought her car had caught fire, according to CBC. Using her Jetta’s seat warmer in 2013, she found herself about to turn onto a busy street with her small son in the back. She smelled smoke and felt her jeans burning.

She was told the problem was an ongoing one. A recall had been issued for certain VW models including the Jetta for its 2002-2004 models. The warming element was prone to short-circuiting and burning up. But the recall ended in 2007. She wasn’t aware of the problem when she bought her Jetta after that time.

The issue got a solid 10 on CarComplaints.com’s severity scale for “really awful.” According to the popular consumer site, not only were there numerous complaints about the issue, but there were also 41 fires that resulted in 33 injuries and one death.

Why had the issue not been dealt with in all that time? And Volkswagen isn’t the only automaker dealing with the issue.

RELATED: The Worst Volkswagen Jetta Model Year You Should Never Buy

Harrowing tales

The consumer comments on CarComplaints.com tell a terrifying tale.

One Kentucky owner in 2012 reported that their seat had burned a hole into their jeans and burned their person. Their driver’s seat was hot enough to burn the seat’s upholstery and cause it to smoke. They turned off the heated seat immediately. They’d believed that the issue had been addressed with the 2007 recall, but apparently that wasn’t the case.

In 2010, a Massachusetts owner was burned by their seat heater while driving. They believed the vehicle would catch on fire. They had the recall not long after purchasing it for the heated seats. When they took their Jetta to their local dealership, they were told that the repair was outside the warranty and there would be a fee to evaluate the problem.

Another U.S. owner in 2008 experienced problems. They maintained that the heated seat feature failed two months before with setting No. 3 resulting in a higher temperature than normal. They elected not to use the feature, assuming it didn’t work. 

After taking their Jetta to a dealership, they drove it home to discover the seat got extremely hot when using the features just on setting No. 2 for five minutes. They smelled something burning and received burns on their posterior. When they reached down to disengage the feature, their hand was also burned. The seat sustained damage as a result, and the dealership said they were willing to replace the seat heater but not the seat itself.