VW Touareg Steering Angle Sensor Failure – The Straw That Breaks The Camel’s Back?

I’ve written before about the triumphs, trials, and never-ending tribulations of owning a heavily-depreciated Volkswagen Touareg. 

As one of the progenitors of the luxury SUV craze (alongside the Porsche Cayenne and Audi Q7 which share a common platform, as well as the BMW X5) the Touareg was expensive and highly desirable when new, but practically worthless now – particularly the “common” 3.2 V6 engine examples like mine, which borrow a powerplant from the R32 Golf.

You might like to start with our VW Touareg buyer’s guide. You could also read the horror stories in my exegesis on the previous problems I’ve had with the Touareg, if you’re feeling brave.

And, as you might have guessed from the title of this article, I’m back with another automotive nightmare.

Recently the traction/stability control light decided to illuminate itself on the dashboard:

The Touareg being what it is (a car that once cost an astronomical sum, for rich people to waft about in and drop their kids off at private school) any kind of error like this fills the current hapless owner – namely me – with a sense of foreboding and dread.

The Touareg is one of those cars where any repair, no matter how minor, will typically set you back the best part of a grand at minimum – unless you are able to DIY the fix (as per my recent article on repairing a broken handbrake release lever, which turned a pricey repair into a minor affair). 

Diagnosing The Issue

The first step – after the illuminated warning light didn’t turn itself off on further driving – was to try and diagnose the problem.

If you’ve checked out the product reviews section of this site, then you’ll see we have done in-depth reviews on numerous OBD2 scanner tools. The Touareg has an OBD2 port, so scanning and determining the issue should be easy, right?

Well, you’d be wrong.

See my Touareg is a pre-facelift example, and pre-facelift first generation Touaregs apparently use a different connector system (effectively the plug is compatible but the data can’t be read). You need a VCDS cable and VCDS-lite to be able to actually read error codes. No other combination of Bluetooth or wired scanners and scanning tools could yield any meaningful information on the error code.

Therefore, a trip to the local VW specialist was in order. $60 scanning fee later, and the fault was revealed as a ‘steering angle sensor failure’.

Of course it had to be one of the potential problems that is hardest to fix. 

Options For Repair

Doing some Googling, a few forum posters suggested trying a reset on the sensor, which can be performed by starting the car up and then fully locking out the steering wheel a couple of times in each direction. 

This would turn the warning light off, only to illuminate itself again shortly thereafter.

The next step was to investigate the potential of a DIY repair.

A few problems arose here:

  1. I knew that the problem was with the steering angle sensor, but I wasn’t sure exactly what part(s) needed replacing. Unlike the broken handbrake release lever, this issue doesn’t appear to be an easy DIY fix. 
  2. The part that I believe needs replacing is very expensive – over $1000 NZD to buy new.
  3. Even if I got the part, there’s still the nightmare of having to disassemble the steering wheel and avoid deploying or damaging the airbag or any other component.

I’m the first to admit that I’m not particularly practical, so I asked my dad – who contributes occasionally to this site and who has been fixing cars for decades – to give his input. In his wisdom, he decided that attempting a DIY repair wasn’t really feasible given a lack of knowledge on working on modern steering wheels with airbags, and also the price of the part (you don’t want to spent $1000 on a part to find you’ve bought the wrong thing, or wind up breaking it during the installation).

Therefore, it was back to the mechanic.

After a quick phone call, a quote was given for around $2500 NZD to fix the issue (based on further diagnosis).

That’s a big chunk of cash … almost enough to buy a regional airfare in New Zealand these days; I’m only partially joking. 

The problem is that a 2006 Volkswagen Touareg in base spec and with about 160,000 kms on the clock (in average condition) is worth, realistically, around $4000-5000 tops as a private sale in the current used car market in New Zealand.

That means the cash price cost to repair the car is about 50%, give or take, of what I could sell the car for – all to replace one silly sensor.

And herein lies the crux of the matter with cars like the Touareg (once-expensive, now viciously depreciated vehicles that still have the running costs that were concomitant with the purchase price when new) – you reach this “tipping point” where it’s just no longer economical to fix the car.

A figurative straw – something as small as a little sensor failing – can break the camel’s back.

If the Touareg was worth say $25,000, then spending 10% of the value on a repair to get more life out of it makes sense. 

However, spending 50% on a car that is really a ticking timebomb is not particularly logical. I could make this repair, and then next week another sensor might fail and I’m back to square one.

The only reason I’m not administering the last rites to the Touareg is because at the time I purchased it from a local second hand car dealer, I opted for a mechanical breakdown insurance/extended warranty policy.

Now those reading from New Zealand will probably scoff at me, as “MBIs”/extended warranties are a hot topic of debate in Kiwi-land. We are fortunate to live in a country with fairly robust consumer protection laws, and there’s been a lot of discussion in the media as to whether or not extended warranties on used cars are worth it or not because in theory you should have robust protection after buying a used car from a dealer through our “Consumer Guarantee’s Act”. Although the law is a bit vague, the basic principle is that any item sold by a business must be “fit for purpose” and last as long as a reasonable consumer might expect for an item of its nature and price.

It’s one of the reasons why few people pay for AppleCare on Apple devices in NZ, because the law posits that if you’re spending $3000 on a Macbook, you expect it to last longer than the factory 12 month warranty. 

What this means, in practicality and in an automotive context, is that a five year old Toyota Yaris with 20,000km that you paid $20,000 for would not be expected (by any reasonable consumer) to suffer a big fault within a few years of purchase. Almost certainly if you were up for a $2500 repair on a failed component in the Yaris after 2.5 years of ownership, you’d be able to get the dealer to fix the problem or at least contribute.

However, when it comes to vehicles like the Touareg – inexpensively purchased, older, higher mileage, prone-to-going-hideously-wrong – there is less of an expectation of reliability.

When I bought the Touareg, it left me stranded about 500km from home after a brake sensor failed. This was about four months’ post-purchase. Under the CGA the dealer had to fix it, because even on a cheap Touareg you don’t expect it to leave you stranded (requiring an emergency car hire, and return vehicle transportation on a lorry) within six months of purchase. Had I known that was going to happen, I never would have bought the car.

But now I’m nearly at three years of ownership, it would be a massive stretch to convince the Disputes Tribunal (who enforce issues of consumer law) that a component failure on a vehicle I’ve covered many miles in since purchase, and which is of a dubiously reliable nature, is still the responsibility of the dealer. 

Long story short, if I hadn’t originally taken out an extended warranty on the Touareg, then this latest fiasco would probably be curtains for my ownership of the German battle-tank. 

Fingers crossed, it is looking likely that the warranty company will come to the party and I’ll only be on the hook for the excess. Still a reasonable sum of money at $400 NZD, but vastly less than paying for the repair out of pocket.

However, the remaining warranty period is rapidly shrinking. By the time the repair is complete, there will be less than six months left on the extended warranty, and I’m thinking long and hard about the future of the Touareg.

If I were more practical, and I lived somewhere where parts were more affordable, I’d be inclined to keep it – as I’ve written about before, the utility derived from the vehicle is far greater than its resale value (it’s a seriously useful vehicle for moving stuff, going anywhere with bad road conditions – which is basically all of New Zealand – and having a spare car that visiting friends and family can use). 

I am now thinking intently about what to do with the Touareg once the repair is complete. I could just drive it until something breaks, outside of the warranty period, which renders the car simply uneconomical to continue running. On the other hand, I could probably get $3500-4000 for it, which could go part way towards buying something a bit newer (once again with a warranty, if it’s the type of vehicle I normally buy) 

I guess the moral of this story (which I will update you on when I have a resolution to the sensor error, including a final cost) is that if you’re going to buy a heavily-depreciated car that still can carry “new expensive car” repair costs, which only become more likely over time, then you either:

a) Need to be very good at DIY repairs, and have the tools and skills to do so

b) Have deep pockets to keep funding repairs

c) Buy an extended warranty at the time of purchase, if the opportunity presents itself, and then think long and hard about the vehicle’s future in a post-warranty environment. Decide whether you are happy to take a punt, or whether you are better to extract any residual value and let somebody else carry the risk. 

What would you do in my situation? Also, if you happen to know an easy and inexpensive fix for a broken VW Touareg steering angle sensor, then I’m all ears. 


  • Sam

    Sam focuses mainly on researching and writing the growing database of Car Facts articles on Garage Dreams, as well as creating interesting list content. He is particularly enthusiastic about JDM cars, although has also owned numerous European vehicles in the past. Currently drives a 3rd generation Suzuki Swift Sport, and a Volkswagen Touareg (mainly kept for taking his border collie out to the hills to go walking)

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