Fixing ABS on my 1995 VW Passat VR6 Wagon

May 11, 2005

About 2 years ago, the ABS light started coming on once in a while when I started my 1995 Volkswagen Passat VR6 Wagon. Well, actually, the light always came on, but it should go off after a few seconds. What I'm talking about is the light not going off. This indicates that the on-board diagnostics found a problem during the ABS self-check. When this happens, ABS is disabled, but the brakes still function (hopefully) like brakes did for decades before ABS came along.

Over the course of time since this first started showing up, it has gotten progressively more frequent until about 3 months ago when the light would never go out. In California, where it hardly ever rains, much less gets icy or snowy, ABS is not that important, specially if you had already been driving for years on ice and snow in non-ABS equipped cars. Nonetheless, the ABS light is a nuisance, so I want to fix it.

First, I did a brake job. New rotors and pads all around. The only difficulty here was changing the bearings in the rear rotors. I had never knocked out races and re-installed them, so this required some learning. I was lucky that our local neighborhood car guy was around to ask him for advice. After he walked me through the steps, it wasn't all that hard (just a lot of pounding using a brass rod so as not to scratch the steel races).

During this process, I removed all the old brake fluid and replaced it with new fluid (DOT 4 on this car). This is important because over time, brake fluid will absorb moisture from the air. Changing the fluid will help prevent corrosion of the brake system from the inside due to this moisture. The old fluid was black. By the time I was done bleeding the entire system, the fluid came out a very weak caramel color. Hopefully that's enough flushing.

Anyway, this was a good opportunity to clean and inspect the speed sensors at each wheel. These remove easily - one allen head bolt holds in each sensor - they are mounted behind the rotor or wheel flange. Once you get them out, you can brush them with a old soft toothbrush sprayed with brake cleaner. This will get off any build up brake dust and since these devices are magnetic, a lot of metal dust from the brake pads builds up around the sensors (I believe these are Hall Effect devices, no?). Before cleaning, my cubic sensors looked like fuzzy black balls from all the buildup of metallic dust.

I inspected each cable for obvious signs of damage, and then re-installed the sensor before going on to the next wheel.

It turns out that this simple procedure did not fix the problem with the ABS light. So, I began to try some other tests. One thing that I've noticed over time is that whenever the ABS light stayed on, I lost cruise control as well. To me, this is a very strong indicator of the wheel speed sensors. So, I did a bit more to check them out. I seperated the sensor connector and put an ohm meter across the contacts going back to the cable (on the wagon, the rear sensors' integrated cables run up into the cabin beneath the rear passenger seats - this is the closest point to the sensors for taking a reading). The rear sensors displayed 1100 (+/- 2) ohms. Wiggling the cables did nothing to alter the reading. I've read various specs on these sensors, and 1100 ohms would seem to be very normal. I never got around to reading the front sensors, but I imagine they're about the same.

The reason I never read the front sensors is because 1. I suspected they were fine, and 2. I found something more probable while browsing the web for other ideas. As it turns out, Passats of this era often have a problem with their ignition switch. I guess the issue is that when the switch returns from the start position to the run position, proper contact is not always made with all of the switch terminals. I also read about people trying the "ignition switch trick" but not explaining what the trick was. I thought, why don't I give it a try anyway.

I started the car and returned the switch back to run, as I normally do - just by releasing it. OK, the ABS light stayed on. I noticed, though that there was some play in the switch torwards the "off" direction. I tried starting and releasing with a definite bias towards the off direction - no luck. I played with it a bit, then realized that if I released the switch slowly back to the run position, but kept a bit of tension on it so that it barely came back to the run position, that my ABS light went off! So, that's where I am. I will change the ignition switch if it continues to be a problem, or I will otherwise learn to manipulate it so that the problem does not show up.

If I need to replace the switch, I will search around for clues as to whether it's the barrel and key portion (mechanical) or the electrical portion. There's no need to re-key all the doors if I only need to change the electrical portion, and together, they run about $100.

(78,400 mi)

tags:cars, passat, volkswagon

permalink | 38 comments


posted by alain on Sep 13, 2005

hello man, just read you stuff about the passat, i do have the same kind a problem on mine ( 99 passat 1.8 turbo), do you mind to chat by email about it please ? ty alain ps : [email protected]

posted by Jay on Oct 29, 2005

Hi i am currently trying to replace my rear rotors and bearings on a 95 GLX. Are the rotors press on? How do I get them off?

posted by Paul on Dec 15, 2005

There are alot of links on the internet about this problem. Seems to be a deffective Bosch component / unit which is very costly...Didn't you find this. Sollutions to this problem are even sold through Ebay.... PS: I have the same shit whit my 1.8T (1999). Regards, Paul Holland

posted by Damian on Dec 28, 2005

Hello. I'm from France and I have the same problem with my Passat. The light of ABS is stll on, and it's very strange, 'cause this car is only 3 years aged. Many personns tried to resolve the problem, but they didn't do anything. If there are many informations on the web and if we can talk together, It will be nice... Sorry for my english and thinks a lot Damian ps:[email protected]

posted by umgzep on Dec 29, 2005

Can you please email me if it worked for you by replacing the ignition switch?

posted by sam on Jan 05, 2006

I also had sam ething, noticed the red "!" showing on dash board with few beeps. It is snowy and icy these days, so tested my ABS few times. Since then it bleeped for 30min now, it only flashes. I added Dot4 and it's kinda made it better, it only flashed when I downgrade gears. Bizarre ! I dread to take it to Volkswagen as they will rip me off again. Any links or pointers appreciated. Sam

posted by sam on Jan 06, 2006

Geee ! I re checked my oil and it is low again...leak !!

posted by Lee on Mar 17, 2006

I have the problem with my 1999 passat – 1.8L. The ABS light has been going on now and then, but getting more frequent. Three beeps, then the ABS light goes on, and brake light blinks. Did any of you figure out what the problem was?

posted by Serina on May 31, 2006

I also just started having problems with the ABS brake light randomly coming on in my 1999 VW Passat. I find it very annoying and I'm afraid to take it to the dealership. Regular breaking seems fine. I was just wondering if not having the ABS system working would affect regular breaking in the long run.

posted by Charmaine Vervuurt on Jul 03, 2006

I have the same problem with my 1999 passat station wagon -1.8l.The ABS light does the same thing,my mechanic suggests I put in a new ABS...ouch!!!!$$$$$. Any ideas what else it could be?

posted by Giovanni on Oct 05, 2006

Hello, I have this problem on my 1995 Passat 2.0 litre SW (220.000 km). The problem is frequent with warm weather. Less frequent when it's cool. Infact, I first noticed it last spring. I will change my brake fluid today (it's very old) since I believe that temperature cannot affect electronics. I'll post the result of my test shortly. If anyone knows haow to fix this problem, please post it. Giovanni

posted by Giovanni on Oct 12, 2006

Hi, finally I didn't change the brake fluid. The mechanic said it was still ok and that it wouldn't change the problem of the ABS light. In the meanwhile, I still have the problem, but only with warm weather...

posted by Ahmed on Oct 14, 2006

I have the problem same problem with my 1998 passat – 1.8L. The ABS light comes on, I get three beeps, then the ABS light goes on, and brake light blinks. I replaced the ABS module and to my dismay, the problem still persists!!!

posted by frank on Nov 14, 2006

I had the identical problem and got it solved. First I wrote a letter to technical editor of Road and track - told me to find a better mechanic. On the web I learned that the 850 Volvo had the same abs system. I have a Volvo with 200,000+ miles on it and so I went to my volvo mechanic. He said the problem was common on the 850 and the cure was a new central processor. Went back to the dealer, told him to keep the car until it was repaired and told them of the Volvo solution. They called VW - no solution. They called Volvo,got the solution and I got a new processor under warranty. Good luck

posted by Jennifer on Dec 01, 2006

I am having the same problem on my 1999 Passat (1.8 turbo). Took it to Volkswagen mechanic and he said it was a problem with the instrument cluster and not the ABS -- said it would be $700 to fix. Now reading this, not sure what to do. Definitely can't afford to spend $700 and have it not fix the problem. My ABS light is always on. Starts when the car starts with 3 beeps and ABS and Break light continues to blink the entire time I am driving. Annoying, but also worrisome -- sounds like a known problem though I am not clear if it is processor, ignition switch, instrument panel or what.

posted by Nicole on Dec 01, 2006

I'm just picking up my 99 vw passat from the dealership who I trusted to tell me why my ABS light keeps comming on.. they said its the ABS module. FOR about $1100 I can get it replaced! Umm.. how about not! Searching online there are some places that you can get rebuilt/referbished ones f0or like a quater of the price and they have warrantysw/ Lifetime Service Guarantee. This is after I brought it to a place to replace my breaks when the light started to appear. Then to another place to tell me its the sensors and the lights dissapeared for like a month.. to appear again! Glad I'm not alone with this! ANyone have any input??? HELP!

posted by PJ on Dec 06, 2006

Drew, Greetings from Ireland and thanks for the very detailed information. I just need to ask one question which is crucial to me as it will decide how I tackle the problem. You said that when the warning lights come on: "This indicates that the on-board diagnostics found a problem during the ABS self-check. When this happens, ABS is disabled, but the brakes still function (hopefully) like brakes did for decades before ABS came along." Are you certain that the ABS will cease to function if the ABS controller reports a problem? I'm wondering if my ABS is broken, or if its just deactivated because of the warning lights. With the ABS and brake fluid lights flashing... I drove onto some gravel and braked hard at 30mph to see if the abs was still working.. and it appears its not.. the pedal didn't flutter etc...and there was a skid track... As to the ignition switch.. my car is a 98 1.8 T petrol wagon, a lot of people on the web propose the replacment of the ECU as a solution for this problem... what do you think? Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks PJ

posted by Dave on Dec 06, 2006

I have the same problem with my 1988 1.8T passat. The local garage tested it and the error codes were unclear. From what i have read on the web it's very likely the electronics in the controller unit. re-furbished units are advertised on the web for $170 up or 200 gbp up. I'm going to get and fit one. here's a link, apprently you don't need the pump just the electronics part. So no need to mess with the hydrolics. here's a thread with loads of info on. Dave

posted by Leatte on Dec 08, 2006 For all you suffering thru the ASB light and brake light issue, I was told there was nothing wrong, then told to replace the module. I took a chance and went through Problem fixed! It has now been six months since I replaced the module and have had no problems whatsoever! I had my 17 year old son take the old one out and replace it with the instructions found on the site. By the way, I have a 99 Passat. Finally!

posted by PJ on Dec 10, 2006

Can I take the ECU out(to get the right part number) and run the car while its out? Like it might take a coupla weeks for the part to reach ireland...and I'd still like to be able to use the car... Thanks PJ

posted by dave on Dec 21, 2006

pj, The part number that you require will be on the alloy block with the pipes coming out. no need to remove, just clean the metal and not any numbers, there may be two. Dave

posted by Javed on Jan 08, 2007

HI there, I'm also facing ABS+BRAKE light flashing problem with my 2000 passat 4*4 car. While driving the both lights turned on but my brakes are working fine. But I'm surprised today when I went for an emmission test as it was failed çoz on board diagnostic system didn't respond. Will appreciate if somebody help me in resolving this issue and Pl share the approx amt required to fix it.

posted by Tito on Jan 09, 2007

I' having a problem with my 95 passat. It sometimes starts and sometimes don't. Is there a chip or battery in the key that might be causing this problem?

posted by marcus on Jan 18, 2007

Hi all. Had the same problem with my 1999 Passat. Flashing ABS / constant brake light. First started 10-20 minutes after driving, worse in hot weather. Then on all the time regardless of weather. OBDII scan from dealer indicated ABS module failuer. If you do a thorough search of the web, you will find that a lot of older (pre 2000 i think) have this particular problem. The mechanism behind the problem, in most cases, has to do with thermal expansion/contaction of polymer/resin in which the the ABS circuit board and supplying wires are encased. I think the polymer is meant to protect the internal circuit boards from engine heat. The polymer/resin is hard (non-flexible), and unlike the metal tracks/wires on the circuit board, it doesn't expand or contract (as much). Over time, physical stress on the wires / tracks cause them to break. Newer modules have a different resin with different thermal properties allowing expansion/contraction - they don't break. Evidence : 2003 and older passat do not have this particular problem (but of course we know they have their own set of problems). The broken wires / circuit board tracks can be repaired. The module is opened up, the broken path identified, and a "jumper" wire installed after drilling down into the resin on either side of the break. Oh yeah, you need some kind of special microscope to do this as the broken paths cannot be seen with the naked eye or a magnifying glass (don't try at home). I have also read that the repair techs can tell which circuit path / wire is broken via electronic means. I know what your thinking, this guys is on crack. I don't ask you to believe me, just search the web and you will find a "better" description on this particular problem. Anyway this is what I found out with my problem. 1) the newer units are expensive, but will not fail in teh same manner as the older units. 2) my dealer repair cost ($1800) included a new ABS control unit (black part), ABS pump unit (silver part attached to black part) and pipes leading back back tp the master cyclinder. Also included re-programming cars computer to new unit. The dealer wouldn't replace just the electronic module. Tried 3 dealers, approx. same price, same procedure. 3) you can just grab a unit from the junkyard, install it, and expect it to work. The cars computer needs to be reprogrammed to accept the new unit. 4) Autotruck and electronic fixed my ABS unit for $225 (maybe slightly higher now) with a 5 year warranty. The owners/managers Don and Michele are very helpful. I'm in no way affiliated with this group. In fact there are several other groups who also fix these bosch units - I spoke to Don first and he seemed helpful. 5) This is not the only solution to the ABS light fix. There are many other reasons why your ABS light comes on (ie. wheel sensors). To save time, you should get an OBDII error code from the dealer indicating. Make sure it is an ABS module error before removing for fix. I hope this helps. Again, information above only for ABS module failure. ps. anyone know if there is a cheap (

posted by Saadat on Jan 19, 2007

Dear Passat owners, I also had the same symptoms on my 1999 1.8 Turbo passat with 92000 Miles (ABS Light Stayed On and Break Light Flashing}. Although it is possible to have other problems like break switch or wheel speed sensor or instrument claster to throw the light, But it seems with what I have read and what I did since yesterday it is more than likly you guys are haveing ABS module failure. I took mine to a local mechanic (No dealer within 130 miles) He could not even comunicate with the ABS Module and his computer was giving communication error. At this point I called dealer and for remaufactured one $1350 Pluse Labor and ofcourse no after market for mine. I DO NOT SUGGEST A PERSON DO WHAT I DID

posted by Saadat on Jan 19, 2007

Dear Passat owners,I also had the same symptoms on my 1999 1.8 Turbo passat with 92000 Miles (ABS Light Stayed On and Break Light Flashing}. This could be as simple as low break fluid to wheel speed sensor to instument cluster or ABS module failure or bad wire connectons or... I took mine to a local mechanic who had computers to check and find out what the problem was. His computer did not even comunicate with ABS and was giving Comunication Failure. Although that could mean lots of things, Thanks to the Inputs of other in the web I realised my symptoms is more than likely pointing to ABS Module Failure. I Do NOT Suggest People do this if you do not have the experty, I am only witting to help someone else. I took my ABS Module ONlY, out of the car and open it, I am a Watch repear man with exprience in electonics. The module is indeed a enginering dessater. The chips and conections are unlike any other boards are put togher with tiny strands of wires(smaller than strand of hair)and there is a very soft Jelly like substance over it(Here is what I think, Jelly is soft and when you use your breaks everyday and pot wholes are not and help, shake these Jelly in the direction of the motion(Newtons Law)then it will pull on the wires over time untill one or more will break Cousing the symptoms. I fixed mine under 30 power microscope with lots of patient and I mean lots of patient reconecting mine and redo some bad ones. Now it is working great I hope other wires hold up. will be glad to help anyone with suggestions. Saadat

posted by Doug on Feb 06, 2007

I also had the problem with the blinking / beeping ABS light on my 1999 Passat 1.8L Turbo @ about 90K miles. Took it to the dealer. They said all wheel sensors checked out OK and that ABS pressures were OK, but that the ABS control module was not responding. They also said that I should not drive with this condition because the braking system all operates through the ABS system and that my brakes could lock up without warning. They replaced the ABS module for $750 incl. labor. Now all works great.

posted by Brian on Feb 22, 2007

Thanks for the excellent post! Just took my 98 Passat up to the dealership because I, too, am having the same problem with Solid ABS and flashing Brake light. They suggested I replace the ABS module for $800, but after reading all these posts, I am doubting that move. Above, Doug said: "Took it to the dealer. They said all wheel sensors checked out OK and that ABS pressures were OK, but that the ABS control module was not responding." The dealership here told me the same thing. But then I spoke with some car savvy friends and they said they've never heard of an ABS system doing such a thing. I've been driving mine for about a year with the flashing break light and the breaks seem to be functioning fine. Has anyone had the breaks "lock up" as some have suggested is a concern? Cheers, Fitz

posted by JORGE on Mar 10, 2007


posted by Joel on Mar 10, 2007

98 1.8 passat, same problem, going to try the ecu remanufacture. Thanks for advice. Joel

posted by Ana on Mar 22, 2007

I have a 99 Passat. The ABS light in dash always on, the brake light brake lights blink, and 3 beeps - over and over while driving. How can this not be a recall?!!! Too many people have the same problem, no matter how well we took care of our vehicle's maintenance. I've had this problem now for approximately 18 months. I have read all of the postings regarding this problem. What a confusing mess for a person who has no mechanical skills or know-how. There is an answer out there- maybe a disgruntled VW ex-employee will blow the whistle on the dealers' dishonesty. I hope that people continue to describe their experiences, maybe we'll get the answers we need, without a trip to "the poorhouse".

posted by Steve on Mar 26, 2007

I have a 99 Passat with the same problem (ABS light and blinking brake light). The dealer told me it was most likely the ABS module and it would cost $1100. Forget that. I just purchased a replacement ABS unit from a parts seller on ebay for $140 and I'm going to replace the unit myself. Before purchasing I partially removed the existing unit to ensure that I could do it myself. It wasn't too bad and I think it will only be a slight pain. FYI: I don't usually work on cars so I'm speaking from a novice point of view. I found a website to explain how to disconnect the module, but it would be very hard to just remove the module without taking a lot of stuff apart (at least that's what it seems like to me). I decided it would be easier to remove the module and pump and replace the whole unit. Once the module is disconnected you just need to unscrew the hydraulic lines from the pump and it will slide out of it's cradle. Again, I haven't done this yet, but I'm pretty confident that it will work out like that after getting under the hood and seeing for myself. I should receive the part within the next week so I'll repost then to report the outcome. The website I used for partial disassembly instuctions is below.

posted by Patti on Mar 26, 2007

Anyone with a complaint may register faulty ABS light in dash 3 beeps etc.with VW at 1-800-822-8987 (North America), stay on the line until you hear option concerning company recalls and wait to speak to an associate. You will need to have your V.I.N. Recalls are based on the number of complaints to the manufacturer (among other things). Good Luck.

posted by Sabrina on Mar 29, 2007

I too am having the problem of the blinking ABS lights and beeping that is driving me insane. I took it to the dealership and they told me the Anti Lock Brakes are not working but the brakes work fine. They said it would cost $2000 to fix it and that it wasn't worth fixing. The beeping is making me want to trade the car in! I will be calling VW to complain. Maybe we can get a recall eventually!!

posted by cayley on Apr 13, 2007

hey drew - i just wanted to say hi and see how you were doing. hope things are well, you dont seem to post much in your blog :)

posted by Bhag on May 08, 2007

Hello People, I too had simar problem sincelast 5 month. Just Last week I got rid of this ABS problem. Hope it works good for the rest of its life!! It costed me 500 bucks .. No matter its peace or mind to me now.. I initially took it to a authorised VW delear, who asked for $1200.. OOPSS probably they just wanted to strip me.. Mail me if you need any help or info on thsi.. [email protected] I got this corrected in Hartford, CT

posted by Don on May 26, 2007

Having the same problem here as everybody else. Started about 2 weeks ago (right around when it started getting hot ironically enough). 3 beeps and the ABS and brake lights come on. Took it to a garage where they hooked it up to the computer and it came up "electrical short in the dash" and then charged me $40 and said they wouldn't touch it because of VWs notorious electrical history. They said I would have to call a VW dealer. I knew where this was headed. I called 2 dealers and quickly realized I would be raped. One said it would take 2-3 hours just to diagnose (at $100 an hour). I found a reputable garage that is going to look at it in 3 days. I'll sell this car before I dump over a grand into it to make a light stop flashing. I definitely DO want to get to the bottom of this though. The 1st garage said since it said "electrical short in dash" that it was defintely not the module. Any advice would help.

posted by Marius on Jun 21, 2007

**Tito Says: January 9th, 2007 at 5:49 am I’ having a problem with my 95 passat. It sometimes starts and sometimes don’t. Is there a chip or battery in the key that might be causing this problem? *** Did You solved this problem? I have the same problem: it starts, but after few seconds goes down. How to solve this problem? _____

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