Garage Talk: FSI Refresh

So fresh and so clean.

What a difference a decade makes, eh? 10 years ago, the Vortex forums were going crazy with the then-new mkV Golf & Jetta, with their 2.0T FSI engine. More hp and torque than the outgoing 24v VR6 in the mkIV may not have swayed the “purists” early on, but there was no denying the awesome performance of the newest generation GTI and GLI.

What we didn’t know then was how much potential for huge gains could be found with simple software upgrades. Remember when you were happy to pay $500 for a “chip” that got you an extra 20-30hp if you combined it with a $200 intake and $750 exhaust? Well that same EPROM update turned into ~40hp and 75lb/ft torque gains for that same $500 from industry leaders like GIAC, Unitronic, and the ever-ubiquitous APR.

Over the next few years, VW saw tremendous increases in sales volume due almost primarily to the mod-ability of the mkV—and later B6 Passat—models. Fast forward to today, and we’re now two generations later. So what does that mean for the mighty mkV? Well now they, and other FSI-powered models, are going for cheap on the second-hand market. And seeing as how we’ve always been a fan of great cars (and being cheap – ed.) we thought we’d buy a third-hand FSI-powered car go over the common repairs, upgrades, and preventative maintenance that any prospective buyer should consider.

We started out by trying to find the right car—in this case an 80,000-mile B6 Passat Wagon (10 years later also means we need to haul things like kids and furniture). It had a fairly well documented service history from the dealership that included things like recalls and basic maintenance. But as any good Vortexer knows, it’s that 80k mark that means either ditch the car or drop some coin on PMs. We, the latter, decided to begin our work with a lot of help from our friends at ECS Tuning, and their extensive parts catalogue.

We think the ‘B’ stands for boogeyman

First, there’s the dreaded “BPY cam follower” issue. A known, and well-documented potentially catastrophic failure-in-the-making, we were all too familiar with the horror stories of cam lobes wearing through the follower and into the high-pressure fuel pump piston. Naturally, we planned to inspect the follower, but what to do if it needs replacement? We weren’t keen on reassembling the car with a faulty component any more than we were excited to leave the car sitting for a few days. So we proactively searched for a new one, knowing full well that even if we didn’t need to replace it right away, we’d at least have a spare.

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Turns out that simply replacing the follower is OK, but there’s an o-ring that should be swapped as well, and the bolts that hold the HPFP should be considered a wear item as well. Luckily, ECS knows this to be the case, and sells not only the cam follower itself, but a complete kit with everything we needed. About 20min later we had a new follower in place…or, more accurately, we would have if we hadn’t created another problem.

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VWvortex tip of the day: when removing the plug on the top of the HPFP, be careful. Because if you crack the solenoid—which we did with our ham-fists—it is not a part that can be purchased by itself. So even though we didn’t need to replace our fuel pump due to cam follower wear, we still needed to replace the damn thing. A very sheepish phone call to ECS, and thankfully it was before 4pm and they were able to overnight a new HPFP to the Vortex office the next day.

Carbon fiber good—carbon build-up bad…

FSI engines, like almost all powerplants with direct-injection, can be prone to carbon build-up on the intake valves. Couple that with oil vapors recirculating from the PCV valve (another unit that can fail over time), and the ‘possibility’ of carbon build-up turns into an ‘inevitability.’ With just under 80k miles on our engine, we knew that to keep it running in its best trim, we’d need to do two things: first, clean the intake valves of any gunk that’s built up so far, and second, prevent oil vapors from contaminating them again.

After removing the intake manifold, however, we were extremely happy to see that our intake valves were relatively clean. This meant we could simply use a dental pick to chip away what little build-up there was, and didn’t have to spend much more than an afternoon under the hood.

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But to prevent it from getting worse, and so we wouldn’t have to do this again very often, we decided a catch can was the best solution for the potential PCV issue and to prevent more build-up. Now there are literally dozens of different catch can options on the market, and they do pretty much the same thing: crankcase pressure is vented through one hose, it hits a metal plate and condenses, then the pressure goes through another hose and back into the intake manifold. The differences between the brands comes down to materials, mounting, appearance, and, occasionally, features.

We knew we wanted the kit to have an easily-removable reservoir so that we could drain it periodically—something that’s even more important in the winter months, as it fills with water and freezes pretty regularly. We also wanted hoses with threaded fittings, rather than simple rubber hoses & worm-drive clamps. A dipstick to check the level wasn’t necessary, but nice to have, and an overall appearance to match the rest of our engine bay is another bonus.

Well it turns out ECS Tuning’s in-house unit met all of that criteria, and while we were doing our cam follower maintenance, it was made all the more easier by removing the PCV plate at the same time. Taking less than 30min to install, and utilizing all factory mounting points and hardware, we had our future carbon build-up fears completely assuaged.

Timing is everything.

The third item on our ‘must-have’ list was less about the car having an FSI engine, and more to do with the fact that it’s simply an 80,000-mile Volkswagen. Timing belts are one of those things that nobody likes shelling out the money for, but it’s far less expensive than what happens if it breaks. We knew that VW has recently updated their timing belt maintenance schedule to a longer interval than 80k, but we figured that since we were under the hood already, and the car could use a coolant flush before winter, we’d max out the Vortex credit card and just get it done.

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It turns out; it’s not that expensive. Or at least it doesn’t have to be; as ECS Tuning has an entire kit—assembled in-house—that has all of the parts needed for a full timing belt/water pump replacement. Of course, finding the funds for the parts is a lot easier than finding a friend to help you do the work, but that’s another issue we won’t get into.

The last bit of our ignition system update was an easy one, and yet another group of wear items common to all Volkswagens: ignition coils. Rather than wait for the inevitable ‘check engine’ light due to coil failure, we figured a proactive replacement at 80k seemed a good idea. Even better, ECS has the “red top” coils from the Audi R8 available. Never mind their fancy appearance, these are known to be more robust and longer lasting than the OE units, and ECS has a kit that includes new spark plugs as well. Just a couple of minutes to replace them while the engine cover was already off, and now we have peace of mind for at least another few years.

Stay tuned for the second part of our FSI update series, where we tackle the rest of the potential issues, and the last of our preventative maintenance schedule.