Curbside Garage: Changing Spark Plugs On A 2014 VW Passat – What Newer Car Maintenance Work Do You Still Do Yourself?

Despite newer cars requiring far less maintenance than their predecessors, the need still exists.  With our 2014 Volkswagen Passat having been in our tutelage since purchasing it new in September 2014, it has reached an age and mileage in which a few items should be addressed.  I prefer to be proactive when it comes to maintenance as it tends to be cheaper.

Today, we are changing the spark plugs, a once simple job that no longer necessarily is.  VW recommends a 50,000 mile change on Passats, and other models such as the Jetta, having the 1.8T that came about during the 2014 model year.  The odometer was reading 57,846 miles so the time was quite ripe.

So let’s get started…

The engine cover is attractive but needs to go.  Four pegs that slide into rubber grommets hold it down.  It’s easily lifted off the top of the engine although the upper right (when viewing the engine) was a bit contrary.

The coils powering the spark plugs are toward the firewall.  Each has a ground wire held down with a 10 mm bolt.  Removal of these is the easiest part of the entire job.

The electrical connectors to the coil also need to be removed.  To better facilitate this, there are two zip-ties to cut that are holding down the wiring harness; one is near the coils, the other toward the right front door.

There is also a clip hooked to a hose on the radiator side of the coils that should be slid off to better allow movement.

Release the tab on each coil and then carefully slide the assembly away.  With the zip-ties having been cut, one can easily rotate the wiring assembly out of the way.  As is typical for some jobs, the disjoining of the electricity to the coils is easier said than done.  There is always that one contrarian coil, which in this case was the one nearest the driver’s side.

Those 10 mm studs holding the coil down need to be removed.  Like the ground wire, it is an easy removal.

Recommendation Number 1:  Keep the studs and coils in order so they can be put back in the same holes.  I did not come to this recommendation the hard way; doing so just makes sense.

Now is where the fun and party tricks start.

Each coil has a rubber boot attached to it.  The boot contains a metal spring that connects the coil to the spark plug.  My hoping the boot would simply lift out with the coil was some combination of naivety and wishful thinking mixed with a dash of optimism.  Pulling on the coil yielded nothing but mega stretching of the boot.  That was not desirable and I did not care to purchase more parts should something rip.

Analyzing things, I ever so carefully inserted a flathead screwdriver at the junction of the coil and the boot to separate the two.  It took some finagling of the coil to make this separation.

This also provided the unwelcome sight of rubber boots stuck in the spark plug hole.  The boots were quite happy being there and were in no mood to vacate the premises.  So, like company having overstayed their welcome, a little nudging was in order.

Recommendation Number 2:  Have compressed air readily available.

Thank heaven for cheap, crappy air compressors.  They can be invaluable.

A shot of compressed air down into each boot popped them right out.  Again, I was completing the replacement of one spark plug before ever removing the coil servicing the next cylinder.  I didn’t want to get ahead of myself.  I do that often enough as it is.

Don’t forget to remove the spring left inside the spark plug well.  It is easily placed back into the boot, with a little push by a screwdriver (from the bottom) placing it where it needs to be without falling out when replacing the boot in the spark plug well.

Recommendation Number 3:  Use a torque wrench!

I will admit it; I am accustomed to replacing spark plugs on cast iron American V8 engines which usually don’t seem to care about being torqued to any specified amount.  Only one other time in my life have I torqued down spark plugs and that was, ironically, when I replaced the spark plugs on the 5.4 liter V8 in our 2000 Ford Econoline.  I had heard something about 5.4 liter engines, puking spark plugs, and improper torquing.

The recommendation is to torque the plugs of the VW to 18 to 20 ft-lbs; my torque wrench is in in-lbs, so one must use some math and unit conversions at this point.  Again, this is not the hardest job of the day.  Simply multiply your desired torque in ft-lbs by twelve to convert to in-lbs.  I used a setting of 225 in-lbs, which is 18.75 ft-lbs.  Right in the sweet spot.

What plugs did I use?  Volkswagen equipped this Passat with NGK brand plugs.  It received NGK plugs as replacements.

Here’s where some sleuthing and shopping around comes into play.  There are some parts I prefer to get in person versus online.  So I checked the websites of a few local auto parts stores.  Of those who had these plugs in stock, Store AAP wanted $16.50 per plug.  Store N (which would be at home in the Napa Valley) wanted $11.75 for the exact same thing (part number, description, etc).  I scurried to Store N.

All the outgoing plugs had aged uniformly.  They didn’t look horrible but were obviously used.  Installing them and buttoning everything back up was much easier than getting it all apart.  The job took about 2.5 to 3.0 hours.  Not terrible, although were I do this again it would take considerably less time.

I am reaching the point where I can envision going to the VW mechanic when the clock hits 100k.  And it is already scheduled to go there later this week for a transmission fluid and filter change.

But to my question:  What have you personally undertaken in maintaining your current late model cars?