VW Atlas years to avoid — most common problems
Find out about the VW Atlas years to avoid and make an informed car-buying decision.
In 2018, Volkswagen revealed its latest SUV model – the VW Atlas. The car had a seating capacity for seven people and there’s also the sportier Cross Sport version with five seats and a more aggressive exterior design. Just like the recent Touareg models, the Atlas offered plenty of interior space, premium design, and a decent selection of engines.
All these features made the Atlas a desirable option, especially with a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that had decent fuel economy and great power output. However, there are some driver reports complaining about the VW Atlas years to avoid, so we’ll take a look at those in this guide.
Why you can trust REREV’s advice on which car model years to avoid: Our car experts look at official data, ask real drivers what they think, and talk to experienced mechanics to make sure our list is useful. This reliable info can make buying a car easier for you. Want to know how we do it? Find out more about our research methodology.
Most common VW Atlas problems
We are not saying that the Atlas is an unreliable model, but there are plenty of issues that stuck with it over the production years, even though it debuted recently in 2018. With that in mind, we’ll decide on the value of the model and its reliability after going through all the issues and the problematic model years.
One of the most common problems is the matter of squeaky brakes and grinding noises coming from the brakes. Besides the bothersome noises from the braking system, there are several other common issues including suspension issues caused by front wheel bearings and leaks in the fuel delivery system.
There are also issues with the airbag control module, and all of these might make the Atlas seem like an unreliable car. Hold that thought for now, at least until we explore these issues in more detail and give you an overview of what you can expect out of each of the problems that plagued the model.
Problems with the brakes
Among the frequent issues that came with the VW Atlas, there are some problems with the brakes that stand out from the bunch. These seem to be pretty common in almost every model, and it all started with the 2018 Atlas.
While the squeaking and grinding noises from the brakes can be bothersome on their own, the noise is just the beginning of the problems. The issue is mostly caused by the unlubricated caliper guide pins. On top of that, the matter of bracket bolts is not securely placed which may lead to the calipers moving and reduction of the braking performance of the car. There were several recalls to deal with the braking system problem from 2018 to 2020.
Besides the issues caused by braking system malfunctions, we’ve seen quite a few reports on faulty suspension parts. These mostly include faulty front wheel bearings. To be precise, loose bolts may cause separation of the wheel bearings and that leads to a loss of control while driving.
Besides the loose wheel bearing bolts, the 2018-2019 Atlas also had issues with fractured rear coil springs. This can be a big issue not only for the vehicle’s suspension but also for the tires since fractures may rupture the tire tread and therefore put the driver and passengers at risk.
Fuel delivery system leaks
Leaks within the fuel lines are quite troubling and sadly VW Atlas also had a few issues with these. Some owners have reported issues with the leaks directly from the fuel tank due to thin tank walls. To make things worse, fuel leaks near the source of ignition led to fire hazards, so that’s why it’s crucial to have the fuel delivery lines and the tank checked by a trusted mechanic when buying a used Atlas.
It’s a good thing that this issue was mostly present on 2018 Atlas vehicles and there’s been a recall by Volkswagen in which the dealerships replaced faulty fuel tanks free of charge. The least you can do based on this is get a model that got the tank replaced and that will cut the worries about fire hazards due to leaky fuel lines and tank.
Airbag inflator module faults
Finally, the Atlas was affected by faulty airbag inflator modules and this often causes the SRS light to pop up on the dashboard. This warning showed up since the faulty module could lead to improper passenger’s side airbag inflation and pose a safety risk for the passenger seat occupants.
As you may have probably guessed based on previous issues, Volkswagen dealt with the issue through a recall in 2018. It’s still a major downside if you get a car that hasn’t been through the recall, so we recommend that you check the airbag system with a help of a trusted mechanic before the purchase.
Which VW Atlas years to avoid?
Based on the mentioned problems, we can now move on to the most problematic years of the VW Atlas. While the car hasn’t been in production for too long, having in mind that there’s only one generation so far, there are still some model years that are reported to be less reliable than others.
It also depends on the mileage since low-mileage models are unlikely to develop some of these problems before the certain mileage limit. Still, we’ll take a look at the first-gen Atlas models that you should avoid based on mentioned problems.
First-generation VW Atlas (2018-2019 model years)
The first generation of the Atlas started with a few bumps since the 2018 model wasn’t the most reliable SUV out there. It’s still the worst Atlas model in terms of reliability today, so it’s best to skip this one even if it’s in mint condition with low mileage.
Some of the major problems that affected the reliability of this model include fuel line leaks and poor fuel tank assembly, unlubricated brake caliper pins, and airbag inflator issues.
Drivers have also complained about the seatbelt buckle assembly for the passenger’s side anchor and suspension problems caused by fractured coil springs. Overall, these issues started showing up as the vehicle passed around 60,000 miles, and the 2019 model didn’t make things much better.
It also faced a lot of critics due to side window airbags and problems with the exterior lights, along with fuel tank assembly issues that repeated once again. On top of that, there was a 2020 recall that affected 2018 and 2019 models that failed to comply with driving safety standards due to problems with seatbelts and airbags. So, if you wish to get the most reliable and safest Atlas model, we suggest you start looking at the 2020 model.
Best VW Atlas years
While the early production stage was a bit bumpy for the Atlas, the situation quickly got better with the 2020 and 2021 models. Even with low-mileage examples, the problems of the previous models were quite visible, and we made sure to give you a brief overview of the best models through this list:
- 2020 VW Atlas
- 2021 VW Atlas
- 2022 VW Atlas
The 2020 model received the least complaints by far, making it the best Atlas model out there. You can rest assured that the safety issues which came along with the 2018 and 2019 models were eradicated by this time, along with the fuel leak situation.
Another positive thing about the 2020 model is that it received an extremely low amount of complaints, as proven by the NHTSA reports. This doesn’t only relate to the low-mileage ones, but also the models that have passed more than 120,000 miles. You can also see that the later models had more complaints than this one, so it’s the safest option. Either way, you can also go with 2021, 2022, or the recent 2023 model as a top pick.
Is VW Atlas worth buying?
The VW Atlas is worth buying as a used car as long as you avoid the problematic 2018 and 2019 models. These came with a few issues that you shouldn’t have to deal with as an owner of a relatively new high-quality SUV. The Atlas is by no means a premium model, but it’s still much better than cost-effective solutions and such problems shouldn’t be happening considering the value of the car.
So, we wanted to invest extra effort to bring you all the good and bad things about the model in the hope to help you avoid the worst model years.
Which Atlas model is the best?
The 2020 Atlas is the best model yet since it received the least driver complaints.
Is Atlas reliable or unreliable?
The Atlas is a reliable car and it only has a few issues in the 2018 model year that got resolved through recalls. Still, if you wish to get the most reliable Atlas model out there, we suggest you go with the 2020 or the following model years.
Are there any issues with the Volkswagen Atlas?
Volkswagen Atlas had a few issues in the early production stage including fuel leaks, airbag inflator module faults, and suspension problems.