This is an issue I've had off and on for, embarrassingly, at least a year:

On misty or wet mornings, everything starts out fine but, a few minutes into the drive (like clockwork. I even know the lights it will happen at), the Check Engine light will flash for 3 seconds and the car starts to struggle as if it was about to stall if I am going slowly or stopped. Driving again, it goes away. Approach another stoplight, hello car shudder. This goes on until about 10 minutes in once the engine temp hits the perfect 90 in the middle. Boom, problem 'solved'.

I would love to know what I should be looking at to fix here. I had previously been told to start the engine while cold late at night in the dark, to look for visible arcing that disappears once the car heats up. Alas, could not find anything. Granted, VWs hide all the important bits, which further complicates things.

Local VW dealers are scammy, so I'm searching for an out of town one to replace them. That said, I'd love to at least have a clue going in so that I'll be less likely to get ripped off again.

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    Is this the 2.0L or the VR6 engine? – Sumo Aug 9 '11 at 3:50
  • Did you ever get an answer on this question? I have the exact same problem, but it does not have to be wet out side, so I do not believe the comments about water being the issue are correct. I think it is a bad sensor. It only happens when it is cold in the morning, the car starts fine, idle fine and then about six blocks away it starts to almost stall, kind of like when the fuel pump goes bad, but that is not the problem. When the car is warm there is no problem at all. It is very odd. I thought it was one of the coolant sensors in the coolant flange, but replacing them did not fix the proble – user6354 Jul 2 '14 at 2:05
  • moisture is the enemy of all electrical systems. – user22381 Sep 14 '16 at 6:10

Though I may not be correct, have you tried opening your hood and using a spray bottle of water on your spark plug wires? Lightly mist around where the wires connect on both ends of the wires, and maybe a few squirts around on the wires themselves. If the vehicle stutters, it may just be that the wires need to be replaced...

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You didn't mention which engine is in your Jetta, but the Mk IV VWs, especially the VR6 engine, are known to have brittle ignition coil housings that crack and admit water, which leads to misfires.

After the engine has run for a while, it burns off this moisture and it starts running fine again. Some VWs were subject to a recall to fix this issue.

Based on my experience with these cars, the coil would be the first place I'd look. Your description is textbook for a cracked ignition coil housing.

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  • I also had one of these and have had to replace a coil because of this exact same situation. The cracked coil is a well-known problem on VW message boards. – JPhi1618 Apr 29 '16 at 19:54

First step, I would take the car to a less annoying shop to ask them to read the OBD code - I would assume that there is one to read if the CEL has been on or flashing. Almost any shop will read the code for you at for a nominal / free charge.

If you would like to know the information on your own, the code readers are common items on Amazon.

I would get that piece of information first before you try anything else.

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I have a 2001 Pontiac Sunfire that HAD a similar issue. After having been looked at by far too many people, one mechanic figured out how to recreate the issue by pouring water on a certain part of the engine while running (sorry I'm not sure where exactly), but even that didn't shed much light on the issue since it was supposed to be acceptable to do that.

Eventually all they could come up with was that the fuel injectors needed cleaning. Even though this seemed unlikely, I went with it because nobody else could come up with anything and they needed it anyways. It fixed the issue!!! Perhaps they bumped something doing it. It seems like complete voodoo to me, but it did in fact fix the issue.

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I own a 2003 2.0 Jetta which has the same issues. Upon further study and inspection I find that when there is moisture in the air, either raining or dense fog, the car either will be hard to start or will not start at all.

When I pop the hood I notice that ALL of the electrical components in the car have condensation on them. For example, even though the battery cover is on and completely shelters the battery from any water contacting it condensation forms on both terminal connections - a lot of it, enough so that its almost completely soaked. So, I checked the alternator and starter, and found the same thing. Thus, obviously, the rough idle. I cannot ever tell which one is the culprit so I wipe them all down and wait.

I cannot even use this car if it has been left out overnight in the rain at all. It will take a full day to dry out and operate fine. For some reason, the car collects moisture on all of it's important electrical components and even if they are under cover the evaporation from the ground and subsequent heating and cooling during the night is enough to cause this to happen. I'm not sure how one can correct this. Look and observe for yourself and see if it is doing the same.

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You've almost certainly got a dodgy sensor somewhere. As Bob Cross says, the best way of locating this is to get the OBD-2 code from the ECU, which should tell you which one it is.

I am surprised that it only starts a few minutes in, most such problems I have come across start almost straight away, then go away once the engine warms up. What is happennig is that water is getting into the sensor, or the wires doing to it, and causing it to report an incorrect warning - Once the engine warms up, the water evaporates, so no more problem. If you can identify the sensor in question (I would guess Airflow, fuel or crank position), you may well find that there is a rubber seal or cover that has perished to allow condensation in.

Disconnecting each suspect sensor and cleaning the contacts with a bit of fine sandpaper may well help too, as chances are the contacts will have corroded under the condesation.

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The ones that are having problems with wet weather issues, is your bottom splash shield missing? That will cause a lot of issues, that is one of the reasons they are there.

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