It’s been over two years since I upgraded my factory plastic oil pan to a steel unit from USP. I went under the car to shoot footage for its three year anniversary video and discovered that the RTV gasket had been seeping. The leak wasn’t severe enough to drip to the ground; it was just enough to blow a mist all over the lower engine bay. I had already resealed a leaky steel pan on my daughter’s Golf. So, I was not interested in making a routine of removing the pan, scraping away old RTV, and then awaiting the cure time for a new installation. I decided to install an oil pan gasket that’s marketed for the Tiguan and see how it holds up (5500 miles and dry as of this writing). While preparing for the possibility that I may need to go back to the stock pan, I decided to order an ECS Street Shield skid plate with its accompanying brace.
My announcement that I had purchased ECS’s skid plate was met with unexpected criticism. To some, adding a skid plate is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. I disagree. Just in the time that my package was at my home and awaiting installation, at least two GTIs in online discussion groups were sidelined due to cracked oil pans after striking road hazards. Statistically, the odds of cracking a plastic oil pan seem slim. But I’m not willing to risk being unlucky, especially with my demanding driving schedule. Others were quick to declare that the plastic factory oil pan is very tough, even tougher than steel pans, and that an aluminum skid plate will do almost nothing to protect the oil pan. Again, I disagree. Even if a good impact dents or splits the skid plate, guess what that object did NOT hit: the oil pan! In my case, the oil pan is steel. My observations of steel oil pans over the years suggests that they tend to bend, perhaps piercing at a crease and causing a slow leak, but they do not just blow out and dump the entire oil supply in under three seconds.
To be clear, this is not a bash plate to be taken off-road to protect against impacts while rock crawling. This plate is intended to take the initial blow from a chunk of ice or some other debris on the road. I live in a urban area where it’s common to see something on the road, but be in too much traffic to avoid hitting it. It’s amazing what people will put in their trucks or trailers without straps and then expect it to still be there when they reach their destination. Personally, I have had an object bounce under my car (my retired Mk3 Jetta), puncture the body in two places as it ricocheted under the car, and then rupture the fuel tank as it exited to hit someone else. If this pan is able to suffer only one hit, but manages to save the oil pan, then it’s worth the cost if I don’t crack the oil pan, lose my oil, and have the car off the road while awaiting repairs. That’s not to even mention the possibility of my oil causing an accident, the government holding me accountable for a clean-up, or the engine being destroyed, all of which I have seen happen to other motorists.
Adding the tunnel brace/plate was an impulse decision. I was inspired to add the tunnel plate after seeing it featured in ECS’s RallyWagen and its “Slammed Through South America” tour. I don’t expect to tackle a drive like theirs, but I am considering some camping trips that could subject the car to a few rocks on a dirt road. Better safe than sorry. Remember when I said there might be some changes to my pursuits and that I had been intrigued by overlanding and camping? I didn’t do any camping or exploring last year due to other priorities. But I’m still interested in getting the GTI out on a camping trip or two. Yeah, yeah, I can hear it already: “Get a truck!” It’s not time yet. 😉
Installation of the skid plates is fairly straightforward. The brace, however, is another challenge. It’s not a terrible chore to install. However, knowing a few things up front makes the job easier to tackle. I have uploaded a video to my YouTube channel and have shared some of my own mistakes while doing my install. Check it out and see what you think. I’ve also shared some photos with descriptions of my mistakes in an album below. Yes, the plate/brace combination is expensive. But it’s good insurance and peace of mind in areas where unexpected debris can ruin a day. Oddly enough, there is an OEM option available that’s intended for the Alltrack. It’s tougher than the stock plate and lighter than the aluminum plate. I think it’s easier and faster to remove/install. Unfortunately, this product’s availability was so new when I was shopping that I wasn’t aware of its existence. Still, I tend to believe that the aluminum unit, with its front brace that ties to the car’s frame rail, is more durable. Also, the matching tunnel brace extends protection to just under the back seat.
Is it necessary? I hope not. But I’ll be glad to have it if I ever hit something that winds up under the car.
Ready to Rally,
Hi Scott – Your content is wonderful. Keep it coming!
Now that Virginia has had some weeks of actual summer weather have you noticed any evidence of heat causing issues with the tunnel being mostly closed up?
Thanks, Chris! I just returned from an 1100-mile trip, pulling the trailer through the mountains. I’ve seen no evidence of excessive heat build-up. It’s hard to see in the rear-facing photo, but there is a vent cut into the tunnel brace. See the forward-facing photo for a look. In short, there is some airflow through the tunnel at highway speeds. Thanks for visiting.