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Hi all. I’m new to the group and looking for some input quickly so I can figure out how to handle things from here with VW.
What happened: I pulled into a full service gas station and put my Atlas (2019, 11,500 miles) in park. Auto stop/start shut off the engine but I can’t remember if I hit the button to turn the car off completely. The attendant took a while to come over, so I’m assuming the car would have automatically shut off completely in the 3-4 minutes before he started pumping? I asked them to fill it regular and it was nearly empty. My two young children were in the back. The attendant filled the tank and replaced the cap and went to run my card. When he came back, I went to sign the slip and there was a LOUD explosion. I had not turned the car back on. I saw white smoke from under the hood and immediately jumped out to get the kids out of their car seats in case there was a fire. People came running to see if we were ok and the mechanics from the gas station shop popped the hood and they said the air intake exploded. They were shocked it had happened. I had it towed to the nearest VW dealership and they will look at it in the morning.
What could have caused this? What are my rights if I want out of my lease under these circumstances? Any tips for approaching this with VW corporate? This is the third issue (this being the most serious) I have had in one year. I no longer feel safe in this vehicle and want out. Even if they repair everything under warranty, I’ve lost my trust and don’t want to put my kids in it. Any advice would be much appreciated. Thank you!
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That's an odd place for that to happen. That is technically a pre-chamber before the air intake manifold (which is actually the grey/black tubes criss-crossing the top of the engine with the V6 and VW badges, which feed the individual cylinders).

The following are purely speculations.

IF THE ENGINE WAS IDLING AT THE TIME:
Related to being in a gas station, one way this was triggered might be that a tiny bit of yet-combusting air/fuel mixture backfired out the intake manifold (the most likely source of ignition, though some other spark could have triggered it there) and mixed with gasoline fumes which were being drawn into the idling engine (which would continuously draw in air while running).

If that is, indeed, what happened, then you probably will not do well trying to blame VW. It could be argued (and plausible deniability is all they may need) that you were not following protocol by having your car running while fueling.

IF THE ENGINE WAS NOT RUNNING AT THE TIME:
All bets are off. A combustible substance would have to have been at least partially ingested to that pre-manifold chamber and some ignition source trigger it. The remnants of that combustible substance (vapor or otherwise) are the white smoke you saw. No idea how it got there, what it is (gasoline? something else?), or what triggered the ignition.

In this scenario, VW will hopefully try to take care of you and make it right.
 

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Sure seems like it may have been running/started during fuelling and gas vapor was drawn in and exploded.
 
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