Dieselgate brings one of the largest settlements in US history.
If you own or lease a Volkswagen or Audi diesel vehicle, there’s good news and bad news about the US government settlement for cheating on strict US emissions tests, announced in June.
The settlement’s a biggie – $15 billion – one of the largest in US history, most of it to pay for buying back or fixing nearly 500,000 affected vehicles in the US. The settlement includes nearly $5 billion for projects to reduce pollution and to promote zero-emission vehicles, such as electric and hydrogen. VW faces “dieselgate” fines in other countries, too, but let’s talk just about the United States.
In announcing the settlement, US Deputy Attorney-General Sally Yates described it “one of the most flagrant violations of our country’s consumer and environmental laws in US history”.
So how were these tests rigged?
Simply, VW rigged the cars with so-called “defeat device” software designed to recognize whether the car was being driven normally or being tested. Fuel economy and emissions tests are normally done on a platform, with rigid straight steering at certain speeds for certain lengths of time. That’s quite different from normal driving. When the software recognized a test situation, the engine ran cleaner, hiding the real and true emission and fuel economy levels.
In reality, Yates said, the cars were pumping out up to 40 times the legal levels of nitrous oxide into our air.
Which models are affected
Only models with 2.0 liter TDI engines are included in the settlement, and only these models and years:
- 2013-2015 VW Beetle
- 2009-2015 VW Jetta
- 2010-2015 VW Golf
- 2012-2015 VW Passat
- 2010-2013 and 2015 Audi A3
Good news, bad news
The good news is that you have choices – sell your car back to Volkswagen, fix it or keep the car as is. The bad news is that it’s not an easy choice, since it depends on your personal situation.
VW must buy back the vehicles, including some Audi models, for what the vehicle was worth before the “dieselgate” scandal hit the headlines in September 2015. That’s good, because they are worth far less today because of the emissions scandal. Values are based on that month’s edition of the NADA Used Car Guide, which you can – and should – check yourself.
But if you sell it back, you’ll have to buy a new car. That could be bad news for your monthly budget, not to mention all the time it takes to research, test drive and haggle a good price for a new car.
The buy back requirement also applies to leased vehicles – VW has to terminate leases. But then you have to lease a replacement to get you to work and the kids to soccer practice.
Your second choice is to wait for VW to fix your car. The bad news is that there’s no timeline for this yet. Actually, there’s no timeline yet for the buy back or lease termination, either.
VW needs to conduct tests to determine how the fix would affect fuel economy and performance, and let customers know so you can make an informed decision about what to do. Then, either VW or your dealer has to prioritize which make and model year gets fixed first. Theoretically, you could wait a year or more for the software and engine fix. Dealers also are waiting to find out how VW will pay them, and what to do with all the returned cars, such as sell them for scrap.
Owners, leasers and fixers also get a one-time $5,000 cash payment, which can help make your decision easier or more complicated. But none of this is happening soon, including the cash payment, so check the VW website, your dealer website, and your mailbox regularly for updates.
Opting out of the settlement
A third choice is to opt out of the settlement entirely, and walk away from the sell or fix deal and keep your car – knowing it is a major polluter. If you opt out, you also walk away from the $5,000 cash payment.
Take the buy-back deal, most especially if your “dieselgate” VW or Audi also contains one of the Takata airbags currently under recall. Use the $5,000 as a down payment on a new vehicle, diesel or not, VW or not. Just make sure your new wheels don’t have a Takata airbag.
If you own or lease one of the affected vehicles, we want to hear from you. Tell us what you think about VW, what your dealer has told you, which of the three “dieselgate” options you plan to take.