Volkswagen owners: What you need to do in wake of emissions scandal

December 15, 2015 11:54 AM

No matter what vehicle you drive, you've surely heard how Volkswagen cheated on emissions-control in their diesels.

Emissions 40 times the allowed amounts
The scandal has shocked the world. VW set up certain of its models so that the vehicles could detect when an emissions test was underway. At those times, the machine would produce emissions within regulatory limits. But once the vehicle's sensors showed the test was over, it switched the diesel back to a mode that sent 40 times the legal limit of ozone-depleting nitrogen oxides out the tailpipe.

"If you drive an affected vehicle, you don't have to do anything yet."

Why did the (formerly) trusted automaker set up such an elaborate cheat? The whole story hasn't yet been told, but altered vehicles got better gas mileage and peppier performance.

Sales of VWs are down 15 percent in the U.S.
VW has already begun to be punished in the marketplace. The company's world-wide sales fell in November, off more than 2 percent from last year, the Wall Street Journal reported. The impact has been more intense here in America, where VW sales plummeted more than 15 percent.

The affected models have been pulled from the lots for 2016 and in most cases it's verboten for dealers to sell 2015 and pre-certified used VWs that have the emissions-test circumvention system.

I drive one of these things. What do I do?
That's all well and good. But what if you own one of the models in question? Consumer Reports, the buyer-advocacy organization, has a detailed break-down of what it means.

First, here's a list of all the models that, as of this writing, are part of the scandal. It includes some non-VW nameplates which have VW engines:


  • A3 (2010-2015)
  • A6 Quattro (2014-2016)
  • A7 Quattro (2014-2016)
  • A8/A8L (2014-2016)
  • Q5 (2014-2016)
  • Q7 (2013-2015)


  • Cayenne (2014-2016)


  • Beetle, Beetle Convertible (2012-2015)
  • Golf (2010-2015)
  • Golf SportWagen (2015)
  • Jetta, Jetta SportWagen (2009-2015)
  • Passat (2012-2015)
  • Touareg (2013-2016)

First step: Sit tight
If you drive one of these vehicles, there's nothing you have to do immediately. The next step, according to Consumer Reports, is that VW will announce a recall. That hasn't happened yet, but when it does, the emissions-test avoiding systems would be removed by VW at no cost to you. It's highly unlikely VW would buy back the affected vehicles outright, however.

The fix for 2015 models should be pretty straight-forward. A software update will probably be all that is needed. For later model years, however, the fix is expected to be more complex.

Class-action suit preparations are underway
Separate from the narrow issue of making the offending Volkswagens legal to drive on American highways is whether folks who bought one will be compensated for being lied to. Motions are already in the works for an expected class action suit. One group of VW drivers is campaigning to have Kenneth Feinberg, who has managed compensation funds for victims of high-profile incidents including the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and BPs massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, tapped as a trusted figure to administer any settlement.

And even if you don't drive one of the VWs with the emissions-test avoiding alterations, your vehicle will have to pass an emissions test to pass inspection. Scheduled maintenance at your local auto repair franchise can help make sure that when the time comes to get a new sticker, your ride will pass muster.

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