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Is Volkswagen On The Hook For Repairing Your VW's Faulty Emissions System?

If you have tuned into the news at all within the past month, then chances are you have heard or read at least the basic outline of the recent Volkswagen emissions scandal. On September 18th, 2015, the company was issued a notice of violation of the Clean Air Act by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. According to the EPA, Volkswagen deliberately programmed TDI (turbocharged direct injection) diesel engines to activate certain important emissions controls only during laboratory emissions testing.

This intentionally faulty programming prompted the vehicles' emissions systems to put out only an acceptable amount of nitrogen oxide during regulatory testing. However, once the vehicles had successfully passed this emissions test, they would produce up to 40 times more nitrogen oxide under normal driving conditions. This amount far exceeds U.S. emissions standards. It is estimated that around eleven million vehicles worldwide are affected, including 500,000 in the United States. The faulty program affects vehicles manufactured between model years 2009 and 2015.

In 2014, the International Council on Clean Transportation ordered a study on regional emissions discrepancies. This study included data from 3 different sources on 15 vehicles. Five scientists working out of West Virginia University have been credited with detecting additional emissions during live road tests on two out of three diesel vehicles. Data from additional sources was also provided, and the ICCT's findings were presented to the California Air Resources Board in 2014.

A formal EPA investigation was launched, and Volkswagen was also subject to multiple regulatory investigations worldwide. The company's stock value took a nose dive, decreasing by a third in the days immediately following the initial news of VW's emissions system scandal. The company's CEO resigned and several other key figures were suspended. Now, Volkswagen plans to spend upwards of 7 billion dollars to rectify the situation. The damage to the company's reputation, however, may take a lot more than that to repair.

Volkswagen plans to refit affected vehicles with properly functioning emissions systems, systems that will fully comply with EPA (and other international) pollution standards. Unfortunately, since the issue is not deemed life threatening or even hazardous to drivers, the U.S. government is not requiring that VW owners driving affected vehicles visit their dealer for an emissions system upgrade. In fact, despite the increased pollution that the faulty emissions system entails, many VW owners have expressed little interest in returning their cars to be refitted with a more accurate emissions apparatus.

But why? Pollution's bad, right? Yeah, well, so are high gas prices. Or such is the argument of those VW owners who plan to opt out of the emissions system refit. These VW owners pride themselves on their cars' good gas mileage, and if the emissions system is repaired that gas mileage is not going to be so good, after all. So although the scandal has raised increased awareness on the issue of pollution related to vehicle emissions, whether this “new” awareness will lead to material changes on the part of drivers and auto makers remains to be seen.

If you are a VW owner whose vehicle is affected by the company's emissions system shortcomings, Volkswagen is on the hook for your repairs. (It would be adding insult to injury, after all, if the company asked trusting vehicle owners to repair a flaw that was the direct result of their own shady behavior.) But because the flaw that was discovered does not directly threaten vehicle owners' health or well-being, there is probably not going to be any type of class action lawsuit in the works. At least not yet. Perhaps the defenders of mother earth can throw something together. In the meantime, it seems like Volkswagen upper management has enough to worry about with a variety of worldwide governmental agencies breathing down its neck over the scandal.