By on March 9, 2016

Car exhaust (Image: JT/Flickr)

There’s a chance that older Volkswagen TDI models branded as pollution monsters in the ongoing diesel emissions scandal could keep rolling along the avenues and alleyways of the Golden State.

On March 8, California’s air regulator floated the idea that diesels that can’t fully be brought back into compliance with state laws might get a pass, according to Reuters.

Tod Sax, chief of the California Air Resources Board’s enforcement division, admitted that bringing every one of the state’s approximately 82,000 afflicted diesels up to code is probably not possible.

“We will have to decide what the best approach is to dealing with these vehicles, and one of the options potentially would be to accept something less than a full fix,” Sax said at a legislative hearing.

Newer TDI models that use the urea-based diesel exhaust fluid AdBlue might be able to get by with software tweaks alone, but older models that rely on lean NOx traps (LNTs) would probably need extensive modifications.

Volkswagen’s legal department has unofficially toyed with the idea of buying back hundreds of thousands of the unfixable diesels, and the company is already snatching them out of pre-owned circulation.

Such a move would be a ray of sunshine for Volkswagen, which is facing a financial storm of declining sales, sky-high recall costs, looming fines and lawsuits.

Still, according to Sax, the company would have to fork over money to California to offset the environmental harm caused by having its somewhat less dirty diesels plying the state’s roadways.

Factoring into CARB’s decision to consider a partial-fix solution was a concern raised at the hearing by a state senator, who worried Volkswagen could sell bought-back vehicles in a foreign market with less stringent regulations.

Earlier this week, Volkswagen admitted to U.S. regulators that they couldn’t meet a March 24 deadline to submit a plan for fixing its 2.0-liter diesel models.

[Image: JT/Flickr]

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51 Comments on “Unfixable Volkswagen Diesels Could Keep Living the California Dream...”


  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Eff that – you make everybody else comply with your BS regulations and picky this or that, but suddenly where there’s a big violation you consider giving out a free pass?

    Nah, VW can buy them back. Return all parties to where they were before, as if the error had not occurred.

    • 0 avatar
      Rick T.

      That’s not how it’s done these days. Nobody goes to jail. Fines, if any, go to the government coffers. The plebs who are affected/damaged get bumpkis.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I think this is more about giving a pass to the people who bought these until a resolution can be reached. It wasn’t their fault that VW defrauded them.

      And that’s only fair, far as I’m concerned. What are they going to do – tell these owners they can’t get their cars plated because they won’t pass inspection?

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        And I’m fine with that part – letting the consumer continue to register them anyway. I read it as letting VW off the hook.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          I don’t think so. The reality is that the affected cars are going to take years to either fix or replace. In the meantime, the problem becomes what to do about the people who bought the cars – they’ll need to pass emissions to stay in compliance with plate renewals and such. I think this is what this story is actually about.

          It’s not the car owners’ fault their cars are messed up. They got defrauded, just like the EPA did.

          VW itself will have to pay up eventually. Hopefully this holds the people who bought the cars as harmless as possible.

    • 0 avatar
      Storz

      Agreed 100%

      So there it is, the rule benders get the rules bent for them by the rule makers.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      Too big to fail.

      looks like size does matter.

    • 0 avatar
      Von

      Too many to regulate.

      They just need to grow a back bone and tell VW to buy them back if they can’t be fixed. Then magically, they would find an engineer that had this brilliant idea all along that he kept all to himself for years because he was kinda shy and all. You know how those pesky engineers are sometimes, definitely not VW’s fault it wasn’t found sooner.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Common sense from CARB? Wow…

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Who cares if VW crushes the buy-back TDIs or ships them to pre emissions Australia? Bafo and Robbie R are already gagging with dirty exempt, EURO 4 diesels still sold new, including those wonder diesel pickups from Thailand and China they rave about.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Agreed. CARB needn’t extend its reach beyond California.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        It’s already too late to keep CARB bottled up in its home state. Several states have adopted the CARB regulations and any changes apply in those states too. Even EPA works with CARB on “rationalizing” regulations/standards with the states that haven’t adopted CARB emissions standards. I wonder if anyone in those state governments even realizes the influence CARB has over them.

  • avatar
    CincyDavid

    I wonder how much pollution is created in building a new car, as opposed to just leaving one with dirty exhaust in circulation. For that matter, how much steel and other commodities are tied up in a new car, vs. keeping the old one running.

    • 0 avatar
      Notadude

      I agree with your thinking, CincyDavid. It seems like a ridiculous waste to have VW take my three year old Golf, which works great, destroy it, then give me another car. If I am truly worried about making the best of this situation, can’t I just keep my car and let VW worry about paying for pollution offsets?

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        It’s something like $18,000 per car in violation, but if you want to pay that for VW, I’m sure they won’t complain. Otherwise, it should be VW’s choice, crush or pay a one-time fine, per car. Or split the difference with VW, as long as it’s paid or “off-road”.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      CincyDavid, the whole reason for CARB emissions regulations is that Southern California has a unique smog problem due to geography and population. Therefore, the proper metric for CARB to evaluate Volkswagen’s fix is the effect on Los Angeles area smog. In my opinion, the win-win solution is for Volkswagen to offer very generous trade-in allowances for California customers who trade in a Diesel Jetta to buy a Jetta hybrid combined with Volkswagen taking steps to remove those diesel Jettas from California. CARB doesn’t care what Volkswagen does to make the pollution leave California. Sending those Jettas to the crusher, Montana, or the 3rd world has the same result.

      • 0 avatar
        wmba

        Yes, that is indeed the point, the LA Basin smog problem from NOx producing ozone. I posted links a few months ago to LIFE magazine photos from the late 1950s showing the smog. Looks worse than present day Beijing or Delhi. People forget.

        Buy ’em back and scrap ’em is the only sane solution. Even new big rigs with generous urea injection produce less NOx, as I’ve also posted on before. The owners deserve compensation just as much as the environment needs them gone.

        • 0 avatar
          golden2husky

          Are the amount of non compliant VW cars in the LA Basin really enough to effect the air quality? Since there are substantial amounts of energy and resources invested in the manufacture of the cars (as mentioned by CincyDavid)it might make sense for the owners to be allowed to continue to register the cars and use them. What should not happen however, is letting any pressure of of VW. The buyers were duped, but VW engineered a deceit. So VW should be hit with crippling fines that impact them for years to come. A severe penalty is needed to prevent such shenanigans in the future. But there is no reason to punish the folks who bought the Volks….

        • 0 avatar
          rpn453

          Scrapping late model vehicles because LA has smog issues is not sane. Instead, send them up here to Western Canada where NOx is a non-issue. I’ll happily give you scrap value for them!

  • avatar
    Fred

    I wonder if the smog inspection station can tell if you have the fix or not?

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      Probably from across the parking lot.

    • 0 avatar
      RogerB34

      California light diesel vehicles 1998 and newer are Snap tested:

      1. Idle Smoke Test – The tailpipe emissions are observed with the vehicle idling for 10 seconds.
      2. Crankcase Smoke Test -The crankcase is observed for smoke for 10 seconds at idle.
      3. BAR Snap Test – The engine will be quickly accelerated between 2,000 – 3,000 rpm. Using the side mirror(s), a technician will watch for excessive exhaust soot. The throttle will be snapped 3 times, with 3 second pauses between snaps. The first snap does not count towards the test, meaning any visible smoke that is emitted on the 1st snap will not conclude in a failure of the test. Any smoke plume that appears 5-15 feet from the tailpipe and lingers for more than 3 seconds on the 2nd or 3rd snap will result in a failure of the test.

      The test technician would not likely be able to tell fix or not fixed by the snap test.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        The “not fixed”, you can tell from a few feet or yards away. There’s a very distinct toxic smell, that will make your eyes water and you’ll gag if you stand there enough.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    It’s a variation on “If you owe a guy $100 and you can’t pay, you have a problem. If you owe him $1 million and you can’t pay, he has a problem.”

  • avatar
    b534202

    “Still, according to Sax, the company would have to fork over money to California to offset the environmental harm caused by having its somewhat less dirty diesels plying the state’s roadways.”

    After dicking around for 6 months, they finally say what they wanted from VW right from the beginning. Yeah, we don’t care if you fix them or not, we just want $$$.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      You expected a more altruistic goal?

      Its all about the Benjamins

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Let’s play a game of Walk In the Other Guy’s Shoes:

        -You are a CARB administrator

        -The solution to the problem that yields real reductions in pollution — a buyback program that removes cars that cannot be fixed from the roads — is so costly that it could drive VW out of business in the US

        -But the punishment has to be substantial enough so that VW and other automakers aren’t tempted to cheat (especially since the US uses a “voluntary compliance” approach to enforcement that spot checks for compliance after the fact, rather than approving everything before the fact)

        What would you do?

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          Develop a face saving deal with VWoA whereby they pay a one time ridiculous but affordable fine directly to the State of CA. Say $1B for violating their diktats, legislature does as they like with the money. CARB gets a photo op as whomever’s running VWoA signs the “deal” which resembles the Axis surrender at Reims. Put whomever is in charge of CARB on CNN as if they were an American hero.

          Offer a credit in CA when a Cali registered (say before 1/1/2016) affected TDI is traded anywhere in the state, and bill VWoA/deduct from separate credit fund (say 4K USD). This credit will not apply to lease turn ins. Brand the title as unregisterable in CA or some such so they will all end up exported to other states or overseas. If all 400,000 unfixable vehicles nationwide were suddenly traded in CA, it would amount to $1,600,000,000 USD which the parent VAG can afford. Actual costs will be half or less.

          Exempt existing TDIs which were registered prior to 1/1/2016 because there are not enough of them to have a negligible impact. They still have the privilege of paying emissions taxes but are not tested. CARB gets on TV and shows data which explains mathematically air quality is not significantly impacted by TDIs in the state, then looks less like a statist agency by allowing proles to keep their own property (if say Orange County still wants to ban the cars, let it happen on the county level). CalTrans declares once a TDI one falls out of registration, the title will be branded unregisterable in the future. TDIs dwindle in attrition and one day become the “new” Mercedes Diesels and pre 73 cars of today for owners which refuse to let them go (who are outliers and don’t matter).

          This really isn’t that hard.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            So in summary, you would impose a fine. But if CARB imposes a fine, then you’re going to complain that it’s about the money.

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            Impossible scenario. Lawyers not paid.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Gov’t likes fines as a deterrent and a prize.

            The only other thing they can do to those who color outside the lines is jail them, and we don’t really jail executives in this country for these sorts of things.

            So, pay up bub.

          • 0 avatar
            wstarvingteacher

            I think I could fathom 49 other states filing suits if California comes through with hefty fines. A never ending problem. VW possibly could declare bankruptcy, then rise from the ashes like GM.

        • 0 avatar
          Von

          @PCH

          1. Look at the CARB mission statement.

          2. Grow a spine.

          I may not be as smart as your average CARB administrator, but that’s usually a good starting point for many endeavors.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            This game requires you to be realistic. A price tag so high that it puts VW out of business in the United States is not an option.

            And no, there is no cheap fix to this problem. If there was, then there wouldn’t have been a problem in the first place.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      VW broke the law, b534. Since you can’t put the company in jail, explain why they shouldn’t be financially liable.

      Money is pretty much the only way to punish corporations for wrongdoing. And VW deserves it in spades.

      • 0 avatar
        b534202

        I’m just saying, if they want money and didn’t care about fully fixing the cars in the first place, they should’ve just come out and say they want VW to pay last year, instead of waiting for 6 months while VW owners don’t know what would be happening to their cars.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          Good point…but then again, VW’s been (understandably) dragging its’ heels on this. And I think this is going to take years to resolve one way or the other because of the amount of money involved. In the meantime, it only makes sense to hold the owners of the cars as harmless as possible – they’re already been financially victimized in this mess.

        • 0 avatar
          NickS

          “they should’ve just come out and say they want VW to pay last year, instead of waiting for 6 months while VW owners don’t know what would be happening to their cars”

          I get what you say — CARB and the owners may have a common interest in quickly resolving this, in so far as their interests HAPPEN to overlap. But, CARB is not officially tasked with giving certainty to car owners. They have a mandate to regulate the air resources, and act purely within that mandate. If they were legislated to look out for the consumers best interests and represent them with product manufacturers, it would be correct to say that CARB is dragging its feet.

          All CARB can do is some combination of having VW repair/remove the ongoing polluting vehicles, impose a fine that will send a clear message to all, and perhaps engage in various ways of mitigating the effects of the pollution that was illegally emitted.

          VW is in SEPARATE legal trouble with a score of different entities, and one of them cannot represent the others’ interests adequately.

  • avatar
    JimZ

    I can see why; if VW can’t “fix” them, then it would be punishing owners who bought the cars on good faith. I think there would be demands that any buy back be granted *replacement* cost instead of market value.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      This.

      The criminal and legal cases against VW is going to drag on for years. In the meantime, is the state really going to demand the owners fix their cars when the issue wasn’t their fault?

      I actually see this as a win for consumers…big time.

  • avatar
    KevinC

    Just scratch a big check to Governor Moonbeam so that he can fund his dead-end bullet train through the valley for a few more years before they throw in the towel, and all is forgiven. Yep, sounds about right.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Well, yeah, when you’re a corporation and you break the law and defraud tens of thousands of your customers, writing a big fat check to the government to fund stuff like this is usually the outcome.

      Like Baretta said…don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time. “Personal responsibility,” dontcha know.

    • 0 avatar
      Fred

      Be careful, because even here in the Great State of Texas we apparently want a bullet train to go to Dallas.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    I am surprised that CARB would throw this out there, but it does make some sense, IF VW offers a buyback at say KBB excellent say from last Aug 1 plus 25% that would still leave some folks in a jam if they did not want to buy another VW or roll the dice on a used car they do not know the history of. I am sure VW would be pretty happy not to re engineer the engine for a fix and have to warranty it for 8 years , 80,000 miles and just write a check.

  • avatar
    SoCalMikester

    you can drive any dirty diesel you want in california thats older than 98 or so. they werent always tested, and theres tons more old diesel rigs out there hauling produce in the central valley.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      Ah, the “Grandfathered” rule… Like fingernails to CARB’s chalkboard. CARB seriously tried to ban or “off-road” all commercial “pre emissions” diesel trucks from the state, or entering the state. Everything above F-350s/3500s to simis, starting with the oldest in 2015 and all by 2025.

      Laughable and it never went through. Something or an other about a US Constitution.

      Pre emissions diesels trucks are starting to get expensive though.

  • avatar
    PandaBear

    Technically, if the emission is 40x the limit, and VW pay for the emission improvement necessary to eliminate 40 other typical cars within limits, that’ll be acceptable as the overall result is equivalent.

    This would likely means VW will buy 40 clunkers to crush for every VW they sold with the emission fraud. How are they going to do that cheaper than buying them back and haul them to Afghan? I don’t know.

    It’s probably cheaper if they pay Toyota Nissan and Tesla to buy their hybrid and EV emission credit.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      The CAFE credits wouldn’t cut it. The junk the TDIs put into the air needs to be offset with cleaner VWs, preferably gasoline powered, hybrid and especially fully electric.

  • avatar
    Storz

    The obvious solution, replace all cheater TDIs with new Golf Rs


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