Your Bought-Back Volkswagen Has a Miserable (and Short) Life Ahead of It

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
your bought back volkswagen has a miserable and short life ahead of it

It’s like the Rapture, but for polluting German vehicles.

Starting this fall, owners of the 466,000 defeat device-equipped Volkswagen and Audi 2.0-liter TDI models still left on the road will head to their dealer, hand over their keys, sign a mountain of paperwork, and walk away with a fat check issued by the bean counters in Wolfburg.

So, what happens to your once-trustworthy diesel-powered steed after the buyback?

Not many owners will worry about the fate that awaits their TDI after it’s led behind the barn, but it’s still an interesting question. John Voelcker, writing for Green Car Reports, dove into the issue.

Volkswagen’s pricey settlement with U.S. owners (and state and federal governments and regulators) requires a minimum of 85 percent of the afflicted 2009–2016 model year TDIs to be bought back. Officially, according to a Volkswagen spokesperson, the automaker hasn’t decided what it plans to do with those 396,000 vehicles.

The settlement, which still needs official approval, spells out the do’s and don’ts:

All Eligible Vehicles returned to Settling Defendants through the Recall Program shall be rendered inoperable by removing the vehicle’s Engine Control Unit (“ECU”) and may be, to the extent possible, recycled to the extent permitted by law. No Eligible Vehicle that is rendered inoperable may subsequently be rendered operable except as allowed by and in compliance with subparagraph 7.2.3 below and Appendix B of this Consent Decree.

The vehicles can be salvaged and broken up for parts, so long as the ECU, diesel oxidation catalyst and diesel particulate filter don’t find a home in another vehicle.

Early speculation that some of the vehicles might find their way, intact and still dirty, to a country with less stringent pollution laws didn’t pan out. Not going to happen, says Volkswagen. Any exported vehicle still needs to undergo an Approved Emissions Modification to bring the vehicle into compliance with Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

U.S. owners can opt to keep their vehicle on the road by undergoing the same fix, but there’s a problem: there is no EPA-approved fix for the vehicles, and any fix for older models would be cumbersome and likely lead to reduced performance and fuel economy. In other words, it would diminish the two traits that made TDI models a hot commodity. The development period and a laborious testing regime would mean a long wait before the fix becomes available.

If the fix doesn’t satisfy the EPA’s concerns, then every older (pre-2015) model is bound for the scrap heap. Newer 2.0-liter models sport an exhaust after-treatment system (urea injection, which the older models magically didn’t need), which should be easier to develop a fix for.

[Image: © 2015 Mark Stevenson/The Truth About Cars]

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16 of 189 comments
  • NickS NickS on Jun 30, 2016

    As much as I would like to see all that embodied energy of an already built car not go to waste, converting them to gassers will be hugely cost prohibitive. Even if the cost of all the parts needed is somehow rationalized the cost of labor will have to be borne by someone. Even if the dealers give VW a disco on the labor there are tons of things to replace and adapt, not just the engine. Unless VW comes up with a specific engine and other parts that minimize the wide variety of parts it's going to be a nightmare. Various engine codes will have different ECU's, various trims will have different looms and controllers ... someone will need to take all these TDI combinations out in the wild and map them to a gas engined car, and most importantly the wiring harness -- that to me is a show-stopper. Some of the actuator and sensor lines might be convertible but it's going to require some serious engineering work to retrofit everything, add the ignition system wiring, etc. I've done engine swaps (gassers) and they were more or less straightforward CONCEPTUALLY but there was always something or other that didn't exactly bolt up or needed a hack. And those swaps didn't trigger some warranty or emissions legal framework. They could just part them out and/or sell them to salvage yards. VAG cars share many parts across models and brands. The only toxic part that needs to be withdrawn from any available channel is the ECUs with the cheat programming, plus LNTs and anything else that could not survive without a cheat ECU.

    • See 4 previous
    • Vulpine Vulpine on Jul 03, 2016

      @bumpy ii I disagree, bumpy; economies of scale make parts costs minimal while labor costs themselves would be half (or less) than reported labor prices at the average dealership. The resale value would be at least somewhat contingent of the year-model of the vehicle so you could not comprehensively state that their value would be ⅓ of new or less.

  • Kabayo Kabayo on Jun 30, 2016

    What an incredible waste. Those vehicles should be sold for full market value in a country where they can operate legally. Only government can be this wasteful.

    • See 8 previous
    • Vulpine Vulpine on Jul 01, 2016

      @JustPassinThru Polluting the air is wrong, therefore it is illegal. Where's the issue?

  • MaintenanceCosts Despite my hostile comments above I really can't wait to see a video of one of these at the strip. A production car running mid-eights is just bats. I just hope that at least one owner lets it happen, rather than offloading the car from the trailer straight into a helium-filled bag that goes into a dark secured warehouse until Barrett-Jackson 2056.
  • Schurkey Decades later, I'm still peeved that Honda failed to recall and repair the seat belts in my '80 Civic. Well-known issue with the retractors failing to retract.Honda cut a deal with the NHTSA at that time, to put a "lifetime warranty" on FUTURE seat belts, in return for not having to deal with the existing problems.Dirtbags all around. Customers screwed, corporation and Government moves on.
  • Bullnuke An acquaintance of mine 50+ years ago who was attending MIT (until General Hershey's folks sent him his "Greetings" letter) converted an Austin Mini from its staid 4 cylinder to an electric motored fuel cell vehicle. It was done as a project during his progression toward a Master Degree in Electrical Engineering. He told me it worked pretty well but wasn't something to use as a daily driver given the technology and availability of suitable components of the time. Fueling LH2 and LOX was somewhat problematic. Upon completion he removed his fuel cell and equipment and, for another project, reinstalled the 4 banger but reassembled it without mechanical fasteners using an experimental epoxy adhesive instead which, he said, worked much better and was a daily driver...for awhile. He went on to be an enlisted Reactor Operator on a submarine for a few years.
  • Ajla $100k is walking around money but this is almost certainly the last Dodge V8 vehicle and it's likely to be the most powerful factory-installed and warrantied pushrod engine ever. So there is some historical applicability to things even if you have an otherwise low opinion of the Challenger.And, like I said up thread, if you still hate it will be gone soon anyway.
  • Carlson Fan GM completely blew the marketing of the Volt. The commercials were terrible. You'd swear they told the advertising company to come up with an ad that would make sure no one went out and shopped a Volt after seeing it!...........LOL My buddy asked why I bought a car that only goes 40 miles on a charge? That pretty much sums up how confusing and uninformative the advertising was.