By on December 27, 2016

2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI

If you were considering stripping your Volkswagen diesel prior to returning it, hit the brakes on that project immediately. VW’s nonspecific wording in the buyback terms created a gray area of legality that a few emissions scandal-affected owners decided to test, removing unessential portions of their 2.0-liter TDI-equipped models.

However, after a particularly thorough set of peelings, a federal judge warned opportunistic owners not to strip parts out of their vehicles before attempting to sell them back to Volkswagen through the company’s emissions settlement.

The initial theory was that the language used the settlement required only that cars be capable of movement under their own power in order to qualify for a buyback — providing a legal loophole for the removal of radios, mirrors, seats, doors, and anything else that wasn’t directly connected to the drivetrain. After one owner successfully returned a damaged vehicle with a missing bumper, it seemed like open season.

It was not.

USA Today reports that, leading up to Christmas weekend, U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer cautioned owners to end the practice.

Robert Giuffra, VW’s attorney, said at Thursday’s court hearing that “a handful of owners have brought in vehicles that have been regrettably, deliberately stripped of parts.”

He even mentioned one owner that who had removed “almost every part” of their buyback vehicle, still intent on returning it. That “goes too far” and “they should not be engaging in deliberate parts stripping,” Giuffra explained to the judge.

Breyer agreed. “Clearly the purpose of the agreement by Volkswagen was to accept these cars in the condition that they were in as they were being driven on the road, and not to strip the cars,” he said.

Jonathan Cohen, an attorney for the Federal Trade Commission, said the FTC is “absolutely against bad-faith behavior by consumers.” However, he also issued a reminder that Volkswagen cannot decline buyback payments based upon a “vehicle’s superficial condition.”

So if your Golf TDI just so happens to be missing a mirror, possesses some unsightly dents, or is inexplicably fitted with incorrect wheels, you are probably within your rights. However, converting your VW into a frame on wheels with a motor attached is absolutely out of the question.

[Image: Volkswagen]

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46 Comments on “Volkswagen Isn’t Willing to Buy Back Your Stripped Diesel...”

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    While I think stripping your car to the shell is a bit of a deadbeat move, I would certainly not fault any owner for removing items and replacing them with cheaper or base model equipment.

    My coworker wants a leather steering wheel for this Golf. I don’t think it should be an issue if he traded it for someone’s who’s turning in their TDI. As long as the turn-in has a functioning replacement part, I don’t see a problem.

    An enterprising person could buy a base Golf and and completely swap interiors, wheels, and whatever else fits from a high trim TDI and I’d give thumbs up all day.

  • avatar

    I’m with VW on this. Fair is fair , VW’s is buying the car and paying a good buck. The unfixable cars have an appointment with the crusher. VW doesn’t want thousands of parts floating around on Craig list. I would have to say “thats just good business “

    • 0 avatar

      You just used the phrase ‘that’s just good business’ in reference to VW. That’s not VW’s mo, and not how they put themselves where they are today.

      VW employed many attorneys and likely paid them princely sums of money to draft the specifics of how the TDI turn in would be handled. If VW attorneys did not sufficiently describe the acceptable conditions of the car, that’s on them.

      If it were my NOx mobile, I don’t think I’d think to strip it of sound insulation and glove boxes, carpeting and interior trim pieces. That’s some creative thinking.

      It might not be ethical to do, but it sounds like it’s legal.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m forced to agree with you, jkross22.

        Btw, that’s a Mercedes in your avatar, isn’t it? 240D?

        I honestly wish my W123 was a basic 240/manual with low options. I think it would’ve made more sense to me and I probably would’ve kept it. Slower? Yes, but great mpg and I wouldnt have had to deal with power options that stopped and started working randomly. The HVAC was difficult to deal with, a simpler system would’ve been welcomed. I think I would’ve felt like it was economical and beneficial to own. As it was, I was less than pleased.

      • 0 avatar

        Pretty clearly, the judge doesn’t agree with you, which resolves it as a matter of civil law.

        The clear intent of an agreement supersedes contested contract language. Since the judge believes that Volkswagen didn’t intend to accept stripped vehicles, and the contract doesn’t explicitly allow the customer to return vehicles in any condition, the judge isn’t compelling Volkswagen to accept all vehicles under the agreement regardless of condition.

  • avatar

    According to VW, it’s OK as long as the parts are there during the emissions test. Immediately after the test is over, you can strip the parts again.

  • avatar
    punkybrewstershubby aka Troy D.

    I believe that common sense prevails here. I mean, really, stripping down your car before turning it in after VW is buying back from you and giving you additional money for the trouble?

    I have no duck in this race, but to strip your car down before turn in is a dick move, plain and simple.

    • 0 avatar

      well put, punky. I agree wholeheartedly.

    • 0 avatar

      “I mean, really, stripping down your car before turning it in after VW is buying back from you and giving you additional money for the trouble?”

      Remember, VW deceptively sold illegal cars. Remember all that “clean diesel” hogwash? If I were on a jury, I’d say that VW should refund the purchase price of the car, not the depreciated value (though I’d probably use a combination of statutory and punitive damages to arrive at the purchase price).

      What cheeses me off is that VW can pay a grand or two a car and the government gets off its case about illegal cars. But illegally importing foreign made cars (which might actually be emissions compliant and crash standards worthy, just not certified as such) gets your house raided by marshals with automatic rifles and your car crushed. Apparently the only reason I can’t import a Toyota Century is that I don’t have VW’s attorneys.

      • 0 avatar

        yes but the terms of the buyback settlement means owners were offered the market value of their car from *before* the scandal broke, plus they’ve already been given one or more cash payments. VW’s making owners more than “whole” so there’s no legal or moral justification for trying to turn in a stripped car.

        • 0 avatar

          What if there’s a gap between the market value of something and what it’s worth to the owner?

          That should be the case for nearly everything – why own something that you value less than the market?

          There are people who never would have purchased the diesel VWs had they known the cars weren’t emissions compliant, surely those people deserve their money back? They entered into the transaction under false pretenses / deceptive and false advertising.

          It’s like going to a restaurant, ordering a fish sandwich, taking a bite, realizing its actually a chicken sandwich, raising the issue with the waiter, and then the waiter says “oh we have a fish sandwich on the menu but it’s actually a chicken sandwich. I see you’ve taken a bite already, so we’ll comp most of the meal but not the bite you took”.

          Well, what if you didn’t want to drive any miles in a non-emissions compliant car? Should you just accept the buy back and say “fool me once”?

          I think the compensation strategy is on the very low end of the ‘fair’ spectrum. If I owned a VW, I wouldn’t strip it. But if I had just lied to my customers, the U.S government, and I didn’t get locked up, I’d accept a few stripped cars with a minimum amount of noise in the interest of making it go away.

          Besides – is that the message you want to send? That consumers taking a few things off a car isn’t permissible but government paid killers can raid your house at dawn to grab a land rover discovery which may actually be more legal to import than any one of those VWs?

          • 0 avatar

            “What if there’s a gap between the market value of something and what it’s worth to the owner?”

            market value is the only remotely quantifiable number. doesn’t matter if your TDI Jetta was “worth” a million bucks to you, that’s not what you could expect to get for it if you sell it.

            “There are people who never would have purchased the diesel VWs had they known the cars weren’t emissions compliant, surely those people deserve their money back? They entered into the transaction under false pretenses / deceptive and false advertising.”

            except they had use of the car for the entire time.

            “government paid killers”

            turn down the hyperbole, for Joe Pesci’s sake.

          • 0 avatar

            There’s another quantifiable number Jimz, transaction price.

            There’s a non-zero amount of people who were duped into using a diesel VW and they’re getting some depreciated price on a car they wouldn’t have touched if it had been accurately advertised. Let ’em strip the VWs if they’re pist. Now all the sudden VW cares about law and order and doing the right thing?

          • 0 avatar

            Ok, I can see some merit to that argument.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree it was, and the owners are supposedly being compensated properly for VW’s dixk move of selling them cars that were advertised against the freaking Toyota Prius as a environmentally-friendly alternative.

      I can hear Adolf the Beetle now, “vith Volvvsvagon’s Clean Diesel technology…”

      you remember, the series of commercials shows a VW in one driveway and a compeditor in another.

      There was even one for the Routon. VW should compensate the 18 owners who bought them for Adolf saying it had “German Engineering”.

      Yeah, someone at VW in their secret liar deep in Germany approved a VW grille ductaped to a Grand Caravan. “Stupid Americans, this will show them just how much we care… Let them choke on their NoX and unreliable transmissions! Muhuhuhahahahahaa”.

    • 0 avatar

      Some freaking crybabies (not targeted to punky brewster, but I hit the wrong ‘reply’ button).

      1. Buy a car. Car does everything you need it to do for years.
      2. Car has a negative impact on your surroundings.
      3. Get money. Turn your car in and get more money. Don’t turn your car in, get lower performance, but still get money.

      VW lied to all of us and they can burn for all I care. That doesn’t mean VW owners aren’t being made whole. They are (plus some). If this is your biggest financial bump in life, you’re in a much better position than most people.

      VW owners didn’t get screwed. Get over it.

  • avatar

    “U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer cautioned owners to end the practice.”

    Or what? He’ll get mad?

    Is parts strippng unethical and just plain bad? Of course.

    Is it illegal based on the legal buyback terms?

    Not so sure……..

    • 0 avatar

      Or the owner will be SOL and stuck with a stripped, worthless car without anyone willing or required to buy it from them.

    • 0 avatar

      What’ll happen is that VW can refuse to cut a check (or cut a new check based on the value of the car after it’s been stripped), and the owner will receive no help from either the court or the FTC.

    • 0 avatar

      When it comes to dealing with corporations, there is ethics, and then there is the wording of a contract…

      My understanding is that the language was purposely vague in order to expedite things. Some people decided to use that to their advantage until Volkswagen went to the presiding judge for a clarification. The judge clarified the language and decided that stripping cars was outside the bounds of the settlement.

  • avatar
    April S

    A few things pop to mind.

    1. The effort to strip the parts out (don’t kill yourself trying to remove those airbags).

    2. Having a place to store those parts.

    3. Ebay option. Dealing with the hassle of trying to sell (and then ship) those parts. Also dealing with low life humans trying to scam you.

    4. Craigslist option. Dealing with more low life humans trying to nickel and dime you. Also tire kickers and time wasters. Scammers.

    5. Salvage yard option. Getting pennies on the dollar after the market is flooded with similar parts.

    Anyway, it doesn’t seem worth the trouble plus to me it comes off as a chicken poo move.

  • avatar

    Whoever came up with the brilliant idea of stripping these cars before selling them back isn’t as clever as they think they are. Contracts – and an offer to buy back, when accepted, is a contract, even if it’s made under the conditions of a legal settlement – are subject to an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, which this behavior pretty clearly flies in the face of. I’m not ordinarily one to side with the house versus the player, but in this case I sincerely hope that the trolls who tried this end up learning a lesson from it.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      I kind of understand why you’d try this. Ostensibly, the cars are going to the crusher anyway. I think the judge and the attorney (and VW) reacted fairly. And the worst-case scenario for these people is that they end up re-installing all the parts and then turning in the cars.

      • 0 avatar

        not necessarily. like any other repurchased vehicle, VW would be able to re-sell them after repairing them/bringing them into compliance. now, we know that’s not likely for the EA189 cars but it’s still possible.

        Steve Lehto did a podcast about this last week but took it down because the Internet Lawyers on Youtube got incredibly vicious.

    • 0 avatar

      Even if the cars can’t be fixed they are still worth more complete to VW than they are stripped. From what I’ve seen the only requirement is for them to remove and destroy the defeat device, ie the computer. They are free to sell them to wrecking yards who will pay less for a car that someone has already taken all the good parts off of.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I would be so happy to get the money that I would not want to take a chance stripping the car. I would not buy any VW but if I had one of these diesels I would take the money and not repeat the mistake of buying another VW.

  • avatar

    I think that *none* of them are getting crushed. VW wants whole cars that they can distribute to 3rd world markets that will take them……Africa, South America, and Asia. Otherwise, why would they care how the cars showed up for turn-in?

    The documentation we all signed said the car only had to roll under its own power……I actually spent some time wondering what it would take to swap the six-speed manual in my 2015 GSW for the automatic in my old Passat wagon, but getting the full payout won over all in the end.

    • 0 avatar

      Before VW is allowed to export them, under the terms of the settlement, they MUST bring emissions into compliance with US Emissions, and there’s no evidence yet they’ll be able to do this, especially with the older cars.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Maybe they will export these VWs to 3rd World countries but then they might end up being crushed. VW might find it less problematic to just destroy these cars than to have a youtube video of these cars being loaded on a boat to send to 3rd World countries. The bad PR would outweigh the recovery of losses.

    • 0 avatar

      They cannot ship them out of the country in running condition unless they meet EPA spec, which shouldn’t apply to sales in other countries but does. I doubt that it makes economic sense for VW to pull the engines, drag them on and off the boat, and re-power these cars at some foreign port. They have no practical option other than to suck it up.

  • avatar
    Turbo Is Black Magic

    I would swap body panels with every other TDI I could find… turn in a modern harlequin with VW’s current 50 shades of grey. It’s technically not stripped…

  • avatar

    Unfortunately the judge’s statements do absolutely nothing to clarify what’s excessive. Stripping all the body panels “goes too far”, but VW was also cautioned about being too picky about condition. So how far can one go?

    • 0 avatar

      “Unfortunately the judge’s statements do absolutely nothing to clarify what’s excessive.”

      This is correct.

      I haven’t accessed the docket, but courts speak through their orders, and unless this judge has issued a ruling that has been turned into an order clarifying in detail what is and and is not acceptable, in terms of what condition the vehicles must be returned in, he is not doing a very effective job of eliminating any (and hopefully all) confusion.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed, the judge has left too much room in favor of VW. Things like wheels and stereos are changed by owners all the time. Is VW going to start being dicks about perfectly normal choices? And who is to say what is normal? For some people, ditching nice alloy rims in favor of steelies and winter tires is perfectly rational. And we are talking VW fanboys here, those folks are well-known to play Lego set with their cars to begin with.

      • 0 avatar

        Most people that put winter tires on steelies keep the alloys around for summer, making them available to turn in with the car.

        I think in general, if you turn in the car with significant parts missing, you’ll need a good reason why. And “removed and sold it a couple days before turning it in” is going to be the wrong answer.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t blame him for not being definitive. He has better things to do than sit down by the fire with a copy of ETKA and list out all the part numbers and assemblies VW can demand stay on the car.

      It’s not at all unusual for a judge to issue an order like this one that can be summed up with “Do you feel lucky punk, well, do ya?” These crop up all the time when one party or another in a case is misbehaving while staying in the letter of a rule/law and clearly violating its spirit.

      An owner is welcome to try and find the limits the judge is willing to accept, but they do so at their peril.

  • avatar

    Those who want an additional pound of flesh from VW could just put a carefully located dent in each panel, just big enough to make the body work necessary to resell uneconomical. Other passive-aggressive sabotage could include contamination of the vital fluids. Doing anything like that would be wrong, and is not recommended.
    We still don’t know what will happen to these cars in the future. Even if VW tries to suck it up and do the right thing, they have lost a huge number of future customers.

  • avatar

    This result should surprise nobody. The intent of the agreement is clear, and deliberately maximizing harm to VW is well outside of it.

    In other news, if anybody was wondering why contracts for the simplest transactions often run dozens of pages, now you know.

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