VW Diesel Scandal & DMV Implications

By: Bridget Clerkin September 25, 2015
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Next steps for the troubled carmaker are still up in the air after the diesel scandal.

Once a leading voice in the “clean diesel” movement, Volkswagen admitted earlier this month that they had been playing dirty after all, producing cars that not only pollute the air at an illegal rate, but appear to be cleaner than they actually are, by “cheating” on emissions tests.

DMV Implications

Since the news broke, it seems everyone has been talking about the scandal—excepting VW itself. While many have speculated about a recall, the company has remained mum on the steps it will take to rectify the situation, which is an important distinction for anyone who may own an affected car, according to Jaime Garza, a spokesperson for the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

“VW has not issued any emissions-related recalls, so the DMV is just monitoring the situation closely,” he said. “We are urging VW owners to do the same, and monitor their mail closely to look for any correspondence from VW on this issue.”

That advice is especially important in California, a state famous for strict emissions and smog testing. Until VW makes an official response to the situation—be it a recall to fix the affected vehicles, an offer to buy the cars back, or another plan—Garza urged all California drivers to continue “business as usual.”

“If you own a car and are required to have it smog-tested in order to get it registered, continue to do that,” he said.

Garza added that once VW has made clear which path they will take, the DMV will issue its own response about how the situation will impact those with affected cars—including how to proceed with registration, smog checks, and selling a car, among other processes.

In the past, when an auto maker has issued a recall, the California DMV has prevented car owners from renewing their registration until they could prove the car was repaired properly. However, Garza emphasized that this is just a general scenario and may not apply to the VW case, depending on how the company reacts.

Who Is Affected?

California has also become a point of interest in the case because an estimated 15 percent of the affected vehicles were sold and registered in the state. Vehicles in question include those with a Type EA 189 diesel engine, including:

  • Diesel versions of Volkswagen models:
    • Jetta
    • Beetle
    • Golf
    • Passats made in 2014 and 2015
  • Audi A3 models produced between 2009-2015.

All told, the issue concerns an estimated 11 million cars worldwide, including about 482,000 in the United States. And fixing all those cars could be costly, not only to VW, but to the car owners.

Possible Solutions

According to Wired.com, there are two possible ways to bring the emissions on the cars within the standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

First, VW could recalibrate the engine software to get the car to always run the way it does while being tested for emissions. This would likely drop the cars’ gas mileage much lower than what was promised at the time of sale, forcing owners to fork over more money for gas. (A similar situation spurned a class action lawsuit against Kia and Hyundai last year. The carmakers eventually settled with vehicle owners for $395 million.)

The second option would be to add a chemical called urea to the emissions process. While effective at reducing noxious gas, the procedure calls for new equipment to be added to the car, which could cost upwards of $8,000 per vehicle to install, according to the Wired report. The urea-based solution would also have to be replenished periodically.

Still, the scandal could end up costing even more for VW. A recent letter sent from the EPA to the automaker indicated that Volkswagen could potentially face a fine of up to $3,750 per each vehicle equipped to “cheat” on the tests.

In the wake of the scandal, Volkswagen’s president, Martin Winterkorn, has tendered his resignation, and several states’ attorney generals have pledged to launch investigations against the automaker. But it’s clear that, in order to fix the issue once and for all, VW will have to come up with a way to finally “come clean.”

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