Plan To Enforce VW Diesel Emission Compliance Depends On Your State

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Owners hoping to skip the recall intended to bring their diesel Volkswagen into emission compliance may be out of luck, particularly in the country’s largest auto market.

Although no specifics have yet been announced, Volkswagen has said that the company intends to refit all of the 2009-2015 vehicles in which it installed an emission cheating system.  As has been widely reported, Volkswagen’s diesels are accused of producing NOx (oxides of nitrogen) at 10 to 40 times the amount allowable.  NOx are the old-school emissions we used to call pollution before everything that exits a tailpipe earned that status.  It is the stuff that causes and worsens lung diseases like asthma.

Golf TDI my pic

All owners like their VW diesels for their gutsy torque and great highway fuel economy.  However, some owners are very angry that VW cheated on emissions.  They bought cars after being convinced they were green-cars or responded to the carefully crafted “Clean Diesel” campaign VW promoted.  Some have formed an on-line angry-gram center on Twitter using the # BuyBackMyTDI and #dieselgate tags.  One recent post by “dali”” seems to sum up the sentiment in his post “…we want the cars out of garages we need a buy back. They lied. They should pay.”  Other VW buyers did not care as much about emission.  Some are multiple-generation VW diesel buyers and started with the old diesel cars back in the days when they spewed visible soot.   Twitter user @housee may represent some of these owners.  He posted “I’m not mad at VW for the diesel issues lately. I’m mad they won’t fix my rattling speaker – which is still under warranty.”

VW sent letters to all owners letting them know that they didn’t need to come to the dealership immediately.  @lancehill1973 posted the UK letter shown here at #dieselgate.  VW letter @lancehill1973 cropVW’s letters to owners did not go over well, but VW wanted to be sure to let owners know that their VW NOx over-achievers were “Technically safe and roadworthy.”  In the U.S. version of the letter — signed by Michael Horn below — that was changed to “…legal to drive.”  At least for now.


Normally, recalls are voluntary, and vehicle owners return to dealers when their schedules permit, or when they require routine maintenance.  Since most recalls involve some measure of safety and are done at no cost to the owner, there is no real disincentive to get them done.  That is what makes this Volkswagen situation unique.  Most experts agree that there are two possible outcomes of the VW retrofit.  Either the cars will get lower fuel efficiently, or they will have noticeably less power.  Both might also be the outcome.

That has some owners opening discussing the possibility that they may skip the VW recall since the only benefit is to clean air overall, not to them personally.  That begs the question, what will be done to ensure that the dirty diesels are fixed, so they stop polluting above permitted levels?  The EPA could play a key role.  It could fine VW up to $18 billion in total based on the Clean Air Act for having cheated on the roughly half-million cars it produced in the U.S. with this intentional cheating system.  EPA could hold that punishment in reserve and offer to lower fines if VW figures out its own way to corral all the cars and get them off the road or fixed in some set period of time.  It may have to.  Many states have no emission checks, and some that do exempt diesels.

Golf TDI engine

California, the leader of U.S. states in clear air monitoring of its vehicle fleet, has a plan now to get more than nine out of ten of its VW dirty diesels refitted.  The plan of action will begin no later than November 20th, which is the latest VW has to get its refit plan approved by the state of California.  BestRide communicated with Dave Clegern, the Public Information Officer for Climate Change Programs at the California Air Resources Board (CARB).  Mr. Clegern understood the issue and offered this formal plan to get the VW’s in his state refitted:

“Once the recall letter goes (after Nov. 20th, 2015) out VW reports to ARB monthly how many vehicles have been repaired. Six-months into the recall ARB will evaluate the number of repaired vehicles. If there is not a sufficient percentage of repairs, DMV can place a block on vehicle registration, making the repair a condition of registration. This is a last resort, but has brought about 93 percent compliance in previous cases.”

Mr. Clegern pointed out to BestRide that the state has more than the usual motivation to get polluting vehicles refitted, saying, “California has two regions (San Joaquin Valley and the Los Angeles Basin) with the worst air in the nation. Much of this is due to ozone formation from vehicle fossil fuel combustion.”
Other states are not as prepared as California, but will likely follow its lead.  Many, like Massachusetts, look to California for their standards and practices.  We began by reaching out to various state office in Mass., but unlike California none could offer a set plan at this time.  We also reached out to those that work on and inspect cars like Brian Mushnick, owner of Brian’s Garage in Needham. Mass.  Brian’s Garage specializes in VW repairs, and Mr. Mushnick has over 30 years of experience as a mechanic in Mass.  He confirmed that some VW diesel owners have expressed concern about the repairs and have started to debate avoiding them.  He also told us that in his experience in Mass. only once before was an emissions recall mandated before the state’s annual inspection sticker could be renewed.
 Darren daley
We also spoke to Darren and Tom Daley of Daley Repair in Norfolk.  They showed us an e-mail from the state of Mass. that says inspection station owners are expected to pass diesel VWs in the short term.  The e-mail reads: “Information released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board alleges emissions-related problems with certain Volkswagen vehicles equipped with the 2-liter diesel engine. This does not affect the emissions inspections required for those vehicles in Massachusetts.  Inspectors should continue to perform complete emissions and safety tests on all Volkswagen diesels using proper inspection procedures.”  Darren went over in detail how Mass. inspectors do their job.  In brief, they attach a meter to the OBD II port inside the car to look for emissions faults.  If none are found the car passes.  Of course, as Darren pointed out, VW’s cheating system does not report a fault.
Darren confirmed that one owner of a VW diesel vehicle  included in those accused of cheating had already been in.  That car was given a new inspection sticker good for one full year.