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Volkswagen blaming customers for failing to fix Dieselgate cars

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The UK House of Commons’ Environmental Audit Committee has demanded answers from Volkswagen, with new data revealing that the company has not fixed a third of its emissions-cheating Dieselgate cars, despite a pledge to the British government to have done so by now.

Mary Creagh MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, has written to the Department for Transport to express the Committee’s concerns around the lack of progress of applying fixes to cars equipped with ‘defeat devices’. Nearly 1.2 million Volkswagen, Audi, SEAT and Skoda models were sold in the UK with the cheat software. So far, just over 800,000 have been “fixed” and just under 400,000 remain “unfixed”. Additionally, the rate of work being carried out has dropped right off, with only a small number of cars having the emissions fix carried out each month compared to earlier this year.

A representative of the Department for Transport said: “The UK government continues to take the unacceptable actions of Volkswagen extremely seriously and is working hard on behalf of UK consumers.”

Volkswagen dieselgate fail
The Times, 9 November 2017. Image (c) Schrödinger’s Golf

Volkswagen sinks to a new low by trying to blame customers

Part of the problem is that the recall issued for the 1.2 million cars was voluntary and issued by Volkswagen UK, rather than a compulsory recall ordered by the government. Compulsory recalls are only issued in the UK for safety matters. Volkswagen has tried to blame customers for not bringing their cars in to have the recall work done, in the company’s latest attempt to shirk blame for the Dieselgate scandal.  A Volkswagen spokesperson told The Times: “The service action remains voluntary and we are aware that some customers have actively declined the implementation of the technical measures.”

Thousands of owners have indeed refused to bring their cars to have the recall work done, due to allegations that the solutions applied by Volkswagen have caused damage to “fixed” vehicles, in addition to affecting fuel economy and performance. Volkswagen has denied this, as it has done with virtually every aspect of the Dieselgate scandal, but there has been a growing number of deeply dissatisfied owners taking the company to task over its handling of the repairs.

The initial correspondence from Volkswagen to its customers strongly implied that the recall was compulsory, and prominently featured the government Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) logo on letters to owners of affected vehicles. There have been numerous complaints from owners who believed that they were legally obliged to have the emissions recall work done as a result of this correspondence.

The Volkswagen Diesel Customer Forum (Emissions Scandal) group on Facebook, now comprising more than 6,500 members, has reported many occurrences of cars suffering from performance and/or economy and/or reliability problems after dealers have carried out the emissions recall work. The group has been pushing the hashtag #vwfixfail aggressively in social media and has been campaigning against Volkswagen’s behaviour throughout the Dieselgate scandal.

The BBC’s Watchdog programme also investigated complaints about “fixed” Volkswagens suddenly going into ‘limp-home’ mode, which was alleged to have caused an accident when a “fixed” car rapidly decelerated from 70mph on a motorway. The programme also reported on many owners who have suffered breakdowns, reduced performance and increased fuel consumption after the recall work was done.

As usual, Volkswagen denies everything. It refuses to accept allegations that the recall work, which they describe as a “technical measure”, causes any problems. The company even claims that the fix will not affect performance or economy, which begs the questions as to why the cars were not sold in this state in the first place and why there was a need to cheat the system at all. But then again, this is the same company that denied it had even been cheating at all and refuses to compensate owners for its own failures, so its claims can hardly be considered to be trustworthy.

Autocar magazine ran a pre- and post-fix test of a Volkswagen Touran that showed that the fix did have a negative impact on fuel economy. Obviously, Volkswagen denied the test’s legitimacy and continued to insist that its magic fix has no undesirable side effects.

An Austrian consumer group found that 43% of owners of “fixed” cars reported increased fuel use, reduced acceleration and considerable jerkiness to the engine’s power delivery. There have been many reports of increased diesel particulate filter (DPF) problems, as the filter is having to work much harder to catch and burn off more soot than before.

Campaigners at Volkswagen UK headquarters. Image (c) Schrödinger’s Golf

Volkswagen, it’s time to clean up your act

Volkswagen’s handling of the whole Dieselgate scandal has been disgraceful from the very start, and continues to fall short of any form of decency. The company has treated its customers and the British public like idiots, and expects us all to accept its repeated lying, denials and lack of contrition. Its latest pathetic attempt to blame customers for its failure to deliver on its pledge is simply the latest act of a company that believes it is above the law.

In a breathtaking display of arrogance and hypocrisy, Volkswagen UK managing director, Paul Willis, told a UK Transport Select Committee in February that Volkswagen had done nothing wrong and the recall of 1.2 million vehicles was done simply to put customers’ minds at rest. Willis argued that no-one had been misled because cars were not sold on the basis of NOx levels in the UK. Of course, this fails to address why Volkswagen bothers to ensure its other vehicles all comply, and why only certain models that were fitted with the cheat software to comply with a test that they did not need to comply with…

In the US, Volkswagen has been hit with billions of dollars in fines for its cheating. However, in virtually every other part of the world it has got off scot-free. This is not because the US is tougher on emissions or cheating, but rather due to the wording of the relevant legislation in America.

Essentially, manufacturers in the USA are required to formally identify any systems that control a car’s emissions systems to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Volkswagen obviously failed to declare its carefully-hidden ‘defeat device’. So it wasn’t fined for emissions breaches, it was fined for failing to report the secret device. Other countries don’t have an equivalent clause and so have been unable to penalise Volkswagen.

Sales staff from UK Volkswagen, Audi, SEAT and Skoda dealers have reported dissatisfaction and despondency to The Car Expert (in confidence) about having to carry the can for Volkswagen’s behaviour and face thousands of angry owners. Now I don’t usually expect customers to feel sorry for car salespeople, but as a former Volkswagen and Audi sales executive myself, I can sympathise. I am angry that I sold hundreds of cars to innocent customers over several years that were fitted with these cheating devices. Like others, I was happily sharing Volkswagen’s “Clean Diesel” mantra with no idea that the company was cynically manipulating its vehicles to cheat emissions tests.

Interestingly, although the emissions work definitely and absolutely doesn’t cause any cars to break in any way at all, Volkswagen has been quietly compensating some owners who have suffered mechanical maladies post-fix. Volkswagen’s bullshit department describes this as a “trust-building measure” because it is generously paying for repairs to fuel and exhaust systems, even though the damage was totally unrelated to the recall work that affected the fuel and exhaust systems. Promise.

Audi with #vwfixfail sticker
Image (c) Schrödinger’s Golf

The Car Expert recommendation: Don’t buy a “fixed” vehicle

Should you buy a used diesel Volkswagen, Audi, SEAT or Skoda that has been “fixed”? No. There are far too many reports of breakdowns, poor performance and poor fuel economy for it to be a safe bet. There are literally thousands of other vehicles for sale that are less risky places to put your money.

Should you buy a used diesel Volkswagen, Audi, SEAT or Skoda that has not been “fixed” but is on the list? Probably not. The company continues to pester owners who have bluntly refused to have the fix applied, but it is entirely possible that the government may eventually step in and force cars to have the recall work done. The fix may become an MOT requirement, or it may find some other method to enforce the work. As previously mentioned, compulsory recalls are only issued for safety matters in the UK, so that would have to be changed if a compulsory recall was to be issued.

If you own one of these vehicles, whether fixed or unfixed, you have every right to be angry. The Dieselgate scandal has made people wary of buying a used car on the cheat list, regardless of our recommendation above. You will get no apology from Volkswagen, despite the company screwing you over. If you want to sell your car privately or part-exchange it on a non-VW Group vehicle, your car’s value is likely to suffer.

If you part-exchange it for another Volkswagen/Audi/SEAT/Skoda, you may be eligible for a boost to your part-exchange value (called something insipid like a “customer loyalty bonus”), but the downside is you have to buy a new car from the same company that has just screwed you.

Have you been affected by the Volkswagen dieselgate technical measures? Do you work in a dealership and have to deal with the fallout from this whole saga? Has your car been “fixed” and working just fine? Tell us your story in the comments below.

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Stuart Masson
Stuart Massonhttps://www.thecarexpert.co.uk/
Stuart is the Editorial Director of our suite of sites: The Car Expert, The Van Expert and The Truck Expert. Originally from Australia, Stuart has had a passion for cars and the automotive industry for over thirty years. He spent a decade in automotive retail, and now works tirelessly to help car buyers by providing independent and impartial advice.