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Volkswagen Dieselgate vehicles dogged by difficulties

BBC’s Watchdog investigates reports of power losses

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As the fallout from the Dieselgate emissions scandal continues, the BBC’s consumer affairs programme, Watchdog, has investigated reports of ‘fixed’ Volkswagen cars losing power.

Of the 1.2 million diesel cars in the UK that were fitted with the ‘defeat device’ to manipulate the results of emissions testing, over 720,000 have received a software update to remove this feature. But now, a number of Volkswagen owners have reported that cars which have received the Dieselgate software fix have been going into ‘limp mode’.

Limp mode is a common safety feature in many cars that is activated to prevent further damage to the engine or transmission. After providing an initial warning on the dashboard display, the vehicle suddenly and rapidly decelerates down to about 20mph.

Watchdog spoke to Kirsty Blackwell who was driving her Volkswagen Caddy along the motorway when the car suddenly went into limp mode. She was able to get her car off the road, but “no longer feels particularly confident” with her car.

The programme also interviewed Lisa Bryant-Jones, whose Volkswagen Passat went into limp mode on a dual carriageway. While trying to manoeuvre the car off the road, her car was hit by a lorry and written off.

Watchdog’s report did not indicate whether the drivers they interviewed had seen any warning messages or lights on their dashboards before the cars went into limp mode.

Volkswagen VW diesel TDI BlueMotion EA189 scandal 4

So what does this mean if you own an affected model?

Volkswagen maintains that there is no link between the reported engine problems and its Dieselgate repair procedures.

The company told Watchdog: “Implementation of the technical measures does not cause limp home mode to engage nor does it increase the incidence of limp home mode occurring.

“Relevant authorities have confirmed that the technical measures have no adverse impact on the MPG figures, the CO2 emissions figures, engine output, maximum torque and noise of the affected vehicles.”

Customers who have experienced issues with their vehicle are urged to call Volkswagen’s helpline on 08000 930049.

At the time of writing, the UK-based Facebook group Volkswagen Diesel Customer Forum (Emissions Scandal) had over 4,800 members and growing rapidly.

Not everyone is convinced

Earlier this year, a government Transport Select Committee questioned Volkswagen bosses.

Volkswagen UK Managing Director, Paul Willis declared that the software fix has “no effect on real-world driving”.

But after chairing the committee, MP Louise Elman said: “I was not at all satisfied with their answers, they are not credible. This is simply outrageous – Volkswagen should stop denying the problem they’ve created and put things right.”

What can Volkswagen do to put Dieselgate right?

In the US where the defeat device was first discovered being used to cheat emissions tests, Volkswagen pleaded guilty and reached a $10bn settlement with the Federal Trade Commission. The company agreed to buy back or repair all affected vehicles and provide their owners with $5,000 compensation.

A similar settlement was reached in Canada, but only after owners took out a class action lawsuit against the company.

Closer to home, the story is a little different. The wording in the relevant EU legislation (and most other parts of the world) is slightly different to the US equivalent, so Volkswagen insists that the defeat devices weren’t cheating the tests in Europe. As such, the company argues that no compensation is needed. Essentially, the company has found a legal loophole based on semantics and it is planning to ignore any and all requests to offer UK and European owners any meaningful gesture.

But, the European Commission hopes to pressure Volkswagen into providing compensation voluntarily. In March, it hosted a meeting of 22 consumer protection authorities who agreed to prepare collective action against the company.

Should political pressure fail to persuade, Volkswagen could still be forced to pay out some sort of compensation eventually. It’s currently facing a range of class action lawsuits such as the one being made in the UK, and another in the Netherlands on behalf of approximately 180,000 Dutch Volkswagen owners.

Thinking of buying a used affected model?

Legal action is likely to take some time, unfortunately. Of short-term interest, and if you are thinking of buying a used affected model, is Volkswagen’s announcement in response to consumer complaints that it will provide a two-year guarantee for affected European cars that have been fixed.

The limited guarantee will cover some exhaust and emissions control parts, but only in vehicles that have done less than 155,000 miles and depending on their service history.

Given the apparent driving issues that have arisen in ‘fixed’ models, the probable effect on resale values and the enormous number of other used cars available on the market that do not have any such Dieselgate concerns hanging over them, we cannot recommend that anyone buy a used Volkswagen, Audi, SEAT or Skoda with one of the affected diesel engines.

If you are looking at buying a used car from any of these brands, check the car’s registration on the relevant link below. If it’s on this list, avoid it and move on.

What’s next?

Volkswagen’s reluctance to compensate its European customers is unsurprising. Having initially set aside £4.8bn to cover costs in the US it’s ended up paying well over double that.

The $10bn settlement only related to 482,000 American cars and it’s thought there are nearly 18 times as many (8.5 million) affected cars in Europe. These include some models sold under the Audi, Skoda, SEAT and Porsche brands.

Soon after details of the Dieselgate scandal were uncovered in September 2015, the company posted its first quarterly loss for 15 years and the price of its shares fell by around a third. However, although sales initially fell, they have now largely recovered to pre-Dieselgate levels. The Volkswagen Group quickly returned to profitability and is now trying to reinvent itself as a champion of electric cars.

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Katharine Morgan
Katharine Morgan
Katharine was a contributor to both The Car Expert and The Van Expert, and is now Motorsport & Automotive Press Officer for Goodwood.