– By Danielle Beauvais, Esq.
For years, Volkswagen presented itself as a leader in clean diesel, until its recent admission that it illegally programmed software in 11 million vehicles worldwide to deceive emission testing.
In the affected vehicles, a device was installed to detect when a vehicle is being tested and alter performance so that it passes the emission test. Unbeknown to its driver, the rest of the time, the vehicle releases pollutants up to 40 times the legal limit. What kind of pollutants? Nitrogen oxides, which produce smog and contribute to the formation of ozone, the greenhouse gas involved in climate change. They have been linked to asthma and respiratory illnesses. At particular risk are children, the elderly, and people with pre-existing respiratory diseases.
VW will be forced to recall the affected vehicles and alter their emission output to make them pass the federal emission standards. The cheaper solution for VW would be to recalibrate the software so that the engine runs as it does during emission testing. But consumers who bought a VW diesel for its promised performance and fuel economy won’t like it at all, as it would probably lower performance and increase gasoline consumption. “It’s very likely it will adversely affect fuel economy and performance,” said Jake Fisher, head of Consumer Reports’ auto testing.
The more expensive solution is to install a cumbersome and expensive tank (at the cost of at least $5,000 per car) containing a chemical process to break down the polluting emissions, that would take up valuable space and require maintenance. Vehicle owners would not like this option either. It is presumed that VW will elect the first option given its much lower cost.
4-cylinder 2008 to 2015 Audi A3
4-cylinder 2008 to 2015 Beetle
4-cylinder 2008 to 2015 Golf
4-cylinder 2008 to 2015 Jetta
2014 or 2015 Passat
2014 Volkswagen Touareg
2015 Porsche Cayenne
2016 Audi Quattro, A8, A8L, and Q5
A good case involves proof of a substantial impairment to the vehicle’s use, value or safety. Here, it means proof that the vehicle’s performance is lower than promised, or that the vehicle’s resale value took a plunge because of its lowered performance, or that the vehicle is a safety hazard.
Class actions are in the works. Typically, consumers get nominal damages while legal costs soar. In contrast, in lemon law and breach of warranty cases, the outcome is more in step to a consumer’s actual damages.