/ Motoring

VW scandal rocks the industry – do you still trust car makers?


Volkswagen has come under fire for cheating official car pollution tests in the US and Europe. Isn’t it about time we could trust the claims car makers make?

Today’s headlines extensively cover the Volkswagen scandal, where the car manufacturer has admitted rigging environmental tests. Since then, the story has escalated quickly, with many European Ministers calling for an EU-wide investigation into the issue.

Volkswagen emissions scandal

The scheme was discovered by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), which noticed discrepancies in results of laboratory and real-world testing of diesel Volkswagen cars in Europe. ICCT then tested the cars’ actual emissions in real-world driving in the US, where car emission limits are much lower than in Europe. Much to their surprise the pattern was repeated – while the cars passed lab tests performed by the California Air Resources Board, they failed the real-world tests.

So what was going on? Well, Volkswagen managed to artificially lower its tailpipe emissions by using a ‘defeat device’. This allowed Volkswagen to hide the fact that its diesel cars produce pollution up to 40 times the legal limit. We’ve got a bit more info about how this works in our online Q&A, but in short it can detect when the car is being run under lab conditions. Once the car returns to normal road use, the software switches itself off.

Volkswagen has said that 11 million of its diesel cars are affected around the world, with models such as the Golf, Passat and Audi A3 included. The company had already been ordered to recall 500,000 cars in the US, and has set aside €6.5bn to deal with the cost of the scandal.

Fuel economy claims

Car makers claiming figures that are unachievable in real life isn’t news to us. In spite of miles per gallon (MPG) figures being used to pass official standards and promote product characteristics in advertising, we’ve repeatedly shown that these claims very frequently miss their mark, and this is across all manufacturers.

Considering the Volkswagen story we decided to look at the MPG values of diesel cars from both VW and its competitors. You can see the full results here, but on average they missed their claimed figures by 12%.

That’s why we’re calling for a new, more stringent and more accurate fuel economy test to be put into place by 2017 so that you can once again trust the official figures you see when purchasing a car. Hopefully, some good will come out of this scandal in that it helps our cause and convinces the European Commission and national European governments that they need to put an end to the loopholes and lax tests.

Has the Volkswagen scandal changed your view of car manufacturers? Do you think the government should implement more stringent and accurate testing for cars?

[UPDATE 24/09/2015] – The government plans to launch an investigation into vehicle emissions. Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said:

‘The Vehicle Certification Agency, the UK regulator, is working with vehicle manufacturers to ensure that this issue is not industry wide. As part of this work they will re-run laboratory tests where necessary and compare them against real world driving emissions.

‘We have called on the EU to conduct a Europe wide investigation into whether there is evidence that cars here have been fitted with defeat devices. My priority is to protect the public as we go through the process of investigating what went wrong and what we can do to stop it happening again in the future.’

[UPDATE 26/09/2015] – After more than 9,000 votes, 95% of you said that you wanted action on misleading fuel claims. So we have launched a campaign calling on the car industry to Come Clean on Fuel Claims. Show your support by signing our petition.

[UPDATE 30/09/2015]Volkswagen has announced that more than one million UK vehicles are affected by its diesel emissions scandal, including Audi, Seat and Skoda cars. A VW spokesperson said: ‘Step by step, affected customers will be contacted, with details of a process to get their vehicles corrected in the near future. In the meantime, all vehicles are technically safe and roadworthy.’

Details of affected cars will be released to retailers in the ‘coming days’ and there will be a self-service process for customers to check if their car needs to be corrected.


I have had 3 letters from VW promising to correct my emissions problem. But no action yet.

We have three Skodas in our immediate family, including an Octavia that was part of the deliberate emissions fraud programme conducted by Skoda. We are disgusted at the way we have been treated by Skoda, who seem happy to keep stalling (no pun intended) us over a ‘fix’ (again no pun!) with, of course, absolutely no mention of any form of compensation or even goodwill gesture.

Needless to say, six Skodas on, Skoda will not be getting any more business from us.

We are also extremely disappointed by the inaction of our government and also the failure of Which? to get any resolution for UK customers.

Why do Which? keep reviewing and commenting on models? You should make a statement, repeated in all of your motoring reviews, that you will not include Skoda in any reviews that you conduct until they have put right the wrongs that they have inflicted on their UK owners. Which? should not be recommending/promoting any manufacturer that cheats its customers in this manner.

In the meantime, I would urge everyone affected by this fraud to use social media to remind the world how Skoda cheats its customers and when caught, does nothing about it. @SkodaUK #Skoda

Every time you see a promotional tweet or Facebook posting from Skoda, reply reminding the world how Skoda cheat the consumer and are allowed to get away with it.

It wouldn’t hurt to reference Which? @WhichUK either – I can’t help getting the feeling that they have given up a bit on this one .

Heather says:
10 January 2017

I have had three letters from VW promising that they are investigating and will be in touch but no action sofar. I noticed in the news yesterday that there is a law company taking action for compensation on behalf of VW owners – unfortunately I cannot remember the name of the firm. Does anyone know anything about this legal action?

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Hello, I have a Skoda Fabia, whose gas emissions, had a defeat mechanism fitted to show false readings. I have had 2 letters from Skoda admitting that a defeat mechanism had been fitted. I am resident of Northern Ireland.
I was wondering if any of you had contacted VW or Skoda. I am planning to contact WV and Skoda to see what their response is regards paying compensation to owners of cars that have the defeat mechanism fitted. Assuming compensation will be paid, will all owners automatically get paid? even those which will not be legally represented. Or do you have to be legally represented to get the compensation. If you are legally represented, will VW pay the Lawyers bill, and it will not come out of the compensation paid to the owner.
Would like to hear all your comments and advise,

I Have just had my the software update and having read in the papers that the update will affect the fuel economy . VW told me that the cheat was put in when the car is at idle . When the car is in motion it will not affect the car in any way so the fuel economy should not have changed

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28 January 2017

Just had letter inviting me to book my car in for remedial fix. Given 2 options to make the process easy for me: 1) dealer will collect car carry out work and return car. This would involve one of the dealers staff picking up and returning the car. 2) I deliver car and VW will provide courtesy car while work is being done (if one is available). Because I am 25 miles from my nearest dealer this option is not open to me, therefore they expect me to deliver the car in my time using my fuel to get there and back. Even option 1 would have meant me paying for fuel and wear and tear to get car to dealer and back. As VW expect me to deliver the car I have asked them to pay something per mile to cover fuel and wear and tear as well as an hourly rate for my time (suggested same inflated rate that they charged me for changing an EGR valve).

I have explained to VW that I am not prepared to contribute in any way in order to help them sort out this scandal, nor I am prepared to be inconvenienced in any way. Still waiting their response on how they intend to do the work entirely at their expense..
If VW have invited you to take your car in for the fix I would suggest that you make sure you are nor helping to pay for it.

George Corfield says:
29 January 2017

My Golf Plus 1.6tdi has had the fix. I have a certificate of completion stating that this will not affect the performance or fuel consumption, etc.. I have to say that the engine is now quieter and more responsive but the economy is about 10% higher, unless my logic is way off I assume that the car is now producing more CO2 . The fix was carried out 3 weeks ago and I have travelled sufficient miles over regularly used routes to be able to be certain of my facts,

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In my experience with my Golf 1.6tdi and other diesel cars, ambient temperature makes a big difference in fuel economy, especially on short and medium journeys, so hopefully this could be a factor in the difference you are seeing. It has been very cold here since Christmas. Mine goes in for modification soon and I’m encouraged that you have seen positive effects as well as the negative ones, George.

There is no doubt that nitrogen oxides are harmful to human health and city centres are the biggest concern. Carbon dioxide is produced by many sources.

I will post my findings and will be interested to know how your Golf does once the weather warms up, but I’m expecting some loss of fuel economy, whatever VW claim.

I had the ‘fix’ applied to my Golf 1.6 TDi on the 1st February and on the drive home from the dealership, my car lost power and ended up needing to call breakdown services after 30 miles. My car was recovered back to the dealership and after five days, was returned to me with four new injectors – provided and fitted as a ‘goodwill gesture’. I have driven a further 50 miles and I notice reduced fuel economy by around 10mpg; rough idling and a noisier engine. I have found an online forum crammed with people experiencing post fix issues and the bulk of these involve injectors, reduced mpg, egr valve failure and increase in DPF regeneration. Given that the fix alters the way the injector system works and increases egr function this is perhaps unsurprising.

I’m booked in tomorrow. 🙁 The dealer has said that they will sort out any problems free of charge but I need to get this in writing. I’m hoping you have just been unlucky, Deborah.

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I would recommend you check out Honest John and Hypermiler before you take it in. There is a rapidly growing group on FB of people who have had issues with faulty EGR valves, increased DPF regenerations, reduced mpg, loss of power and injector problems post fix.

Thanks for the information Deborah. So far I seem to be lucky. I had planned to test the car on a decent length of dual carriageway on the way home but it is currently restricted to 50 mph. 🙁

The only really obvious change is that in neutral there is now a very brief increase in idling speed when the clutch is released. Trying to spot other changes, I suspect it may be able to run at a lower speed in the high gears without changing down, but that might be my imagination.

My car has done less that 39k miles and so far I have not had any problem with the EGR valve yet, but I’m well aware that this is a common problem with modern diesels. It’s hardly surprising when exhaust soot is fed back into the engine.

I asked if the dealership had found any problems and was told that a couple of Polos had to be looked at a second time because of increased noise. I will report back when I have an idea of whether the fuel economy has suffered.

@user-66219 – You asked me to report back. As I said in another Conversation, my car seems fine since the modification and I have not seen an reduction in mpg so far. VW have still betrayed my trust and if they they want to regain it they should make a sizeable contribution to healthcare in the UK to compensate for the damage their vehicles have caused to the health of our nation.

I’m still waiting to hear from Audi regarding my 2011 A1. Ive had to replace the EGR at my own cost, and also have the dodgy emissions, EA189 engine is it?
Don’t get the MPG as given either.
And with regards the compensation scheme, shall we sign-up? Or hope VW pay out anyhow?

EGR valves do get clogged and need cleaning or replacing.

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And I think the government should think long and hard before abandoning some railway electrification schemes and stopping short on others. We have the upcoming nonsense of electric passenger trains having to be retro-fitted with diesel engines to enable them to complete their journeys on many long distance routes. This will add weight to the trains, pollution to the atmosphere, filth to the maintenance depots, and noise to the station areas. When running under the wires, electric trains will be hauling an extra tonnage of diesel engines and fuel.

I agree with Duncan on the madness of successive governments trying to manipulate motor taxes for largely political reasons and ending up with little environmental benefit.

Personally, I stopped buying diesel cars several years ago. This was after a close colleague explained to me that he was an asthmatic and told me about the undesirable side effects of diesel particulate emissions.

What about commercial vehicles, public transport, taxis, diesel-powered plant…………………? There is a huge legacy of old higher-polluting vehicles, public and private. It would make much more sense to limit their access to towns and cities, think of limiting engine size, work hard on anti-pollution measures. Can you give a link to the government report where you say 37 diesel cars exceed the legal limit. Make sure this refers to the official EU’s NEDC test and not “on-the-road”, for which a legal limit does not exist.

The tail pipe of my diesel car shows no sign of soot after more than four years thanks to the particulate filter but I am aware that it still produces small particles of soot, which are believed to be more harmful than visible soot. I wonder if the answer is a high temperature catalytic converter, as fitted to petrol-engined cars.

Even if we never sold another diesel car, diesel engines are likely to be with us for many years, powering commercial and public transport, so it’s worth devoting effort to make diesels as clean as possible. It’s not so long since the engines of petrol cars were exhaling lead and a cocktail or carcinogenic chemicals. Three way catalytic converters removed most of the carcinogens and the lead had to go because it would have wrecked the catalytic converters.

These electrification problems seem to stem from people either unable to do their sums, or manipulating the numbers so the contract looks good – as in PFIs and, almost certainly HS2 – so when found out it has reached the point of no return.

We do need a real motor vehicle strategy, which is what I imagine you are alluding to John. Simply letting people pay to pollute might raise more money but will not help the environment. That strategy will need unpopular measures. As pollution is most serious in towns and cities, particularly I imagine around rush hours with high traffic numbers sitting in jams, controlling numbers would control the effects. But that would be unpopular with some, and would require a better public transport system and out-of-town parking.

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Thanks for the link duncan. I was only really querying whether these cars were “illegal” but, as there are no legal limits for on-the-road emissions (yet) , they would not be.

On the road emissions testing is starting this year and will lead to legal limits being imposed in the future (the Real Driving Emissions test)

Incidentally, if anyone wants to look at this report, delete the extra “e” in “preogramme” in the link.

The link begins “Vehicles tested in the UK programme showed no evidence of car manufacturers, apart from the VW Group, fitting devices to defeat the approved emissions test programme.”

My understanding is that the emissions regulations are tighter in the US than in the UK and the rest of Europe. If the manufactures can produce cars that have lower emissions of nitrogen oxides then why are they not selling them here. As has been pointed out, we have a serious problem in cities, particularly London.

Manufacturers sell electric and hybrid cars on the basis that they are a clean option but why not adopt this approach with diesel and petrol cars?

It may well be the extra emissions controls come at a cost. It is for the EC (in this case) to set regulations and for manufacturers to abide by them. So perhaps we should ask the EC why they have not set lower emissions regulations. It may be some manufacturers do give lower emissions – the NEDC sets only a maximum level.

That’s what I assume, but surely there are enough people prepared to pay a little more for cleaner cars. I am disappointed that VED is based on carbon dioxide emissions rather than nitrogen oxides, particulates and other carcinogens.

“pay a little more for cleaner cars”. If the comments about domestic appliances are correct, many people seem unwilling to pay for more than they need. If we all had a social conscience, one way to reduce emissions is to stop driving older vehicles. But that won’t happen, we know.

I think concentrating on individual vehicle emissions is only sensible up to a point. The other factor that contributes to unacceptable pollution is the number of vehicles in an area – particularly a densely populated one – all at the same time – rush hour and traffic jams. We could deal with this straight away by introducing capacity limits, restricted vehicle access, providing we also ensure sensible alternatives are available – e.g. park and ride with acceptable charges.

Some of us are prepared to make an effort and I would have liked to have had the option of a cleaner version of my present car if that had been available at the time of purchase.

I agree that we cannot rely on individuals and legislation is the answer and that keeping cars out of city centres must be a priority. Park & ride is a sensible solution, and electric buses would be better. I don’t know how much park & ride costs across the country, but last week I paid £2 and tomorrow it will be £1 – substantially less expensive than city centre parking.

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Gwilym James says:
26 March 2017

I have just had the emissions modification on our 2010 VW i.6 Golf. After driving for 30mins it went into limp mode. My local VW garage has now replaced the EGR valve free of charge and it it’s performance is now as before the fix.
Gwil James,Wrexham.

David says:
15 April 2017

I booked my diesel Golf for the software correction but the dealer refused to do it, saying I needed a new EGR valve as their computer showed a fault though there are no warning lights when I drive. Cost around £1200 so I’m reluctant. Any suggestions?

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EGR valves become progressively blocked with soot and it sounds as if you will see the warning light soon. With some cars it’s possible to clean the valve and it’s not a major job. A friend had this done several times to his high mileage Ford before replacing it. I have a diesel Golf and from what I have read, its not a simple job and labour may be the main cost.

If the car has done a fairly low mileage, the main dealer may offer a goodwill contribution. If not, it might be cheaper to use an independent mechanic that is familiar with the task. Best of luck David, and please let us know the outcome.

Mike McGhee says:
17 April 2017

I have had the repair service to my VW Passat and now have my catalytic converter light appearing on the dash.
Arnold Clark, the garage involved, say they will carry out a systems inspection for £90.
I think that’s outrageous and feel they should carry out the check free of charge.
The other problem is: Can I trust the garage that carried out the work to own up to a further problem? After all honesty has not been too forthcoming from the agencies.

Daimler forced to recall Mercedes with defeat devices: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-44444361

I wonder how this story will develop.