/ Motoring

VW emissions scandal: one year on

car emissions

The time last year, news broke that VW had been caught cheating US emissions tests on its diesel engines. At the time, the car manufacturer promised it would fix affected vehicles within a year, but since then, very little progress has been made on the VW emissions scandal.

In the year since news of the emissions scandal broke, I’ve gone from shock, to anger, to bemusement with how VW Group has handled repairing the damage from what is, quite frankly, appalling corporate behaviour.

As the scandal broke, we launched our campaign, ‘Come Clean on Fuel Claims‘, challenging all car manufacturers to reveal if they too had deceived the public as VW had.

With well over one million VW Group cars affected, we urged the government to act fast on its investigation into whether the manipulation of emissions tests was an industry-wide practice.

The Transport Secretary at the time, Patrick McLoughlin MP, said his ’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‘.

The government were slow to investigate and have been particularly lacklustre in taking action.

Have car owners been conned in the VW emissions scandal?

We’ve now heard from tens of thousands of car owners supporting our campaign. There is real anger at VW. People feel like they’ve been conned. And they are right to feel that way.

In April, we went before parliament to lambast the lack of action from government and the dismal reaction to the scandal by VW.

Before we gave evidence to Parliament, we asked 30,000 Which? supporters what they thought about the scandal and the message was clear: 94% said that car manufacturers weren’t being fair to UK consumers.

Failing to deliver

This is not surprising when you look at the disparity in how UK consumers are treated compared to our cousins in the US. Consumers in the US will be in line for a share of billions of dollars in compensation payouts. While in the UK, VW has dismissed the concerns of consumers outright and refused to compensate for its outright disgraceful and underhand behaviour.

VW can’t even deliver on what it promised owners it would do. It said that it would repair consumers’ cars within a year. It has completely failed to do this and hasn’t done enough to keep VW owners aware of what is happening, including regular Which? Conversation member, Wavechange:

Lack of progress

What has driven me to bemusement in the past couple of weeks though are statements coming out of the European Commission. It seems to have given VW a free pass for another year to repair affected cars. No one asked VW car owners if they wanted to wait.

There has also been minimal movement on securing compensation for owners, as VW outright refuses to pay out in the UK (and there are currently no viable legal routes to make it).

As a campaigner, I’ll admit I’m dismayed at the lack of progress we’ve secured on getting redress for UK consumers and the dispiriting reaction from those with power to hold VW Group to account.

This has been a challenging campaign, against a company that is wilfully ignoring the concerns of its customers and refusing to even hold a discussion with consumer groups in the UK on how it will redress the issues.

So it’s quite clear to us that there’s still much to be done here. And we’re considering the steps we can take to hold VW to account.

Has your car been affected by the VW Group emissions scandal? If so, how has your case been handled? What more do you think can be done to hold VW to account?


In December I received a letter stating”independent testing authorities have confirmed there will be no negative impact on engine performance, torque, fuel consumption, noise & Co2 emissions after having the update applied.”I contacted VW vie their e mail address on their web site asking if they could tell me who the independent testing authorities were & if I could see the results of those tests. This is the reply I received early January:

“Thank you for your email dated 7 December 2016 to Volkswagen UK. Please accept my apologies for the delay in our response.

In response to the concerns you raised in your email, I can confirm that the Volkswagen Group has developed technical measures for vehicles affected by the NOx emissions issue, and is working closely with the relevant authorities (in particular, the German Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA) and the UK’s Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA)) in this regard. The objective of the technical measures will be that the affected vehicles comply with the limits for NOx during test conditions in a manner that leaves no room for any doubt that it is fully approved by the relevant regulatory authorities. Whilst the relevant authorities have approved in principle the proposed technical measures, the Volkswagen Group is now working to finalise the technical measures with the relevant authorities for each model variant.

The technical measure is being designed to have no adverse effect on the performance or quality of your vehicle. In this respect, the relevant authorities are performing extensive independent tests in relation to the technical measures for every single model before they are implemented in the affected vehicles. In addition, each individual measure is tested by the Quality Assurance Department through a series of tests which takes six to ten weeks, as well as being tested in different conditions and different altitudes to ensure they are durable and robust.

In this regard, the technical measures for certain 2.0 litre engine vehicles affected by the issue (including models from Volkswagen, SEAT, ŠKODA and Audi), and certain 1.6 litre engine vehicles (Volkswagen Caddy), have now all received final written clearance from the KBA. The KBA has confirmed that the technical measures have no impact on the performance of these vehicle models, including their MPG, CO2 emissions, engine performance and maximum torque, and noise emissions. The clear intention is that the technical measures for all other affected models (including your vehicle) will similarly have no impact on performance.

For practical reasons and for reasons of commercial sensitivity, it will not be possible to provide specific test figures for individual customer vehicles.

Volkswagen will strive to ensure that you are fully satisfied with the technical measures and we sincerely hope to regain the trust you placed in Volkswagen when you chose your Volkswagen Passat; so if, following the implementation of the technical measures, you have specific concerns about your vehicle, we will be more than happy to discuss these with you further before the technical measures are implemented.

Finally, thank you for taking the time to contact us. I am sorry for any inconvenience this has caused you.”

The last sentence obviously doesn’t make sense, but I was more concerned with “The clear intention is that the technical measures for all other affected models (including your vehicle) will similarly have no impact on performance.” So I asked if I could be told when the final written clearance from KBA so that I could get my Passat software altered. I received this in response:

“Thank you for your email dated 24 January to Volkswagen UK. Please accept my apologies for the delay in my response.

I understand that you have received our letter informing you that the Volkswagen Group has developed a software update for your Volkswagen Passat and that this software update is now available to be implemented. I would like to assure you that the German Federal Motor Transport Authority (the KBA) is performing independent and rigorous tests of the implementation of the technical measures in the affected vehicles, to ensure that the measures have no adverse impact on the performance of those vehicles. The KBA, which is the relevant independent type approval authority for your vehicle, has provided its final written clearance for the implementation of the software update for your vehicle model and has confirmed that the update has no adverse impact on CO2 emissions, MPG, engine performance and maximum torque, and noise emissions.

I apologise for any confusion caused by not stating this in my previous correspondence. To reiterate, for vehicles where technical measures have already been released (as they have been for your vehicle), the KBA has confirmed that the technical measures have no impact on the performance of these vehicle models, including their MPG, CO2 emissions, engine performance and maximum torque, and noise emissions. ”

Looks clear cut…………if you believe them?

the principle of what VW say is correct. Independent vehicle testing establishments such as the KBA and VCA are responsible for checking the effectiveness of the proposed changes from VW Group on their range of affected engines and approving the modifications before they can be released to the market.. It has taken a long time but presumably VW’s solutions have also taken time to find. I presume the basic data would be available once approved in the same way that new car data is published. However, we must remember that the only published data that is allowed by the EC is that derived from the ancient NEDC test regime that bears only a passing resemblance to real life. Maybe when we leave the EU we can escape this and allow, or require, car manufacturers to publish the more-useful real life data as well.

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When Greater London voted to have Mr Khan as their Mayor the rest of the country should have been consulted before asking the government to spend more of our taxes on vehicle scrappage schemes.

On the other hand, cleaner air will take some pressure off the health service but one might ask why aren’t the motor manufacturers and oil companies making a bigger contribution?

I certainly hope that VW will be asked to make a contribution to our government’s funds. Everyone suffers from the effects of vehicle pollution, especially those living and working in cities and town.

If NOX emissions comply with the NEDC requirements then the one we need to look at on “corrected” vehicles is CO2, as this is directly linked to tax – vehicle excise duty and benefit in kind for company car users. Should CO2 from corrected vehicles be in a higher band than originally declared then the government should be reclaiming the past and future underpaid tax from VW, should they not? In addition, if UK law has been broken then they should be fined.

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We have two Convos about these changes: https://conversation.which.co.uk/motoring/hybrid-car-tax-vehicle-excise-duty-ved-rules/ and here: https://conversation.which.co.uk/motoring/new-car-tax-vehicle-excise-duty-debate/

Maybe it would be better to base vehicle excise duty on pollutants such as nitrogen oxides would be better than using carbon dioxide figures.

Both are pollutants, as well as particulates, so we should have a tax based on a combination.

London (TfL) is charging, from oct 2017, extra for vehicles with poor emissions – Euro4 cars for example @ £10 a day – in the congestion charging zone. This will be removed when the Ultra Low Emission Zone comes into effect in 2020.
Among exemptions are taxis and private hire vehicles. Why?

I am in two minds about charging to pollute; on the one hand you can pollute if you pay – how does that affect health? So ban polluting vehicles? But on the other hand, those stuck with old vehicles who cannot afford to change would be penalised. What is the solution? Sell you car to an Uber driver?

Nitrogen oxides, particulates and sulphur dioxide (and some other pollutants produced by vehicles) are directly harmful to people whereas carbon dioxide is not. We exhale it when we breathe. Carbon dioxide emission is directly related to fuel consumption so if we need to tax this it is easily done via fuel duty.

I don’t understand why taxis are exempted from emissions surcharges. I am certainly not in favour of people paying to pollute but having low emissions zones in cities is an obvious way of tackling the immediate problem of very high pollution levels in certain city centres.

We should be reducing CO2 emissions. While they are not directly toxic they are damaging to the planet and need to be controlled. Taxing polluting cars is a good way to both do that and reduce the use of fuel.

VED takes no account of the mileage covered by a car – which can vary greatly – so if the intention is to tax on the basis of carbon dioxide emission then it makes sense to put the tax on fuel instead.

Fuel is taxed – vat and duty. The more fuel you use, the more tax you pay. VED will affect the choice of car for many people (even though it is one of the least important expenses). However, from past experience it has a significant effect on company car choice, both for the company paying it and the tax the individual must pay for the car benefit.

Company cars contribute a considerable amount to pollution and use of fossil fuels and like air travel in connection with work, much of this could be avoided. Where necessary, company cars could be small economical ones and not big BMW, Mercedes etc. ego-boosters.

I realise that we are in the wrong Conversation, even though I posted links to relevant ones. 🙁

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Any more information about the environment regulators, Duncan?

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I was interested in whether VW had been fined because they had cheated to misrepresent the amount of nitrogen oxides produced by the cars in question. Here is one report that indicates they have been fined: https://www.ft.com/content/d998b804-d81a-11e6-944b-e7eb37a6aa8e

I’m not planning to push for compensation because my car has been modified and seems OK at present.

I presume there is nothing, except the expense of doing so and the uncertainty of success, to stop VW owners in the UK from taking legal action against the company for compensation and it might come to that in the end. I think the main difficulties at the moment are that, (a) unlike in the USA, the emission levels were not illegal in the EU*, (b) any extra costs of running an implicated VW, either before or after the manufacturer’s modification, have not been identified, (c) accelerated depreciation has not been substantiated, and (d) other possible losses or distress factors have not been quantified. It would seem that here VW Group is immune from public prosecution and sheltered from private litigation [at least for the time being].

P.S. *I don’t think the UK’s leaving the EU will make any difference to the legal position because the law in force at the time would prevail and at the material time no offence was being committed.

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John – What concerns me is that VW has cheated over the amount of nitrogen oxides their cars produce. I will not condone cheating and want to see the company or those responsible punished. Others can chase personal compensation if they wish but what concerns me is the damage done to the health of our population.

Duncan – As you will see, I’m not keeping up with this sorry story.

It is so much easier to make federal law applying in all States across the USA, and then to enforce it, than it is to make community-wide laws in the EU where 28 member states have to agree and then there are inconsistencies in enforcement by each country. That is one aspect of the EU I don’t think we shall miss. Whether we shall make a better fist of it on our own remains to be seen; I just hope the UK does not try to imitate America.

Fair comment about needing EU approval for enforcement, John, but don’t forget that we have the EU to thank for a great deal of useful environmental legislation. This country can’t even deal with air pollution in its cities and I’m concerned that environmental issues could be ignored in the quest to boost the economy. I hope I am wrong.

I entirely agree with you on the NOx emissions, Wavechange. I disliked the clamour for private compensation at the first mention of this scandal and it is still a running theme. There certainly is a case for a public action against VW Group for causing pollution and for deliberate falsification of test results. Unfortunately the case here is arguable; in the US it appears that the company will not contest the prosecution. I would hope that the UK government can obtain a multi-billion pound payment from VW that can be ploughed into environmental protection measures; it is probably impossible to reverse the harm that has already been done.

I should be interested to know what effect [if any] this scandal has had on the market for VW motor cars now that many owners are looking to replace their vehicles and that new purchasers have entered the market. I know that you intend to keep your car for another five years at least, but do you think that otherwise you would have avoided VW? Many loyal VW customers are probably thinking that VW’s are now better than ever and see no reason to change. I also wonder to what extent the emissions problem has risen up the list of factors that drivers look for when selecting a new car; I was never convinced that it was such a critical factor as many motorists made out.

Yes, I hope there is no back-sliding on environmental protection after we leave the EU. If anything I should like to see the UK being the pioneer in advancing public health and safeguarding the population from harmful substances using its freedom from the drag of EU acceptance procedures to move more expeditiously against known risks. We could use such a position to resist imported goods that do not comply with higher UK standards. It could be easier to be the leader in Europe from outside the EU than inside it. Whether Mr Trump will keep the US at the forefront of public protection is an interesting question; the portents are not favourable at the moment.

My understanding is that European emissions limits are not as strict as for the US, presumably driven by California and other states with serious problems. If the industry can make cleaner cars for the US, why not for the UK and the rest of Europe? I presume there is a cost issue.

Have you evidence that the NOX emissions for cars sold in the UK exceeded the regulatory limit as determined on the EC’s NEDC test? I’d simply like to see the numbers involved then we can have a rational evaluation of if, and how, VW should be penalised.

The NEDC re-tests on corrected cars will show the revised CO2 output (and fuel consumption). Someone by now should be able to give a figure on any general loss in resale value caused by VW’s action. This, plus inconvenience in taking your car in for mods would give a sold basis for owners to seek compensation.

If VW have sold cars that exceed the regulatory NOX emissions then the UK government should fine them. If CO2 emissions put cars into higher bands for taxation purposes then lost tax – VED and benefit in kind income tax from company cars – should also be recovered.

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I don’t have the benefit of your global knowledge on this, Duncan, but I think sensible and well-informed people understand that the UK had no choice so long it was bound by EU law and policy. So far as I am aware, the UK has not acted differently to any other EU member state. Amazingly, rather than VW Group being in the dock, it is more feasible that the government itself and those in other EU countries could face legal action for not having effective emission detection and control measures in place to prevent environmental pollution and risks to health.

I ridicule the USA when they award vast sums in “compensation” – $100’s millions – against, say, tobacco companies when someone contracts lung disease. I presume the awards are never actual given?

As far as VW and the UK are concerned, there are significant differences in laws that were broken. We are part of the EU in this. I don’t want to see an American style compensation culture creeping here – although there are signs of it, Encouraging people to claim for everything and anything. Good business for bloated lawyers. Is that the sort of country we really want?

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The situation regarding emissions is different in the EU from the USA.

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“Which? response to the Government’s call for further compensation from Volkswagen over emissions scandal
20 April 2017
Alex Neill, Which? Managing Director of Home Products and Services, said:

“It is unbelievable that Volkswagen is still yet to compensate the 1.2 million owners in the UK affected by this scandal. If VW continue not to do the right thing for those who are entitled to compensation the Government should step in.”

Do we (Which?) now know how
– the official performance of all remedied cars compare with their published official performance before “remedy”?
– the change in resale value attributable to the remedy?
– the extra cost to owners of getting their cars remedied?
– the change in fuel official fuel consumptions due to the remedy?

@aneill :Compensation is to remedy financial loss. We have asked many times for Which? to explain the basis upon which it demands compensation. What is that basis?

The other, perhaps principal, compensation or penalty due is to Government (i.e.all of us) for two things:
– the loss of tax revenue (VED and benefit in kind income tax) if CO2 emissions now take remedied vehicles into a higher tax band
– the environmental damage caused by excessive NOx if indeed pre-modified cars were shown to produce artificially low levels compared to their un-remedied version.

@aneill, is Which? preparing details of their proposed basis for compensation to VW owners affected by cheat devices?

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The Government should threaten VW group unless they compensate UK Owners the Government and all its agencies Conservative Councils should Stop buying VW Group Vehicles

Would you – or Which? – like to show exactly how you would calculate the compensation (as opposed to a penalty charge) that VW should be asked to pay to individuals? Presume Labour and Liberal Democratcouncils are left free to purchase VW?

Recently had my Skoda Yeti upgraded. Since then, nothing but problems. I was charged £102 for investigation into problems and was told my EGR valve was faulty and needed replacing. This will cost nearly £1,000 and supposedly has nothing to do with the software upgrade. However, there are no EGR valves available at present, presumably they have all been used up on previous customers who have had their software upgraded! I was told by the dealer, after the software upgrade had been done, that the upgrade was optional and this would have been clearly stated in my letters (it wasn’t). Apparently not having the upgrade applied would not affect MOTs. So my advice is, if you have an affected car, don’t go anywhere near VAG dealers, just leave it as it is, or you might be in for some very big repair bills.

EGR valves commonly cause problems and unless the problem appeared immediately after the modification, the failure may be unconnected with the work. The dealer should have checked that the valve was working correctly prior to the update. My dealer said that two customers had problems after the work was carried out but said that additional work would be carried out free of charge.

I had my Golf modified earlier this year and it’s absolutely fine. It would be irresponsible not to have a car modified.

I will be looking to replace my 2014 VW Touran Motability vehicle with a new 2017 (September) model in January 2018. My present vehicle had the engine update earlier this year for the Emissions fiasco. Having seen the BBC Watchdog report (12/07/2017) on the latest concerns owners have reported, concerning sudden power loss following their engine software update, with car engines switching to ‘Limp Home Mode’, I am now concerned as to whether this health and safety problem could also affect new models, and am therefore seeking assurance that all new models do not have this emissions software issue!

Although I have not experienced any sudden power loss with my Touran, I can confirm that I noticed a change to the car from the first day following its software update work being carried out. At least twice the engine cut out for no apparent reason. Yes, it is a Blue Motion system.