VW Bugs in the System

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by Hunter Howardvolkswagon emissions testingDid your mom ever tell you, “If you aren’t going to do something right, don’t do it at all?”  If she didn’t, learn from Volkswagen’s major screw-up this past week. If you’ve spent the last week or two on a deserted island, Volkswagen was recently caught in a scandal dealing with cheating on their emissions tests.

The beginning of the downfall started with a simple road trip. Researchers based out of West Virginia were evaluating emissions from diesel cars made by overseas manufacturers for American consumers, a new region of study. The West Virginia team, which included two professors and two students, was excited to be pioneers and decided to push the limits of these cars. They took long road trips, putting more than 2,000 miles on one of the test subjects. This test revealed one of the cars was putting out more than 20 times the listed baseline emissions. Further tests on other vehicles revealed those numbers reached almost 40 times the legal limit of nitrogen oxides.

So, how exactly did the vehicles pass the tests in the first place? Well, Volkswagen thought it would be a good idea to make the car run low emissions only when it was having tests performed on it by the EPA. After it passed and was disconnected from the emission reading machines, the test mode shut off resulting in better gas mileage, more torque and more emissions.

The Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn has apologized for the lies and promised to enact an external investigation. Although Winterkorn claims he had no direct relation to the incident, he understood someone must take responsibility and on September 23, he chose to be that man and resigned.

The question remains, how will Volkswagen make it through this? Let’s look at the financial aspect first. Volkswagen is facing fines of up to $18 billion in the United States alone. The company has also set aside $7.3 billion dollars to cover the costs of recalls and damage control. This doesn’t include the fact that their sales could plummet which brings us to loss of trust. Volkswagen has a PR hill to climb mending the broken trust of its loyal customers.

What does all this mean for the owners of the affected vehicles? Well, there is going to be a recall for a fix. This can go one of a few ways. The first solution is to run it in the test mode. This would drastically reduce emissions at the cost of lower MPG and a drop in torque both of which would result in unhappy drivers. VW would have to make a settlement with owners, because at the time of purchase, they were promised something different. The second way would be to attach a urea tank to each and every vehicle affected. This system can eliminate 70 to 90 percent of emissions but must be constantly refilled with the urea solution to keep your car running. Each one of these systems would cost anywhere from $5,000 to $8,000 a piece.

So, what if VW owners don’t want to do either of these? Could they just ignore the letter? Possibly. A report from the Government Accountability Office states that only 65 percent of recalled cars are ever repaired because no one can force a driver to repair their vehicle. But with an issue of this magnitude — because it is an issue of public safety — will that change? What will happen to the vehicles and to Volkswagen? Only time will tell.

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