The Volkswagen Emissions Scandal and You: What Action Can You Take?

VW Pic

By now, Volkswagen’s emissions scandal has become common knowledge amongst the average American. What most people know is that VW cheated on their emissions testing for diesel vehicles, and that they are facing down fines from the US government to the tune of billions of dollars. In short, owners of these vehicles have been the victims of a major fraud, and are entitled to compensation. Compensation that RGLZ Law can help you win from VW. But what exactly did VW do to cheat these tests, and how exactly does that affect you as the owner of one of the affected vehicles? Read on to find out more.

What is the ECU? And Why does it Matter?

First we’ll need a little background in how modern automobiles function, as well as the regulations that must be met for them to be sold. Modern cars are significantly different from cars of 20-30 years ago in many drastic ways, but perhaps most drastically in how they function. Whereas cars of old used linkages, carburetors, and other mechanical means to translate your inputs into action and run the motor properly, today’s cars are primarily controlled by an ECU, or Engine Control Unit. This is a computer that manages almost every part of a car’s operation, and is essentially the “brain” of the car. It receives information from every part of the motor, and every input from the driver, to properly optimize engine performance under any sort of conditions. Most of a car’s operation is now digital instead of mechanical, and the ECU is what takes all of this data and translates it into action.

The ECU must be programmed extensively from the factory to balance a number of factors. This programming is what is known as a “tune” or “engine map”. The car’s factory tune aims to achieve the best possible combination of power, fuel economy, and emissions. But in the case of Diesel powered cars, increased power and fuel economy come at the expense of far higher emissions. Much more so than gasoline powered cars. The United States EPA has a set of very stringent guidelines for just how high the emissions of a car can be, and so theoretically, compromises would have to be made in terms of power and fuel economy to ensure compliance with emissions standards.

What did VW do to the ECU to Cheat Emissions?

The crux of the scandal comes from the fact that Volkswagen had a separate and secret ECU tunebuilt into their diesel powered cars, with the express purpose of beating emissions tests. To many car buyers, power and fuel economy are major drivers of their decision making, and sacrificing these things to meet emissions standards was apparently something that Volkswagen engineers thought would make their cars uncompetitive in the marketplace. Unable to strike a good balance of power, fuel economy, and emissions, they chose to engineer a workaround for emissions testing instead of making that sacrifice.

The car’s ECU was engineered to know when emissions testing devices were plugged into the car, at which point it would replace the factory ECU tune with one that would meet the testing standards. As soon as the testing devices were removed, the ECU would immediately go back to the factory map which was nowhere near being in compliance.

How Does This Affect VW Diesel Owners?

So where does this leave the owner of one of these Diesel powered VW cars? Unfortunately there is no “fix” to this problem that does not severely affect the value of their automobile. As the cars are now, their emissions levels are far beyond the allowable amount. Though no action will be taken against drivers of these cars, this is still something that would affect perception of the cars, and therefore their resale value. To bring the cars into compliance with emissions standards, VW would have to recall the cars, and permanently program their ECUs with the secret “testing” map. The problem with this is that it would have drastic negative effects on the drivability, power, and fuel economy of the vehicles in question. This might hurt the value of the cars more than doing nothing, and there would doubtlessly be people who would choose not to participate in a recall for these reasons.

As it stands, there is no situation where this scandal does not constitute undue damage to the value of these affected automobiles, and as such, product liability claims are likely an option for owners of said vehicles. Legal recourse may be the only way for Volkswagen customers to be made whole in the aftermath, even in the case of a manufacturer buyback of the affected vehicles. If you currently own one of the affected Volkswagen vehicles, we highly recommend speaking with a product liability attorney at this time to explore your legal options. With class actions on the way, there may a limited amount of time to take action in this regard.