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Disgruntled Diesel VW Owners Are Stripping Their Cars Before Turning Them In

Photo: Tacoboutnachos/Reddit
Photo: Tacoboutnachos/Reddit

Part of Volkswagen’s $14.7 billion Dieselgate settlement requires the company to offer buybacks to nearly half a million owners whose cars cheated emissions tests. But that settlement does not stipulate that those bought-back cars have to be in good shape, so some owners are stripping their vehicles down.

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According to the buyback terms specified in the EPA’s Consent Decree, the only requirement related to vehicle condition is that the car has to be “operable,” a word defined by the court as:

“Operable” means that a vehicle so described can be driven under its own 2.0-liter TDI engine power. A vehicle is not Operable if it had a branded title of “Assembled,” “Dismantled,” “Flood,” “Junk,” “Rebuilt,” “Reconstructed,” or “Salvaged” as of September 18, 2015, and was acquired by any person or entity from a junkyard or salvaged after September 18, 2015.

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Operable could mean a lot of things.

I called Volkswagen’s settlement hotline, and the representative told me the same thing. Basically, it seems like you can strip every damn part off of your Volkswagen TDI and still get your buyback money, as long as the car can still drive under its own power.

Quite a few Volkswagen owners, many of whom I’d place squarely in the “disgruntled” category, see this as an opportunity to get back at Volkswagen by turning in a fully-gutted shitbox, while others just see it as a way to make some extra cash.

You’ll find threads from TDI owners all over the internet, from Reddit to the TDI Owners Club, about this topic. There are threads like “Will anyone be stripping salvaging parts before selling back?,” “Has anyone returned a stripped TDI yet?,” “Stripping the Turn Ins,” and “Cannibalizing TDI,” all of which eventually turn into discussions on ethics, since VW is compensating owners handsomely, and stripping a vehicle would theoretically make it more difficult for the company to sell the cars if they eventually devise a fix.

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Owners in these threads have discussed removing mirrors, jacks, headlights, floor mats, visors, radios, seats, and all sorts of other easily-pulled parts. Then there are people like rotts4u, a member of the TDI Club Forum, who got a bit more imaginative, saying:

Carpet, airbags, battery if yours is better/newer, drain the oil and replace it with even more used oil drain the coolant and replace it with water from the storm drain, empty the fuel tank, DEF tank, take off the glove box door, the inner door panels I guess you could pull the steering wheel and just clamp a vise grip on the stem to drive it to the dealer, pull the air filter oil filter,drain most of the brake fluid, power steering fluid, windshield washer fluid,, spare tire, jack, first aid kit, maybe even the trunk deck could come off and meet the rules, who know can you drive legally without doors?

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To be sure, most people seem happy with their buyback offer, and at most, they remove a few aftermarket parts they installed and a floor mat or two.

But some of them actually have stripped their cars down, like Reddit-user Tacoboutnachos, who turned in a total junker after literally stripping his Golf’s front fascia off (that’s his car in the top photo).

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Even the rear end was also messed up from an accident:

Photo: Tacoboutnachos/Reddit
Photo: Tacoboutnachos/Reddit
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I chatted with Tacoboutnachos over Reddit, asking him if he had intentionally removed the fascia, or if it had been torn off after a collision, and he said:

Yes the front end I took off for my friend and then the back was in an accident. I guess you can say everything’s happened to this car lol.

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Despite the janky shape of the car, Tacoboutnachos told me he “still got paid with no issues.” So seems like VW will buy back your car even if the thing’s in terrible shape. Will they buy back just the carcass with the powertrain in it? I’m not sure, but the terms in the settlement definitely don’t rule out the possibility.

If more owners do what this person did, you can expect lots of cheap used Jetta and Golf parts to flood Ebay and Craigslist in the near future.

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h/t: Emily

Sr. Technical Editor, Jalopnik. Always interested in hearing from auto engineers—email me. Cars: Willys CJ-2A ('48), Jeep J10 ('85), Jeep Cherokee ('79, '91, '92, '00), Jeep Grand Cherokee 5spd ('94).

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DISCUSSION

elysian893
elysian893

I swapped the seats from my wife’s 09 Jetta TDI into my 04 Golf TDI. I’m taking the steering wheel, the wheels (we’ll send it back with some clapped out steelies), the rear wiper arm, and virtually anything else I can use in my 04. Here’s a picture of my Golf with the rear seats and 1 of the front seats in:

I still need to find power so I can swap in the powered drivers seat, but that will happen this weekend. Seats aren’t a direct swap, but I have no qualms with making brackets.