Here's What Will Happen To The Thousands Of Diesels Volkswagen Buys Back

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After an unprecedented $14.7 billion settlement released yesterday, we learned that Volkswagen will offer to buy back nearly 500,000 four-cylinder diesel cars affected by the emissions cheating scandal in the U.S. But what is the fate of the cars once they’ve been bought back? Are they all doomed?


The answer is yes, these cars are doomed to the scrapper unless VW can come up with a fix. The consent decree released yesterday by the U.S. Justice Department reads:

All Eligible Vehicles returned to Settling Defendants through the Recall Program shall be rendered inoperable by removing the vehicle’s Engine Control Unit (“ECU”) and may be, to the extent possible, recycled to the extent permitted by law.


It goes on to say that none of these bought-back vehicles can ever be rendered operable again unless they’ve been modified to reduce emissions below acceptable levels:

Settling Defendants may elect to resell or sell any returned Eligible Vehicle or any 2.0 Liter Subject Vehicle in the United States, provided, however, that Settling Defendants first modify the particular vehicle in accordance with the applicable Approved Emissions Modification ...


But can VW just sell the returned cars in some other country with less stringent emissions regulations? Nope. Nice, try:

Settling Defendants may not export or arrange for the export of 2.0 Liter Subject Vehicles, unless such vehicle has been modified in accordance with the applicable Approved Emissions Modification ...


Okay, so the cars are going to be “recycled” unless VW comes up with a fix.

But maybe VW can come up with a technical solution, right? Perhaps, but it’s not looking good, as is made clear right on page three of the 200-page document:

At the present time, there are no practical engineering solutions that would,without negative impact to vehicle functions and unacceptable delay, bring the 2.0 Liter SubjectVehicles into compliance with the exhaust emission standards and the on-board diagnostics requirements to which VW certified the vehicles to EPA and CARB;

Doesn’t sound promising.

So if VW and regulators continue to flounder at finding a fix for these NOx-breathing diesels, there are likely to be lots and lots of Volkswagen TDI parts at your local junkyard—which could be a godsend for TDI owners who plan on keeping their cars, and don’t mind doing a bit of junkyard-surfing.


We don’t know exactly which parts will be salvageable, but the U.S. Justice Department does specify that the ECU, diesel oxidation catalyst and dieselparticulate filter are off limits. But you probably don’t need those parts for your Volkswagen TDI race car anyway, right?

Also, in the “Eligible Mitigation Actions” section of the settlement, which talks about how VW can reduce NOx produced by large trucks and other polluting machinery, the document defines the word “scrapped” as: render inoperable and available for recycle, and, at a minimum, to specifically cut a 3-inch hole in the engine block for all engines. If any Eligible Vehicle will bereplaced as part of an Eligible project, scrapped shall also include the disabling of the chassis bycutting the vehicle’s frame rails completely in half.


If that definition for “scrapped” doesn’t just apply to mitigation projects, but also for Volkswagen cars, you can probably expect your junkyard to soon be filled with ECU-less, catalyst-less, DPF-less VW TDIs with huge holes in their engines and hacked unibodies.