VW owners mull diesel options: fix or buyback?

Buyers have two years to yurn in their VW diesels.

SOMETHING NEW: Volkswagen’s Alltrack, a higher (6.9 inches of ground clearance) and AWD version of the Golf, is hitting showrooms now.
SOMETHING NEW: Volkswagen’s Alltrack, a higher (6.9 inches of ground clearance) and AWD version of the Golf, is hitting showrooms now. –VW

Not long ago, I received an email from a former colleague with a request to write about the Volkswagen diesel situation.

He was interested because he has a four-year-old diesel Jetta wagon with a lot of miles on it. He loves the Jetta but naturally wonders what the future holds for him and his car.

Not surprisingly, as a good ex-journalist, he’d done his homework and knew about the current situation as VW, the US government, and consumers negotiate over the rigged emissions scandal.

1. VW has agreed to disperse $1.21 billion among its 625 US dealerships, an average payout of $1.85 million per dealership.

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2. Dealers are offering affected owners a choice of buying back diesel-powered VWs or making a free software repair.

As we understand that program, the trade-in value would be equal to the “clean trade-in” amount listed in the September, 2015 NADA used car guidebook. In other words, the pre-scandal value. In addition, that value would be increased by 20 percent and the customer would get $2,986.73 in cash back.

Dan Quirk, who has weathered a lot of events in a lifetime in the automotive sales business, says customers have been realistic about the situation, and VW North America has been upfront in working with the dealer network.

His advice: “If you have an older diesel model, it seems best to turn it in. If you’ve got a newer one, I’d try the fix and see if you’re happy with it.” If you’re not, VW apparently will offer a second buyback opportunity.

John Wolkonowicz, an independent Boston-based auto industry analyst, says the buyback offer “is a no-brainer for the consumer. When VW is offering to buy your car for significantly more than it’s worth, it’s time to be thinking about what you’ll be buying for your next car.”

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Meanwhile, VW America is getting some new vehicles aimed at the US market.

Now in showrooms is the Jetta Alltrack, an all-wheel-drive version of the Jetta, and coming in early 2017 is the Atlas, a long-awaited midsize crossover that US dealers have wanted.

But there is one more real-world question to be asked, namely, what if I have a VW diesel, love the way it runs, and don’t want to have the software fix or trade in the car quite yet?

One fear is that your car won’t pass inspection down the road, though it seems that drivers will get a pass during the two-year buyback period.

Randy Currie, owner of Compass Auto Works in Newburyport, works on both heavy duty and light duty diesels, as well as runs a busy inspection business. He doesn’t see that there’s been a change in the testing software.

That would mean that the VW-engineered bypass for emissions testing still is in place and working.

Currie also is skeptical that the cars are running as dirty as some testers claim.

“I’m of the opinion that this diesel case is much ado about nothing. There have been many rewrites in the software that runs these cars. Plus, there are a lot of hiccups and issues in how diesels run in general.  

“If you follow the money, it seems that government regulators are levying $15 billion in fines against VW to justify their existence. They want them off the street when in reality these are great running cars that get much better gas mileage than gas-powered versions. The software changes aren’t a whole lot different than what you might find if you put an aftermarket tuning kit on the car.”

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To cap it off, he says, “I’m wondering if the software fix is going to make the cars run that much cleaner and whether we’ll be seeing some of those cars not passing emissions testing.”

Meanwhile, the Commonwealth is keeping an eye on the situation.

“All Volkswagen diesel cars continue to be subject to the Commonwealth’s annual motor vehicle inspection requirement. Those vehicles that pass the emissions inspection due to the illegal software manipulation by Volkswagen will be addressed when a process has been approved to fix and resolve this issue,” says Edmund Coletta, spokesman for the MassDEP.

John Paul, the AAA Car Doctor whose column appears in the Saturday Globe, says, “In recent years, when people asked me to recommend a car that was fun to drive, practical, and economical, I’d tell them to buy a VW Jetta TDI Sportwagen. And, if they wanted even more fun, to buy one with a manual transmission.

“Now,” says Paul, “I feel kind of guilty about that, but the truth is, they’re still fun cars to drive. If you opt to get the software fix at the dealer’s, the reports I’m hearing is that you lose some acceleration, about 1 second in the 0-to-60 miles per hour time, and some economy. Those numbers drop back to what the EPA originally estimated the car would achieve. Most drivers regularly exceeded those estimates by quite a bit.”

Because the buyback program runs through 2018, it appears owners have two years to make a decision—and plenty of time to continue driving their TDIs.

Bill Griffith can be reached at wgriff@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @MrAutoWriter.