Not an Easy Fix

We've learned that VW's ability to provide great fuel economy was based on a lie. In order to fix the pollution problem, fuel economy will likely suffer, making it much more difficult for the repaired cars to meet the U.S. fuel economy standards.

Sean Doyle

The Volkswagen scandal is about emissions nearly half-a-million diesel cars in the U.S. spewed up to 40 times the legal limit of nitrogen oxides (NOx). But fuel economy is a big part of the story too. Americans bought diesel Volkswagens to get great mileage and performance all for a reasonable price the perfect mix.

Yet, we’ve now learned that VW’s ability to provide consumers with great fuel economy has all been based on a lie a lie to consumers, a lie to regulators, and a lie spanning many years since at least 2008.1 Here’s the truth: In order to fix the pollution problem, fuel economy will likely suffer, making it much more difficult for the repaired cars to meet the U.S. fuel economy standards.2

VW popularized the term “Clean Diesel” a marketing effort that led potential buyers to believe they were complying with federal fuel efficiency standards.3

Recently, Volkswagen announced it will ‘refit’ cars affected by their emissions scandal.4 It’s unclear what the refit means for current owners, but right now there are two options:

  1. Replacement of Hardware: Other makers, like Mercedes and BMW use a system based on a urea solution that removes nitrogen oxides from exhaust before it leaves the tailpipe. The problems with this system are numerous: it requires a physical tank to hold the solution, costs $5,000 to $8,000 per car, and will take time to install on every car.5 It could cost Volkswagen well over $3 billion for cars in the U.S. alone, and would force owners to give up their cars for repairs. 
  2. Replacement of Software: Volkswagen could make the “defeat device” permanent, allowing the cars to meet U.S. emissions standards all the time. This seems like the obvious (and cheapest) option, except Volkswagen selectively turned on the software during testing because the cars take a serious performance and fuel economy hit, potentially shaving off 10% off the cars fuel economy.2

The hardware replacement is an expensive fix, while the software replacement option would severely hurt the car’s mileage per gallon.  Clearly it’s a lose-lose. As consumer advocates, PIRG believes Volkswagen should offer to buy back its cars because the product is not what consumers paid for.

MPG standards are an important tool to lower American gas consumption, limit global warming-causing emissions, and protect public health. Volkswagen diesel owners bought these cars because they valued an environmentally conscious car. Instead, what they’ve ended up with is a symbol of deception and corporate greed in a car that is exorbitantly polluting with a “fix” that will likely cost them at the pump.

Fixing one violation of federal law pollution limits under the Clean Air Act doesn’t give Volkswagen a pass for violating another federal fuel economy standards.  Whether or not you drive a Volkswagen, please add your voice to our “Make VW Pay” campaign to make sure that Volkswagen doesn’t get away easy after intentionally breaking the law and deceiving customers for years:


1Green Car Reports, “Supplier Warned VW Of Illegal Diesel ‘Defeat Device’ – In 2007,” September 29, 2015.
2 Financial Post, “How Volkswagen’s fix for its emissions ‘defeat devices’ could hurt vehicle performance,” September 25, 2015.
3 Chicago Tribune, “Volkswagen diesel scandal: What you need to know,” September 22, 2015.
4 Wall Street Journal, “Volkswagen Has Refit Plan For Emissions-Rigged Vehicles, Says CEO,” September 29, 2015.
5 Wired, “VW Owners Aren’t Going to Like the Fixes for Their Diesels,” September 22, 2015.


Sean Doyle