Widespread vehicle recalls are usually the result of manufacturer’s defects that pose a safety hazard to drivers and their passengers. In recent years, consumers have witnessed large carmakers, like Toyota and GM, issue massive recalls for safety-related issues. For Toyota, it was the result of unintended acceleration in approximately 9 million of their vehicles. For GM, it was an ignition switch defect that was linked to more than a hundred deaths.
In September of 2015, Volkswagen (VW) became the most recent automobile manufacturer to make headlines in anticipation of recalling millions of vehicles worldwide. What sets VW apart from the others, however, is the reason for the recall.
Where the other manufacturers overlooked known safety hazards, VW is thought to have purposely installed software on millions of their vehicles with an aim at intentionally deceiving consumers and federal regulators.
The Volkswagen Defeat Device
The software in question has been dubbed the “defeat device.” Its purpose was to boost emissions ratings on VW’s diesel engine vehicles.
This sophisticated software could detect when the car was being operated under testing conditions. If the so-called defeat device detected any kind of controlled emissions testing, it would go into a safety mode of sorts that decreased the engine’s performance and overall power.
This made the diesel engines’ emissions readout much lower than what it actually was. In fact, when the vehicles in question were driven and tested in real world situations, true emissions results were as much as 40 times that of the legal limit in the United States.
Conflicting Emissions Data
A European agency was the first to notice discrepancies in VW diesel engine emissions tests. To confirm their findings, they brought in University of West Virginia researchers who tested the vehicles in question under real world situations. Their results also showed the stark difference in pollution output between on-the-road driving and that of a controlled testing environment. When the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) learned about the findings they confronted VW with the results.
Initially, Volkswagen blamed the discrepancies on various errors. Only after the EPA threatened to deny VW’s plans for future vehicles did they admit to installing the emissions-cheating software on various diesel models manufactured between 2009 and 2015.
Who is affected by the Volkswagen Emissions Scandal?
As of January 2016, an estimated 11 million Volkswagen, Audi, and Porsche models were equipped with the defeat devices. Of those, approximately 500,000 were sold to U.S. consumers and the 10.5 million other vehicles were sold throughout Europe. Although official recall notices haven’t been announced yet, Volkswagen and government regulators are actively working to reach an agreement on how best to proceed with recalls.
What Consequences will Volkswagen Face?
Volkswagen has already set aside billions of dollars to cover the expected costs to fix vehicles once recalls are officially issued. But this is only the beginning of losses the company is likely to encounter as a result of the emissions scandal.
The EPA has the authority to fine Volkswagen as much as $37,500 for each vehicle recalled. These penalties could climb well into the billions as the true number of vehicles affected is determined.
Fines and penalties are not the only consequences of VW’s actions. Volkswagen is expected to face a number of lawsuits in the months to come. The Justice Department has already filed a civil suit against the German automaker for allegedly violating the Clean Air Act in connection with the defeat device installation on millions of cars.
The number of lawsuits filed by consumers and VW shareholders is still to be seen. As of December 2015, more than 500 civil suits were filed by consumers and several class action lawsuits initiated by car owners across the country.
What Can Consumers Do?
Individuals who purchased one of the affected models can still safely drive their vehicles until official recall announcements are made to address repairs. Since the installed software is likely to result in diminished resale value of vehicles and decrease fuel efficiency and performance once repaired, car owners may have legitimate legal claims against Volkswagen that entitles them to compensation.
Vehicle owners, dealers and VW stockholders should speak with a product liability attorney, such as those at the Diaz Law Firm, regarding their own lawsuit options against Volkswagon. One thing is certain, as fines, penalties, and lawsuits keep adding up, Volkswagen will be on the hook for billions of dollars as a result of the diesel emissions scandal.