The VW “Fix” Just Got a Lot More Expensive

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Better hide your diesel VW.red barchetta pic

Turns out that some of the “affected” models will require more than just a quick, easy (and free) software adjustment to placate Uncle.

Actually, it is most of them.

Of the 482,000 diesel-engined VWs identified (so far) for the High Crime of end-running Uncle, 325,000 of them may require physical alterations; that is re-engineering of their hardware. Specifically, they will probably have to be retrofitted with urea injection – a “feature” VW diesels up through the 2014 model year uniquely lacked – and which was probably among the reasons why people chose to buy a VW diesel.

More on that in a moment.

Urea injection is a chemical (catalytic) exhaust treatment that sprays a fluid – urea – into the exhaust stream. This alters the composition of the resultant gasses issuing from the tailpipe, making Uncle happy. It has become unavoidable to have this system, in order to placate Uncle. Every diesel-powered passenger car sold in the U.S. now has it – including all new VW diesels.adblue 2

But it requires a secondary tank (in addition to the fuel tank)  to store the urea – a couple gallons of the stuff, typically – and all the plumbing to get the urea into the exhaust. Plus the electronics to control the operation.

A retrofit will therefore entail costly physical as well as software modifications to the vehicle.

Probably a couple thousand dollars’ worth of parts and labor for each “affected” car. Holes will need to be drilled, cuts made in the car’s sheetmetal, to accommodate the urea tank, the filler neck and so on. The exhaust system will have to be altered, perhaps wholly or partially replaced.

It will also be necessary for the car’s owners to buy urea – commonly marketed as AdBlue or just Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) for the life of the car. VW will probably have to subsidize this for as long as each car remains in service – even if that’s for the next 30 years – as the people who bought the cars arguably did so at least in part because they thought they were buying a car that did not require periodic urea refills.adblue pic

Surprise!

You can see that is serious – and seriously expensive – business.

When the owners of the “affected” vehicles find out, they may revolt. May demand that VW simply buy their cars back, at full sticker – plus something extra for the hassle.

Which they are likely to get. 

Because this mess differs from the usual recall, in which a component, a design (or even the car itself) turns out to be defective. That can be attributed to someone dropping the proverbial ball, or unforeseen consequences, even poor workmanship. But VW is accused of what amounts to a willful, deliberate fraud. Of knowingly selling people cars that were – in the eyes of Uncle – “polluters.”

The company has in fact admitted to doing exactly that.

Did you just hear something?

It’s the sound of the mortician tape-measuring VW for a casket. Or maybe it’s the sound of lawyers beating feet to file their papers down at the courthouse.funeral director

Now, it’s true that VW meant well – a stark contrast to the usual recall scenario involving a cheap-out of some kind, typically.

Volkswagen meant to sell people diesel-powered cars that performed superbly and also delivered the fuel-efficiency expected of them at a reasonable price. To do this, it was necessary to “cheat” Uncle, whose tailpipe emissions standards long ago devolved from reasonable to not. I’ve written about this before (here and here), the gist of it being that VW figured that fractional and therefore unnoticeable (except to EPA Inspector Javerts) increases in the exhaust emissions were an acceptable thing if the cars themselves performed noticeably better.

Which they did.

Having driven all the “affected” cars I can personally vouch for the fact that a TDI Jetta – as a for instance – is capable of delivering near-hybrid fuel economy (50 MPG is absolutely achievable) while accelerating with much greater gusto than slow-pokey hybrids like the Toyota Prius. Which also costs about $3k more, incidentally, than VW was asking for the base trim Jetta TDI($21,295 for the pre-urea 2014 model vs. $24,200 for the Prius that same year).

Now the “affected” cars will be less efficient – and more expensive.

It does not matter. Uncle is aggrieved.

And VW is screwed.red barchetta 2

So also the owners of the “affected” – that is, the targeted – cars. Which now includes certain diesel-powered Audi and Porsche cars, too.

They, too, will have to be re-engineered, at massive cost, and will not run better (and will probably run worse) after they’ve been “fixed.”

If I owned one of these rigs, I’d hide it in a barn, Red Barchetta-style, in order to keep it out of Uncle’s clutches. Of course, then it wouldn’t be much use except as a relic of a better managed time.

Which may be the best that can be done at this point.

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34 COMMENTS

  1. “Or maybe it’s the sound of lawyers beating feet to file their papers down at the courthouse.”

    Just saw a commercial from one of those lawyers who solicit on TV, for VW owners who “might be entitled to compensation.”

    Of course the commercial was misleading…it starts with a voice over that says VW sold cars to consumers under the premise that they were efficient, but admitted to committing fraud, with just the graphic noting that it was about emissions.

    Someone listening might assume that the cars weren’t actually efficient.

  2. Been out of the loop a bit. Working too much. Now catching up on the reading. Anyway…

    Most of the VW/Audi TDI 2.0L engines have had urea injection on them since their latest redesign. Only a handful of models, usually the smaller, lighter ones, didn’t come with it already installed. The heavier the vehicle, the more the engine strains under acceleration and the worse the emissions are. Enough of them didn’t have such systems that it’ll cost an arm and a leg to retrofit.

    Now the 3.0L TDI engines are also implicated. This is a smaller number of vehicles, but are more expensive models. Only one VW used it, the Touareg, but several Audi models did and even one flavor of the Porsche Cayenne. They all had the urea injection systems and exhaust filters on board from the factory and still didn’t pass the tests. I’m also aware that several other models from several other makes, including BMW and Mazda have failed the emissions tests, but we’re not hearing much about that in the news. Also, it seems that some of the VW gas engines output more CO2 than was reported as well.

    I don’t think this will kill VW, though. It is one of the largest and most important companies in Germany, far more important to their economy and jobs than all of the US Big Three put together. If ever there was a Keynsian case for government bailout, this would be it. Not that I agree, but given that this is a government-generated faux crisis, of course there will be a government “solution.”

    I would love to get an Audi A7 TDI right now. In fact, the day the news broke about the 3.0L TDI failing, I tried checking if my regional Audi dealer would swing me a deal on one before the stop sale happened. Unfortunately they were slow in responding and the stop sale happened before they got back with me.

    The question is what will happen with this recall. First, there has never been a recall on a car that was mandatory for the consumer to have performed. It doesn’t mean that they couldn’t force the issue and make this the first. They have the self-granted authority. But most states don’t do emissions testing, and those that do have already certified these cars, so I suspect the recall will not be mandatory and each state, except for California, may just forget about it for now, letting the EPA do the heavy lifting.

    VW met with California and EPA folks on Nov 20 and were required to propose a solution at that time. It was a closed door meeting, so the actual fix has not yet been announced publicly. Most likely this will be a software fix, and the rumor is that it won’t affect performance or fuel economy, but I don’t know how that could possibly be. Especially on the subset that lack urea injection, like so many of the little models do. My guess is that the vehicles will be neutered, and VW will forgo any further development of the Diesel engine for the next twenty years to wait for this stigma to pass.

    And one other casualty, the next generation Phaeton development has been shelved. Likely permanently.

  3. HI Eric,
    I know I said I was gone, but a question occurred to me that I didn’t know where else to ask.
    Is there a chance, in this era of ’50 state compatibility,’ that the TDI’s in question would meet the emissions spec except in CA?

    • Hi Phillip,

      I’m pretty sure VW (and the others who sell diesels) sought “50 state” certification from EPA. Whether that has any bearing on a state that has a different standard is an interesting question. I’ll see what I can dig up.

      Good to have you back, by the way. I hope you’ll stay!

  4. “Specifically, they will probably have to be retrofitted with urea injection – a “feature” VW diesels up through the 2014 model year uniquely lacked”

    I am scratching my head on this one. My 2013 Passat definitely already has urea injection. It also is definitely superior to what it replaced – clogged intake manifolds due to EGR.

    • Good news for content creators?

      This custostech . com startup looks amazing.

      It doesn’t like me “helping” spread its word using any kind of eye-patch and parrot techniques, so you’ll have to close the the two words around the “.” and see for yourself.

      The anti-fragile white paper is freakin sweet.

  5. In many respects, this is no different from Toyota recalling all Tacoma trucks in northern winter salt states for frame corrosion inspections. Toyota either transplanted a new frame with suspension, brake lines, and all other corroded beyond serviceable attached components under the existing Gen 2 bodies up to $10k per affected vehicle or bought back the Gen 1 trucks at highest KBB book value. That was a very expensive proposition considering Toyota cornered the small truck market with the Taco.

    This under-reported disaster was lesson in the well researched arts of coatings technology and metallurgy. Nothing about excessive EPA exhaust emissions quite compares to having your lower control arm mounts separating from the frame at highway speeds.

  6. I wonder whether VW will have to retrofit the engine “kill switch” for times when the AdBlue tank runs out. I remember the EPA debate around selective catalytic reaction years ago, and the EPA wanted the car to shut down when the urea runs out. Manufacturers argued against that because it’s a safety issue, so a compromise was reached – when the urea runs out, cars have to go into a limp home mode, with speed limited to 5mph! That’s how one compromises when arguing with a gorilla, I guess.

  7. In my prediction that the US government will pocket the fine money and exempt the current car owners of any responsibility to have the car “fixed”. The amount of the fine VW would have to pay will be be calculated to be just a tad less than the total of the costs of the fix they could have alternatively imposed.

    What’s to be gained by pissing off the buyers? Is there really any need to spend a dime on the customers’ cars? After the appropriate time spent in limbo a long delayed settlement will be happily agreed by both VW and the cars owners. VW would “win”, the VW owners would “win” and the US govt., as always, really would win.

  8. It would not surprise me if fuel efficiency increases after the retrofit to SCR. That has been the case for nearly (if not every) vehicle that has made the switch. Compare window sticker fuel efficiency for a 2014 vs 2015 VW Jetta. The highway rating went up 3-4 mpg with the switch to SCR.

    • WhatchutalkinaboutWillis?!

      Hell no it won’t. I’m no engineer, but these are my reasons…

      1) You are adding weight.
      2) You are adding complexity.
      3) You are adding maintenance requirements and costs.

      But let’s say it is more fuel efficient? So what? You will lose performance.

      I have a 2012 VW TDI Golf MKVI. I have even chipped it. I’m now at 177HP (from 140), and 275+ lbs of torque (from 236). I basically turned my car into a GTD for 150€. The fuel economy has not changed.

      I went from Pisa, Italy to Oberramergau, Germany on one tank of gas. I crossed through the Brenner Pass. This issue needs to die. Congress has passed many an ex post facto law in the pass. They need to do one now.

      • VW’s lean NOx trap required fuel to burn off NOx. If you have SCR you no longer waste that fuel. It is adding weight and complexity, agreed, however, it should not affect performance, or maybe it’ll even improve it. Once again, the NOx trap needed the engine to run super-rich for a little while to sent unburned fuel into the trap to regenerate it, which is bad for power, the car no longer needs to do that. Granted, VW’s cheat did amount to not sending that extra fuel into the lean NOx trap.

  9. My 99 Chevy Metro gets better than 50mpg. Why? Less regulation at that time. The ’92 can sometimes get 60mpg. New cars are being turned out that consistently get better than70mpg – but you can’t buy them if you’re an American. Land of the free my butt.

  10. Its deplorable that the cheaters will be costing their fans a bit of anxiety,pays not to be too smug ,eh?Brag on a car? Dont make me laugh,they are a disposable commodity,despite the hype and ill feeling Madison Ave,foists.
    Anyway,enough of that,the NeoNazi state workers will be all over that here in VA and I guarentee you will not be able to register one of these cars in this state unless you can prove,you are compliant,I guess the new VWs wont smell funny anymore(believe it or not,most of the time I could tell the difference)another arguement,another time,been around stinky diesels all my life and I think the new ones are an improvement,I could usually tell by the exhaust odor whos diesel was under the hood(in a lot of cases anyway)

    • My cousin(RIP) and I were in Mexico in early ’04. We noticed immediately the “kerosene” odor from the fuel there. I suspect it was closer to #1 or actually was #1. Of course all the big truck makers have facilities in Mexico so they turn out some rather powerful units. We had a guy flip the hood on his Pete. There was a huge Cat with inline dual turbos sitting there. Of course tri-axle tractors and trailers are common there as are quad axle trailers. They need big power to negotiate the mountains. It was cold and rainy there at the time and we were up fairly high in the mountains for the most part(east coast, easy to go from sea level to high mountains in a short time). You could hear those engine brakes for miles.

      • Eight,I used to notice the odor of asphalt coming from our fuel when filling up,I’ve got a hunch ULSD isnt far from kerosene anyway(remember K-1 ,Folks?)Other then the lubricity,know of no real detriment for running K-1 through the Diesel(ULSD doesnt lube as good anyway) of course the dye might mess things up,did on some airplane engines,of course the cost also.Thats one reason I favor a mileage charge over the dye fiasco,I have to call double BS on the dye business,I know about the bureaucracy and all,but it seems to me like it would give the truck Nazis one less thing to pounce on(the fines for running dyed, on road were stupendous)
        Everything about the government anymore seems anti business(,for some reason I lost my notify button on the post window.I’m going to bookmark this for awhile,this is an interesting subject(I have heard of some cheapskates either putting urine or water in the adblue tank with predictable results,these people dont have my sympathy at all,most of them I know are snobbish well off people who like to brag about their diesels,I say if they can afford to buy the diesel to start with,they can afford to add a little adblue from time to time.If I say,would buy a Ram Eco Diesel,it wouldnt hurt my feelings a bit to have to put a little adblue occasionally,in it to enjoy the benefits of Diesel power(am seriously considering the purchase of the mini diesel crossover PU ffrom the Koreans,if and when it becomes availible(and adblue wont hurt my feelings a bit)

  11. I’d consider finding and buying one of these things before they are shut down…. my county is exempt smog checks, reregistration is by mail or online, them put the new tabs in the post. Seems this is the capitol of the state, all the elected conspirators use this as theyir residence address, thus registering here they don’t want to deal with the biannual smog checks. Selfish, but I’ll take it. Quite a fe other rural counties are also exempt… sparsely populated, no air pollution issues (not that the big cities ever had anything signficant, but don’t ask for the EPA’s input on that boondoggle). Maybe to get real cagey, find a same-year and model wreck, move the build plate and title to the diesel rig, remove the TDI badge from the boot, and motor on. I’d NEVER get one with an automatic, though… those gearboxes are insane. No, you’re not ugly enough, they;re worse than that. Manual trans gets better economy anyway.

    Then the only downside of the car would be the amhorrent quality control generally evident in VW cars….. nd the ridiculous engineering. When the electric window lift motor packs it in (there are only two types of any such mechanism: those that HAVE failed and those that WILL fail) the cure is to remove the trim panel, then the entire plate underneath that trim panel demounts as a unit, complete, there is no way of reparing it at all, the entire door sized panell gets replaced, motor, livt mechanism, glass guides, all but the sheet of glass itself… wholesale last I checked was over $300. Not counting labour. Hah, the window lift motors on my older Mercedes can be removed in less than lanf an hour, and generally cleaned and lubed, then put back in to function fine for the next ten years or more, I’ve had one with a bad armature… most suc issues are not even the lift motor, but the switches.. the cire for that is to dismount the switch, prise it apart with a small screwdriver, remove the rocker plates with contacts, lightly bead blast the contacts, reassemble, refit, and you’re done.. three quarters of an hour for a fix that will survive as long as you’ll own the car.

  12. A Nice Morning Drive author recounts cycle ride with Neil Peart
    http://www.rushisaband.com/blog/2007/07/13/1121/A-Nice-Morning-Drive-author-recounts-cycle-ride-with-Neil-Peart

    – – –
    The story of Red Barchetta by combining scenes from Minority Report, Back to the Future, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Fifth Element, Rumble In The Bronx, Star Trek, iRobot, The Pedestrian, Gone In Sixty Seconds, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and Top Gear. This video was inspired by Back to the Red Barchetta.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jYIQcZ66gzM

    Red Barchetta by Rush
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9Q05UyIOX4

    In a world where many classes of vehicles have been prohibited by “the Motor Law”. The narrator’s uncle has kept one of these “illegal vehicles” in pristine condition for some “fifty-odd years” and keeps it hidden at his secret country home (previously a farm before the enactment of the aforementioned Motor Law).

    During one of his weekly drives, the narrator encounters an “alloy air car” that begins to chase him along the roads. A second such vehicle soon joins the pursuit, which continues until the narrator drives his Barchetta across a one-lane bridge that is too narrow for the air cars. The song ends with the narrator returning safely to his uncle’s farm.

    The song was inspired by the futuristic short story “A Nice Morning Drive”, by Richard Foster and published in the November 1973 issue of Road and Track magazine.

    The story describes a similar future in which increasingly stringent safety regulations have forced cars to evolve into massive Modern Safety Vehicles (MSVs), capable of withstanding a 50-mile-per-hour impact without injury to the driver. Consequently, drivers of MSVs have become less safety-conscious and more aggressive, and “bouncing” (intentionally ramming) the older, smaller cars is a common sport among them.

    Lyricist Neil Peart made several attempts to contact Foster while working on the album, but Road and Track did not have an up-to-date address, and Rush were forced to settle for a brief “Inspired by” note in the lyric sheet mentioning the story. In July 2007,

    Foster and Peart finally made contact with one another; Foster later posted an online account of their journey by motorcycle through the backwoods of West Virginia between stops on Rush’s Snakes and Arrows tour.

  13. Was just listening to Michael Weiner(Savage) in the car while everyone does the quarterly household shopping.

    (I’ll drive and wait, but it’s against my “religion” to go into a store. Besides, other people enjoy that stuff, I’d probably rather be stuck in a Mosque, than in a Mall.)

    But anyway, he’s just nailing it, and insightfully preaching the truth left and right. He even says he’s for laissez faire democracy. That he believes in live and let live.

    But then he goes full Republican retard, talking about how “his” soldiers have to clear everything through the sorority girls at the Whitehouse before they can drop their bombs. How he doesnt mind taxes for police and soldiers.

    How exactly is it Laissez Faire, in his mind, to drop bombs 7500 miles away from Las Vegas(or SFO) on people who barely even know who we are?.

    What a bunch of liars, Republicans are. They are for a far bigger govt than the dems. Laissez faire and protection only. What a crock.

    Michael Alan Weiner — has an estimated net worth of $18 million dollars. Born in New York, Savage is a conservative radio host, commentator, and author.

    Michael Savage’s “Government Zero: No Borders, No Language, No Culture”!

    http://www.michaelsavage.wnd.com/files/2015/08/government-zero-cover.jpg

    From the bestselling author of “Stop the Coming Civil War,” Michael Savage reveals the massive dangers currently leading to the demise of “our” government.

    “our”?? give me a break

    Michael Savage has been warning Americans for decades. In “Government Zero,” Savage sounds the alarm about how progressives and radical Islamists are working towards similar ends: to destroy Western Civilization and remake it in their own respective images.

    These two dark forces are transforming our once-free republic into a socialist, Third World dictatorship ruled by Government Zero: absolute government and zero representation.

    Combining in-depth analysis with biting commentary, Savage cuts through mainstream media propaganda to reveal an all-out attack on our borders, language and culture by progressive and Islamist travelers who have hijacked public policy from national defense to immigration to public education.

    There is only one thing that can stop this terrifying agenda. Michael Savage has a plan. Get the inside story before it’s too late.

    Read more at http://www.michaelsavage.wnd.com/2015/08/government-zero/

    I enjoy listening to his take on things, but his plan is as bad or worse than the plan from the liberal left side.

  14. Due to the huge number of cars affected, and the extent of the alterations (adding a new DEF tank in the trunk, stripping the interior to run the wiring, perhaps an ECU swap), I expect the feds will just fine them heavily and make an exception for the cars currently on the road.

    And maybe forbid them from being resold. Which will be the tricky part – do the feds take some of the penalty money from VW and set up a buy-back trust with it to compensate the owners (even if it’s at 50% of market price)?

  15. I doubt it will require any extensive sheet metal work. Why? Because when making field fixes even simple drilling is often forbidden. Simple drilling is about all that will be allowed. What happens instead is a lot more parts get swapped out. Which of course makes all that much more expensive.

  16. I would buy one of the affected cars and NOT take it in for the required “modifications”. As long as your state does not do emission tests, there should be no problem. As far as I am concerned, the government can go screw itself

    • depends on the state and how far they’ll push it. They could simply deny registration. My guess is they won’t do anything leaving it to fedgov to do something who also will probably do nothing.

      • I imagine many and most states will require proof of the “repair” (even if its only a paper form from the VW dealer reporting it) in order to continue the registration past the next cycle. If your state does actual visual inspections there is no way you will be able to register one without the mods, they will be looking for it. I doubt there will be more then a handful of states that will do nothing.

        Don’t forgot that most state DMV’s are inhabited by folks (even in states that are more laid back) that are looking for things like this to prove that they are “necessary” to society. “We can’t have big evil corporations actually building things buyers actually want”. We have to tell them what they want. These drones will be all over this “scandal”, ready to annoy the people who broke rank and bought diesel cars in this day and age. Someday they will be back for for gas powered cars too, the minute they know they can get away with it.

        • …the only way I see states enforcing this, is if there is some kind of federal “blackmail” (funding) involved.
          Michigan had to be forced into emission testing back in the day, and as soon as it was practical (and allowable), got rid of it.

          • Wish they would get rid of emissions testing here in Indiana. We no longer “need” it anymore (at least the urban part of NW Indiana), but the state refuses to shut it down. The governor himself (a so called conservative Republican) told me it would remain to prevent “backsliding”. Yes really, that was his lame answer.

            One of the reasons why Republicans are no different from Democrats. They are all big government statists who all think they know better then you.

          • No emission testing or safety inspections in ID. I went 4 years on expired registration but just got hit in May on it. The porker gave me a warning and said if you “register today, I won’t ticket you”.

            My 73 Toranado doesn’t even have the title transferred to my name and hasn’t been registered since 1981. I drive it with no problems.

            If I had a VW diesel, no way in hell would I take it in for anything at the dealership. The lady at the DMV won’t enforce anything……not that it would matter since I likely wouldnt register it until a warning anyway.

        • There you go, big evil corporations…….since they themselves have done everything they can to see to it they’re the only games in town. I could build you a bulletproof car but the govt. and large corporations are in bed together to keep me from doing so. See that yellow center stripe? It’s a two way street….govt. decrees it and big corp builds it.

          I’ve noticed a mid-90’s Chevy Ext. cab pickup sitting for a while, driver’s side ext. cab window gone, got the plate number and intend to find the owner. No matter what town or wide spot in the road I went through I saw lots of them in good shape as daily drivers. GM was was still trying to make a comeback for their lack of a larger engine in the late 80’s. They did a better job than they intended I’d bet. But they only build one better than what they suppose their competition makes. 5 figure profits on pickups.

  17. I was experimenting with “grounding radiator” technique on gasoline powered car , and while not achieving better mpg, performance of the car improved. Apparently older diesel not fitted with electronics benefit from that technique since better combustion is achieved. I must emphasize that as the author predicted I have had some problems with electronics, but can not attribute those to the technique since the car was old and have had some issuers before.

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