Reader Question: Lemon Buyback?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply! 

Gary asks: I watched the following video, LEMON LAW! VW Buys Kristen’s 2018 VW Atlas Back! I don’t understand why VW corporate would not make an effort to keep a VW customer. Can you help me to understand why they bought back the Atlas, instead of trading it for another Atlas? Thanks.

My reply: VW may not have had a choice! Lemon Laws (the terms vary from state to state) sometimes require that the vehicle be bought back, if the customer isn’t willing to accept another solution.

Lemon Law provisions generally kick in after several (usually three) attempts have been made to repair a significant problem covered by the new car warranty within a given period of time (usually a year) or over a number of miles.

The classic/stereotypical example is repeated head gasket failure.

In this case, it’s a small – but annoying – problem. The car keeps “throwing” a code for the evaporative emissions system, triggering the “check engine” light. In plain English, the system is detecting a small leak of gas fumes; it can be the result of something as trivial as the gas cap not being tightened fully.

Which could be the case here. It could also be a trivial leak in a vapor recovery hose buried deep in the car’s guts.

I understand the guy being annoyed – because even though the problem is minor and has no real effect of the car’s operation – he’s right that if the “check engine” light comes on, the car will not pass the mandatory emissions checks most states have and the car can’t get its registration renewed – rendering the car essentially useless to its owner.

The problem isn’t really with the VW. It’s with insanely strict emissions requirements that have imposed (among other things) requirements that new cars be essentially sealed units; a trivial, environmentally insignificant fuel vapor leak is sufficient to – in a real sense –  total the car.

The really crazy thing is that, over time, as any vehicle ages, such minor leaks are inevitable due to such things as gaskets shrinking, seals becoming a bit less tight. The car is still perfectly functional and has many years of life left, but now the “check engine” light is on and it won’t pass emissions.

It is the equivalent of a transmission or engine failure in the sense that it renders the car inoperable (even though it still runs fine) because it is no longer legal to drive it until the “check engine” light goes out (permanently) and it passes smog check.

In some states, there used to be a clause in the law that exempted a car if, after a certain amount of money was spent – and assuming no illegal modifications to the emissions system – the “check engine” light still refused to go out.

But Uncle (and state-level Uncles) has become downright vicious when it comes to finding ways to sign the death warrant of a car – both individually and collectively, old as well as brand-new.

This business of the Atlas gives us a case demonstration. The “defect” is functionally and environmentally meaningless; the car may not even be leaking any vapor at all. If it is the amount is probably immeasurable or nearly so. It is not as if the car is running around with a hole in its tank, leaving puddles of fuel wherever it is parked.

And yet, the car is a “lemon” – which it is, as far as the owner is concerned – and is therefore on its way to the automotive equivalent of the glue factory.

A gigantic wastage.

Over an “emission” of vapor so slight a bloodhound probably could not detect it.

It makes my teeth ache.

. . .

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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  1. Yep, I think i would have done the same. It looks like it would never work right, one of those unfixable electronic gremlins you can’t do anything about. It would have been a huge hassle every time you had to get plates. Shouldn’t have to deal with constant problems like that with a brand new vehicle either. It sucks but that’s the option you got, with the smallest loss.

    I gave my old Chrysler minivan to my cousin for that reason basically (no smog test where he is). A problem Chrysler would fix under warranty but would quickly break again. After it was out of warranty, junkyards quickly ran out of the part (it was a circuit board in the emission system that would burn up). It ran out because it happens to almost every van of that era (2001-2007). Oh, and Chrysler then stopped making the part………Why it was never recalled I have no idea. Chrysler should have designed a replacement part that wasn’t defective. But they didn’t. It’s one of the reasons why many people will never buy a Chrysler…

    The drill went like this. Have the dealer replace the board, drive it a bit to to make sure the code was cleared, get over to the smog test. Hope it didn’t fry before that. One time it fried on the way home after the test…… My guess, had they been willing to test it with the light on, it still would have passed. But they won’t even test it with the light on…..

    It sucked too, because otherwise the van was pretty good. Had 175,000 miles on it with the original engine and trans. The body rust is what will do it in.


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