Diary of an Emissions Buy-Back for our 2015 VW Passat TDI

Ours is beige, otherwise, just like this

A late model Volkswagen Passat TDI

CaliforniaGeo 3-17-17   Like most consumers, it pains me to admit that I got fooled by the world’s largest automaker after lots of research and comparisons.  So we had to wonder about a VW Buy-Back for our 2015 Passat TDI.  Ultimately, it was better to take the emissions buy-back than to risk a de-valued trade-in, a private sale (with moral hazard), or the real problem—a serious decline in performance and mileage for a car that I loved.  Read more about VW’s penance for their emissions violation through negotiated green investments at this link.

Three Cars Within Nine Years—

We’re the kind of people who try to pick the correct vehicle and drive it for a long life by conscientious maintenance and good record keeping—good luck willing.  After suffering advancing age and an orthopedic profile that tolerated our ’95 low-slung sedan less and less, we opted for a 2006 van with VCM (variable cylinder management) that could run on six cylinders or cruise on three for an EPA highway rating of 28 mpg.  You just  slide your derriere laterally and you’re in!  That wonderful van was totaled, being T-boned by a texting pick-up driver at 45mph, who never saw the red light and left no skid marks.  She dead-centered my wife’s seat back, throwing our van into another car and leaving it on the opposite corner of the intersection.


Driver’s side of 2006 van that was T-boned and totaled on May 4, 2010.

EMTs said it was the side-curtain airbags in our van that saved my wife’s life.  So, during my wife’s 28-day  hospital and rehab stay for 19 fractures, I bought the same van in a 2010 model that had VCM, for six, four, or three operating cylinders. 

Trouble Surfaces—

Starting at 43,000 miles, we began the first of two events which flashed disturbing messages on the dash, reflecting an engine fault.  That was fixed at no charge but we learned this was a common and repetitive occurrence that had supported a class action lawsuit going into effect on that very day.  It happened a year later, too.  The manufacturer and dealer insisted we had to show up at the dealership with the errant problem showing at check-in.  We live 85 miles from that dealership, so it wasn’t smooth sailing.  We started thinking about replacements. 

I Lean Toward Turbodiesels—

A strong engine immune to altitude in a small package

The EA 288 diesel was a small-sized diesel marvel

transverse and compact

2 liters, 150 hp and 235 foot pounds of torque in a small package

Since 1993, we’ve owned two turbodiesel trucks and I liked local stories I’d heard about the mileage results from VW diesels.  We drove a ’14 Passat and a ’15 Passat (with ten additional horsepower I could immediately feel) in August of 2014.  This 2.0 liter four cylinder was mated to a DSG (direct shift gearing) transmission and put out 235 pounds of torque over a 1,200 rpm range.  Wind up the turbo, and it really pulled.  In mid-July of 2015, we bought a ’15 Passat.  It was the largest mid-sized car interior in the U.S. and with a 790 mile range, my wife could make her frequent destination to Portland, OR on a single tank.   Highway mileage was a consistent 44 mpg, and it seemed to handle as well as I remember my 1965 Porsche.  Eight weeks later, the national news broke the VW emissions scandal, beginning a long ordeal of indecision for us based on sketchy information and the consistent media blather that all VW diesels emitted 40 times the NOx limit.  Of course that couldn’t be true for us, since we had a model that carried a 4 gallon tank of Urea for injection into a catalytic converter where NOx was removed (just not enough of it).

Waiting and Wondering—

Friends were surprised that I wanted to hold on to the Passat until the “fix” was known.  VW gave us reasonable information, but until the fix was approved by the California Air Resources Board, we had no idea what it would entail.  I had always expected that the engine’s “cheating” computer would be re-flashed with new software, but wasn’t sure about the changes to exhaust plumbing.  As time marched on and we passed 15,000 miles, the buy-back details became available but without an approved fix.  At 20,000 miles and facing a new set of tires for $1,000+ within a few months, we registered for the settlement to provide the option of buy-back or an eventual fix.  My original hope was to see media coverage of previously fixed cars for performance and mileage results before I decided.  Would we let VW Buy-Back our 2015 Passat TDI?

How Do You Choose a Replacement for your Previous Careful Choice?

In the end, my wife and I made a deal on an all-wheel drive, turbocharged gas-engined small SUV one week before the approved Passat “fix” details and procedures arrived in the mail.  The claim (paraphrased here) that “very few owners would ever notice any difference in performance or mileage” did not ring true with us.  If this capability was possible, why didn’t VW incorporate it in their affected diesels from ’09 -to- ’15?

Our small SUV is very comfortable, handles well, gets a steady 32 mpg, and is a nice improvement with all-wheel drive, whereas the Passat could not be fitted with tire chains of any kind.  As a bonus, my reputation for being a purveyor of everything “green” in life (including a carbonless zero net energy home) no longer has an emissions stain by a dirty diesel that was marketed as “clean diesel” for years.

We drove to a distant dealership and turned the car in for a refund check on the spot which covered our remaining loan, our previous trade-in, and another $2,800 which we felt we earned over the 18 months of uncertainty.  The process was straightforward and we are happy this episode is permanently closed.  Now, on to 10 years of car ownership!


At this point, Volkswagen has admitted their long-term intent to cheat on emissions for their diesel engines.  The cost of fixes, buy-backs, fines, and other penalties is now beyond (a record) $15 billion.  But VW is not the first.  There have been more than a dozen previous emissions frauds over the past 25 years.

Settlement provisions will see tens of millions of dollars paid by VW to environmental improvement programs, the promotion of electric vehicles, expanded charging stations, and other compensation to cities whose air was damaged by the violating engines.  These are featured in a news post reached by the link in the first paragraph of this Blog post.  

VW cheated and their fraud was/is paid for by consumer disruption, dealer network reputation, and the environment.  The settlement provides compensation in arrears—except for the dealers, who had no role in the decision to commit fraud.  Without regulation and its enforcement, none of this would have come to light and all of the cost would have been paid by our environment.

—Bill Martin