Volkswagen Diesel Emissions Scandal Explained

Ian Lewis[1]

Ian Lewis

Money Savings Advice VW diesel emissions scandal

The Volkswagen Diesel Emissions Scandal came to light in 2014. Volkswagen had been designing their vehicles to get through emissions tests that they should never have passed. They used defeat devices to achieve the results they wanted.

Everyone’s looking for high performance from their Volkswagen. For some, great performance comes in the form of fantastic fuel economy. For others, it’s impressive power. But, in diesel cars, this performance can come at a price. To achieve these things, cars may produce too many dangerous emissions.

There’s a fine balance that needs to be found between performance and emissions safety. In 2014, it was found that Volkswagen had got the balance very wrong.

Read on to find out more about the Volkswagen Diesel Emissions Scandal.

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What Are Diesel Emissions?

When they burn diesel, cars produce nitrogen oxide gas. These gases can be harmful, having negative impacts on the eyes and the respiratory system. In addition, they damage the ozone layer and allow too much UV light to make its way through the atmosphere.

The higher the temperature of combustion, the higher nitrogen oxide emissions you can expect from a vehicle. These high combustion temperatures are important to maximise a car’s power and efficiency. To reduce emissions, the fuel should be burned at a slightly lower temperature. For manufacturers, the key is to find the perfect balance.

What Is a Car Emissions Test?

Cars are tested to make sure that their emissions don’t have high levels of nitrogen oxide. These tests are carried out to keep people safe, with vehicles only passing the test if they stay below the maximum limit. In the UK and Europe, nitrogen oxide should not go above 0.080g/km. That’s considered an acceptable level of emissions for diesel cars.

In the past, it was public knowledge about how car emissions tests were carried out. Vehicle manufacturers had access to this information.

What Was the Volkswagen Diesel Emissions Scandal?

In 2013, researchers looked into the emissions of some diesel cars. Purely by chance, they started by investigating Volkswagen. They found that the vehicle emissions didn’t match what they’d expected to see. In fact, there were much higher levels of nitrogen oxide than there should have been. They soon determined that the discrepancies they saw were no accident.

Using what are known as defeat devices, Volkswagen had manipulated test results. When they were caught out, rather than issuing a public apology and starting to set things right, Volkswagen recalled many of their cars and attempted to better hide the evidence.

What Is a Defeat Device?

A defeat device includes a piece of software that changes how a car behaves. Manufacturers like Volkswagen are not incapable of producing a road-legal vehicle, though they recognise that a road-legal car may lack some excitement and appeal. Lower emissions require some performance sacrifice, making a car look less impressive to the consumer.

Defeat devices temporarily reduce the emissions produced by a car. In the US, where the research was carried out, emissions tests were conducted over a total distance of 15 miles. Volkswagen could get around this problem by setting their cars to have lower emissions until they reached a trip’s 16th mile.

Other defeat devices led to lower emissions if a car wasn’t moving, or if it was moving at low speed. These unrealistic driving conditions were often a sign that vehicles were under test conditions.

By manipulating diesel emissions, Volkswagen could make sure that their vehicles passed tests with results that fell below the test limits. Once outside the test environment, the emissions levels would be much higher.

Who Found Out About the Volkswagen Diesel Emissions Scandal?

The International Council on Clean Transportation was commissioned to carry out research. A team checked emissions of Volkswagen cars under normal driving conditions. In some cases, the emissions were 40% higher than recorded through official tests.

Nitrogen oxide levels for many tested vehicles were far above what was legally allowed. After discovering what Volkswagen had done, researchers continued to expand their knowledge by testing many other vehicles. In all different countries, emissions were tested in a wide range of different environments. Research teams discovered that several manufacturers had been manipulating test results.

How Many Cars Were Affected?

Roughly 11 million Volkswagen vehicles were found to be breaking the law. Many vehicles from other manufacturers also had high levels of emissions.

When first caught out, Volkswagen announced a recall of many of their cars. In some cases, rather than reducing their emissions they simply adjusted the defeat devices so that they’d perform even better.

What’s Next for the Volkswagen Diesel Emissions Scandal?

It took three years for Volkswagen to openly admit that they’d cheated to get through emissions tests. In 2017, Volkswagen admitted that manipulated figures were intentional. They were charged penalties to a total value of $4.3 billion.

Many cars had to be recalled and modified, reducing their diesel emissions. For some, this meant that vehicle performance and fuel economy dropped.

What’s Next for Diesel Emissions?

Diesel emissions tests are now far more stringent than they were before Dieselgate. Cars are no longer just tested in a garage, but out on the road in real-world driving conditions. Vehicles are taken for longer drives, put through their paces during testing.

Is there Volkswagen Diesel Emissions Scandal compensation?

In May 2020, the German Federal Court of Justice ruled that Volkswagen must compensate a motorist who had purchased a vehicle fitted with a defeat device. This ruling doesn’t apply to other motorists but may pave the way for millions of others to successfully claim compensation.

As a result of the German court’s ruling, VW announced that it would make a payment to any affected German motorist. However, they have also claimed that this won’t apply to car owners in the UK.

You may be able to claim compensation if your vehicle was part of the Volkswagen Diesel Emissions Scandal. So far, tens of thousands of motorists have taken action in the UK. They’ll need to wait until 2022, at least, to hear the final verdict. This means that there’s still time to act if you’ve not made your own claim already.

You can join a group claim for compensation, headed by a UK legal firm. To find one, simply search online for ‘Volkswagen emissions claims compensation’ or a similar search term. Law firms will represent large numbers of people affected by VW’s actions.

Has Your Car Been Recalled?

If your car may have been recalled, you can find out and may be entitled to send it for a free repair of an upgrade. Write down your car’s VIN, then search online for the make of your vehicle and the words ‘diesel emissions recall’. On the relevant manufacturer’s website, you should be able to supply your VIN to see if your car has been recalled.

If your car needs adjusting, you’ll have to take it to an approved local garage. The cost of the work should be covered by Volkswagen, and work might include the removal of any remaining defeat devices. You might notice that your car’s performance or fuel economy may drop. Following repairs, your car’s diesel emissions should genuinely be within the UK’s legal limits.

How Can Money Savings Advice Help You With Making a Compensation Claim?

Here at Money Savings Advice, we have partnered with some of the UK’s leading claims management companies. They have already helped thousands of people claim compensation, and they can do the same for you.

Choosing an independent claims management company means they won’t proceed with a claim unless they are sure it is in your best interests. They are also regulated by the FCA, which gives you an additional layer of protection.

If you would like to speak to one of these claim management companies who can help you make a compensation claim, then click on the below and answer the very simple questions.

Money Savings Advice Author Ian Lewis

Ian Lewis

Ian Lewis is one of our specialist financial writers. Ian has over 15 years of financial writing experience, having worked for some of the largest financial publications in the UK covering topics from mortgages, equity release, loans and financial claims, to name a few.

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