Nova Scotia

'They broke my car': VW owner unhappy about emissions 'fix'

What is being billed as an emissions "fix" for affected Volkswagens has created new issues, according to owners of vehicles who say they lag at acceleration and then surge forward, causing safety concerns even after a class action lawsuit was settled.

Affected owners say they should be eligible for buyback, VW says 'overwhelming majority of customers' OK

Vancouver resident Justin Wright says he felt he had little choice but to get the 'fix' for his 2014 Touareg TDI. He's been back to the dealership for repairs six times since then.

It was called a "fix" that was supposed to solve problems created by an emissions scandal Volkswagen acknowledged it had intentionally created.

Instead, it has left one owner declaring: "They broke my car."

Adriannea Smith of Mount Uniacke, N.S., told CBC she took her 2013 Touareg XL in to be fixed in June. Smith was part of a class action settlement approved in 2017 to compensate about 105,000 Canadian vehicle owners affected by a diesel engine emissions scandal that rocked the company.

While some VW owners were offered a buyback by the company, others like Smith were offered a fix to their car's emissions software, an extended emissions warranty along with a cash settlement in the thousands of dollars. 

But she says her car hasn't been the same since she got the fix. 

"I'm at my wit's end," Smith said about the six times her vehicle has been back to the dealership for repairs required because of the work.

"I feel like I spend more time there than I do at work or at home."

Complaints include reduced power, surges

Her biggest concern about the vehicle, which she uses to drive her children to sports events, is safety.

"It was very scary on several occasions," she said about a vehicle that sometimes has reduced power followed by sudden acceleration.

Adriannea Smith says her 2013 Touareg hasn't been the same since it was given the so-called fix. (Yvonne Colbert/CBC)

Vancouver resident Justin Wright, also part of the class action, owns a 2014 Touareg TDI. He said he noticed a change in his vehicle after he got the work done in September.

In addition to a big drop in mileage, he said, he has difficulty braking down hills as well a lack of acceleration after stopping.

"When you're merging from a stop sign, trying to turn right or turn left, you kind of feel a lag," Wright said. "It doesn't quite have that power that it had before."

His car has been back to the dealership six times since it was brought in for what's been called a fix.

VW says nothing to see here

VW Canada declined CBC's request to interview a company official about its customers' concerns.

Instead, spokesperson Thomas Tetzlaff issued a short email statement saying: "Customer safety is always our number one priority. The repairs were reviewed, tested and approved by the relevant regulatory authorities, and the overwhelming majority of our customers have been fully satisfied with their modified vehicle." 

However, VW has recently improved the extended coverage offered to owners like Smith.

On Friday, she received a notice from the company saying it is updating the extended emissions warranty to owners of 2009-2015 2.0L TDI and 2009-2016 3.0L TDI vehicles.

The updated warranty has expanded coverage to include the heater core and certain other emission-related parts.  

The notice says "as a result, repairs not previously covered may now be included in the extended warranty."

Class action law firm tracking complaints

Wright and Smith are not alone.

According to Golnaz Nayerahmadi, a lawyer with a Toronto law firm that was part of the class action, there have been 90 complaints from people like Smith and Wright who own or lease Generation 2 (model year 2013-16) 3.0-litre vehicles.

"What's consistent in these stories and reports are that lag in acceleration seems to be unpredictable, and that makes class members question whether or not their vehicles are safe after the implementation of the fix," Nayerahmadi said.

None of the allegations by the car owners have been tested in court.

Class action lawyer Golnaz Nayerahmadi says her firm, Rochon Genova, has received 90 complaints from VW owners with 3.0-litre Generation 2 vehicles built in 2013-2016. (Mitchel Raphael)

She said the law firm has compiled a detailed database of complaints and shared it with VW, which is investigating. She said she has not heard back from the automaker about the result of that investigation.

Both Wright and Smith own diesel vehicles that were not eligible for a buyback as some other VW owners were.   

No buyback offer

"VW sent letters basically saying if you did not have the fix they'd no longer have parts for your car and the fix offered an extended warranty," Wright said. "And I am a high-kilometre driver so the warranty was somewhat appealing."

In addition to the work, all the car owners who agreed to the fix were given an extended emmissions warranty and a cash payment of several thousand dollars  — which they call "sorry" money.

"Had I known the issues and troubles I have had, I definitely would have just foregone the fix and the money," Smith said.

Both she and Wright said owners like them should have been treated the same as the 2.0L owners who were offered a buyback.

"They need to look at the people that are having trouble like myself that have been back at the dealership nine and 10 times, or however many times, and basically say, 'OK, the fix didn't work for your vehicle. We're not sure why. Let's talk and maybe give you the buyback option,'" Smith said.

About the Author

Yvonne Colbert

Consumer Watchdog

Yvonne Colbert has been a journalist for nearly 35 years, covering everything from human interest stories to the provincial legislature. These days, she's focused on helping consumers get the most bang for their bucks and avoid being ripped off. She invites story ideas at yvonne.colbert@cbc.ca.

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