What will VW do with TDI diesel buyback cars? It's not what you think

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2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI

2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI

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Within weeks, Volkswagen and Audi will starting buying back thousands of 2.0-liter diesel cars sold between 2009 and 2015.

So what will the company do once it's legally taken possession of those vehicles, the first of close to half a million caught up in the VW diesel emission scandal?

It turns out that they won't initially be disabled, parted out, and recycled, as some had expected.

DON'T MISS: What will VW do with 400,000 dirty diesel cars it buys back? (Jun 2016)

Now that buybacks are imminent, we asked Volkswagen Group of America what it planned to do with the dirty diesel cars.

Here's the response from senior communications manager Jeannine Ginivan:

The situation will depend on whether emissions modifications are approved by the EPA and CARB. We expect to have more details as the process moves forward.

2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI SE

2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI SE

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According to language in the agreement signed on October 25 by federal judge Charles Breyer, VW may legally do several different things with the bought-back diesel cars:

  • modify and resell them as used cars (if approved), with proper disclosure to the buyer
  • export them for resale abroad
  • render them inoperable and recycle them, or salvage them for parts that may be sold in the U.S. or exported

ALSO SEE: Killing Your Clunker Correctly: How a Dealer 'Disables' It (Aug 2009)

It's known that VW is negotiating with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the powerful California Air Resources Board over proposed modifications to at least some of the cars, but it remains unclear if the pair of agencies will approve any of its proposals.

Given that VW is waiting to learn whether EPA and CARB will approve any modifications, it appears the company will have to store the vehicles it buys back.

Possibly hundreds of thousands of them.

Consumer Reports tests 2015 Volkswagen Jetta TDI diesel in 'cheat mode,' October 2015 [video frame]

Consumer Reports tests 2015 Volkswagen Jetta TDI diesel in 'cheat mode,' October 2015 [video frame]

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The affected vehicles essentially fall into three groups. Each would require different modifications, and some seem far more likely to be modified than others.

GROUP 1

  • 2015 Golf TDI, Golf SportWagen TDI
  • 2015 Audi A3 TDI
  • 2015 Jetta TDI, Passat TDI, Beetle TDI

These 67,000 vehicles may be the best candidates to receive approval for modifications. They exceed legal emission limits less than earlier TDI diesel cars.

They use a newer 2.0-liter TDI diesel engine (known as EA288), and are fitted with tanks for the Diesel Emission Fluid necessary for the selective catalytic reduction (SCR) exhaust aftertreatment system that reduces the pollutants in their exhaust.

2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI Six-Month Road Test

2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI Six-Month Road Test

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GROUP 2

  • 2012-2014 Passat TDI

The 90,000 Passat TDIs built in Tennessee during that car's first three model years use an older 2.0-liter diesel engine (known as EA189), but are equipped with the SCR system and tanks for the urea fluid it requires.

CHECK OUT: VW dealers use diesel buyback to offer deals even before TDI owners bring in cars

GROUP 3

  • 2009-2014 Jetta TDI, Jetta SportWagen TDI
  • 2010-2013 Golf TDI
  • 2012-2014 Beetle TDI
  • 2009-2013 Audi A3 TDI

The majority of noncompliant diesel cars are the 325,000 that were not fitted with the SCR system, but only with a Lean NOx Trap.

They are by far the dirtiest, and would likely be very expensive to modify.

2010 Audi A3 TDI

2010 Audi A3 TDI

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To comply with emission standards, they might require installation of catalytic converters, urea tanks, and many engine modifications they were never designed to accommodate.

These are the cars whose engines are most likely to be "disabled" or rendered inoperable.

That would likely be a process similar to that used for the older vehicles bought back in the 2009 U.S. program known as "Cash for Clunkers" (see video below).

Volkswagen recently conducted a small pilot program on vehicle scrapping.

The company appears to have concluded that the value of some of the oldest vehicles makes them not be worth updating under any circumstances, even if modifications were to be approved.

Meanwhile, it appears as though VW will have to rent storage fields and warehouses all over the country as buybacks begin.

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