VW diesel emissions scandal: what you need to know in 10 questions (updated)

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2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI

2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI

Friday, March 18th, will mark six months since the news that Volkswagen deliberately circumvented U.S. EPA emissions laws on so-called "clean diesel" models sold from 2009 through 2015.

That news hit the automotive world like a bombshell, and led to consequences for VW Group that are still unfolding.

Executives have resigned, a fact-finding effort by a legal firm will report next month, dozens of government agencies are investigating, and unhappy owners have filed hundreds of lawsuits.

VW Group has since taken all diesel vehicles, both new and Certified Used, off sale in the U.S. No new diesel vehicles are now offered by Volkswagen, Audi, or Porsche.

DON'T MISS: How Will VW Fix My Diesel Car, And When? A List Of All Models

Volkswagen shares instantly lost more than a fifth of their value the following Monday, and VW later set aside $7.3 billion (€6.5 billion) for costs related to the effects of the scandal.

[NOTE: We originally published this article on Monday, September 21, the first business day after the EPA announced that VW had admitted to cheating on its diesel emissions. We've updated the article to reflect new information after six months.]

Here's what we know to date. We've put it in the form of 10 questions, and then answered them based on information as of the start of business on Monday morning.

2014 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen 4-door DSG TDI Grille

2014 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen 4-door DSG TDI Grille

(1) Which vehicles are affected?

The initial batch of cars affected were sold by Volkswagen and Audi between 2009 and 2015, and powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged diesel engine.

That earned them the designation "TDI" following the model name.

The highest-volume model is the Volkswagen Jetta TDI, but VW also offered TDI versions of the Passat, the Golf, the Jetta SportWagen, and the Beetle.

The recall will also apply to the Audi A3 TDI, in two generations: both the one sold from 2009 through 2013, and the new version introduced for 2015. 

But across those models there are actually two engines in three versions. The most common is the 140-hp "EA188" 2.0-liter turbodiesel four introduced for 2009.

2009 Volkswagen Jetta Sedan 4-door DSG TDI Engine

2009 Volkswagen Jetta Sedan 4-door DSG TDI Engine

That same engine in the Passat TDI was fitted with Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR), also known as urea aftertreatment, starting in 2012.

Finally, a new generation of 2.0-liter diesel engine, known as EA288, is fitted to various VW vehicles (the Golf TDI, for instance) starting with the 2015 model year.

While Volkswagen, Audi, and Porsche vehicles with larger 3.0-liter V-6 diesel engines were not affected initially, they were subsequently investigated and found to include "defeat device" software as well.

Those include TDI versions of the Audi A6, A7, A8, Q5, and Q7; the Porsche Cayenne Diesel; and the Volkswagen Touareg TDI.

(2) What should owners of 2009-2015 Volkswagen, Audi, and Porsche diesel engines do?

In the short term, nothing.

Volkswagen later expanded the statement it issued on Friday, September 18, to include the following information:

Volkswagen is committed to fixing this issue as soon as possible. We want to assure customers and owners of these models that their automobiles are safe to drive, and we are working to develop a remedy that meets emissions standards and satisfies our loyal and valued customers.

Owners of these vehicles do not need to take any action at this time.

This means that the vehicles in question will all be recalled so VW can attempt to modify them in a way that would make them legal.

Until a remedy is devised, tested, approved by the EPA and CARB, and distributed to dealers, however, owners should simply keep driving their cars.

A proposal to update the cars that was submitted in January by Volkswagen was rejected by the EPA and the powerful California Air Resources Board (CARB) for not containing sufficient detail on how the changes would affect fuel economy and performance.

Volkswagen is trying again; a judge, meanwhile, has set a date of March 24 for a response, saying, "six months is enough."

2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI

2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI

(3) What longer-term risks are there to owners?

The 580,000 owners of 2009-2015 Volkswagen , Audi, and Porsche diesel models face some potentially significant longer-term challenges, however.

First, the value of their vehicles as used cars may well fall.

They paid more for their cars: Premiums over comparable gasoline models range from $1,000 on Golfs with mid- and high-level trims to $6,855 on top-level Passat models. While used diesels historically were worth more on the used-car market, that may not prove to be the case going forward.

Second, if VW is able to develop a fix and get it approved, the performance and fuel efficiency of their cars might fall. That's more likely if the fix is only a software update, which would be far cheaper for Volkswagen.

If VW ends up having to make software changes and retrofit an entire SCR system to 2009-2014 cars other than the Passat TDI and the V-6 models—something that would likely cost it thousands of dollars per car—performance would likely be unchanged, but interior volume might be reduced to accommodate a liquid-urea tank and associated plumbing.

Third, and most worrisome for owners in California and some other states, they may not be able to re-sell or even re-register their vehicles until they are fixed by Volkswagen.

That's because the vehicles were apparently "non-compliant," or illegal to sell in the first place as they now stand.

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