VW's U.S. recall could be thwarted by reluctant diesel owners

Thu Oct 8, 2015 1:07am EDT
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By Alexandria Sage and Rory Carroll

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - As Volkswagen AG prepares to explain how it might fix the polluting diesel cars that set off the biggest scandal in the German automaker's history, whatever solution it proposes could be undermined by some owners in the United States who won't bring their cars in for a recall and can't be forced to.

The cars, some 482,000 Passats, Golfs and Jettas sold in model years 2009 to 2015 in the United States, are peppy and fun to drive, owners say. Because fixing the cars is likely to result in lower performance and fuel economy, some drivers will decline, even though their cars would continue to spew 40 times the smog-producing emissions permitted by some states. If they do, there are few enforcement levers in place.

In the three states with the most VW diesel cars caught up in the emissions scandal, only California withholds registration renewals from cars that fail to comply with recalls. In Texas and Florida, which have the second- and third-highest number of VW diesels after California, there are no emission standards in place for diesel vehicles.

Nationally, only 17 states are required by the Clean Air Act to confirm that owners of cars subjected to a recall show proof they have complied with it before they are allowed to take an emissions test required to register their cars, the Environmental Protection Agency said.

The EPA couldn't confirm whether the 33 other states don't require owners to prove they have complied with a recalI. Texas doesn't include diesel vehicles in its emission inspection program and Florida no longer has a vehicle emission inspection program, EPA said. It isn't known how many other states don't require vehicles to pass emissions tests.

The EPA has said a recall is likely.

"I love the car," said the owner of a diesel Passat in Florida named Thomas, who didn't want to give his last name because of privacy concerns. "However, a lot of that is based upon the performance of the car. I am very dismayed that I am now in the position of ignoring the recall to have the performance of the car versus having the recall performed and the car not performing like the one I purchased."

Jared Allen, a spokesman with the National Auto Dealers Association, said loopholes in states such as Florida are why the nationwide recall completion rate hovers around 70 percent.    Continued...

A logo of Volkswagen is seen at a dealership in Seoul, South Korea, October 5, 2015.  REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji