Dieselgate: My Plan Ahead
By StealthTDI.com (October 2, 2016)

Finally, after nine months of waiting, Volkswagen and the courts had put forth a preliminary plan to respond to Dieselgate. Rumors of either buybacks or a "fix" had circulated TDIClub.com and many other automotive discussion forums ever since the scandal broke. Nine months was a long time to wait. It's nice to finally have some answers, even if they are still subject to some change as details are solidified. I'll not present the details of the settlement since there are plenty of other places to read about them. VWCourtSettlement.com is a great start. The image to the right shows that I currently have two options: Allow VW to buyback my cars or allow VW to "fix" them. There's a third option, too, which is to do absolutely nothing and not participate in the settlement in any way. Some people will make that choice.

Buybacks are almost a certainty at this point, especially for the "Gen 1" cars that don't use urea injection. As of this writing in October 2016, VW has yet to present a "fix" for my 2014 Jettas that has been approved by the EPA/CARB. Volkswagen has until January 27, 2017 to submit a fix for consideration; the EPA/CARB will then have 45 additional days to accept or reject VW's "solution." Even if a fix existed, there are simply too many variables to trust that it wouldn't have an adverse effect on performance, economy, and/or longevity... the three primary reasons why I've been a dedicated TDI owner since 1998.

I understood some risks associated with purchasing a pair of 2014 Jetta TDIs. Although the rates of failure are statistically low, the list of potential problems includes catastrophic failure of the high-pressure fuel pump (which can cost $5000+ to clean/repair); the unmitigated risk of intercooler sludging and freezing (which can hydrolock the engine); and the clogging/cracking of the diesel particulate filter (which can cost $3500 and lead to EGR failure). Still, I chose to buy the cars because of the dedication and expertise of fellow TDIClub members. There is plenty of support and solutions for dealing with the problem areas there. Unfortunately, the most effective solutions are illegal. To be clear, just because my state doesn't have emissions testing for diesels doesn't mean it's legal to remove the DPF, EGR, or catalytic converters. My morals on the issue were admittedly gray before Dieselgate. However, the new light which shines on diesels and their emissions has compelled me to be more cautious and aware of my choices, specifically the choices I make to improve the performance of my car. Can a TDI be tuned for improved power? Sure, it can! But it can only go so far beyond stock before illegal exhaust modifications and smoke emissions come into play. I could probably get away with a lot for a long time. But it is much easier to legally modify Volkswagen's 2.0T; plus, it's a more capable engine, albeit with lower fuel economy.

I know I said in my previous article that I planned to allow VW to fix my TDIs. Unfortunately, as stated above, I no longer have faith that VW can or will provide an approved fix that will not be a detriment to the engine or the car itself (my cars would require new holes to be cut in the body if they were retrofitted with urea injection). If VW could meet emissions standards without compromising performance, economy, or longevity, it would have been done when the CJAA replaced the CBEA around MY2011 or when the CVAA replaced the CJAA in MY2015. Since the latest TDI doesn't meet the standard, the 2016+ model year TDIs still haven't been allowed to enter the country, and since it appears that Volkswagen is essentially discontinuing the TDI in North America, I'm convinced that something won't be quite right with the "fix." Sure, VW is going to provide an extended warranty on "fixed" cars. But I'm not interested in testing their commitment to customer satisfaction in maintaining an after-the-fact patch job on now-obsolete cars. Looking at the buyback option, Volkswagen is offering more to buyback my TDIs than I will ever see for a used car again. I'll get $22,000 for my 2014 with 70,000 miles
(a generous offer) and over $26,000 for my wife's 2014 with 23,000 miles (that's more than when the car was new). It's tough to pass such a great opportunity to take advantage of a "do-over."

What's next for the StealthTDI.com household? At least one of my TDIs is going back to Volkswagen. It's looking like I will jump ship and go back to gasoline. Don't get me wrong - I've been very pleased with my TDI! I'll restate a quote that I shared last time:

“This has been, in reality, a GREAT car. I've had less trouble out of it than any other car I've ever owned. Sure, it's pretty expensive to maintain. But I enjoy driving it, sitting in it, looking at it, and bragging on it. Wouldn't hurt my feelings to run it to 200k and beyond.”

I truly feel the same way about my Jetta. I'm just not convinced that a "fixed" car is what I really want. So what's next? Both of my TDIs are unicorns of sorts. Each features a manual transmission (yes, some people still prefer them), a sunroof, improved seats, and can achieve over 40 mpg (my best was 55 mpg). They're nicely-appointed, too. It is nearly impossible to find ALL of those features in any other car. Even with the "40 mpg" requirement removed, finding a car with a manual transmission AND a sunroof can be quite a challenge without getting into a sports car. Many automakers assume those who want a manual transmission don't want any other luxuries. They're wrong! I found a few candidates such as the Mazda3, the MINI Cooper S, and even the newly reconfigured Jetta SE. But I honestly like the GTI. I know the brand, I know the community and the support network, and I already have plenty of VW-specific tools. Yes, Volkswagen cheated. Dig deeply enough and you'll find that most automakers have been caught up in one scandal or another over the years (or just haven't been caught). I want a car that will please me. I think the GTI is going to do just that.  

The loss of fuel economy will be the most obvious adjustment. I've averaged 41 mpg over the life of my 2014 J
etta TDI. My wife has averaged 36 mpg in her city-driven TDI. Those figures align with the majority of similar cars listed at Fuelly.com. Using Fuelly as a reference for GTIs, I can probably expect to average ~28 mpg, perhaps a little more, assuming I can control myself. On top of that, the GTI will run best on premium unleaded fuel. Operating costs will certainly be higher in the GTI. But I'm confident all of that will be worth the improved performance and additional pleasure I will get from driving it. Even the base GTI in "S" trim is very nicely appointed and the 2.0T is a spirited engine, delivering an understated 210 hp and 258 lb-ft in stock form. The 258 lb-ft comes at just 1500 rpm; but, unlike with the TDI, delivers that pull throughout the vast majority of the engine's range. TDI enthusiasts, myself included, would be quick to point out the gains the TDI can achieve with a reflash of the ECU. Well, the GTI can be tuned, too; the results are spectacular: 316 hp and 380 lb-ft, 350 lb-ft of which is available at just 2500 rpm. The "low end torque" advantage of the TDI appears to have been narrowed by a great degree, with horsepower being eclipsed, too, all with just a legal tune! Like with a TDI, I could tune a GTI to beyond a simpIe tune, but I don't think I ever would. It appears all I'm sacrificing is the cost to fill the fuel tank.

THE PLAN: I'll probably trade my TDI almost as soon as I can. First, I need to return it to stock form. It'll be easy enough for me to move my aftermarket items to the GTI. Which GTI am I getting? I'd certainly be happy with an "S" model. I don't need or desire a sunroof, and the Clark plaid seats have grown on me. I've read plenty of reports that the cloth is cooler on hot summer days and warmer in the winter. I've enjoyed cloth seats in other cars for over 20 years. So the cloth will work for me. Other than the "leatherette" and diesel fuel economy, the only thing I'm giving up from my TDI is the Fender Premium Audio system. I'll find a workaround for that. My current subwoofer upgrade will work in the GTI with minor changes to my wiring. More on trim, I'm on the fence between the "S" and the "Sport." An "S" could be fun because I'd probably swap-in my 16" alloys and disguise the car as a Golf ("Stealth GTI?"). But the "Sport" gives a lot of bang for the extra cost (larger brakes preclude the use of 16" wheels). I'm also undecided between Pure White and Reflex Silver (I like the Midnight Blue, too). I really think I could be happy with either car and any color other than red or black. As for my wife's car, it's a "low miles" car that we're content to keep for a while. We have through August 2018 to participate in the buyback. Given her rate of driving, we'll STILL get $26,000 for the car in 2018. That is unprecedented for a four year old Jetta! By then, I'm hoping to see a car that she really likes available and then have the ability to just buy it outright. The current Jetta SE is a great candidate; it can be had with manual transmission, sunroof, and leatherette!  :-)

The only dilemma which remains after I move on to a GTI is my use of the moniker, "Stealth TDI." It's been my discussion forum identity for 18 years and StealthTDI.com has been a web presence since 2001. I may keep using it as a historical marker; or I might decide it's time for something new. We'll see. For now, I'm simply looking forward to putting Dieselgate behind me and then watching TDI trends to see what sort of future I have have lost or avoided.  ;-)  I will be sure to share photos and impressions of my new GTI when I finally have it.

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