Hardware Fixes Required For Many Volkswagen Diesel Cars

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The bad news just keeps piling on for Volkswagen after the initial announcement of its crazy-high diesel emissions on its 2.0 liter diesel engines, followed up last week by another smackdown implicated its 3.0 liter diesel engine based cars in California.

One of the big outstanding questions in terms of remediation was, “How much of the problem can be fixed with a software update?,” and conversely, “How many of the impacted units require hardware fixes?” The first details of this split were shared this week by The Guardian, in a great piece detailing the specific impact and fixes VW is looking at in Germany, home to 2.4 million VW diesel-powered vehicles.


Image Credit: villorejo / Shutterstock.com

One key detail stood out — how many vehicles required hardware fixes vs just simple reprogramming at 540,000 vehicles, or a bit less than 25% of the total VW diesels in the country. This is both good and bad, as now we know that the vast majority of VW diesels can be fixed and again be running at or below the legal emissions limits but… that another half million vehicles will likely have to wait longer for the more expensive, invasive fix.

Stepping back from Germany, The Guardian lays out the macro-scale tally:

“The company is recalling 8.5m 2009–2015 models fitted with the software across Europe, starting next year, including the 2.4m in Germany. US officials say Volkswagen programmed the software into diesel engines on 482,000 cars.”


Image Credit: VW

These are mind-numbing totals and really speak to just how egregious this transgression was. It boggles my mind to think of what was going through the heads of VW’s leadership when they dreamed up the plan to bypass emissions testing standards across the globe. Did they think they wouldn’t be caught? Were they trying to save money? Improve performance? Was it worth it?

As reported on Gas2 earlier, VW announced this week that it will start handing out gift cards and vouchers to impacted owners, a small token for the extreme pollution its cars have been kicking out for the last 1–7 years and the embarrassment the drivers have had to endure since the news first broke. Like squirting a juice box onto a raging fire, I’m sure a few million gift cards will make things all better….

Greenpeace re-released its years-old take on VW’s commercials as well:

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Kyle Field

I'm a tech geek passionately in search of actionable ways to reduce the negative impact my life has on the planet, save money and reduce stress. Live intentionally, make conscious decisions, love more, act responsibly, play. The more you know, the less you need. As an activist investor, Kyle owns long term holdings in Tesla, Lightning eMotors, Arcimoto, and SolarEdge.

Kyle Field has 1638 posts and counting. See all posts by Kyle Field

37 thoughts on “Hardware Fixes Required For Many Volkswagen Diesel Cars

  • Now the REAL question is: How many VW diesel owners would willingly go to have their cars fixed so that it will get significantly lower mileage?

    • Oooh that is an excellent question! You are even more cynical then myself…

      • Wouldn’t most states require the fix before they will renew tabs?

    • In California the answer is all of them, because otherwise you won’t be able to get your registration renewed. They check for that sort of thing.

      • Sad fact remains, it is not only VW, but also Audi, Porsche and two other brands that are owned by VW.
        And VW just may become # 4 or 5 in the world because of this, that is IF they survive the hit to the brand and the fines.
        The moral of the story is: shortcuts may get you ahead in the short term but will bite you in the butt long term.
        About the same thing we are still doing with FF use on a world wide scale! :((
        Two things humans seam to be good for: greed and stupid, two things you can not cure!

      • lol. Sure they check. But the cars PASS that test…

        • I wasn’t referring to the emissions test. The DMV checks that the car has received all the manufacturer’s emission-related recalls.

          • Hmmm. I wonder what that would entail.

            I suppose they could require receipt of work performed. Might require a law.

            Lawyers are gonna have a field day sorting this out.

          • The law is already in place. When the registration is renewed you have to provide a proof of fix receipt from the dealer. It’s no more complicated than that. CA has their act together relative to this kind of situation.

        • You think agencies are not aware that VW tried to game the system?

          • They certainly know now!

          • Bob, who do you think performs the tests, and how do you think they are done?
            The cars are designed to NOT get caught by current equipment and procedures.

            You don’t simply waive a magic wand and suddenly the testing equipment and procedures can suddenly catch cheats.

          • If one of the listed vehicles comes in for a smog test part of passing could be demonstrating that the car has been recalled and repaired.

        • Manufactures but commission control hardware in different places For some vehicles safety equipment (such as traction control) has to be disabled before turning on the engine.

          so the fist thing done in the test is to tell the computer what car it is The computer then guides the tech step by step through the procedure. It the cars firmware version is needed the procedure would guide the tech to connect the computer to the cars diagnostic port The computer would then simply download the firmware revision information and verify it is correct. After the visual check, the firmware check, and hardware setup, only then will the cars actual emissions be checked. A failure in any step could cause the car to fail the test even if the actual emissions level are below legal levels.

          So if the firware in the car is wrong it would be an instant failure regardless of what comes out of the tail pipe.

    • To be fair, if VW fits them all with urea injection systems, then mileage won’t suffer.

      If it instead fixes them by dumping more fuel into the existing catalyst setup, then they might be in more trouble…

      • When I was out at the BYD electric bus factory, their VP of Sales said that Urea was some pretty nasty stuff. From my brief googling, it sounded like an ammonia laden liquid which somehow reduces emissions. Do you have more detail on what Urea is and how it works? Also seems like there would be a byproduct of using this…or does it all go out the pipe?

        • It’s ammonia and water. The Ammonia reacts with the NOx to produce water and CO2. It’s a pretty clean process, with the potential to leak a bit of ammonia, but, honestly, that’s not that big a deal.

          It does add additional cost, complexity, and weight to an ICE, which is why they fought against them for so long. It also means that you have yet another catalytic converter to slowly wear out, and need replacing.

          tl;dr: You don’t want to drink the stuff, but it’s basically strong household clearner level of toxic, not ‘magic acid’ levels of toxic.

          • Thanks for the detail, this is helpful and you’ve got me thinking…adding this to my topics for deeper study list.

          • Just pee in the tank every so often.

        • Urea is a major ingredient of fertiliser – it’s also what gives urine its characteristic smell

        • Urea is found in all uriine. urea gets its name from urine. it is basically two H2N molecules joined together with CO molecule (CO2(NH2)). When ;it and water are exposed to the hot exhaust of the engine it reacts with the water to create CO2 and two ammonia molecules. (NH3 ) The ammonia then reacts with the NOx in the exhaust reducing it to N2 and water.

          Adblue solution used on some Diesel engines is distilled water and pure urea and it is not dangerous.

          • Thanks Steven. I’m a chemist so I’m glad you scored one for science over misinformation.

          • Right. The more people bring facts into the conversation the more we all learn.

          • The BYD VP of sales was probably thinking of Ammonia. Ammonia by itself is toxic, flammable, and cause chemical burns. He probably didn’t know that the Adblue does not actually contain ammonia. Just Urea. Urea does break down to ammonia but If the emission system is working correctly no ammonia will exit the tail pipe.

            The good news is that ammonia has a very strong smell. Most people would not be able to stand the small long before it gets to dangerous levels.

  • If was one that required only software update, I would be hitting up junkyards for an ecu. On my 2002 TDI I bought an ecu had it tuned and used it. Kept the original for dealer trips or if Cal started requiring smog tests.

    It’s too bad VW cheated, diesels are such great touring cars. I loved never having to down shift in order to pass on hills. Just roll on the throttle, there was always torgue to spare.

    • Sounds like what you really want is an EV. You never downshift, ever…

  • mileage — my 2014 JSW TDi has a sticker mileage of 39 highway. I usually get 44-50 on the highway. If after the fix it’s only 39, I won’t be able to complain on that score. As for loss of power or torque, it’s premature to speculate what difference the “fix” will make.
    There are a lot of TDi’s in California, and they’ll all have to be fixed for the DMV to renew registrations – but can anyone see it being completed within a year? Resale values may start to bounce back by then.

    • Consumer reports found a way to enable full emission controls on a 2011 and 2014 VW. There was no significant change in acceleration. However mileage did drop..So for cars just needing toe software fix only, a mileage drop will be about all that the owner will notice.


      However VW has said that all US cars will need a urea injection system to meet us emissions. It is not possible for use to know how the urea system and software fix will affect the cars.

      • The cars that need fixing will have to be “grandfathered” over for a year. The pollution will continue (cough, cough).

  • Thanks very much for that great Greenpeace video. I just found out I have been a member of Greenpeace for over 20 years. I wasn’t keeping track but it’s good to know some of my dues went to that commercial. You should make people smile while saving the world.

  • They can sell hybrids at a discount to make up for the pollution.

    • or better yet, EVs 🙂

  • And they would have got away with it, too! If it weren’t for those DAMN kids…

    It still amazes me nobody at government testing programs caught this for 6 years or more when this isn’t the first time this has happened. Just throw in ONE real-world sanity check per vehicle by driving it randomly around the parking lot with a human at the wheel and measuring equipment on the tail and they would have known to investigate further.

    • Haha, can’t believe no one has used that line yet. Nice 😀

      And yeah, surprised this slipped through the cracks for ~6 years before researchers in West Virginia (WV!) discovered it.

    • They largely don’t actually test these vehicles themselves. They rely on the manufacturers to test the vehicles, and spot check a tiny proportion of the vehicles to keep the manufacturers honest..

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