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Total recall

Angela Catterns
Friday, October 30, 2015

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By Angela Catterns

This week I received a letter in the mail from Audi Australia. It began  “As you may be aware, there have recently been media reports in relation to the emissions of certain diesel vehicles.”

The letter went on to inform me that my car, fitted with the EA189 diesel engine, is defective in some way and will be recalled. Sometime. For something to be done to it. They’re just not sure what. 

I also received a phone call from a woman called Emily. She and her colleagues were phoning 16,000 Audi owners to tell us a technical solution was being prepared in Germany and when it’s ready, we’ll be notified. 

In the letter, Audi gave no reason as to why they’re going to recall my vehicle. They didn’t explain what the actual problem is. 

And on the phone, I was assured that my car does meet Australian emissions standards. 

The ACCC is not so sure about that. They’re currently investigating the matter and are yet to announce their findings. The point about these cars meeting Australian emissions standards is still in contention – if the ‘defeat devices’ which made vehicles perform better in testing than on the road were also part of the Australian cars’ software, then Audi and VW are in big trouble here too. 

ACCC Chairman Rod Sims recently pointed out “cars are a big purchasing decision and claims that relate to environmental benefits or fuel efficiency can influence consumer choice”.

“Businesses must be able to substantiate any claims they make.

“The ACCC will be seeking marketing materials from VW Group and will not hesitate to take action if consumers were exposed to false, misleading or deceptive representations”.

Does my car live up to the sales blurb? I have no idea. I specifically bought it, and a previous Audi diesel, because of its green credentials. 

So if Audi sold me a car which claimed to meet certain standards and it doesn’t, that means there’s been a breach of my rights as a consumer. Under Australian Consumer Law, in the case of a major defect, consumers can seek a refund, replacement or compensation for any reduction in value.

Which brings me to the current value of the car. It’s 4 years old now and I’ve been thinking about selling it. But I’m seriously worried that the value will have plummeted. And while there’s a stop sale on new cars with this engine, there’s nothing to stop them being sold second-hand. Though now the seller is obliged to inform the buyer that it’s subject to this voluntary recall. 

What effect does this scandal have on the value of the 90 thousand VW’s, Audis and Skodas with the EA189 diesel engine in this country? If the ACCC confirms that these cars are non-compliant and they don’t live up the sales blurb, then 90,000 owners are going to want some form of compensation. 

The leading class action law firm, Maurice Blackburn, believes a class action against Volkswagen is most likely. They’ve had hundreds of people from around the country register their interest on a special website and they’re closely monitoring the outcome of the ACCC’s investigation.

It’s hard to know what would be fit and proper compensation if VW is found to have made misleading representations and it’s cars are found to be non-compliant with the Australian design rules.

The company will face a hefty fine of course, but what about me and my fellow consumers? The NSW Commissioner for Fair Trading, Rod Stowe, offers an eminently sensible suggestion. A payout could be made to us, and the amount would be the difference between the resale value of an affected car and one that’s not part of this recall. 

The recall is expected to begin in January 2016. In the meantime, if you’re in the market for a second-hand car, I reckon there’ll be quite a few VW and Audi diesels going cheap.

Published: Friday, October 30, 2015

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