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States To Face Challenges Enforcing Volkswagen Recall


Here in the U.S., Volkswagen has yet to provide details on how it will fix the nearly half a million VW diesel cars that don't comply with emission standards. Many owners are worried the fix will compromise the car's performance. NPR's John Ydstie reports that that could make it hard to get owners to cooperate with a recall.

JOHN YDSTIE, BYLINE: VW diesel owners are disappointed and angry, but many, including Kelley Shoun, also love their cars. She says her 2011 Golf diesel is wonderful.

KELLEY SHOUN: What I really like about the car is that it goes for a long range without having to fill up on fuel.

YDSTIE: Shoun lives in Eugene, Ore. and drives long distances doing volunteer work rescuing horses. She says she often drives up to 600 miles before refilling her fuel tank.

SHOUN: I'd say typically, I get between 40 and 50 miles per gallon.

YDSTIE: That could change. The fix that Volkswagen finally adopts for its cars could hurt both mileage and performance. Shoun says if that's the case, she might not bring her car in.

SHOUN: Assuming, you know, there are no major legal repercussions or other repercussions, or at least I'd be very, very slow to do so and let other people try it out for a year or so first.

YDSTIE: VW owners reluctant to get a fix could be a big problem for many states. Oregon doesn't even require Shoun to have her car's emissions tested. Only residents in the Portland and Medford areas are required to do so.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Good morning, sir, how are you doing today? Pop open your gas-cap door, sir.

YDSTIE: This is the vehicle emissions inspection center in Derwood, Md. Fred Proctor is making a return visit with his 1998 Toyota Camry.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You have your notice with you today?

FRED PROCTOR: I failed it, and then I got it fixed, so I got a bunch of paperwork here for you.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We got you, we got you.

YDSTIE: You might think this emissions testing program could play an important role in requiring VW owners to get their cars fixed. But there's one big problem with that scenario.

BEN GRUMBLES: Our vehicle emissions inspection stations around the state do not test diesels.

YDSTIE: That's Ben Grumbles, Maryland's Secretary of the Environment. Grumbles says, Maryland is still working on how to handle a recall.

GRUMBLES: We have more to learn on how to proceed. I know other states are looking at ways as well.

YDSTIE: Surprisingly, most states, including Maryland, don't test directly for harmful gases with a tailpipe test. They rely on what's called an onboard diagnostic test that simply tells you whether the engine systems are operating as designed. John German of the International Council on Clean Transportation, which helped uncover the VW scam, says, those OBD tests won't identify VW cars that haven't been fixed.

JOHN GERMAN: No, those programs will not pick up that the fix was not done. Now, the state has the ability to compile a list of recalls and to check to see if those vehicles had the recall.

YDSTIE: California is one of the few states that has such a program. It's linked to the state's vehicle registration system. As Stanley Young, a spokesperson for the California Air Resources Board explains, the vehicle ID number on recalled cars gets flagged.

STANLEY YOUNG: And they are cleared at the dealership when the owner of the car brings it in to get fixed.

YDSTIE: If it's not fixed, you can't register your car, and you can't legally drive it. But few if any other states have this kind of program. One other way to proceed would be for the EPA to put the burden on Volkswagen and fine it for every car that isn't fixed. The agency has the power to levy a fine of $37,500 for each vehicle that's out of compliance. That could motivate VW to provide the incentives needed. John Ydstie, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

John Ydstie has covered the economy, Wall Street, and the Federal Reserve at NPR for nearly three decades. Over the years, NPR has also employed Ydstie's reporting skills to cover major stories like the aftermath of Sept. 11, Hurricane Katrina, the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. He was a lead reporter in NPR's coverage of the global financial crisis and the Great Recession, as well as the network's coverage of President Trump's economic policies. Ydstie has also been a guest host on the NPR news programs Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. Ydstie stepped back from full-time reporting in late 2018, but plans to continue to contribute to NPR through part-time assignments and work on special projects.
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