Why I'll Never Trust Volkswagen Again

Simon with Doc Silverbear, a Jetta TDI Clean Diesel from Volkswagen, which has now been found to have faked emissions via a "defeat device" which turned on only during emissions tests. . (Photo: Starre Vartan )

I've been writing about the environment for 15 years, and worrying about it since I can remember.

I understand the importance of minimizing my environmental footprint. I've been a vegetarian for 22 years, and have always tried to keep my driving to a minimum, using public transportation as much as possible, biking and walking — lots and lots of walking. Last year, my partner and I went car-free when we moved to Berkeley, California. It was a bit of a challenge, but not bad.

When Simon got a job in Oregon that required him to drive, we went looking for a used car with good fuel mileage and we settled on a 2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Clean Diesel.

We were thrilled. The fuel economy was fantastic (47-48 miles per gallon, with diesel being the same price or cheaper than gas), and Volkswagen had created this amazing engine that didn't let pollutants from the dirtier diesel fuel into the atmosphere.

"German engineering!" I said to Simon, patting the top of the car before we climbed in to drive home.

Starre and Simon next to the VW TDI on purchase day.
We are happy in the photo, but now it's not such a happy memory after all. (Photo: Starre Vartan)

But then came the big shocker from Volkswagen. The company had cheated — basically installing a "defeat device" so that during emissions testing, it appeared that the car was emitting lower levels of pollutants than it really was.

The device affects almost 500,000 cars sold in the U.S. and more than 11 million cars sold worldwide. That's 11 million cars, including mine, that are spewing anywhere from five to 35 times more pollutants than advertised.

This lie was purposeful, and if not for the diligent work of the Environmental Protection Agency, which noticed discrepancies between its own tests and what VW had reported, the company would have gotten away with it.

Not only am I angry and hurt, but we will lose value on the car, too. We paid a premium because the car was clean diesel, spending more for the efficiency of a diesel engine as well as what we thought would be reduced emissions. This deception will have a long-term impact on the value of the vehicle.

It's difficult enough to make smart decisions when we buy things, but for a company to blatantly lie about something that affects human health is despicable. Air pollution is the oft-ignored killer of millions of people a year, and now millions of Volkswagen vehicles are contributing to this poorer air quality.

Frankly, my feelings are hurt, but that's not nearly as bad as the polluted air that's been spewing from our tailpipe, and will continue to do so for the life of this car — and 11 million more like it.