VW Emissions scandal and your rights as a car owner

October 20, 2015 at 11:43 AM


By Henry Chellew

Owners of Volkswagen and other makes of vehicles affected by the global emissions scandal should consider lawyers as a last resort. A better tactic is to follow due process if you need to recover any losses you might suffer as a result of the stigma and devaluation associated with your vehicle. 

I believe the first stop for affected vehicle owners should be the dealer where you purchased the vehicle from, and only if that fails, should you consider other remedies.

Ask your Volkswagen dealer how they intend to put it right. If you have no joy, you could consider other legal remedies ahead of court action, which itself could be long, protracted and uncertain of success. In addition it may prevent you from achieving a quicker result.

The Disputes Tribunal, which is a division of the District Court, can hear claims of up to $15,000. Lawyers are not allowed to represent parties or advocate on their behalf. It keeps out the big corporate lawyers who tend to represent multinational corporates like VW, and it’s a low cost, faster venue for resolution. 

More than 5,000 Kiwi owners of Volkswagen, Audi and Skoda 1.6-litre and 2-litre diesel engine vehicles – including Tiguan SUVs and Passat cars – are believed to be affected by the emissions deception, and as a result, could find that the value of their vehicles is reduced by the stigma.

A class action is an option, but that it may not be an easy road because the key element is to prove loss attributable to the emissions scandal. 

An identifiable loss requires the owner to be able to point to the issue and say that ‘my vehicle was worth this sum before the scandal, but as a result of that scandal it is now only worth this’ – bearing in mind that cars do devalue quickly anyhow, and therefore damages may be limited.” 

VW owners could qualify for compensation under both the Fair Trading Act 1986 and also potentially the Sale of Goods Act 1908.

Under the Fair Trading Act, section nine, there is no requirement for the misleading conduct to be intentional. In other words, the person who sold you the car does not need to be aware that he or she was misleading you or misrepresenting the product, only that it occurred. 

Under the Sale of Goods Act 1908, goods must conform to their description. So if sales descriptions make reference to the emissions output of the vehicle and those were false, then we can say the vehicle does not answer to its description.