Chipped Car, Not disclosed at Sale (6 years ago), State Caught up (failed inspection) - recourse?

volkswagen
newbeetle

#1

We discovered that my wife’s car was “chipped” (reflashed actual) by the previous owner. Never caused any problems for 6 years, until this year when it failed the state (MA) emissions test - not because of dirty emissions mind you, but because the new testing computer software can detect modified ECUs. And the fallback to a tailpipe test is no longer doable - the machines have all been retired.

So… they’ll issue a one-year waiver to get it fixed - but that’s going to involve replacing the ECU - a $1300 part new, if you can find one (apparently that model year was a 1-off, and so far all we can find are used units on eBay). And yes, I checked, it’s not reflashable back to stock.

We’ll probably have to go with a used unit - but… I’m kind of wondering if the dealer is liable for selling a car that had its emissions system tampered? We bought it in 2009, and I believe that 2008 was when dealers were supposed to start doing readiness scans of the ECUs.


#2

Duplicate post.


#3

If someone was able to “reflash” your control chip, then a dealer should be able to flash it back to stock parameters…


#4

There are two or three companies that are expert on repairing/rebuilding/repurposing these auto computer modules. I think you should phone one or two of them up and see if they have any ideas. The company I’ve heard about the most is Module Master, but there are others. These folks deal with this kind of problem every day, and may have a solution that doesn’t involve ECM replacement. Best of luck.

I don’t know about seller requirements. Here in Calif to execute the sale, the car must pass emissions testing first. If it passes, the sale goes through, then it fails emission 2 years or more after that because the seller modified something, I’m not sure if there’s much the new owner can do, other than pay up the money to return the car to the same emissions equipment that it came with when new.


#5

I don’t think you have a case against the seller. It’s been 6 years and while the vehicle is NOW failing the inspection, it didn’t before.


#6

It sounds like the chip was actually changed.

Doubtful you can get anything from the dealer. They may not even had known about the chip.

Your best bet is to find one from a salvage yard.


#7

I agree with most of what has been previously stated, especially the suggestion of going to an auto salvage company (junk yard) for the ECM, rather than buying a new one, and also the virtual impossibility of being successful in court after 6 years.

While it probably wasn’t possible for the OP to detect this problem 6 years ago, the fact remains that the legal system requires relatively fast action for civil suits. The legal principle is known as, “Laches”.


#8

A dealer should be able to reflash the ECU back to stock. It’s really not a big deal. Note a “chip” is different than a “tune” The chip being a physical part that often piggybacks on the ECU, whilst a tune is simply software. Most OBD II vehicles will have a “tune” uploaded to the ECU as a modification, but restoring the stock tune to ECU is a very simple procedure if you have the hand held tuner that the orginal owner user, or like I mentioned earlier, you can just take the car to a VW dealership and them upload the correct stock tune to the ECU.


#9

If the dealership is saying they need to replace the ECU…that tells me the chip was actually changed…NOT just flashing of the stock ECU. Really need to get this cleared up as to what actually is the case. If the stock ECU was just flashed with different set of tables…then the dealer should be able to fix this without a new ECU. But if there’s a different chip…then you’ll need a new/used ECU.


#10

OP said it was ‘reflashed’.


#11

I don’t think that you can get any compensation, but you might get revenge. Tampering with the emission controls of a vehicle can result in a very large fine by the EPA and maybe a state regulatory entity as well, if they can prove who did the tampering.


#12

Wondering if the OP will ever return to answer questions-

“I’m kind of wondering if the dealer is liable for selling a car that had its emissions system tampered? We bought it in 2009, and I believe that 2008 was when dealers were supposed to start doing readiness scans of the ECUs”

Not the same. I’d be willing to bet the current ECU will do the same thing it has done for years and report the readiness monitors are complete. It has passed this aspect in the past, no reason to think it wouldn’t pass today. That’s all the dealer had to test for back then and frankly, I haven’t seen this new requirement posted anywhere. It would be interesting if you could elaborate on where this failure appears on the Vehicle Inspection Report.

Looking over the Mass RMV inspection requirements and reasons for failure does not list any type of test requirement that would be related to an inspection of the programming content or alteration of the performance variables.

Nor have I ever run across any documentation of the EPA instituting a new requirement that forces all vendors to provide a common mechanism for determining the original content of the ECU. Do you, or anyone else, have a reference to share?


#13
OP said it was 'reflashed'.

True…but he also said he needed a new ECU. They contradict each other.


#14

I’m thinking the problem is that it may be illegal for the manufacturer to reflash the chip. Even if doing so returns it to what it was when it left the factory. So any tampering with the chip software, good or bad, may be illegal.


#15

@GeorgeSanJose: ?? It’s illegal to drive car as-is, and it’s illegal to fix it? Awfully ‘Catch-22’-ish! (I’m not doubting you, mind, just shaking my head.)

Correct me if I’m wrong, but we don’t yet know year, make, or model. I’m assuming OBDII.

Couple of thoughts. First, does Mass have state-run testing, or private garages? If the latter, it shouldn’t be too hard to find a garage with (shall we say) more “relaxed” testing protocols.

Second, can you get ahold of the actual Mass State Motor Vehicle Code and get the exact testing standards, as written in legalese? I’ve been told before “it won’t pass” by mechanics, only to read evidence to the contrary at the local law library.

I just got off the MA emissions website, and it does indeed look like the test is performed by individual stations. Take the test again. Go to a poor part of town, look for an independent shop that advertises “used tires for sale,” and try to get tested when the shop seems swamped.


#16

I think MA is like NH…where as the Emissions test is still done at local garages…however you use a computer that’s connected to the State Database. To use it…you first type in the VIN…then connect the OBD-II port to the computer. The readings are then instantly sent to the states database. So unless you’re an extremely good hacker a local shop can’t just pass you.


#17

I’m thinking the problem is that it may be illegal for the manufacturer to reflash the chip.

Dealerships do this on a fairly regular basis. Whether to upgrade firmware following a corrective action or to restore the programming if there is a suspect fault in the controller. At least some times, a new controller is generic off the shelf and has to be programmed (flashed) for the specific car before it is installed.

Go to a poor part of town, look for an independent shop that advertises “used tires for sale,” and try to get tested when the shop seems swamped

It’s as Mike described. This part of the testing cannot be circumvented. Shops can only exercise discretion on the safety aspect of the inspection and do so at their own peril.


#18

@meanjoe75fan … Here in Calif it is quite possible to get caught in a catch-22 involving emissions testing. One version of this is when the state requires a diagnosis or modification to the owner’s car that is impossible or impractical to perform, because the part is no longer available, or there is nobody available who has the expertise or diagnostic tools to do it at an affordable price. When the federal emissions equipment on a car is modified by the owner, it practically sets up a catch-22 situation. Because it is illegal to modify or remove federal emissions equipment, the owner may well find it illegal to modify it back to what it was originally. The reason is that it is difficult to near-impossible to prove that the modification will actually return it to the OEM state. Calif’s Bureau of Auto Repair probably deals with this situation on a daily basis. Likely what they do, is they will issue a waiver allowing the modification, but only after the owner proves the modification returns the emissions equipment to the OEM state. Maybe somebody here has actually got caught in this trap and can offer up some enlightenment.