Diesel claim process: All you need to know

Claiming compensation for the diesel-gate scandal.

Although news of the diesel emissions scandal first broke in 2015, it remains an issue today. It refers to some of the biggest carmakers in the world admitting to installing software to cheat emissions tests. And it’s led to a series of diesel claim court cases.

If you own, lease, or have previously owned or leased a diesel vehicle made by a major car manufacturer between 2008 and 2019, you might be able to join one of these cases. They’re seeking compensation for diesel car owners because the vehicles are much more polluting than the carmakers claimed in their advertising. Several UK law firms are driving this process, which has come to be known as “Dieselgate”.

Joining a diesel claim is no guarantee of compensation, and it can be a very drawn-out process. But if you feel you were missold your vehicle, or if you’ve lost out financially, it’s worth knowing the steps involved in the diesel claims process so you can decide if you want to move forward.

What is the diesel emissions scandal? 

Between 2008 and 2019, many major car manufacturers installed “defeat devices” in their diesel engines to cheat emissions tests. 

Essentially, they added software that measured the speed the engine was running and for how long, as well as the air pressure in the engine. This meant the car could “recognise” when it was being operated for an emissions test (as is standard in an annual UK MOT). 

Under test conditions, the cars emitted low levels of pollutants such as nitrogen oxide (NOx). But in real-world driving conditions, when the defeat device was switched off, some of the affected makes and models were found to be between 10 and 40 times more polluting than the carmakers claimed, and often more than the legal European limit. 

The scandal was uncovered when the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) discovered discrepancies between emissions test results for the same types of cars in the US and Europe. 

What is a diesel emissions claim? 

A diesel claim is when a car owner, or a group of car owners, take a car manufacturer to court, claiming they’ve lost out as a result of the diesel emissions scandal. There are two main grounds for the claims: 

  • The drivers feel they were misold their vehicles because they were advertised as being far greener than they are. These drivers argue that if they had known about the true levels of emissions the vehicles produced, they would not have chosen to buy those makes and models. 
  • The drivers feel they’ve lost out financially. This could be because more heavily polluting vehicles require more fuel, because they have to pay higher congestion charges in major cities, because their vehicles have lost value in light of the scandal, or because they’ve had to pay to fix the defeat devices in some way. 

The accusations began with the Volkswagen group (which includes Audi, Bentley, Cupra, Lamborghini, Porsche, Seat, and Skoda), but over 20 of the world’s biggest manufacturers of everyday and high-performance vehicles are now implicated, including: 

  • BMW
  • Daimler
  • FIAT Chrysler Automobiles
  • Ford
  • General Motors, including Opel/Vauxhall
  • Honda
  • Hyundai
  • Jaguar Land Rover 
  • Mazda
  • PSA Group
  • Renault-Nissan
  • Subaru
  • SsangYong
  • Toyota
  • Volvo

It’s hard to overstate the extent of the Dieselgate scandal or its repercussions, which have included a total overhaul of the way that emissions tests are conducted. 

Can you claim compensation for having a diesel car? 

You won’t automatically be able to claim compensation for your diesel car because not all carmakers are involved in the emissions scandal. And even of those that are, not all vehicle models are affected. It also depends on the year the car’s engine was manufactured. 

If you want to find out whether you’re eligible for compensation, you can check online. There are countless websites where you can enter your car’s manufacturer and registration number to find out if it’s affected. Volkswagen also created a website where diesel car owners can enter their 17-digit vehicle identification number (VIN) to get more information on whether their car is affected. 

What are the criteria for a diesel claim? 

To be able to make a diesel claim, you have to fulfil the following criteria: 

  • You own or lease a diesel car made between 2008 and 2019, or have done so in the past
  • Your car’s make and model are implicated in the scandal
  • You have the paperwork to prove when the car was made and registered and when you took ownership of it
  • You bought your vehicle in the UK

How and when you owned the car shouldn’t affect your entitlement to compensation. Owners of diesel cars might be eligible whether they bought the car outright or on finance, new or second hand. Leased cars and company cars are also eligible. You can claim if you still own the car, and if you’ve traded it in. 

Aside from the criteria above, it’s important to be aware that you can only claim for a vehicle with one law firm at a time. If you decide to switch diesel claims and pursue compensation with a different law firm, you have to cancel your original claim first. If you’ve already gone beyond the customary 14-day cooling-off period after signing with a lawyer, you may have to pay a fee if you want to cancel your case. 

How to make a diesel claim 

Because the diesel claims process involves taking a multinational company to court, it would be extremely unwise for someone to take legal action as an individual driver. The legal costs would dwarf any compensation that you might receive. 

For this reason, the only realistic way to make a diesel claim in the UK is to join a group claim being made by a UK legal firm. 

You’ll have to do your research to find out which law firms are taking which car manufacturers to court and find the one that matches your vehicle. This is because it’s not possible for one law firm to take on more than one of the carmakers involved in the scandal. 

Once you’ve found the law firm you need, it’s a good idea to check they’re well-reviewed and well-established. Look for positive testimonials on third-party sites like Google and Trustpilot, or online forums for diesel car owners making a claim. 

Then, you’ll need to express your interest in joining the claim and send them the paperwork that proves you owned an affected vehicle. If you have any documents demonstrating financial loss, these will also help your case. Receipts showing how much it cost to repair your vehicle and bring it to a more acceptable level of emissions would be a good example.

After you’ve supplied the documents, there isn’t much else for you to do. It’s extremely unlikely that you’ll have to go to court or even give a formal statement to pursue your diesel claim. Your law firm will contact you when they have news. 

Has anyone received money from a diesel claim? 

Plenty of diesel car owners have already received a payout from a diesel claim. For example, the Volkswagen group settled out of court and made a £193 million payout in the UK in 2022, which was split between approximately 91,000 claimants in England and Wales. This gave each driver involved in the claim around £2,100 in compensation. 

Unfortunately, however, compensation isn’t guaranteed, and the level of payout you might get isn’t fixed. Many car manufacturers are settling out of court, which generally results in a lower payout. 

You should also bear in mind that the law firm will take a cut of the compensation if your claim is successful, which can be as much as 50%. You’ll also have some legal fees to pay, and if your lawyers don’t bill themselves as “no-win-no-fee”, you’ll have to pay those fees even if your claim is rejected. 

Finally, it’s important to be realistic about the time frame. Many diesel claims have been ongoing for several years, so it might be a long time before you see any of the compensation you’re due. 

Summary: Is my diesel claim legit?

If you own a diesel car made between 2008 and 2019, you might have a legitimate diesel claim. The first stage is always to check whether your make and model of car is affected, which is easy to search online. 

Once you know that your car was affected, it’s best to find a law firm and enquire about joining a diesel claim. Provide the documents that show when you took ownership of the vehicle, and then sit tight while the group action slowly makes its way through the court system. 

Unfortunately, compensation isn’t guaranteed, and after the law firm takes its cut of any compensation you’re awarded, you might be left with quite a small sum. But if the scandal has made you feel angry or frustrated, you may want to join a claim regardless of the length of the process or the size of the potential reward.

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