Some military personnel stationed overseas who drive Volkswagens and Audis that are subject to a widespread recall are frustrated with the recall process, especially as they prepare for permanent change-of-station moves and are unable to ship their cars with them.

All drivers of affected vehicles have two options under the first part of the recall, which was brought about by alleged "defeat devices" that allow high-polluting diesel engines to cheat emissions tests: They can sell the car back to VW (or end the lease without a termination fee), or they can take it to a dealer for a free fix, if materials are available.

But the cars must be stateside for either option — even troops in Germany can't use local dealers. The claim deadline for the 475,000 vehicles in the first part of the recall, which involves vehicles with certain 2.0-liter TDI engines, is Sept. 1, 2018.

In a Tuesday email to a Navy commander in Europe, a Volkswagen representative stated that the company is "working on a plan for completing the buyback process overseas, and we anticipate it will be in place shortly. We will contact you as soon as more details are available." 

However, the commander told Military Times, "I have been told the solution is 'weeks' away since October." He requested his name not be used.

The settlement requires VW to set up a process for service members stationed overseas who own affected vehicles. Multiple service members reached out to Military Times to say that process was lacking; VW representatives did not return requests for comment regarding the complaints.

"Please, you need to work with urgency to resolve this," Navy Capt. Elizabeth Jackson wrote in an email to the car maker's Military Support Team backing the recall effort. "You are creating a cascade of problems for military members like me because of your delayed response with solutions."

Jackson is stationed in the Netherlands and was scheduled to leave March 30 for her next duty station. Though she has worked through the claims process and has accepted Volkswagen’s buyback offer for her 2011 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen, she said in her email to the support team, "you have not provided me (or any other military member in Europe with a faulty VW vehicle) with any options for the turn-in of my vehicle as part of the buy-back process."

She told Military Times on March 16 that her "only feasible option I have at the moment is to leave the car behind in the Netherlands. I will need to leave it with a friend or colleague I trust, and hope for the best!"

The Navy commander in Europe said despite difficulties reaching VW representatives, his two eligible vehicles have been approved for the process. He received final offers, he said, "just no place to drop them off."

A service member stationed in Canada said he isn't even able to get started in the claims process, because Volkswagen officials told him his car must be registered in the U.S.

"This is totally unfair and there is no recourse that I know of — after having spent hours bouncing from one call center to another," he said via email.

SHIPPING CONCERNS


VW will reimburse owners stationed overseas for costs associated with shipping their vehicle to the U.S., a company representative told Military Times in response to previous questions about the recall. At the time, there were about 200 service members overseas with eligible vehicles, the representative said. 

The  FAQs related to the settlement echo that statement, telling owners who register that "Volkswagen will coordinate with you to ship your car back to the United States."

Those upfront shipping costs could run at least several thousand dollars, and it's also not feasible for some service members to arrange for someone to pick up the car in the U.S. and handle the rest of the recall process, as would be required. And while the government picks up the tab for one vehicle shipped during reassignments to or from overseas, it won't pay to ship the vehicle for recall purposes.

It also will refuse to ship some cars under recall, although that's generally for safety issues that don't apply in the VW case. Still, officials with the Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, which is responsible for the process of shipping privately owned vehicles to and from overseas locations for PCS moves, have advised service members with affected vehicles to contact their local Vehicle Processing Center well in advance of their planned move, to find out whether their recalled vehicle can be shipped.

Those in the U.S. with a recalled vehicle who are scheduled for an overseas move shouldn't ship it overseas before the recall is addressed, officials said.

A second settlement involving certain Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche 3.0-liter TDI vehicles hasn't yet been approved. The final approval hearing for that settlement is scheduled for May 11.


Karen Jowers covers military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times. She can be reached at kjowers@militarytimes.com.