Diesel emission claims - should you do it and how?

If you owned a diesel vehicle between 2007 and 2020, should you claim for £1,000s over the emissions scandal?

Car driving on road with clouds
(Image credit: Getty)

Thousands of motorists who owned a diesel car between 2007 and 2020 have joined forces to make a legal claim against car manufacturers for allegedly installing defeat devices into vehicles resulting in reduced readings for nitrous oxide emissions under test conditions. But, it is claimed  (denied by manufacturers) the results gave out lower readings when in fact out on the road the vehicles were extremely polluting. 

If you own a diesel car and think you were affected, you may be thinking of making a claim. We look at the pros and cons, the costs and how to claim if you decide to push ahead.

Dubbed 'dieselgate’, thousands of diesel car owners are seeking compensation after allegedly being misled into believing their car pollution level was lower than it actually was.

New cars have to undergo emissions testing to check the levels of pollutants they emit. However back in 2015 Volkswagen admitted it had installed 'defeat devices' and consumers who bought these vehicles in good faith were 'mis-sold. VW made a £193m total payout to claimants, amounting to around £2,000 per person. Now other manufacturers who may also have manipulated the tests are now also facing legal claims.

But, with significant costs attached to legal claims, we can’t tell you if it is worth going ahead with a claim or indeed if you will be successful, but we explain the facts to help you decide.

Which vehicles can you claim for?

If you own any of these brands you may be affected by defeat devices, according to the legal firms (but denied by the manufacturers): Audi, BMW, Chrysler, Citroen, Fiat, Ford, Hyundai, Jaguar, Kia, Land Rover, Mercedes, Mini, Nissan, Peugeot, Porsche, Renault, Seat, Skoda, Suzuki, Vauxhall, Volkswagen and Volvo.

VW has already paid out - the manufacturer agreed to pay £193m to settle 91,000 legal claims in England and Wales earlier this year. This also includes its brands Audi, Seat and Skoda. According to MoneySavingExpert, you may still be able to claim for these brands.

Are you eligible to make a diesel emissions claim?

Motorists in England and Wales who have been the registered keeper of a diesel vehicle or van manufactured between 2007 and 2020  may be eligible to join a group legal claim. Eligibility criteria varies,  but law firms may accept you if the vehicle was bought new or second hand, leased or if you had a company car where the contract was in your name. You do not need to still own the vehicle. Checking your eligibility is easy and free via the various law companies websites, which we list below.   

The basis of your claim has to be that you have suffered financial loss as a result of any misrepresentation by the company about its vehicles diesel emissions. For example you paid more because you believed you were buying an environmentally-friendly car or it later had to be fixed to comply with emissions standards, perhaps even resulting in poorer performance or attracting a lower resale value. 

The law firms will claim a percentage of any compensation as their payment for the legal action. The maximum percentage they can claim will be in their terms and conditions and currently varies from 30-50%. 

You can only sign up with one law firm for each vehicle.

You can only join a claim in the country where you bought or leased the vehicle, regardless of where you live and the rules vary in different parts of the UK. If you bought your vehicle outside of the UK you won't be eligible.  Here is a list of firms you can join, according to MoneySavingExpert.

England and Wales

Mercedes 

Hagens Berman UK (opens in new tab) 

Slater and Gordon (opens in new tab)

Other manufacturers 

Leigh Day (opens in new tab) 

Millberg London (opens in new tab) 

Pogust Goodhead (opens in new tab)

Scotland

Group legal actions are relatively new but Thompsons Solicitors Scotland (opens in new tab) and Slater Gordons (opens in new tab) provide guidance.

Northern Ireland

Solicitors are not allowed to take cases on a 'no win, no fee' basis, which means that an upfront payment may be necessary. Edwards and Co solicitors (opens in new tab) are currently taking details of motorists interested in a claim related to Mercedes vehicles

How can I make a diesel emissions claim?

Because of the costs involved in independent litigation the most straightforward option is to look into joining a group legal action. You will have noticed adverts asking you to join other diesel owners in their fight against car manufacturers.

 A number of law firms have dedicated web pages in which you can input the details of your vehicle and discover if you are eligible. These cases have been going on for some years now, and if you are looking to make a claim, you may want to consider delaying it until there is a court judgment against the manufacturer - and you can then make a claim yourself.

If you're interested in making a claim then do stay abreast of any legal updates as the situation evolves and also thoroughly research the terms and conditions before signing up with a law firm.

How do I choose a law firm?

It's important to research which law firm is right for you before signing up. You can check out reviews on sites such as Trustpilot – some firms who have good reviews overall can have poor reviews when it comes to emissions claims, maybe because they don't have the resources to keep up with the volume of claimants. Online forums and social media groups for motorists who are pursuing claims can also be a useful source of information.

Are there any risks involved when making a diesel claim?

As the legal firms are working on a 'no win, no fee basis' you won't have to pay anything upfront. However if the claim fails, there could be legal costs if  the firm doesn't have ATE or 'after the event' insurance. Do clarify whether firms have this cover and also whether you might incur any legal costs at any point before signing up.

What if I change my mind?

There's a 'cooling off' period for the first 14 days after signing up, during which cancelling is straightforward. After that it becomes more complex and may involve charges, so do your research beforehand and read any paperwork carefully when you receive it. If there's anything you are unsure about then ask the firm and keep correspondence in writing.

What happens as the case proceeds?

You could be asked for additional paperwork such as proof of ownership documents or finance agreements. However it's very unlikely that you'll be required to provide a full witness statement or attend court.

How much can I receive from a successful claim?

This is very difficult to predict, but it could be thousands - but, this is not guaranteed. Even if your legal firm believes you are eligible for thousands of pounds, this could be reduced by the court, or a lower amount could be agreed if the case is settled out of court. 

When VW paid out, it amounted to approximately £2,000 per claimant, but this does not guarantee other claims will amount to the same payment - if any at all.

How long do diesel claims take?

The legal process could take up to five years or even longer – so don't expect a quick payout. 

The verdict - should you do it?

Though we can't tell you whether you should make a claim, it is worth knowing the pros and cons. It is important to note that there are no guarantees that you will have a successful claim. Although some manufacturers have paid out, like VW for example.

There is also a small risk you may have to pay if the claim fails and they don’t have insurance.

Also ask yourself if you genuinely suffered loss, as the claims process can take years with no guarantee of a win at the end.

This article does not constitute legal advice so please proceed based on your own appetite for risk. Also note, we are personal finance experts, and not emissions experts, so all mentions of the science of emissions are based on reports from other experts, though manufacturers broadly deny most of the alleged wrong-doing

Maria McCarthy
Contributor

Maria McCarthy is a freelance journalist, author of The Girls' Car Handbook and a frequent commentator on motoring matters on radio and TV.


She has written for a number of titles, including Good Housekeeping and Saga magazines, helping you make the most of their money when it comes to managing your car.