DETROIT — Volkswagen owners can finally dump their cheatin' cars, if they want to.
The German automaker has agreed to an unprecedented U.S. settlement to make things right after admitting that it programmed about half a million of its diesel cars to cheat on emissions tests. When driven on the road, the vehicles put out levels of nitrous oxide well above U.S. pollution standards.
If the settlement with owners and government agencies is approved by a federal judge — which could happen as early as this fall — Volkswagen will spend more than $10 billion to either buy back or fix the cars and compensate owners for their trouble.
Here are answers to questions about the deal, which is the largest class-action settlement in the history of the American auto industry:
WHAT EXACTLY AM I GETTING FROM VW?
You can choose. VW will buy back your car — regardless of its condition — at the trade-in price before the cheating was made public on Sept. 18, 2015. Or the company will fix your car. The fix has not been determined and still must be approved by the Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board. VW is expected to submit possible fixes beginning in November. In either case, VW will pay you $5,100 to $10,000 for your trouble, depending on the age of the car. Buybacks will begin this fall if the settlement is approved. Owners will have until Sept. 1, 2018 to make a decision.
HOW MUCH ARE THESE CARS WORTH?
A typical 2009 Jetta diesel was worth about $8,400 before the scandal, according to Kelley Blue Book. A 2014 Jetta diesel is worth about $18,500.
SHOULD I TAKE THE BUYBACK OR THE FIX?
It depends. From a financial standpoint, it's best to wait because you can keep driving your car for two years or even longer before you have to decide. If you wait, you'll still get the clean trade-in value from before the scandal was made public. But you're continuing to pollute the air while you drive. If you like driving your older diesel, you should keep in mind that any repairs will be extensive and will likely hurt your gas mileage and performance. If your car is newer, say from 2014, the repairs will probably be less extensive and may not be so noticeable.
CAN I JUST KEEP MY CAR WITHOUT GETTING IT FIXED?
You could, but eventually you would violate the Clean Air Act by spewing too much nitrogen oxide. If you live in a state that doesn't test diesel cars, then you might be able to do nothing. But in states that have pollution tests, you run the risk of being caught.
WILL ATTORNEY FEES TAKE ALL OF MY PAYMENTS LIKE THEY DO IN MANY CLASS-ACTION LAWSUITS?
No. They are not included in the settlement and will be negotiated later.
I'M JUST GOING TO TAKE THE MONEY AND BUY A NEW CAR. DOES ANY OTHER AUTOMAKER SELL SOMETHING THAT PERFORMS LIKE A VW DIESEL?
Your choices are pretty limited because VW had a lock on lower-cost diesels in the U.S. The closest would be the Chevrolet Cruze diesel, but it was made only through the 2015 model year. There could be a few still at dealers around the country starting at $25,660. Otherwise, the options get pricier. The BMW 328D diesel starts at $39,850, and the Jeep Grand Cherokee diesel starts at more than $41,000.
CAN I BUY A NEW VOLKSWAGEN DIESEL?
Volkswagen has been under a stop-sale order for its 2016 diesels until they can be fixed. Once they are repaired, you could buy one, but you run the risk of reduced performance depending on the repairs.
I OWN A 3-LITER V6 VOLKSWAGEN. WHAT HAPPENS TO ME?
That's still being worked out by all the attorneys. You are not covered by the package announced Tuesday.
IF I BUY AN AFFECTED VW DIESEL TODAY, WILL I BE ELIGIBLE FOR COMPENSATION?
Yes. The eligibility for the compensation transfers to the new owner. Former owners who sold their VW diesels between Sept. 15, 2015, and June 28, 2016, are also eligible for some compensation.
WHERE CAN I LEARN MORE?
The official settlement web site is https://www.vwcourtsettlement.com .