Is Now a Good Time to Buy a VW TDI?

And conversely, is it a good time to sell? A trip down the Craigslist rabbit hole.

Jordin Althaus/WireImage

Volkswagen’s four-cylinder TDI models were designed to cheat U.S. federal emissions tests. As owners of affected cars await some directive from the company, the second-hand market shuffles its shifty, sheisty way forward, filling the void.

Diesel VWs are still popping up on sites like Craigslist and Ebay as “dieselgate” unspools. Among the active private party listings on the New York metro Craigslist page are:

- A gray 2015 Passat TDI SE with less than 1,000 miles, listed for $23,000

- A black 2013 Golf TDI with 54,000 miles for $15,000

The Passat seller cites an M.S.R.P. of $32,000 for the essentially brand-new sedan, a nearly 30% reduction. Kelley Blue Book values the Golf between $15,000 and $16,000, depending on condition and options.

Nearly all of the Ebay listings for 2009-15 Volkswagen diesel cars—the ones caught up in Volkswagen's epic software cheat—were posted by dealers. But one ad, on the Craigslist page for Grand Rapids, Michigan, set itself apart with its sardonic wit:

"Pollute 40x More Than Your Friends With This 2009 Jetta Sportwagon [sic]... Ever wanted to destroy the environment while commuting, all while achieving 42 mpgs and enjoying a luxurious leather interior? We have the car for you!"

I found it posted on a friend's Facebook wall, but by the time I tried to contact the listed seller, the post had been flagged for removal and was no longer visible. Some people have no stomach for cynicism.

Armando Bueno, who is selling his red 2012 Jetta TDI sedan via Craigslist, said he had bought the car as an initial foray into used car sales in New Jersey.

"When I bought it, I got a great price, and I thought I could make a decent profit on it," he said. "Now I don't know."

Bueno’s ad reflects a rather remarkable 162,000-mile odometer reading, and according to Kelley Blue Book, such a well-used car would still be worth around $10,000 for a private party sale—dieselgate notwithstanding. Bueno, who listed the car for $8,900, said he received a mobile bulletin about the VW emissions software scandal, but had dismissed it as another among so many reports about auto companies running afoul of regulators.

"I didn't think too much about it at the time because this is the U.S., and that kind of stuff happens in corporate America," he said. "I'm more shocked than anything, and a little nervous. I don't know what to do with the car, but hopefully I can sell it and it doesn't pollute the environment too much."

Amid pictures of cars for sale on the New York-area Craigslist page are two ads of a different stripe. One informs readers—incorrectly—that VW has issued a recall of 2009-15 TDI models. (A recall is all but certain, but has not yet been issued.)

"Does anybody know what they're going to do to correct this and emissions problem? They say the correction will drastically decrease gas mileage and horsepower," the posting reads.

The other was posted by someone eager to buy up VW diesels while their value was uncertain.

"Sell your VW TDI before they lose even more value. Well, if you have been reading the news you're very aware of the VW scandal causing their stock to drop 20 percent. I'm buying VW TDI's. Sell them before they lose even more value or before the Government puts restrictions on them."

What a friend.

The truth is, no one knows yet which way VW TDI values will go. Matt DeLorenzo, managing editor at Kelley Blue Book, said in an interview that whatever the EPA and state DMVs decided would ultimately have the biggest effect on the future value of these cars.

"I think it will take a while for them to sort this out," he said.

Bearing that in mind, perhaps now isn't the best time to try unloading—or buying—a TDI.