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The judge overseeing the VW settlement case warns owners to stop removing parts.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer said Thursday that Volkswagen owners participating in the TDI buyback program should stop stripping vehicles before turning them in.

He said the settlement agreement calls for owners to hand them over "in the condition they were being driven," the AP reports (via CNBC).

However, this elaboration differs little from the language with which some owners have already taken some liberties. The fine print of the settlement agreement said that vehicles had to be returned in "operable" condition, which leaves quite a bit of room for interpretation.

"Operable means that a vehicle so described can be driven under its own 2.0-liter TDI engine power. A vehicle is not operable if it had a branded title of "Assembled," "Dismantled," "Flood," "Junk," "Rebuilt," "Reconstructed," or "Salvaged" as of September 18, 2015, and was acquired by any person or entity from a junkyard or salvaged after September 18, 2015," according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Attorney Robert Giuffra, representing Volkswagen in the settlement, asked Judge Breyer "[...] to advise class members if they wish to receive settlement benefits, they should not engage in deliberate part stripping."

Owners have gone so far as to remove seats, air bags, interior trim, exterior lighting, electronics and other components that they deem unnecessary for the vehicle to be considered legally "operable."

Some dealers have refused to accept the cars in this state, while apparently others have not made an issue of it.

The call from Judge Breyer will likely give dealers firmer footing in negotiating with owners who attempt to turn in cars with missing components.

Note: Photo courtesy of Reddit user Tacoboutnachos.