VW Intentionally Programmed Engine Software To Cheat Emissions Tests, Forced By EPA To Recall 482K Vehicles

Whoa, Nelly! Volkswagen has gotten caught with its hands in the cookie jar, and its offense is pretty egregious. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has accused the Volkswagen Group of purposefully programming its engine control units (ECU) to detect when federally-mandated emissions tests are being run on vehicle. When laboratory testing is detected, a so-called “defeat device” is triggered that allows the vehicle’s engine to run in a special mode allowing it to pass emissions tests with flying colors.

There’s one big problem with this scheme, however; when the vehicle is driven under normal circumstances, it is not operating in a EPA-certified, emission-legal state. In fact, the vehicles in question emits up to 40 times the level of nitrogen oxides (NOx) that is legally permissible by the EPA.

vw clean diesel

“Using a defeat device in cars to evade clean air standards is illegal and a threat to public health,” said Cynthia Giles, the EPA’s Assistant Administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Working closely with the California Air Resources Board, EPA is committed to making sure that all automakers play by the same rules. EPA will continue to investigate these very serious matters.”

“Our goal now is to ensure that the affected cars are brought into compliance, to dig more deeply into the extent and implications of Volkswagen’s efforts to cheat on clean air rules, and to take appropriate further action,” said Air Resources Board Executive Officer Richard Corey.

As a result, the EPA is requiring that Volkswagen recall 482,000 vehicles that were produced for the 2009 and 2015 model years equipped with four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine (or TDI in VW speak). Volkswagen will also no doubt be subject to fines for its blatant disregard for EPA emissions testing. The maximum penalty for each violation is $37,500 and given that 482,000 vehicles are involved, the maximum fine could approach $18 billion dollars. However, we know that the EPA won’t fine Volkswagen that much given that the General Motors ignition switch fiasco, which resulted in the loss of over 100 lives, resulted in a fine of $900 million.

The gaming of the system by Volkswagen is rather egregious given the inroads the company has made in making diesel vehicles palatable to notoriously diesel-shy Americans (at least when it comes to passenger cars; Americans have always loved their diesels in heavy duty pickups). Volkswagen proudly touts its Clean Diesel vehicles in print, online, and TV advertising. Now we’re learning that those diesels aren’t so clean after all.

Affected vehicles include 2009 - 2015 model years Volkswagen Jetta, Beetle and Golf models with TDI engines. The recall also affects 2014 - 2015 Volkswagen Passats and 2009 - 2015 Audi A3’s with TDI engines.

The EPA is taking this offense very seriously due to the harmful effects of NOx on the environment and to the general population. “NOx pollution contributes to nitrogen dioxide, ground-level ozone, and fine particulate matter,” explains the EPA. “Exposure to these pollutants has been linked with a range of serious health effects, including increased asthma attacks and other respiratory illnesses that can be serious enough to send people to the hospital.”