After being caught by the Environmental Protection Agency for deliberately violating the Clean Air Act on its TDI clean diesel models, Volkswagen must recall 482,000 cars fitted with its ubiquitous 2.0 TDI 4-cylinder engines.
Vehicles affected by this issue include: 2009-2015 Volkswagen Jetta, Beetle, Golf, 2015 Golf Sportwagen TDI, 2014-2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI models and the Audi A3.
Volkswagen installed a software that allows 10 to 40 times the permissible level of nitrogen oxide (NOx) to exit from the diesel engines’ exhaust.
After being tipped by transportation researches at West Virginia University, the EPA found sophisticated software, known as a defeat device, that allowed the vehicles to exceed lawful NOx emissions and even block them during testing.
In the report, the EPA stated:
“The software used steering angle, speed, engine run times, and atmospheric-pressure information that precisely track the parameters of the federal test procedures used for the emission testing.”
John Shilling, a Volkswagen spokesperson, said:
“VW is cooperating with the investigation; we are unable to comment further at this time.”
However, the company did not indicate why it specified the increased levels of NOx emissions on these models. All of the engines affected in this breach involve the 4-cylinder turbo-diesel units. Prior to 2015, only some of these engines used AdBlue, a urea-based exhaust-gas after-treatment liquid.
For the 2015 model year, Volkswagen rolled out a revised EA288 2.0 4-cylinder turbo-diesel engine, which mandated the usage of AdBlue exhaust cleaning liquid on all U.S. Spec Audi and Volkswagen models. Before this, only the Volkswagen Touareg TDI and Passat TDI, along with the Audi A6, A7, and A8 TDI models used the AdBlue exhaust cleaning solution.
Due to the violation of the Clean Air Statues, Volkswagen is facing a fine of $37,500 per affected vehicle, which could amount to a maximum of $18 billion in damages. Richard Corey, Executive Officer of the California Air Resources Board, said the violations were a “direct threat to public health.”
However, Volkswagen officials did admit they had installed the software only after the EPA and the CARB hinted they would not certify the company’s 2016 diesel models.
But, this is not the first time VW has been caught by these two entities.
In May 2014, West Virginia University researchers found “significantly higher” emissions from a 2012 Jetta and 2013 Passat TDI and reported the findings to the EPA. In December 2014, VW updated the ECU software on certain cars to address this issue, but CARB found minimal improvements and couldn’t find out why the OBD-II controller wasn’t able to detect any emissions error.
U.S. laws on passenger car diesels are the strictest in the world and cleaning up diesel exhaust is an expensive process. Urea-based solutions, which inject liquid into the exhaust system to reduce the NOx emissions requires two catalytic converters; one for oxidation process and the other for breaking down NOx into nitrogen and water vapor. Incorporating these systems into diesel-powered passenger cars can become complex and expensive.
As of this writing, Volkswagen has not issued an official recall, but has ordered its U.S. dealers to stop selling any TDI models until further notice.