Volkswagen Caught Cheating on Emissions Tests, Feds Say

Nearly 500,000 diesel cars have devices that let them pass tests but pollute but during normal operation. Recalls, fines ahead.

Your diesel Volkswagen may endanger your health — and everyone else’s, the U.S. government said Friday.

The Environmental Protection Agency issued a notice of violation of the Clean Air Act that says nearly 500,000 four-cylinder, 2.0 liter diesel Volkswagen and Audi cars from model years 2009-2015 include a so-called “defeat device” to fool emissions tests.

The VW cars under investigation emit up to 40 times the national standard for nitrogen oxide, which is linked to asthma and lung illnesses, EPA and State of California officials said. The California Air Resources Board launched a separate investigation.

“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.

Volkswagen admitted that the cars contained defeat devices, EPA officials said.

The company told The Los Angeles Times that it is cooperating in the investigation.

Affected diesel models include:

  • Jetta (model years 2009-2015)
  • Beetle (model years 2009-2015)
  • Audi A3 (model years 2009-2015)
  • Golf (model years 2009-2015)
  • Passat (model years 2014-2015)

Owners of cars of these models and years do not need to take any action at this time, the EPA said. But Volkswagen will recall all of the cars and change the emissions systems at its own expense, officials said. Volkswagen could face a fine of about $18 billion, or $35,500 per car, officials told the LA Times.

The EPA charged that a sophisticated software algorithm on the vehicles detects when the car is undergoing official emissions testing, and turns full emissions controls on only during the test. The effectiveness of their emissions control devices are greatly reduced during all normal driving situations, the EPA said.

Officials uncovered the software after independent analysis by researchers at West Virginia University, working with the International Council on Clean Transportation, raised questions about emissions levels.

Nitrogen oxide pollution contributes to nitrogen dioxide, ground-level ozone and fine particulate matter in the air. Exposure to ozone and particulate matter have also been associated with premature death due to respiratory-related or cardiovascular-related effects, the EPA said. Children, the elderly and people with pre-existing respiratory disease are particularly at risk for health effects of these pollutants, the agency said.

What action do you think the government should take, given these findings? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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