Das Auto Collides Head-On with the EPA by Samantha Jakuboski, October 07 2015, 1 Comment

After eight years of cheating on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fuel emission tests, Volkswagen’s dishonesty spell has come to a screeching halt.

Yes, in an attempt to attract a greater consumer base in America and increase sales (what an unusual motive), the largest car manufacturer in the world has deceived the EPA and hoodwinked the public into thinking their diesel cars are cleaner and better for the environment. However, in reality, these cars still release large quantities of pollutants, exceeding the levels of nitrogen oxides (a major contributor to smog and human respiratory problems) set by the Clean Air Act by a whopping 40 percent.

So now the question arises: how exactly did Volkswagen cheat and pass these tests? It’s not like there is an answer key.

Well, in this day and age, it should come as no surprise that the answer is technology. Cheating devices with special software were attached to the engines of diesel cars, including certain Beetle, Passat, Golf and Jetta models. Based on factors such as the position of the steering wheel and the speed of the vehicle, these devices can sense whether a vehicle is driving in a test trial or in real-life road situations. When a device senses that a car is operating under laboratory testing conditions, it "tells" the car to enter a mode in which emissions such as nitrogen oxides are controlled and greatly reduced. As a result, the level of pollutants released is low enough to pass the EPA’s standards.

However, as a study conducted by West Virginia University’s Center for Alternative Fuels Engines and Emissions found, such low pollutant release does not hold up when the cars are driven in real-world conditions. The researchers, whose goal was to compare diesel performance in a selection of cars—and had no intention of targeting Volkswagen—found that when they drove the Volkswagen cars hundreds of miles, the fuel emissions, specifically nitrogen oxides, were much higher than the levels recorded during the tests. Thinking that such results were a mistake, the researchers performed the experiment again. But alas, the results were no anomaly. They were the cold, hard truth. The high amounts of pollutants that the diesel Volkswagen vehicles actually emit were finally exposed, and the EPA was notified.

Fast forward to September 18, and we have the breaking of an international car scandal splattered across headlines. Over 482,000 Volkswagen diesel vehicles are now recalled in America, and the sales of some new 2015 models are on hold.

Personally, I don’t know how it took eight years for such a huge scandal to break. And apparently, neither can the government. In an effort to prevent cheating in the future, the EPA plans to revamp its testing for cars, as well as to inspect diesel car models from other manufacturers more closely before allowing them in the country.

Although the scandal broke in the United States, Americans are not the only ones that have been deceived by Volkswagen’s trickery. Worldwide, there are approximately 11 million Volkswagen cars that have this cheating device installed in their engine. This means that there are millions more people who were under the false assumption that they were driving a cleaner-energy car. Because of this, some European countries are planning to conduct their own investigations into Volkswagen. Further recalls loom in the distance.

It is obvious that Volkswagen has a lot of trust rebuilding and explaining to do. Not to mention payouts. The EPA alone could fine the company close to $40,000 for each car that cheated on the tests. That is about $18 billion worth of settlements demanded, not even taking into account additional lawsuits and payouts demanded by other parties and countries. Ouch.

Volkswagen’s plan to gain American business sure did backfire. If morality doesn’t stop car manufacturers from cheating on emission tests in the future, I sure hope they will remember the financial devastation Volkswagen is soon to face, and think twice before hitting the gas and speeding into scandal.

Picture Credit: Garret Voight (via Flickr) and available for use under the CC License