Volkswagen Used Illegal Software to Cheat Emissions Tests: EPA

Volkswagen Used Illegal Software to Cheat Emissions Tests: EPA

Volkswagen may be forced to recall almost 500,000 diesel passenger cars after an investigation revealed illegal software was allowing the vehicles to pass government emissions standards.

A software algorithm, known as a defeat device, used on roughly 482,000 Volkswagen vehicles with four-cylinder diesel engines is able to detect when the car is undergoing official emissions testing, and will activate full emissions controls only during the test.

The EPA says that this results in cars that meet emissions standards while being tested, but emit up to 40 times more nitrogen oxides while driving.

Independent analysis at West Virginia University uncovered the defeat devices. After being questioned by the EPA and CARB, Volkswagen admitted that its cars did contain defeat devices.

SEE ALSO: Volkswagen Hid a Possible Car Hack for Two Years

The EPA says “it is incumbent” on Volkswagen to initiate a recall fix for all the affected cars, although they note that these vehicles are still safe to drive and do not present a safety hazard at this time.

Volkswagen may be liable for civil penalties over the findings, which could total up to $18 billion if the EPA leverages its maximum fine of $37,500 per vehicles.

“Using a defeat device in cars to evade clean air standards is illegal and a threat to public health,” said Cynthia Giles, 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.”

Models affected by the issue include the 2009-2015 Volkswagen Jetta, Beetle and Golf. The 2009-2015 Audi A3 is also affected, along with the 2014-2015 Passat.

Volkswagen acknowledged that it has received notice of the investigation. “VW is cooperating with the investigation; we are unable to comment further at this time,” said the brand.

Discuss this story at our Volkswagen Forum

  • Lowcarb

    Ask most people and the will say who gives a shit. Is it better to get near 50mpg or have a clean tailpipe? If you look at it they are helping to conserve a natural resource by great mpg over gasoline burners. Furthermore if we ran it them on Bio- Diesel they would be cleaner than any vehicle besides the bullshit electrics with they 3000.00 batters that are a bio hazard once depleted. What do you do with them. Bury them Like Nuke waste. All this Carbon Footprint crap is a huge fricken lie. All the Al’s scientist that were on the take most of them now say they did not have enough conclusive data.

  • Narc

    Welp..there goes the economy of owning a VW Squeezle. All this emission crap is B.S., solely to make money for some company, selling their bogus emission equipment. Emissions go down, but so does the MPG, therefore, emitting the same number of emissions per mile driven. It’s all garbage.

  • SukItTrebek

    Hahahaha…in the meantime, the ALHs just keep going, and going, and going…..

  • Any sources on that? Seem like pretty wild claims.

  • timothyhood

    It doesn’t work that way. It’s not a one-for-one trade-off. Pre-emissions cars of the ’60s and ’70s emit[ted] 1,000 times the amount pollutants as a new gas-powered vehicle today. Separately, fuel economy has increase substantially over that same period. While it is very true that early emissions systems did rob vehicles of power and fuel economy, today, that power loss is rather negligible compared to the much cleaner emissions.

  • Cite your sources, kids. 😉

  • timothyhood

    It depends. For those who want to live longer and don’t want lung cancer, we’ll take the clean air.

    No need to comment on the rest of that post.

  • timothyhood

    Looks like VW got caught cheating red-handed. In some schools, that’s grounds for expulsion. It will be interesting to see how the school of EPA handles this. It will need to be a fine significant enough to send a message to manufacturers that cheating can’t pay. I’ll bet this is going to hurt financially, regardless of the publicity damage.

  • Jonny_Vancouver

    Wow. Shame on VW.

  • J.R.

    So TDI was all FAKE….
    Installing & concealing a ‘defeat device’. WOW. That is very dishonest.

    Hyundai’s mistake of exaggerating fuel estimates on only ‘several’ of their models seems like child’s play compared to the GERMANS!

  • Mark S

    We should get a reduced federal tax rate, the government is making billions out of these recalls with their fines. I

  • Issac, “what ya drinking”

    so how long have you worked for VW?

  • Oli

    That’s so shameful… But another good reason not to buy VW products.

  • danwat1234

    Wow Ford effed up many times with the C-max and Fusion hybrids, so did Kia/Hyundai and now the worst; VW blatantly letting emissions go up to get more MPG!

    To the hypermilers though, now they know it exists, they have a way to coax the engine to run more efficiently, though more toxic emissions. Does it run leaner to get more MPG and now purging of the filter?

  • Comparing 70’s carburetors to modern day fuel injection is dishonest. Manufacturers have manged mpg gains despite emissions requirements due to the better tuning abilities of electronic fuel injection. The more stringent emissions standards are just a coincidence.

  • Narc

    22 years as a wrench, never the factrory, only dealerships. Every time we see more strict emission control on an engine, the MPG goes down. We even did some simple math a number of years ago, to show that with the California emission standards applied to the car, as opposed to a 49 state emission equipped car, the total emissions,on the Cal. emission equipped car, for a given distance driven, was more than 30% higher, than the the 49 state emission car for the same distance driven.

  • Lennie Pike

    Since there are no way a shyster lawyer can make any money off this, this story will fade away in hours.

  • Mark S

    What in the Cal laws would cause that kind of increase? Gas formulation?

  • Mark S

    My guess, stress the word guess…..when doing the EPA cycle (0 to 60 in 18 secs for example, such BS!), the clever programming kicked in and did two things a) gave good MPG figures and b) good emissions numbers. In real life driving, the MPG was same as the EPA numbers or even better, but the emissions was higher than MPG allows because the clever programming was not triggered.

  • Narc

    My 1963, 327 inch, 375 HP Corvette, on the highway, gets 28 MPG. No emission equipment is on the car. In 1965, Governor Jerry Brown, ‘invented’ the PCV valve, and in 1966, it became mandatory in California, that **all** vehicles **MUST** have the PCV valve retrofitted before the car’s registration could be renewed. Because the PCV valve is a controlled vacuum leak device, power went down, emission actually went up, as more fuel was needed to make the car perform as it did. In short, BAD IDEA, made Jerry Brown a very rich man. So, I bought a house in Nevada, and moved and took that crap off my Corvette. [Not the reason I moved! 🙂 ] Mileage and power went back up, and today, still gets the great mileage. And yes, it is fuel injected, with the original Duntov injection unit.

  • indejavulandyoueatleftovers

    I bet VW pays a bigger fine then GM and GM killed over 100 people.

  • Mark S

    Or Takata, or Firestone etc.

  • smartacus

    you are correct

  • Narc

    I haven’t wrenched for 20 years now, but I do know that power and mileage goes down in the winter when the California winter gas is sent to us…Reno, Nevada gets all its gas from California, and they don’t reformulate for us. There is a Sinclair station in Sparks that gets Utah gasoline and that is where I buy my gas for my Corvettes. Cost a nickel a gallon more because it has to be trucked in, rather than piped in, but it is worth it in my cars. (1963 F.I Coupe, 2006 C6 Base Coupe, and a 2016 C7 Z06) My wife’s car gets what ever is cheapest in Reno or Carson City, currently around $2.95 a gallon.

  • smartacus

    bingo Narc 🙂

  • Mark S

    Congrats on that Z06 and I high recommend reading this months Car And Driver Lightning lap edition, the Z06 was freaking awesome. Cannot afford one myself, but one day a used C7 with the Z51 pack would be a nice car to experience.

    Thanks for the explanation about the gas – live on the Central Coast and just always flabbergasted about the cost of gas here vs the national average, we get hosed for sure. That said, in the UK (where I was born), they get taxed to high heaven and pay way more, no diesels are popular out there.

  • smartacus

    you are correct. comparing 70’s carburetors to modern day fuel injection is dishonest.

  • Ben

    The WHOLE green movement is a scam. And don’t even get me started on the EPA.

  • Andy Ketch

    Strike two for me with VW now. First they dump huge volumes of lease, rental, and service loaner cars on the market to drive up sales volumes to earn the top global sales spot that drives down the resale value on my three VW’s, now they have this black mark to further affect current owners. I had such hope and faith in the cars I enjoy driving. I’m done. I thought better of VW until 2015. Thanks VW for being a company that cheats. I feel like the kid whose parent got into a bad situation which now affects me. So much for trading in and buying new VWs. Not a happy VW owner.

  • VoiceofReason14

    Why does the government get the 37,500? What about the people that actually bought the cars?

  • Rocket

    The “fix” will make their cars both slower and less fuel efficient. You can bet VW will be on the hook for some type of compensation to owners. You can also expect lawsuits out the wazoo. VW will pay, and pay, and pay. And the damage to their reputation among environmentalists will be unmeasurable in dollars.

  • Rocket

    Lawyers will have a field day. Tree Huggers were sold a car billed as “clean”. It clearly wasn’t. Customers were contributing to the problem when they thought they were part of the solution. And when the software fix is implemented, the cars won’t be as efficient or perform as well. Customers will be bitter, and they will be looking to make VW pay.

  • johnls39 .

    VW should be a shame with themselves and I will watch this story and upcoming news closely on them.

    This will be my last VW product as a last gen. Passat owner. Their cars currently have gotten less appealing and looks cheap compared to the previous gen. models with repair bills and maintenance 3/4th. the cost of BMW, Mercedes and Audi. There products are not worth owning a longer period of time and while they drive great, they are pretty much garbage.

    VW needs to make up their minds if they want to be value luxury which they were trying to be back in the early to late ’00s with less success or want to compete as a pure bread-n-butter product with Toyota, Chevy, Ford and etc. VW have been lost since with the current products and I don’t have much faith with Audi also in terms of reliability and quality as well.

  • Jerry Baustian

    What I’d like to know is, how do other auto makers pass emissions tests?

    Also, the article says TDI engines “emit 40 percent more nitrogen oxides while driving.” Other publications are saying “10 to 40 times more nitrogen oxides.” So where’s the truth? And how did CARB and the EPA determine what is an acceptable level and what is not? I have no trust at all in either of those agencies.

  • Jerry Baustian

    It’s not a question of clean air or dirty air. It’s a question of CARB and EPA establishing ever-stricter regulations that become ever more expensive and ever more technically difficult to achieve. This is the nature of regulatory agencies — they have to justify their continued existence and increased appropriations.

    The 2003-and-earlier TDI engines were clean, efficient, and relatively clean. CARB established a standard that those engines didn’t meet, and later on EPA followed. Then new and even more stringent regulations were created.

    Volkswagen was in a dilemma — its customers wanted new TDIs, but the regulators were doing their damnedest to keep consumers from getting what they wanted. And there is an ever-declining number of older TDIs available in the used-car market.

    The bottom line is, do the current generation of TDI engines narrowly pass or narrowly fail EPA’s arbitrary standard? And will “fixing” the engines make them consume more fuel and produce less power?

  • eddieo

    Greenpeace told us about this years ago; why didn’t the EPA investigate then?

  • ERIC & CINDY Crowder

    Batteries are not a bio hazard when depleted. When the battery needs to be removed form automobile service (after 15+ years in vehicles with water cooling) the batteries will be used for grid storage and load balancing. Batterie will never go into land fills, they are worth too much and in high demand to be thrown away.

  • Bill

    Oh yeah let’s doing everything Greenpeace says! And I can’t believe you actually want the EPA to investigate anything. The EPA thinks it’s a good idea to blend gasoline and ethanol as well, but they are wrong. I own a Passat TDI and I get 50 mpgs. I can get 840 miles on one tank. The little bit of extra nitrogen oxide put out by the car is cancelled out by the fact that it far exceeds mpg standards.

  • Bill

    I paid 11,000 less than the fine for my 2015 Passat. And I’m completely happy with my Passat TDI. I drive a lot and I get 50 mpgs and can go 840 miles on a tank. VW doesn’t owe me an apology or anything. There is nothing wrong with my car. It comfy and a nice car.

  • Bill

    Neither one of the issues you bring up speak of the quality of the vehicles you drive. You seem to like driving VWs. So, be mad at the EPA, not VW. My Passat TDI gets excellent fuel economy. The little extra Nitrogen Oxide that they put out is cancelled by the excellent fuel economy.

  • Bill

    Interesting questions. I know the EPA tested the vehicle at 43mpgs. Last week I got 51 and did a combination of city and highway driving. So, were the estimates lower because the fix was already in place when the cars were tested? The EPA is going to look foolish if the mpgs actually drop. They should’ve over looked this in my opinion.

  • Bill

    My TDI gets 50 mpgs. There is nothing shameful about this at all.

  • Bill

    Yeah shame on VW for producing vehicles that get over 50 mpgs. That’s really evil of them!

  • Bill

    Exactly! Well said.

  • Bill

    Right on.

  • Bill

    My state doesn’t require emissions testing. Only the communist/ fascist states require emissions testing like California, New York, et al. I think this should only matter in states where they have emissions testing.

    Meanwhile California won’t prosecute or deport illegal immigrants. How does that work?

  • eddieo

    and your point?
    The question was simply “why didn’t the EPA investigate?” it had nothing to do with doing “everything Greenpeace says!”

    (but for what it’s worth, if you think your diesel is so clean and great, try biking behind it – they are toxic and stink!)

  • TC

    Bill, are you sure you’re not a secret VW employee?
    I don’t really care about what mpg you get. That’s not the point, and you seem to have completely missed the point.
    What I care about, and what the point is, VW blatantly lied and deceived. This isn’t just a human error, or a miscalculation. This was a deliberate attempt to deceive the public and the government agencies. Many people are finally at last starting to think of the environment, and VW blatantly and knowingly altered their product to fraudulently beat the environmental tests.

    They deserve every cent of the billions of dollars of fines they get from this and it’s hard to see how that can ever recover. Their brand, not to mention their financials, are shot.

  • Stahlilama

    LOL You all are mostly discussing the science of this. Good luck agreeing on that. How about the fact that VW spent time and money developing a way to deceive the EPA, the customer and the population as a whole. Hey if you can’t meet the standards then how about not selling your pos engine. Spend the money to develop an engine that meets the standards. Other car companies did. So leaving the science behind how about discussing how they cheated and lied.

  • Mark S

    Mazda did and it is still not here. That leaves just the Cruze.


    Cheats, cheats, cheats. I ‘ve never liked vw cars. Over priced, over rated crap, with an undeserved reputation for reliability, that people are asked to pay a premium price for. VW deserve everything that they get over this and hopefully potential customers will take their money elsewhere when buying their next new car.

  • timothyhood

    It’s not a coincidence. It’s factually causal. By improving the efficiency of the combustion process, the natural result is less I burned fuel and lower emissions. Even without emissions equipment, modern engines emit far less harmful emissions than engines of yesteryear, especially pre-1974. This is data easily searched. Or, ask anyone who has taken Engineering 101.

  • DoctorFeelgoodMD

    No wonder the NOX sensor is worth over $800 installed after the factory warranty has ended.

  • DoctorFeelgoodMD

    I bet you vote Republican too because there is always a dumbo in the crowd.

  • DoctorFeelgoodMD

    Sorry, but the Passat doesn’t get 50 MPG and you can’t ever get $11,000 less than sticker. You sir are a liar.

  • DoctorFeelgoodMD

    Trolling with lies… TDI gets 50 MPG period.