EPA Overhauling Emissions Tests To Catch “Defeat Device” Cheaters

A week after ordering Volkswagen to recall 500,000 vehicles that contain “defeat devices” designed to cheat emissions tests, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it would overhaul its compliance processes to ensure vehicles meet standards not only in controlled environments but in real-world driving conditions.

In a conference call with the press this morning, the EPA said it would send letters to all automakers informing them that the agency is stepping up its auto testing activity in light of VW’s violations.

Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air & Radiation, said the agency could require testing of any vehicle in an environment that would resemble normal driving conditions, which would better allow investigators to detect software used to evade emissions standards.

Such software – which disables air-emissions controls during normal driving conditions – was found in the 472,000 VW and Audi diesel engine sedans. VW announced this week that the defeat devices were actually present in nearly 11 million vehicles worldwide.

“These violations are very serious,” McCabe said on the call, noting that the process change will “ensure automakers are meeting the Clean Air emissions standards and that consumers are getting what they are paying for.”

Chris Grundler, Director of EPA’s Office of Transportation & Air Quality, said such testing is at the heart of making sure automakers deliver on the Clean Air Act.

“We will continue to adapt,” he said. “We are putting manufacturers on notice that our testing will now include more evaluations and test. We wont’ tell them what these tests are, they don’t need to know. They only need to know we will keep vehicles longer and driving them more.”

Grundler declined to provide additional information on the tests but said the agency had formed partnerships with agencies in California and Canada.

“The smart engineers have come up with come clever ways to test,” he said of the adapted process that will start immediately.

As for the current situation with VW, Grundler said the investigation continue to probe the manufacturer’s “sophisticated scheme” and that they are working to determine steps to fix the vehicles.

He noted that the newest cars – those in model year 2015 – should be fixed rather quickly, while older models will likely take engineering to be remedied. He reiterated that the affected cars are safe and legal to drive.

However, Grundler points out that all car manufacturers must receive an EPA certificate of conformity before they can sell vehicles, something VW has not been granted for its model year 2016 diesel cars.

“The agencies are not convinced that the information provided by the company means the vehicles will operate as required,” he said. “They will require further conformity tests before deciding to accept or deny certificate to VW.”

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.