Why it matters that car companies are cheating emissions tests
Many consumers pay little to no attention to auto emissions news, but huge scandals in recent years have brought the issue of emissions and emissions cheating on the part of automakers into full focus. In 2015, Volkswagen, long considered to be automotive royalty both in the U.S. and around the world, admitted to outfitting its diesel vehicles with systems designed to cheat emissions tests across the globe. This watershed moment cost the company billions of dollars in retrofits and settlements with consumers and brought the issue of car companies cheating on emissions into the public eye.
While it may have been the most prominent story in recent years, Volkswagen is far from the only company to try to cheat emissions tests. Chrysler-Fiat, General Motors, Mitsubishi, and other major automakers have faced accusations of diesel cheating, while Audi faces accusations of installing emissions testing “defeat devices,” not just in diesel vehicles but in six vehicles with gasoline engines as well.
In fact, emissions cheating is nothing new. According to a story in Bloomberg, it has been going on since the 1970’s (by expert estimations), when anti-pollution systems were rigged to shut off whenever the driver turned on the air conditioning. Other vehicles by certain manufacturers contained sensors that could tell when the vehicle was being tested and only then activated the pollution controls. In the seventies, eighties, and nineties, automakers like VW (once again) and GM paid heavy fines for attempting to evade pollution controls.
So why are automakers still trying to cheat? Well, for one, state and federal emissions standards have only strengthened over time. In 2001, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) put in place extremely strict emissions standards for all vehicles, which were required to be in effect by the year 2010. For some automakers, it seems that rather than engineering engines and systems capable of meeting these standards, finding a way to cheat the system is much more appealing.
How do automakers cheat emissions tests? Road and Track says one of the most common ways to evade or mislead emissions testing is to install a “cheat device”, which modifies the emissions from the vehicle only under testing circumstances. Other automakers like Daimler, have been accused of installing software that also essentially acts as a cheat device, to detect testing circumstances and alter emissions output to show that the vehicle is meeting federal standards. Other methods of cheating include falsifying fuel economy ratings on the vehicle’s window stickers, and overinflating tires during testing.
What does this mean for the consumer? Why does it matter that companies are cheating emissions tests? Well, for starters, the EPA put these regulations in place to help prevent pollution and keep our air clean. That seems to be something we can all get behind, right? In addition, consumers should be properly informed about their vehicle’s performance, actual gas mileage, and other features, and should not be misled about the vehicle they are buying. In Volkswagen’s 2015 scandal, many of their customers bought the diesel cars because the company marketed them as low-emission. To many of them, it was a slap in the face to learn that their cars skirted pollution regulations. This kind of bait and switch is unacceptable in any industry, and consumers should not have to deal with unscrupulous companies misleading them about the performance of the vehicles they are buying. When car companies cheat emissions regulations, it raises many questions, particularly, “What other standards are they failing to meet?”