In 2014, it was found that some car manufacturers had added software to their vehicles to manipulate results of emissions tests. This meant that cars would pass the emissions tests even though they should have failed.
Car emissions tests are a necessary evil, protecting us all from harmful chemicals that come from a vehicle’s exhaust. There’s an acceptable level of emissions, though cars must stay below this limit to be legally used on our roads.
During the uncovering of the diesel emissions scandal, it became clear that some car manufacturers had been manipulating the results. This meant that cars had been producing higher levels of emissions than they should.
Read on to discover more about what people came to name ‘Dieselgate’.
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When diesel is burned to power a car, nitrogen oxide is left behind. This is caused by fuel being burned at very high temperatures. Vehicle emissions can be reduced by lowering combustion temperatures, though the result is that fuel efficiency drops. Cars become less economical and can be less powerful.
Nitrogen oxide gases are greenhouse gases. They can damage the ozone layer. In high levels, these gases can irritate the respiratory system and the eyes and potentially cause serious medical issues over a long period of exposure.
There are different emissions limits in different countries. In Europe, nitrogen oxide emissions should not go above 0.080g/km. This should apply throughout the journey, with emissions levels never increasing beyond this maximum level.
In 2014, it was discovered the car manufacturers had been manipulating test results. This was only made possible by advancing technology in the process of car manufacture. As cars became increasingly electronic and computer-controlled, it became easier for manufacturers to fine-tune any car’s behaviour.
Some manufacturers added extra software to their cars, typically in the form of a ‘defeat device’. Defeat devices could recognise when a car was under test conditions, temporarily reducing vehicle emissions so that they’d fall under test limits. The car would pass the test with these false emissions figures, even though the emissions were much higher in real driving conditions.
Some vehicles could identify that they were being tested because no physical movement was happening. Emissions would then be temporarily reduced, whilst the test was taking place.
Others would lower the vehicle emissions for a specific number of miles at the start of every journey, which would mean that most tests would never uncover the higher levels of emissions beyond this. The US emissions tests covered 15 miles, so some vehicles would have lower emissions for the first 16 miles of every journey.
In 2013, the International Council on Clean Transportation was commissioned to test diesel emissions. Specifically, they worked with Volkswagen vehicles to check levels of nitrogen oxide.
The International Council on Clean Transportation noticed emissions discrepancies – the figures they were getting from their tests did not line up with those that had already been reported. In fact, in some cases, the real emissions were up to 40% higher. Their initial discovery led to similar tests in countries around the world, and the uncovering of a much wider scandal.
In May 2014, a report regarding diesel emissions was published. It showed how this didn’t impact just one vehicle model, but extended far beyond to show extensive use of defeat devices for car emissions across multiple manufacturers, including some of the largest in the world.
It all started with Volkswagen, in both their VW and Audi cars. Later, similar discrepancies were found in several other makes including Volvo, Renault, Jeep and Citroën.
Limiting emissions meant limiting a car’s performance. Volkswagen had put defeat devices in around 11 million cars, even admitting that when they were first found out they simply recalled cars to improve defeat devices rather than fixing their emissions levels.
They thought they could get away with it by making the scammed results harder to identify, rather than just being honest and resolving it properly.
In 2017, Volkswagen admitted to intentional manipulation of their emissions figures. They were ordered to pay $4.3 billion in penalties for their actions. Daimler, behind Mercedes Benz, was charged 870 million euros.
Other manufacturers may not have suffered the same financial fate but were at least expected to recall their vehicles and make changes until they were legal. This meant removing the software they had used, as well as finding ways to reduce the car’s emissions to levels that were genuinely going to pass an emissions test.
If you own a vehicle that may have been subject to diesel emissions manipulation, it should have been recalled by the car manufacturer. Since Dieselgate was uncovered, cars have been subjected to much more stringent vehicle emissions tests. Now, cars must be tested in a wider range of conditions. These include real-world driving conditions on roads.
If you owned a vehicle that contained a defeat device, you could claim compensation. Manufacturers have been required to pay compensation to affected drivers. The compensation awarded may be up to the full value of the vehicle, though most car owners will receive significantly less.
Volkswagen owners may already have claimed and received compensation, though some other manufacturers are at different stages of the process. There may also be further action to join if you’d like compensation for your VW car.
If your car was a Mercedes-Benz, your compensation could be yet to come. It’s estimated that Mercedes Benz owners could get up to £10,000. Compensation is being claimed under the group action.
A quick search for your vehicle make, and the words ‘diesel emissions’ should be enough to find out if your car has been recalled. You’ll need to go through an online check, providing your car’s VIN.
If your car’s affected, you can book in for repairs and adjustments. The costs of these repairs will be covered by your vehicle manufacturer. You’ll be sent to a local garage that’s approved to carry out the work. You should also carry out this check if you’re looking at buying a second-hand diesel car.
Having your car recalled will mean that any remaining defeat devices are disabled. Your emissions levels will be more accurate in future. Manufacturers should also make changes to ensure that your emissions are genuinely lower than the legal limits in your country.
As a result of changes to vehicle emissions, you may find that your car’s performance or fuel economy will be affected. You may still be entitled to compensation for the impact of manipulation of emissions.
Ultimately, the end goal is to have safer cars on the road. Lower emissions will protect the environment and be good for everyone’s health.
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