The cheat caused nearly a half-million of these diesel models since 2009 to emit low emissions during testing, but then turned off those emissions controls in actual driving situations – allowing the vehicles to get better gas mileage and performance while putting out more pollution.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board are the agencies responsible for determining vehicle emissions rates and certifying them for sale. Washington and Oregon both follow California’s standards, which are often more strict than the EPA’s.
Here’s what people in the Northwest need to know:
Q: What should VW diesel owners do now?
A: Hold tight. Volkswagen will eventually issue a recall. At that point, owners of the affected cars can have the defeat device repaired or removed, depending on how the company decides to remedy the problem.
Q: Are drivers of the affected cars at risk of failing vehicle emissions tests?
A: Not at this point. The emissions testing being referred to in the EPA’s allegations are pre-market tests. They’re done either by U.S. or California regulators or by the companies themselves (who then report their findings) before the cars hit dealership lots.
In addition, the state emissions tests in Washington and Oregon aren’t designed to pick up on this kind of information. Washington Department of Ecology air quality planner John Raymond says unlike the EPA, state inspection programs are not trying to determine baseline emissions rates. Rather they’re looking to see if something is malfunctioning in the vehicle to cause it to emit more pollution than it should.
This is actually beside the point in Washington, because the state doesn’t require inspections for any vehicle made after 2008. Consequently all of the Volkswagen diesels in question off the hook. Raymond says the state is phasing out its entire vehicle inspection program by 2020, and will instead rely on pre-market testing done by California regulators.
Oregon is a bit different. Diesel passenger vehicles are still required to be tested in the Portland and Medford metro areas. But the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality says drivers should not fret. The faulty VWs won’t be failed because of the defeat device.
Q: How much of an impact on air quality have these polluting VWs made?
A: The EPA estimates the Volkswagens with the “defeat devices” were actually polluting at 10 to 40 times the allowable rate. Across the U.S., the maximum additional pollution emitted from these half-million vehicles has been compared to bringing a new coal-fired power plant online. Real excess emissions rates are likely lower.
Because of the dispersed nature of these cars, when you look at the state or local level, the additional emissions likely won’t make a big difference. Officials estimate there only a few thousand of the cars on the road in the Northwest.
“These are such small numbers, that probably it’s not a significant factor in the greater picture,” says Raymond.
That said, many communities in the Northwest may wind up on the bubble when new EPA air quality standards on ozone are released next month. As long as these vehicles are on the road, their high diesel emissions will be a contributing factor to overall ozone levels.