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California Rejects VW Plans for Recall Repairs, Continues Investigation

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Back in December 2015, Volkswagen (VW) submitted its plan for repairing the “defeat devices” on its diesel vehicles to the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The plan addressed repairs only on the 2.0L diesel engines—plans for the 3.0L engines were to be submitted in a separate plan.

VW outlined the steps it was going to take to repair nearly 500,000 vehicles in the U.S. On January 12, 2016, however, the CARB rejected the proposed fixes. Meanwhile, VW has already received the green light to repair vehicles in Europe, where emissions standards are less stringent.

CARB Rejects VW’s Proposal for Fixing Defeat Devices

According to a press release from CARB, VW made three separate documents public on January 12th:

1. Transmittal letter signed by Executive Officer Richard W. Corey
2. Rejection of the 2.0L engine recall plan
3. The formal Notice of Violation of air quality regulations

It was back in September that CARB gave VW 45 days to submit its proposal for how it was going to fix those vehicles equipped with the so-called “cheating devices.” These were purposely installed on 2009–2015 VW 2.0L diesel vehicles to actually sense when the vehicles were going through emissions testing. During the test, various emissions control processes were turned on, so the vehicle could pass the test, but then once the vehicle returned to normal driving operation, some of those processes were turned off, so the vehicle could maintain a better fuel economy and a superior acceleration.

These devices made it possible for VW to obtain certifications from CARB and the EPA so they could sell their diesel vehicles in California. Now that it has been discovered that VW was using these defeat devices, it’s become clear that those certifications were illegally obtained.

CARB Says Recall Plan is Inadequate

CARB explains that it rejected VW’s repair plan because it lacked sufficient detail and contained “gaps” in information. The proposed repairs also did not adequately address overall impacts on vehicle performance, emissions, and safety, according to CARB.

Indeed, VW vehicle owners are likely to be concerned about how repairs will affect performance, since VW advertised its diesel engines as being fuel efficient, yet environmentally friendly. Could getting the engines up to speed on emissions rob the engine of power, or decrease fuel efficiency?

Obviously these are questions CARB wants answered before it approves any repair plans.

The deadline for submittal of a recall plan for the 3.0L diesel engines is February 2, 2016.

CARB Notes that NOx Emissions Linked with Health Harms

In addition to the rejection of the recall plan, CARB also released the Notice of Violation (NOV), which includes 13 specific violations of California regulations, including failure to comply with emissions standards, and use of the defeat devices. It stated that it may amend the NOV in the future if its investigation reveals other violations.

Problems with VW emissions were discovered through independent testing on the vehicles. Researchers discovered that when not undergoing emissions testing, the vehicles emitted nitrogen oxides (NOx) at levels higher than allowed by federal and California law. CARB notes in their press release that NOx emissions are “the most important contributor to ambient ozone and a key contributor to fine particulate matter pollution, which is associated with premature death, increased hospitalizations, emergency room visits due to exacerbation of chronic heart and lung disease, and other serious health impacts.”