500,000 Volkswagens Recalled Because Software Allegedly Cheated on Emissions Tests

Volkswagens outside the Tempelhof airport in Berlin on March 13, 2014.

Photo by Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

The Environmental Protection Agency hit Volkswagen with a notice of violation Friday, asserting that the carmaker has been using software called a “defeat device” to game official emmissions evaluations in about 482,000 of its cars.

The New York Times reports that four-cylinder Volkswagen and Audi 2009–2015 diesel models were actually spewing more pollution than official testing revealed. The cars’ software was set up to detect regulatory evaluations and turn on the full emission control system for the duration of the test. When the cars actually hit the road, though, the software knew to turn the framework off. The big pollutant Volkswagen seems to have been trying to hide is nitrogen oxide, which contributes to smog and ozone buildup.

In addition to the EPA notice, California is also giving Volkswagen a violation, and the two groups are working with the Justice Department to investigate their complaints. “Using a defeat device in cars to evade clean air standards is illegal and a threat to public health,” EPA assistant administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Cynthia Giles said in a statement. “Working closely with the California Air Resources Board, E.P.A. is committed to making sure that all automakers play by the same rules.”

Environmental regulators are working on an initiative to broaden regulation enforcement and let carmakers know that there are penalties for violations. The agency wrote, “VW may be liable for civil penalties and injunctive relief for the violations alleged. … It is incumbent upon Volkswagen to initiate the process that will fix the cars’ emissions systems.”