By on April 21, 2016

impp-1210-02-o+question-it+burning-oil-exhaust

There’s a chance drivers may be in for an even tougher smog test next time around, all thanks to Volkswagen’s diesel emissions scandal.

Like the kid who made a ruckus in school and caused the whole class to be sent to detention, VW’s “defeat device” shenanigans may cause drivers of all vehicle brands to be studied under a more glaring microscope at test time, Bloomberg reports.

“The Volkswagen scandal underscores some huge flaws in the emissions test systems we have in the real world,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, an environmental nonprofit.

Though the Environmental Protection Agency certifies each model before it goes on sale in the U.S., responsibility shifts to the state level to make sure vehicles currently on the road pass muster. Currently, 32 states require emissions testing. 

The VW scandal is prompting critics to call for sweeping changes to local emissions test systems, arguing that many local tests simply involve a check of a car’s software to see if the pollution control systems are in working order.

This is precisely the situation VW’s cheater software (designed by Audi in 1999) was designed to game. Even if the system appears to be functioning, that’s no guarantee that pollutants aren’t streaming out of the tailpipe.

Naturally, this could make emissions tests tougher for all drivers, whether you own a Volkswagen or not. Like the kid in school who set the picnic table on fire during a field trip, it only takes one bad apple to ruin it for everyone.

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59 Comments on “Volkswagen’s Emissions Cheating Just Made it Tougher for Everyone...”


  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    The number of people who took advantage of liar-loans ten years ago—which should never have been available in the first place—have made it so that the mortgage companies now have crawl up people’s behinds when they apply for mortgages and go to extreme lengths to verify all their income. Mortgage approvals are much more exhaustive now.

    Sane thing with Volkswagen. Volkswagen took blatant advantage of the EPA’s self-certification process…but then that process was maybe too lenient to begin with. We probably *will* see something that deals with randomly-selected customers’ cars in the real world, instead of relying so much on automaker data. This may even spawn an entire sub-industry involving verification of automakers’ emissions claims.

    • 0 avatar
      NickS

      “go to extreme lengths to verify all their income”

      that may be, but I hate to tell you that there is very little that is different, and people still get approved for WAY more than they are capable of paying. You’d expect stricter underwriting standards, yet …

      • 0 avatar
        White Shadow

        Disagree. Purchased my first house in 1996, well before the housing bubble popped and now I’m weeks from closing on my second house (new construction) and I can tell you that the mortgage process is ridiculously tough now. Much more so than in 1996, and they were strict back then too, not allowing people to go over their DTI ratio. Unless you have obtained a mortgage recently, you have no idea how tough stringently they have to adhere to the Federal guidelines for mortgaging a property. And because of the whole mess they happened with the housing market, they will not let buyers overextend themselves like they did in the past.

        • 0 avatar
          tjh8402

          I bought my first house just over a year ago, and despite great credit (750+), no real debt to speak of (credit cards paid off monthly, no student debt, no car loan), and going for far less house then my income qualified me for, I had to keep my life on hold. No new credit cards (sucked because I missed some good sign up bonuses), and I had to account for every dollar that moved in or out of my accounts for a good two months prior to closing, even $ that was gifts. My parents were possibly going to give me $ to help with the downpayment, and had their $ been involved, then either paperwork establishing it as a gift would’ve been required, or their accounts would’ve also had to be looked at with every $ accounted for. Why it’s any business of the mortgage company where my $ comes from or goes is beyond me. Why a new credit card account that was paid off regularly was an issue after I was already prequalified made no sense. As long as I had the funds in my account for the downpayment, and I hadn’t had any payment problems credit cards new or old, it shouldn’t have mattered. The fact that it took me 2 years to find a house (18 offers, 9 under contract to get one closing) meant this process repeated over and over again. It was a horrible experience. Homebuying sucks unless you’re paying cash. the market is heavily stacked against owner buyers vs investors.

        • 0 avatar
          Big Al from Oz

          White Shadow,
          I do feel sorry about how tough it is for you to borrow for a home.

          But, there is one important omission. The money you are after is not yours, it belongs to someone else.

          Like most anything in life we must earn what we want and a home loan is no different.

          Don’t get me wrong here, I do hope your home and life turns out okay.

          Please remember, like work, family, etc a loan is based on effort, you must commit and the way to assess that commitment by a banking institution might not suit what you want.

          In the end if you want something bad enough you can get, if enough effort is applied. This is life.

          We are lucky to live in the nations we do, were we are rewarded by our efforts.

      • 0 avatar
        TrailerTrash

        NickS…what?????

        you are crazy wrong.
        The lenders are ridiculously hard these days and nowhere near as whore easy as before the crisis/bubble pop.
        Hell…you could refinance without anybody EVER even seeing your house!

        A mortgage broker would do this all by mail…and even the signing.

        Ain’t sayin this now is bad…but it was way bad, bad easy before.

        The loan rates are wonderfully low now, the money is sitting everywhere ready to lend, but NOBODY can qualify…or the home they are looking at will not pass the bank’s rating.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          Actually under HARP you could refinance your house w/o anyone ever seeing it. I took advantage of that with a number of my properties.

          Things definitely are much tougher than they were before the pop, but they aren’t that different that what they were long ago. I bought my first house in 88 and the approval process was grueling. When I purchased in the early 90’s it was still tough though at that time I was purchasing investment properties which are considered a riskier animal, though they carried higher down payment and reserve requirements as well as a higher interest rate.

    • 0 avatar

      You’re correct Kyree.

      My wife, a 30-year document coordinator with the mortgage arm of a major homebuilder, had a class just today as part of the ever-tightening standards.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        Spare me the liar-loan rationale. My first home purchased in the mid 90’s had a rigorous income verification process – the way it should be. Only when banks reduced verification so they could profit by dumping their loan obligations a few weeks after acquiring them did the liar have the ability to spring into action. Had the verification process not been watered down in the name of bank profit the liar-loan folks would have never gotten a loan in the first place.

        Regarding the emission scandal, passing the vetting process of manufacturer compliance to the states is ridiculous. The basic standards are federal, so the Feds should be vetting the process for that minimum level. Like the banks raping the mortgage system for profit, why would anybody think a vehicle manufacturer would not do the same?

        • 0 avatar
          TrailerTrash

          the liar-loan rationale

          this is not what created the bubble.
          Actually, it was the admin of the congress in the years just prior that kinda forced banks to get into easier lending practices so EVERYBODY could/should be an American Dreamer. Yes…the poor had to be home owners.

          There WAS pressure on loan companies to give out loans. There were changes in regulations that allowed banks to use other’s money to trade in poor financial products.

          However…the Banking game played with the poor loans afterwards was horrible.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            Fact is the affordable housing laws go back well before the bubble, but they still required actual income verification and they carried rates commensurate with the risk. The increased pressure on that part of the market was not the big reason for the bubble.

            The big reason for the bubble was the higher end of the market. That is where the investors stated throwing money around so heavily. Wall St had investors clamoring for anything that resembled a mortgage backed security. The investors didn’t ask for documentation from Wall St and they stopped asking for much from the banks.

            The refinance online w/o an actual appraisal was another big cause of the problem. I see way to many properties that are finally coming back on the market after the foreclosure process that were used as cash machines that were never ever worth as much as the total of the 80/20 loans that were obtained on them. I’d say right now at least 30% of the houses I see, in my market, fall into that category. Another good chuck are the cash machine deals, but those were not mortgaged well beyond their value at that point in time.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            Even worse than the games the banks played afterward were what some borrowers did in light of the situation.

            I see way too many foreclosures where the default amount exceeds 25% of the value of the loan.

            There are websites devoted to playing the game of riding the “HAMPster wheel”.

            Many of the most hard core of the players will move out of their house and start renting it. They then collect and keep the rent while using all sorts of tricks to stall the actual foreclosure proceedings. You also see a number of cases where the person got a new loan under the HARP program and then never made a payment.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      “Volkswagen took blatant advantage of the EPA’s self-certification process…but then that process was maybe too lenient to begin with.”

      I’m not sure I agree- the EPA doesn’t have the funding to test everyone (and one of the two political parties is always trying to gut the EPA’s budget if not eliminate it altogether.) That’s a large part of why the potential fines are so big. Billions of dollars in potential fines are the scimitar held over companies’ necks.

      VW just gambled and lost.

    • 0 avatar
      TMA1

      Reading some of these comments, it sounds pretty horrifying. I bought my house just over a year ago, and it was ridiculously easy. But I did a VA home loan. All I had to show was a few months of pay, and my discharge papers. The lender took care of everything else. I showed up for a house inspection and the closing, and that was it.

      If you’re a veteran, definitely take advantage of that option.

      • 0 avatar
        NickS

        That’s what I thought as well. I know the B&B is smarter than that so here are the deets: Very close friend just bought a house. mortgage from citi for about $1.1M of the $1.3M price tag, with the down-payment coming from, wait for it, an old line of credit.

        Household income of just over six figs from two regular jobs. They did ask for his child support court docs/agreement, and their proof of income, tax returns etc. One asset (his): a 560 sqf home and with about $75K still owed on it, that will fetch max $400K in the most optimistic scenario.

        They may be asking for more docs, no doubt. I am not talking about income verification, or docs.

        The guy I am talking about, a very close friend, was blown away that they were qualified for that much. They really didn’t expect it. Before this mortgage they could not put anything aside, and had to do their wedding on a budget (with help from family).

        Now, if I were to buy a house like that post-crisis I fully expect they’d want all manner of docs, not just income, returns, assets, and liabilities. I have over 800 score, and I am okay with them doing due diligence. And my pre-crisis experience was the full 3rd degree with docs from bank, employer, IRS, etc. The way it should be.

        Draw your own conclusions from this.

        P.S. I saw the closing docs (and the reason he showed them to me was exactly this conversation we are having: I found it hard to believe what he was saying about post-crisis risk assessments). And the guy is a business manager for a private entity, and very up-to-date on finance. He was shocked with all of that, and shocked with the fact that the bank didn’t require them to sell his small house. All they required him to do was list it, but after the new mortgage closed, they took if off the market (needs work, bad part of town …). His plan if and when he sells it, is to invest the money into high risk stocks (and with not a good track record there).

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        VA loans are definitely different animals and you certainly should take advantage of that if you can.

        I do see a fair number of VA loan foreclosures and attempted short sales in today’s market, in my area.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      “Volkswagen took blatant advantage of the EPA’s self-certification process”

      No, that isn’t really it. Every system has and will have some kind of vulnerability, and VW made a point of exploiting that vulnerability.

      A system that is intended to achieve perfect results is doomed to fail, as such expectations are unrealistic. What can be done is to attack VW so aggressively that few are tempted to follow in its footsteps. You won’t get a perfect result, but that will be as about as good as it gets.

      And no, “liar loans” did not cause the financial crisis, either. The lending system simply handed out too much money to all classes of borrowers, which made the lending markets volatile, which made them more likely to fail. Excessive lending also drives up asset prices, which just makes the subsequent crash that much worse — people end up paying more for property because they can borrow the money, not because the assets have the intrinsic value to support it, which leads to more severe declines in value when the bottom falls out. And so it goes.

  • avatar

    I love watching this arrogant company absolutely imploded, taking down all the OMGZDRIVURZACAR!!!! fanbois down with it.

    Next up? Fiat

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      It’s funny, because I’ve owned three or four of their products in a row, and I guess you could call me a fan, but that doesn’t mean I’ll defend their fraudulent actions…or that I won’t call them out when they’ve been selling silly, overpriced and market-inappropriate products in the first place. Quite frankly, while I like Volkswagen, they’ve set themselves up so that most Americans have little reason to choose them over most other brands.

      • 0 avatar
        Wheatridger

        Spoken like a reasonable man, KW, which is maybe why I find myself agreeing with you so often. So many of the folks here seem motivated by an enduring and abiding hatred for this brand or that. A smaller number pledge their love of everything that rolls out of their favorite factory. I’ve tried to always keep an open mind, testing several alternatives before going out and buying another VW.

        Count me in favor of more rigorous, real-world emission tests. The current system of corporate self-reporting failed here, as it inevitably would. That’s where the real blame lies– with the US Government, specifically the Congress. By underfunding the EPA, they force them to take expedient regulatory measures like self-reporting, or failing to measure twice before cutting once at that old mine up in Colorado. If you don’t like the EPA’s mission or purpose, starve the beast, and blame the cut-rate bureaucrats for the resulting failures.

        I do support the EPA. And Im beginning to regret my happy years driving a TDI all over the local metroplex. Here in Denver, the annual ozone pollution scale just scored us no. 1, with a bullet (for rising in the ranks). Fortunately, I sold my TDI to a guy in rural Oregon, where I expect its ozone impact will be minimal.

      • 0 avatar

        You’re not a fanboi. A fanboi responds to every VW Diesel post with “BUT GM AND TEH IGNITION KEYZ”

      • 0 avatar
        Xelas

        They do have unique cars though – the Sportswagon and the very competitive GTI / Golf R.

        The sportwagon is the only station wagon (estate) that you can buy new in the US that isn’t a luxury brand.

        The GTI is refined enough to drive 5-6 hours on California’s washboard concrete highways while still being a sporty hatchback. It may not be the fastest hatchback today, but it’s certainly the most refined.

        • 0 avatar
          Wheatridger

          That’s true, and that’s the reason VW’s future matters to me. The latest 1.8T gas-engined Sportswagen makes the TDI a second choice, even before this scandal. Faster, cheaper, and nearly as efficient.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Well, we can dream.

    • 0 avatar

      “Next up? Fiat”

      Except, FCA isn’t arrogant. Its CEO Sergio Marchionne is. The True Believers in Auburn Hills will be the collateral damage when it all implodes.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        Indeed. As someone else pointed out, FCA (specifically Marchionne) and its tendency to criticize other companies while also begging to merge with them is just like that jerk that says, “Your breasts are lumpy. Please screw me.”

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Flybrian, how dare you hijack this real estate thread!

  • avatar
    TDIGuy

    While they are actually driving a car around testing for smog (don’t trust the manufacturer’s numbers either), get some real world MPG results while you are at it.

    Of course no matter how they test, if it involves extra effort, we’ll end up paying for it in the end in prices or taxes.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Such tests exist, but they are standardized lab tests which eliminate variables like the driver, hills, road conditions, weather, etc.

      But yes, the days of self-certification are possibly drawing to a close.

      However, the risk of being caught cheating is nakedly on stage now, so perhaps the system we have is OK.

      I can’t imagine any mfr being stupid enough to think they’ll escape scrutiny of their claims in the future:

      http://www.unc.edu/~pmeyer/Hart/hartarticle.html

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        The US compliance system is built on self-certification. There simply aren’t enough resources to do it any other way.

        The self-certification process will certainly become more onerous and VAG can probably look forward to years of having the government verifying its handy work.

    • 0 avatar
      05lgt

      If the university that broke the story gets 15 – 25% of the fine in a qui tam type fine split, we won’t need extra testers on the government dime. Just keep paying bounties and let the cheaters try to fool a hungry world of researchers.

  • avatar
    NotFast

    It’s always good to punish many for the transgressions of a few.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      Ha! It’s the American way, punish the innocent because it is better to have an innocent man in jail than to let a guilty man go free.

      After the trumped-up SUA charges against Toyota that flopped miserably, we saw GM get off real easy for actually killing people with their faulty ignition switches.

      In the end, nothing will happen and a little money will make it all better.

      Way overblown!

    • 0 avatar
      Xelas

      How is more thorough emissions testing “punishment”? If the companies don’t cheat, then it shouldn’t be significantly more onerous than self certification.

  • avatar
    Geekcarlover

    The conspiratorial part of my brain wonders how many other manufacturers knew about VW’s cheating, and didn’t say anything. They buy each other’s cars and rip them apart to see how things tick. Maybe they stayed silent because, if diesels jumped in popularity, they might need the same “inventive reprogramming” to get their own cars to market.

    • 0 avatar
      TMA1

      Mazda gave up on trying to bring diesel cars to the US, and GM was only able to do it with the Cruze with a high price tag and a urea tank.

      If anyone was aware of VW’s scam, they didn’t take advantage of it. They just wasted a lot of money trying to follow the law, while VW skated by by not following the rules.

    • 0 avatar
      Jagboi

      I talking to a Jaguar engineer at a press launch and he said it was fairly common knowledge within the industry that the Germans cheat. As an example, a Porches that the press tests will have a lot more power than what you or I could buy from the showroom, since the press car will have been “worked over” to give more power. He wasn’t surprised at the TDi scandal, just how long it took for them to get caught.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    I always wondered how long it would take to go back to tailpipe tests all around instead of the current “Ask the computer if the car has been a good little boy this year, followed by pretending to not notice the hollowed out cat, missing SAIP, and removed evap plumbing.”

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Frankly, that’s why all cars should be emission tested. It is not that uncommon to see a “sporty car” with a loud exhaust that has a lot of black carbon on the tailpipe tip and rear bumper…your nose can tell, too.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        all cars will end up with a little bit of soot on the inside of the exhaust pipes; after a cold start they have to run a bit rich, and the catalyst isn’t up to operating temperature. If a fully-warmed up car is puffing soot, something’s broken.

  • avatar
    orenwolf

    Well, if you’re going to require everyone to do these tests on their vehicles, might as well make sure the results really are relevant. :)

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    “This is precisely the situation VW’s cheater software (designed by Audi in 1999) was designed to game. Even if the system appears to be functioning, that’s no guarantee that pollutants aren’t streaming out of the tailpipe.”

    This doesn’t make sense, since VW sells plenty of vehicles in states with actual emissions testing.
    .
    .

  • avatar

    So much White Smoke you think they elected a new Pope!

  • avatar
    tjh8402

    hoping that this doesn’t change Florida’s wonderful no emissions testing policy. Maybe an original unrepaired Florida market VW will become the one to have.

  • avatar
    alexndr333

    Five VW stories out of the last eleven? Why not take a deep breath, TTAC, and write just one or two? Or do these assure lots of clicks?

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Is this a bad position?

    Why not actually check to ensure compliance, remember the next time you eat food, fly in a plane, take medication, use electricity, drink water (except in Flint), etc, there are standards and regulations to meet to ensure our wellbeing.

    I’m glad we have a method to ensure compliance, or we will end up like a developing nation.

    Check all vehicles!

    A great vehicle to start on is the aluminium F-150. If the manufacturer has dodgy FE figures that are way too high, like 15.6mpg, then oan it realistically meet it’s emission requirements?

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    When I owned my 1995 Altima, the tester had to use the tailpipe sniffer, because the electronics weren’t advanced enough. It took no more time to test than the computer check, and had to be more accurate, since it was testing actual tailpipe emissions. It was a bit more of a bother for the tester, and they charged a little more, naturally, but no big deal. There won’t be anything longer or more thorough to bedevil owners, since states that test won’t hear the end of it, and no rational test is more thorough than testing emissions out of the tailpipe.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      No a proper tail pipe test requires dyno operation at prescribed speeds and loads so it does take longer than plugging in to the port or doing a two step test. It is called IM240 because the vehicle must be operated for that 240 seconds and if the speed falls out of the range the test is aborted and has to start over. The proper IM 240 dyno tests in CA didn’t catch this because they followed the test that the cars could detect and thus implement full emissions strategy.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        So what’s 240 seconds? 4 minutes. It takes a bit longer for the tech to set up, but the owner is in the waiting room for 15-20 minutes, like I was the last time I smogged the Altima in Cali, and others waited just as long. The difference was that I was charged more for ’95 and older cars without OBDII.

        The biggest delay is smaller test-only stations with slow connections to the state computer system that registers the results for print out, and any car over 10 years old in Cali has to go to a test-only. It’s a bother for the tech and they charge extra for it, but the time element is minimal to non-existent.

        The bottom line for me is that it’s an emissions test, and they should be checking what’s coming out of the tailpipe on ALL cars.

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    A sniffer test might make smog easier. Maybe I would be unpleasantly surprised by what comes out of my aging car’s tailpipe, but I’ll take my chances with a sniffer rather than failing with OBDII monitors not ready (but nothing wrong with the car), then trying to complete drive cycles.


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