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A Cautionary Tale: How Volkswagen Cheated Consumers, the Government, and the Environment

If you’ve been paying attention to the news at all in recent months, chances are you have probably at least heard about the Volkswagen emissions scandal. VW is one of the biggest automakers in the world and has centered much of their marketing in recent years around the idea that their diesel vehicles are some of the most environmentally friendly in the world.

Their Turbocharged Direct Injection (TDI) “Clean” Diesel engine was a staple of many of their car models and VW spent a great deal of money convincing the public that their vehicles were indeed some of the greenest on the market without having to sacrifice power or fuel economy. That is, until the EPA announced last year that they had discovered what is known as a “defeat device” in nearly 500,000 Volkswagen vehicles sold in the US between 2009 and 2015.

What is a defeat device?

A defeat device is a type of firmware that was built into the cars in order to allow them to cheat on emissions tests that are required by the US and numerous other countries in order to ensure the vehicles meet a certain environmentally-safe standard.

As you probably already know, gasoline and diesel vehicles emit numerous chemicals, which can be harmful to the environment, as a byproduct of the engine’s internal combustion. However, all cars sold in the U.S. must adhere to certain emissions standards in order to limit the impact these emissions have on the environment.

How did the device allow VW to cheat the tests?

Vehicles undergo testing prior to sale to ensure they adhere to the aforementioned standards, and VW’s defeat device allowed their vehicles’ computers to recognize when those tests were being given. When the firmware recognized testing conditions, it would switch to a particular mode that sacrificed fuel economy and power in order to limit emissions and pass the tests.

However, under normal driving conditions, the vehicle would switch back into its standard operating mode, giving it better fuel economy and more power, and also emitting approximately forty times the amount of nitrogen oxides emissions allowed by US law.

VW has subsequently admitted to including the defeat device in over 11 million vehicles worldwide. Not only did they dupe the government’s tests, they blatantly marketed their vehicles to customers as environmentally friendly when they were, in fact, one of the worst polluting vehicles being sold.  

The case against Volkswagen is ongoing, but they are rightfully facing significant fallout from their actions, which could result in severe fines, potential criminal charges, and irreparable harm to their reputation with customers. Let this scandal be a lesson to all consumers to never take manufacturer claims at face value. Many companies, no matter their size, will do whatever they can to increase their profit, even if it means cheating consumers, governments, and the environment to do so.

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