VW and the TDI Emission Trickery
Mark: Hi it’s Mark from Top Local Lead Generation, we’re here with Mr. Bernie Pawlik - of the award winning Pawlik Automotive - just winners again as voted by their customers as “Best Auto Repair” in Vancouver. How are you doing today, Bernie?
Bernie: I’m good
Mark: I have a forced smile on my face - we’re going to talk about VW TDI’s - I’m an owner of one of these cars, when we last talked about these we both had high praise for these vehicles and it turns out it was an illusion. They are very fuel efficient but they’re also polluting like crazy because of what Volkswagen has done so maybe you can tell us a little bit about what happened, what’s gone on.
Bernie: Yes, essentially the TDI was sold as a green diesel car. It had everything that people wanted; power, performance, excellent fuel economy and low emissions. High emissions are a common thing in diesel engine along with excellent fuel economy. Power and performance weren't there in the past; but now VW (along with most other manufacturers) combined all three but VW had a few tricks up their sleeve and the emissions weren’t what we excepted them to be.
Mark: So how was VW able to make the emissions low on an emission test and yet have cars that are emitting up to 40 times the regulated amount of nitrous oxide?
Bernie: Well they did some interesting, kind of crafty software programming: - they were able to write code so that when a vehicle was on a dynamometer being tested for emissions it would perform differently. The vehicle used a combination of the GPS system, the steering angle sensor input & wheel speed sensors to tell the computer that “hey this vehicle is not going anywhere, it’s being emission tested.” It would perform what was best for emissions, but as soon as the car started moving up the road, it would go back to its other programming for better fuel economy and performance.
Mark: So there are lots and lots of diesel cars and trucks on the road, how does everybody else deal with nitrous oxide, fuel economy and engine performance - those ultimate 3 things that we all want out of our vehicles?
Bernie: Well what everyone else does and actually Volkswagen does on certain models but not the two litre engines that they sell to North America is use a urea system. It’s basically a tank with an extra chemical that is injected into the exhaust system, into a special catalytic converter and that eliminates the oxides of nitrogen. Volkswagen was originally planning on using the Mercedes BlueTEC system back around 2005, at least some people at VW wanted to use that but others decided, hey let’s develop our own system. They worked on developing their own system and it obviously didn’t turn out as good as they thought. The urea system is an add on, and there is an added cost, however it is very minimal but there is the added hassle of having to add extra fluid to your vehicle every once in a while. It's what everyone else does, even heavy trucks use an urea system for emission reduction.
Mark: So going forward, what kind of options does VW have? I guess it’s VW and Audi and Seat - there’s a bunch of companies that use these same motors.
Bernie: Yes, exactly. Well as far as I see it, they’ve got one of two options. They reprogram the vehicle so it runs all the time for the reduced emission standards; of course the cost of this will be lower fuel economy and reduced performance. This will disappoint the owners who bought the cars for the performance and the economy. Secondly; they can add a urea system which will be extremely expensive for Volkswagen. It will probably take up a bit of trunk space in your vehicle and then you’ll have to add the urea to the vehicle as well. As I said the cost for urea is really minimal unless you buy it at the Mercedes dealer.
Mark: So do we just give up on the idea of clean diesel?
Bernie: I don’t think so, I mean it seems like it works well with the urea system but it’s obviously not quite as what the VW TDI was advertised as being. So yeah, I think the clean diesel works and you and I have talked about the biodiesel option as well as it’s much cleaner than petroleum diesel.
Mark: Well it’s far less polluting. So I guess the big question is how does Volkswagen - why’d they think they could get away with it, why’d they have the nerve to pull off such a stunt - I guess we can’t really know for sure but what is your expert opinion not that, why do you think they did it?
Bernie: Well I think they, as I was saying earlier, were going to use the Mercedes BlueTEC system and then decided, no let’s do our own system. So they obviously did their research and they did their development and found that their system didn’t quite match up to what they expected and they made the choice - let’s just fudge it on the emission test because you know, there’s probably a cost factor involved. You and I were talking earlier: the Jetta’s and a lot of these cars, maybe not the Audi, but the Jetta is a lower end car, they’re a cheaper car so they don’t have the profit margins so, they screwed up and decided to fudge things instead of spending an extra $5000 on the car and putting a urea system in. They probably started with a few cars and they just got so deep into it they keep on going with the “fudging” as I like to say.
Mark: So you mentioned that other vehicles have this, that are using the urea type systems - I know that my dad’s old diesel truck used to get really good mileage and I know that from talking to you that some newer ones for a time there didn’t get as good mileage. So what was going on there?
Bernie: So in the late 2000’s, I think it was a hard time for the diesel industry, the US put some very stringent emission regulations that the manufacturers had to meet. A lot of American trucks, if we can move away from Volkswagens for a minute, went from having minimal emission equipment to now having to add catalytic converters and items for NOx reduction and it just threw the gas mileage in the toilet. They went from twenty miles a gallon on a lot of trucks to eight miles a gallon which is extremely annoying for a lot of owners; and there were lots of problems associated - the diesels just weren’t as reliable.
I might add, we blame Volkswagen the corporation, for doing these kinds of things but there are a lot of diesel truck owners who have removed their own emissions equipment. It’s completely illegal, but we think "well you know, it’s my own truck, I’ll just do what I want" and who cares about the emissions. There are many companies that sell exhaust systems to bypass the catalytic converters and there is software made to bypass the whole system. So there are a lot of polluting diesel vehicles out there, not just Volkswagens, but people do it individually and after-market companies do it.
Mark: And then when, what was the change? That’s kind of resolved itself with the newer vehicles, is that right?
Bernie: Yeah so going forward there are basically the newer generation of diesels, at least the American trucks and pretty much all the diesel vehicles out on the road except for the Volkswagens that use the urea system. That gives you the best combination. You can make an engine that has good power, good fuel economy and then just deal with the excess NOx emissions in the exhaust system with the urea and catalytic converter. It seems to work out well.
Mark: So any final thoughts?
Bernie: You know sometimes it seems innocuous, "oh well, it’s just a little more pollution, whatever." But there are statistics, there are people actually out there dying because of this. It’s not like being shot with a bullet or being run over by a car where the results are immediate. It’s slow, it’s hidden - I mean I don’t know anyone who's died from car pollution, and most of us don’t, but it’s out there. I was just reading that apparently in London, they’re saying 3000 people a year die from pollution of diesel exhaust. I know London is kind of a dirty city and it’s big - but you know, the results are real.
It’s going to be interesting to see what Volkswagen does going ahead: they’ve got a big hill to climb to fix this problem and restore their credibility with their customers and it is probably going to take a long time. The V6 Volkswagen diesels are all fine. There are no issues with those, it’s just the 2 litres in North America that you need to be concerned about. We’ll do another hangout where we’ll talk about what specific things you can expect if you have a TDI Jetta and what you might need to do going forward.
Mark: Awesome. So we’ve been talking with Mr. Bernie Pawlik of Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver. They are an award winning shop, 15 times voted Best Auto Repair in Vancouver . Bernie is a worldwide expert on auto repair and auto maintenance and you can reach them www.pawlikautomotive.com or give them a call and book your next appointment today at 604-327-7112. Thanks Bernie
Bernie: Thanks Mark, talk to you soon.