CARB issues warning to vehicle, engine manufacturers about hiding ‘defeat devices’ affecting emissions

California Interstate Traffic
The California Air Resources Board has set a deadline of Dec. 31, 2020, for manufacturers of all gas-fueled vehicles, along with their engines and engine components, to disclose any “defeat devices” that affect emissions performance.

SACRAMENTO — In an Oct. 14 letter, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) warned vehicle and engine manufacturers to disclose by the end of 2020 any unapproved hardware or software programs — known as “defeat devices” — that impact emissions-control systems on vehicles sold in California.

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Defeat devices are undisclosed modifications that shut down or reduce the effectiveness of vehicle emissions-control equipment under normal driving and vehicle operation. Following the discovery of defeat devices in Volkswagen diesel vehicles in 2015, CARB staff developed detection and testing techniques to identify undisclosed software programs, known as auxiliary emission control devices (AECDs), and other unapproved changes in software and hardware that can affect emissions.

The letter, signed by Steven Cliff, CARB’s deputy executive director, was addressed to all manufacturers of passenger cars; light-, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles and the engines used in the vehicles; on-road motorcycles; off-road small and large spark-ignition engines and equipment; off-road compression-ignition engines; spark-ignition marine watercraft and engines; aftermarket parts; diesel-emissions control strategies; and “all other interested parties.”

If fully disclosed when the vehicle is being certified for sale in California, an AECD may be legal, as there may be a technically justified rationale for its limited use, according to CARB. However, if the modification is not disclosed, and CARB detects it during surveillance and testing procedures, an AECD is considered a violation of the certification process.

“Voluntary disclosure will trigger a reduction in penalties. Failure to do so may affect the result of future enforcement actions involving your company when CARB’s new techniques — and its new state-of-the-art testing laboratory opening in 2021 — inevitably detect any violations you may have,” Stevens said in the letter, which notes that companies that disclose AECDs by Dec. 31, 2020, could see a 25% to 75% reduction in any penalties levied by CARB, depending on the circumstances of each case.

“If you are not in compliance with CARB regulations, and you do not voluntarily disclose your violations, you may become the subject of a lengthy investigation and enforcement action. Our testing and investigations to identify non-compliance are continuing, and violations after 2016 are subject to the legislatively increased maximum penalty of $37,500 per mobile source or engine, per identified violation. In raising the maximum penalty, the State of California is sending a strong a message that certification requirements must be met to protect public health,” the letter concludes.

To view the letter, click here.

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