Volkswagen may be forced to recall almost 500,000 diesel passenger cars after an investigation revealed illegal software was allowing the vehicles to pass government emissions standards.
A software algorithm, known as a defeat device, used on roughly 482,000 Volkswagen vehicles with four-cylinder diesel engines is able to detect when the car is undergoing official emissions testing, and will activate full emissions controls only during the test.
The EPA says that this results in cars that meet emissions standards while being tested, but emit 40 percent more nitrogen oxides while driving.
Independent analysis at West Virginia University uncovered the defeat devices. After being questioned by the EPA and CARB, Volkswagen admitted that its cars did contain defeat devices.
The EPA says 'it is incumbent' on Volkswagen to initiate a recall fix for all the affected cars, although they note that these vehicles are still safe to drive and do not present a safety hazard at this time.
Volkswagen may be liable for civil penalties over the findings, which could total up to $18 billion if the EPA leverages its maximum find of $37,500 per vehicles.
'Using a defeat device in cars to evade clean air standards is illegal and a threat to public health,' said Cynthia Giles, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. 'Working closely with the California Air Resources Board, EPA is committed to making sure that all automakers play by the same rules. EPA will continue to investigate these very serious matters.'
Models affected by the issue include the 2009-2015 Volkswagen Jetta, Beetle and Gold. The 2009-2015 Audi A3 is also affected, along with the 2014-2015 Passat.
Volkswagen acknowledged that it has received notice of the investigation. 'VW is cooperating with the investigation; we are unable to comment further at this time,' said the brand.