The California Air Resources Board (CARB) this week sent a letter to automakers and other vehicle and engine manufacturers encouraging them to disclose by the end of the year any unapproved hardware or software programmes which impact emissions control systems in vehicles sold in California.

CARB said the letter was part of its "ongoing effort to protect public health and reduce combustion pollution so that California's air quality will meet federal standards".

The move cames as CARB nears completion of a new  lab which gives the agency greater ability to detect such unapproved programmes. 

Prohibited in any form, defeat devices are undisclosed modifications that shut down or reduce the effectiveness of vehicle emissions control equipment under normal driving and vehicle operation.

Following their discovery of defeat devices in Volkswagen diesel vehicles in 2015, CARB staff developed additional detection and testing techniques to identify undisclosed software programmes, known as auxiliary emission control devices or AECDs, and other unapproved changes in software and hardware that can affect emissions.

Since then, CARB has found similar issues with other manufacturers as part of its ongoing enforcement efforts. These violations have resulted in settlements involving substantial fines and recalls to fix or remove the illegal modifications and mitigate the environmental impact of excess emissions.

To date, some settlements with vehicle and engine manufacturers who did not voluntarily disclose violations have been in excess of US$1bn.

AECDs are designed to change the operation of emissions control equipment when required by specific, sometimes extreme driving conditions and generally are designed to protect the engine – for example, when a truck is pulling a maximum load uphill in hot weather for an extended period of time.

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. But if the modification is not disclosed, and CARB detects it during its extensive surveillance and testing procedures, it is considered a violation of the certification process.

In its letter to manufacturers, CARB makes clear that admission by manufacturers by the end of the year of any undisclosed modifications that impact emissions – including submitting false data, unapproved recalls or technical (field) fixes, and incorrect testing or calibration of the onboard diagnostic system – will be taken into consideration when deciding how to assess updated penalties.

The letter, signed by deputy executive officer Steve Cliff, said: "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."

CARB added it continued to investigate on- and off-road manufacturers and urged all manufacturers to voluntarily disclose any potential violations of which they were aware by the end of the year.

After that time, maximum penalties may be invoked.Letter to Automakers

California urges automakers to reveal improper emissions software

By David Shepardson

3 Min Read

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – California air regulators on Wednesday urged automakers and engine manufacturers to disclose by the end of the year any unapproved hardware or software programs that compromise a vehicle's emissions control system.
FILE PHOTO: Commuters navigate early morning traffic as they drive towards downtown in Los Angeles, California, U.S., July 22, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake

The letter from the California Air Resources Board follows a string of penalties against automakers for using software to evade emissions requirements since 2015, including Volkswagen AG VOWG_p.DE, Daimler AG and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV.

California noted it has other pending emissions investigations and said "voluntary disclosure will trigger a reduction in penalties; failure to do so may affect the result of future enforcement actions."

A group representing major automakers did not immediately comment.

The letter also went to manufactures of medium and heavy-duty vehicles and engines, motorcycles, off-road small and large spark-ignition engines, off-road recreational vehicles, spark-ignition marine engines, and evaporative systems for off-road small and large equipment and marine watercraft.

CARB noted next year it will open a new state-of the-art testing laboratory and employ new techniques that could detect additional violations.