VW cars can also cheat European emissions tests, BBC learns

A laboratory test carried out for BBC Panorama shows that Volkswagen diesel cars programmed with a “defeat device” can cheat official European pollution tests, as well as tests in the US.

The company told the BBC it believes this is the first time the cheating software has been filmed in action.

VW has admitted it used the device to rig tighter pollution tests in America.

But it’s been more ambiguous about whether it used the same tactics to actively cheat official European tests. Panorama’s results suggest that it did. It could have huge implications for the company, which says it is still yet to determine whether the cheating software even breaks the law in Europe. VW has confirmed that 8.5 million European cars have the software, 1.2 million of them in the UK.

The defeat device is a programme in the car’s computer that can work out when it is being tested in a laboratory, and then cut poisonous nitrogen oxide (NOx) gas pollution from the exhaust pipe.

For years, this software allowed the company to pass strict US emissions laws yet still make a car that performed well on the road. Now it looks possible that VW was also cheating in Europe.

A side-effect of cutting NOx can often be lower miles-per-gallon.

Panorama took a VW Passat Blue Motion diesel to an accredited testing laboratory in the Czech Republic. No British lab we asked would let us in, but this lab is governed by the same rules and regulations as those in the UK and it regularly certifies new cars and engines for the European market. – BBC

We also took a retired former government vehicle inspector, Ted Foreman, along to make sure everything was done by the book (a 280-page book).

Clever software

And we confirmed the Passat was programmed with the defeat device.

After prepping the car to the letter of the regulations, the lab ran the standard Euro 5 emissions test. It’s the same exam this model of car would have had to have passed before it went on sale.

And it passed. Emitting just 167 mg/km of poisonous NOx gases. The Euro 5 limit is 180 mg/km.

VW’s clever software knows when it’s being tested, because the routine is the same every single time. Starting with a cold engine, in a lab that’s between 20 and 30 degrees centigrade, it’s then driven for six miles on a rolling road, no turns, with exactly the same gear changes at exactly the same times, and all within a speed at two km/h either side of set limits.