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My Skoda Octavia 103TDI is a #dieselgate emissions cheat UPDATED

Like Lance Armstrong, my Skoda Octavia 103TDI is a cheat. It’s a dirty, poisonous gas belching cheat and it’s all Volkswagen Group’s fault… #dieselgate.

UNLESS YOU’VE been living under a rock you’ll be aware that Volkswagen has been pinged for cheating emissions tests in the US. The scandal has been trending on social media via #dieselgate.

But it’s not just cars in the US that are caught up in the scandal. Nope. Cars all over the world, including my own 2011 Skoda Octavia 103TDI, are now considered to be environmental terrorists. Like Trojan Horse software hiding inside your computer, my Octavia 103TDI runs Volkswagen’s EA189 diesel engine type which featured a clever piece of software that could tell the car when it was being ’emissions tested’.

By putting the car into a ‘special’ mode, EA189 diesel engines were able to trick the US Clean Air Authority Board and EPA testers who tested the vehicle on a rolling road that the engines were cleaner than they actually are. This was discovered when CARB and EPA testers took the vehicles out into the real world using mobile pollution testing gear. Suddenly, it was found that the vehicles pumped out more pollution than originally thought. The defeat device as CARB and EPA term it, had been found.

And then, all of a sudden, the world went bonkers. Motoring writers started going on TV, Social Media, or anywhere where they can lay down there two cents worth of nonsense. Opinions from motoring writers saying they would still buy a Volkswagen… wow, great… who cares?!

See, I actually own one of the vehicles with an affected engine, so I’m going to start looking very deeply into his issue. I’ve always thought my 2011 Octavia 103TDI was easily one of the best diesel cars on the market; it’s quiet, doesn’t smell when it’s started up, is very thrifty at the bowser, and offers more grunt than its numbers alone would suggest.

But just how much dirtier is it than I originally thought? And what happens if I ignore Volkswagen/Skoda’s voluntary recall which involves around 5000 other Skodas in Australia, and many thousands more Volkswagens and Audis?

Why would I ignore the recall? Simple, the rumoured fix is to have the engine detuned to produce less power and torque and thus emissions. Now why would I want a less powerful car than the one I’d purchased. So, Volkswagen Group, answer that question. There are suggestions that people who’ve just purchased one of the EA189 engined cars might have their vehicle replaced with a brand new one that doesn’t have the EA189 engine, but what about those of us who own older models… we have to take a power and torque penalty because Volkswagen wanted to side-step Californian emissions guidelines and avoid having to pay the development costs to keep their cars clean…

Talking with a mechanic yesterday, Volkswagen, he reckons, simply set its ‘cheat device’ software to detect rolling road parameters, meaning the rear wheels weren’t turning and there was no steering input, among other things. Obviously, that cheat doesn’t work in the real world. More than that, the cheat would ‘lean out’ and introduce more air into the diesel being injected into the cylinders and thus, in a less than scientific description, release fewer tailpipe emissions. Clever boffins.

Obviously it was cheaper to produce the software ‘cheat’ than to engineer a solution to getting impressive power and torque, and fuel consumption figures and still bringing the car in within set emissions parameters.

Clearly emissions tests right around the world have fallen behind and so car makers have exploited that opportunity. And Volkswagen’s actions will have an effect not just on owners of the cars running EA189 family engines, but on Volkswagen Group itself, its shareholders, its thousands of employees and, ultimately the German economy.

So, this is a gigantic problem of epic proportions that is bigger than me and my family’s much-loved Octavia. Do we love our Octavia less because it’s a cheat? Nope. But we have decided to buy a bunch of trees and plants to go some way towards offsetting the extra emissions the thing has produced while we’ve owned it, and I’d advise other owners of EA189-toting Volkswagen Group products to do likewise.

I’ve left VW/Skoda a message asking about my car and why I should accept less power and torque because of their subterfuge. I haven’t heard back. I’ll let you know when I do. UPDATE: Since posting this article I’ve had contact with Volkswagen’s PR team and I’m assured my local Skoda service centre will be in touch to arrange a time to have the ‘recall’ work performed on my car. Once, they’ve worked out what will be done. Stay tuned. As soon as I hear more, I’ll share it here.

In the meantime, if you own one of the cars caught up in this scandal, let me know by leaving a comment below. And let me know what you’re doing about it… joining one of the class actions that are forming?

My Octavia is an emissions cheat

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25 Comments

  1. trackdaze
    October 13, 2015 at 1:07 pm — Reply

    Firstly I suspect the power and torque numbers were cheat numbers which is why many have reported their vw diesel appear to punch above their weight. Perversely many quoted better fuel economy than advertised presumably this was based on the choked lab economy run.

    your emmissions of co2 to date have been less. Planting trees aint going to reduce nox to such a degree. If you dont live in the city I wouldnt bother.

    • October 13, 2015 at 1:45 pm — Reply

      Yep, totally agree with that @trackdaze. The tree planting is just an excuse to add some greenery to the back yard.
      Had a response from VW Group PR about the ‘fix’ but they’ve simply said the service centre will be in touch. No response to my question of, what will the service centre do? Cheers Isaac

      • trackdaze
        October 13, 2015 at 2:38 pm — Reply

        Suspect it will be pumping in massive amounts of EGR and adjust timing. Although as aust has only euro4? Not sure theyll need to do much. perhaps dirty it up a bit more!

  2. SteveC
    October 13, 2015 at 4:07 pm — Reply

    My wife and I own two cars caught up in the issue, a VW Golf and a Skoda Superb. We also live in the country where the emissions issue is not so pressing as it is in the city. We have been delighted with all aspects of these cars from day one; in fact the Skoda is the best car I have ever owned in a very long list. I have notified Skoda of my ownership of the vehicle but will want to be reassured that the performance and fuel economy will not suffer before returning it for a software upgrade. Which brings me to the question; do I have any legal compulsion to have the software changed? If not, I am inclined to leave the vehicle as it is or at the very least leave it for a later iteration rather than rushing for the first fix.

    • October 13, 2015 at 4:10 pm — Reply

      Hi Steve, I’m with you. I’m likely to leave off having the car ‘fixed’ until I know more about it. One of my issues is potential resale and the stigma now associated with it. Cheers Isaac

      • October 13, 2015 at 7:36 pm — Reply

        Only crazy people could send their cars to be “fixed”. This operation clearly means to reduce the power and acceleration or worsen the fuel economy (because the temperature has to be lowered) or to vastly increase the consumption of AdBlue etc. (in the models that have it but that still cheat) which will jam some pipes and do other bad things.

        The diesel engineers in VW and other top companies have done a very difficult work in optimizing all the properties so that the car ends up being as good for the consumer as possible. They know what actually matters to the consumer much more than the environmental government agencies do. That’s why it’s crazy to allow the mindless bureaucrats and their arbitrary numbers to dictate how a car should behave.

        All these restrictions on NOx have been overshot, NOx has been at tolerable levels for a few decades. When it drives, it has to stink a little bit, it’s a law of physics. In the recent 10 years, the progress in reductions of NOx in the real world driving has been basically zero and all the improvements – in VW Group and all other companies – have only taken place on the paper.

        It’s not VW Group that should be blamed. It’s the environmental bureaucrats who wanted to show “ever better results” but none of their achievements have actually been genuine. Improvements in fuel economy and clean air aren’t achieved by bureaucrats who demand some ambitious numbers in the lab. The improvements are obtained by clever engineers who work in the free markets to please actual free consumers.

        • Captain Obvious
          October 14, 2015 at 12:59 am — Reply

          Blaming the bureaucrats is an easy way out. VW with their billions are perfectly capable of lobbying governments to moderate emissions requirements if the case to do so was a reasonable one. The fact that they chose the lazy, deceptive option says that they are either ethically bankrupt, incapable of consulting with government or just plain ol’ incompetent (or all of the above).

          • October 14, 2015 at 1:06 am

            Sorry but if a company conquers the whole government decision process about a topic that decides about the company’s well-being, it’s a much creepier and ethically bankrupt attitude than to formally obey the law by preparing the car “specifically” for the emissions measurements in the lab.

            Moreover, the people who decided to incorporate the defeat device aren’t necessarily the “most powerful people in Volkswagen” who can control whole governments and Parliaments. They were closer to rank-and-file engineers and their managers who were simply constrained by the regulations and the expectations of the top management about “clean diesel” and similarly nonsensical hype.

            These engineers can’t pay billions of dollars, they can’t persuade the bosses of VW to pay lots of money for lobbying, and they risk their job if they don’t solve the task within the limits at all. So they did solve it. It’s inevitable that solutions are formal if the regulations are unrealistic. The more unrealistic the regulations are, the more dependent on similar tricks the engineering solutions have to become.

        • Ziggy
          October 17, 2015 at 5:40 am — Reply

          You have been defrauded by your your maker and you blame the rules & those who police them.

          • October 17, 2015 at 6:36 am

            Agree Ziggy. The rules are the rules and VW Group boffins made a conscious decision to ‘cheat’. There might be other makers who’s cars exceed the ‘test’ emissions in the real world, but none of them decided to build something that would allow them to actively cheat on tests. Isaac

          • October 17, 2015 at 5:13 pm

            I blame them because they are the cause of this mess. The people who contaminate whole legal systems of the Western countries by mostly nonsensical regulatory garbage that no sane person wants are a cancer of the contemporary era.

            No consumers have been defrauded in any significant way because consumers don’t look at some irrelevant numbers and even if they do, they don’t overinterpret them. Even when it comes to the fuel economy which is vastly more important than NOx emissions, they know that they have to see what the fuel consumption actually is in the context that matters to them. The numbers in the tables are just some numbers obtained under some conditions that the consumer doesn’t really understand and numbers that can’t guarantee anything in the real world which is totally different.

            What happened was that a bunch of engineers and managers found a clever way to circumvent an unreasonable tyrannical regulation by would-be rulers of our societies.

          • Ziggy
            October 18, 2015 at 5:18 am

            And what qualifications do you have that you know better than public health authorities around the world?

          • October 18, 2015 at 7:16 pm

            Dear Ziggy, I’ve studied the world scientifically for almost 40 years, taught physics at Harvard, and – equally importantly – have never been affiliated with or constrained by governments and people who have the interest for governments to control people’s lives.

          • Ziggy
            October 19, 2015 at 7:00 am

            Well I’ve taught public health at two Australian universities and have a research PhD and if I saw what you present as arguments in an essay I had to mark I would’ve failed it – primarily because of their ad hominem nature but also the errors of fact re nitrogen oxides.

          • October 19, 2015 at 4:48 pm

            “Public health” isn’t really a scientific discipline. What is OK concerning public health is a political question which is why you don’t have any extra expertise that would make your opinions more “right” than the opinions of other people who have thought about the issues.

            People could have survived this kind of pollution and other emissions at almost any moment – they are just finding a balance between the clean environment and other aspects of their comfort.

            Instead, what people like you may boast is the extra bias. Inventing ever stricter limits on all kinds of pollution is a necessary condition for “public health” people like you to enjoy a continuing stream of income. In most cases, such regulations are not needed for the mankind to be healthy and happy, however.

            Again, what primarily distinguishes you from other people is your clash of interest, not extra scientific knowledge. It’s people like you who are the causes of scandals such as the ongoing hassles in Volkswagen.

          • Ziggy
            October 20, 2015 at 5:11 am

            More ad hominen arguments. As we say, those who can’t play the ball try to play the man.

          • Captain Obvious
            October 20, 2015 at 2:45 pm

            Agree Ziggy. Behind the long discourse and liberal lashings of an academic superiority complex it still remains a cop out.

  3. TORVPN
    October 13, 2015 at 5:39 pm — Reply

    I said it before and say it again, overall BUY JAPANESE

    • trackdaze
      October 13, 2015 at 5:57 pm — Reply

      I do hope they dont take your unblinking loyalty and run with it.

  4. Dan
    October 14, 2015 at 11:27 am — Reply

    I have a Polo….great car, excellent performance and fuel economy. Like others, I’m going to hold off until I know performance is not affected. If it is, no recall for me..

  5. jason kallus
    October 16, 2015 at 6:56 pm — Reply

    We have a 2012 skoda yeti TDI – brilliant car & our 3rd Skoda. I’m not about to take it in until there is more info regarding “the fix”.
    TBH – looking very carefully at an Outback for our next car. This drama only makes the Subaru look more attractive.

  6. Ken
    October 17, 2015 at 11:25 am — Reply

    It doesn’t concern me too much as I don’t have one of these cars, BUT, I wonder what not having them “fixed” will do to their resale value down the track?

  7. Ian Boyd
    October 17, 2015 at 7:55 pm — Reply

    Steve I do not want the fix I have a 2010, 125 RS and why would I want it do less than I was told it would do. I want a new car and I may join one of the class actions.

  8. October 20, 2015 at 3:13 am — Reply

    While everyone is focusing on cars it turns out Panasonic (fridges) and Samsung (TVs) are also using special software to do well in energy tests. We’re being cheated in every sector and it must end

    • October 20, 2015 at 6:43 am — Reply

      Thanks Rowan, have you got some more info you can share? – Isaac

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Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober