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In ever-increasing punishment for diesel truck performance tuners selling emissions defeats, we have the latest company slapped with an over $1 million fine by the U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA). Sinister Diesel, in California, plead guilty to two counts of Clean Air Act violations. It was selling emissions devices and software to allow them to “roll coal,” spewing out thick black smoke.

The practice casts a psychological pall over millions of diesel truck owners legally complying with emissions laws in every state. It puts them in a category of certain diesel owners finding belching black smoke amusing or something; we don’t know. When you’re following the laws pertaining to tampering with emissions controls, the coal rollers debase your efforts and reputation. 

What types of diesel defeats was Sinister selling?

Black pickup Truck rolling coal
Silverado pickup truck rolling coal | George Rose via Getty

Sinister plead guilty to a plea agreement after an investigation by the EPA and FBI, according to the Justice Department. The violations were conspiracy to violate the Climate Commitment Act, defrauding the United States, and also “tampering with the monitoring device of an emissions control system of a diesel truck.” Similar penalties were recently handed to several persons involved in the Discovery Channel’s Diesel Brothers show.

Among the details was Sinister selling combo packs of delete hardware and software delete tunes. It also was instructing owners on ways to cheat state emissions tests. This usually involved removing certain components for the test and then attaching them afterward. 

Is this the first time Sinister was fined for diesel defeats?

Diesel smoke belching from truck pipe
Diesel smoke from truck pipe | BSIP/UIG Via Getty

Sinister claimed innocence because the components posted “For Racing Purposes Only” on the packaging. But it knew the majority of kits were going on street-driven trucks. Between 2015 and 2017, court records show Sinister sold over 35,000 emissions defeat kits. This amounts to 25% of total sales most years. However, it was selling defeat devices for over 10 years, starting in 2010.

In all, Sinister must pay $500,000 to civil and criminal courts, along with other damages totaling $1 million. The maximum fine for the violations is either $500,000 or “twice the gross pecuniary (monetary) gain deriving from the offense.”

Sinister also paid $651,450 back in 2015 over a similar settlement with the California Air Resources Board for similar violations. “Sinister Diesel sold products that allowed drivers to strip the emissions controls from their trucks, causing a dramatic increase in the release of pollutants that worsen air quality and harm the quality of life,” said Phil Talbert, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California, in a statement. So Sinister seems to continue to gain from polluting the environment.

Is the EPA coming after gas-powered emissions tampering too?

Diesel smoke from BMW
Diesel exhaust | Ina Fassbender/picture alliance via Getty

Interestingly, in 2018 Sinister sought to trademark the use of the color blue for defeat devices. It apparently sent several cease and desist orders to competing diesel defeat companies with blue-colored components. So it used trademark law to protect the unlawful components it was manufacturing. 

In coordination with its earlier diesel defeat fines, the EPA is also going after gas-engine tuners performing and selling emissions defeat devices. So both engine types of illegal tampering are in their crosshairs. The good news is that with the insane amounts of power coming from automakers now, there is almost universally more power than truck owners will ever need, negating software tunes in general.


Diesel Defeat Devices Are Landing People in Prison