If you’ve been following automotive safety recall notices at all, you’ll notice that for the most part, the bulk of the recall volume comes down to a handful of companies. Fiat-Chrysler has been notably prolific this year, and Toyota usually has a few open campaigns at any given time. And you can’t forget GM’s spectacularly horrendous year in 2014 when it recalled nearly 30 million vehicles in the fallout of the ignition switch scandal.
Notably absent, though, has been Volkswagen.
The German brand has been slowly rebuilding its U.S. portfolio, and for the most part has been able to stay away from major catastrophes and reputation-jeopardizing faults in its cars. Aside from political drama at its facility in Tennessee and its HQ in Germany, Volkswagen’s been able to remain fairly well beneath the radar.
At least until now. The New York Times is reporting that the Environmental Protection Agency is ordering VW to recall nearly half a million cars — 482,000 of them — sold since 2009 because of a software component that allows the cars to cheat on their emissions tests.
If that sounds bizarre, it’s because it is. From the Times:
The Environmental Protection Agency issued the company a notice of violation and accused the company of breaking the law by installing software known as a “defeat device” in 4-cylinder Volkswagen and Audi vehicles from model years 2009-15. The device is programmed to detect when the car is undergoing official emissions testing, and to only turn on full emissions control systems during that testing. Those controls are turned off during normal driving situations, when the vehicles pollute far more heavily than reported by the manufacturer, the E.P.A. said.
Volkswagen will be ordered to recall 2009-2015 Volkswagen Jettas, 2009–2015 Beetles, 2009–2015 Golfs, 2014-2015 Passats, and 2009-2015 Audi A3s.
“Using a defeat device in cars to evade clean air standards is illegal and a threat to public health,” Cynthia Giles, the E.P.A.’s assistant administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance, said per the Times. “Working closely with the California Air Resources Board, E.P.A. is committed to making sure that all automakers play by the same rules. E.P.A. will continue to investigate these very serious violations.”
Reportedly, the bypass allowed the cars to “‘emit up to 40 times more pollution’ than allowed under U.S. emission standards,” NPR reported. Volkswagen will be on the hook for fixing the affected vehicles, and could be held responsible for “civil penalties and other punishment.”
How this situation proceeds from here will largely depend on how cooperative Volkswagen is with the EPA, and we imagine there will be a fine of some kind involved. Details on the fix haven’t yet been released, and it’s likely that Volkswagen might have to fork over some hefty cash as a result.