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How Volkswagen’s cheat device works

German automaker giant Volkswagen is recently under fierce criticisms following the U.S. Environment Protection Agency’s (EPA) revelation of a cheat device installed in some of its newer diesel units. According to EPA, the software was sophisticatedly designed to defraud standard emission tests in the U.S. This fiasco, which was dubbed to be the most disastrous that Volkswagen has ever been into yet, ignited the ire not just of authorities around the world, but also of consumers who have to suffer from a decreased resale value.

More and more people are planning to file for a Volkswagen emissions lawsuit after learning that the company deliberately tricked them to believe that what they are buying is a combination of power and fuel efficiency. But how does Volkswagen’s knotty software really work? Below is a brief rundown of how it functions:

Software analyzes testing conditions

The software was intricately programmed to identify whether the car is under a standard emission test. Its analysis depends mainly on four different but interdependent factors: the speed of the car, the movement of the steering wheel, the atmospheric pressure, and how long the engine is operated. A speed that is beyond 65 mph but with a fixed steering wheel and an engine operated in a relatively shorter period of time could mean that the vehicle is under an emission test.

Software switches to safe mode

Once the engine detected that it is running under testing conditions, it will automatically switch to a safe mode to emit less amount of oxides. Vehicles with this cheat device are installed with a nitrogen oxide trap (NOx trap), which filters dangerous nitrogen oxides and reduce toxic emissions. However, because NOx trap only works better when there are more oxides trapped in the filter, it would require the engine to combust more fuel, making it fuel-costly.

Software switches back to normal mode

Because operating in safe mode could cost more fuel, the software switches back to normal mode when in road conditions. But because the trap doesn’t anymore filter enough oxides to allow it to work more efficiently, the car emits oxides up to 40 times more than what the law allows.