The old switcheroo

Herald Sun - Motoring - - CARSGUIDE CONFIDENTIAL - Twit­ter: @PaulWardGover

THE sneaky de­vice that got Volk­swa­gen into so much trou­ble has been an open se­cret in the car busi­ness for decades.

VW was even caught and fined — only $US120,000 — in 1974 for us­ing a “de­feat de­vice” to get around emis­sions test­ing.

The cor­po­rate cheat­ing be­came pos­si­ble with the same en­gine-con­trol com­put­ers that also led to wide­spread cheat­ing in motorsport and, iron­i­cally, cleared the way for the much cleaner tailpipe emis­sions from ev­ery ve­hi­cle on the road to­day.

In­stead of re­ly­ing on a dis­trib­u­tor, car­bu­ret­tor, choke and a sin­gle set of tun­ing pa­ram­e­ters, en­gine­m­an­age­ment com­put­ers took con­trol of ev­ery­thing from warm-up pro­ce­dures to boost lev­els in tur­bocharged en­gines. So any en­gine can be set for op­ti­mum op­er­a­tion, at any time in any con­di­tions.

To­day, that means stop-start tech, cylin­der-on-de­mand pro­grams, high com­pres­sion ra­tios with knock con­trols and much, much more. But a de­feat de­vice also clears the way for par­al­lel set­tings, per­fect for cheat­ing on emis­sions and of­fi­cial fuel econ­omy test­ing — and even bet­ter for a race team look­ing to boost en­gines.

In Aus­tralia, such de­vices spread like cane toads dur­ing the 1980s hey­day of pro­duc­tion car rac­ing, with driv­ers of tur­bocharged Mit­subishi Star­i­ons rou­tinely hid­ing switches that ac­ti­vated hid­den rac­ing pro­grams. In Bri­tain, they also helped fuel a flood of sec­ond-hand Ja­panese im­ports. Many dodgy op­er­a­tors in­stalled them on “grey” im­ports, which would have failed tailpipe tests but flew through with a hid­den en­gine map.

Many were trig­gered by the same bon­net switch that con­trolled a light in the en­gine bay at a time when there were reg­u­lar break­downs. The bon­net had to be raised for cool­ing dur­ing the emis­sions runs, so it was quick and easy to get around the rules. VW has done much more with its de­vice.

The scan­dal has al­ready cost Volk­swa­gen any chance of global sales lead­er­ship this year. It’s likely to mean a fi­nal bill in the tens of bil­lions of dol­lars, has ended the ca­reers of some very se­nior ex­ec­u­tives and could even mean some do jail time in the US.

In Aus­tralia, on the back of the DSG gear­box fi­asco, it could set VW back 10 years.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.