With public concern about nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions growing to a clamour amid recent criticism of the government’s air quality strategy, the DVSA has gone public on its attempts to clean up this aspect of the industry.
The agency says that offending drivers and operators will be given 10 days to get their trucks back into conformance before they face penalisation. If operators fail to return the vehicle concerned to legal condition within that timeframe, DVSA may issue a fine and take the vehicle off the road.
If a driver or operator is found to be repeatedly offending, or in the case of “more serious incidents of emissions fraud or tampering”, DVSA warns it will impound vehicles immediately, as well as levying fines.
The agency highlighted several methods by which it said “unscrupulous drivers and operators” were cutting operating costs at the expense of emissions reduction.
These included using ‘cheat’ devices “designed to prevent emission control systems from working”; removal of the diesel particulate filter or trap; the use of “cheap, fake emission reduction devices”; using substandard diesel exhaust fluids instead of AdBlue; the illegal modification of engines resulting in higher emissions; and removing or bypassing exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) valves.
Although DVSA is working on roadside emissions tests, these are understood to be some way off.
A spokesperson for the organisation explained that examiners would be checking vehicles for the presence of a genuine and functional diesel particulate filter and exhaust gas recirculation system (where fitted), and looking for AdBlue emulators.
Vehicle ECUs would also be interrogated to check that AdBlue was being drawn from the vehicle’s tank.
Detection of the offence will also trigger a DVSA investigation of the operator, with findings being passed to the traffic commissioners or if the offending vehicle is from outside Great Britain, the relevant authority overseas.
The Department for Transport is understood to be working with trading standards to tackle the sale and fitment of emissions cheating devices. Transport Operator has been told that privately-operated MoT test centres could lose their status if they are found to be selling or fitting these devices, and that it would be “fair to speculate” that similar examinations to those planned for trucks will follow for buses and coaches.
Up until the widespread introduction of selective catalytic reduction (SCR) systems with Euro 5 engines in 2008, the temptation to reduce cost by modifying vehicles so they no longer complied with emissions standards was limited to having vehicles ‘chipped’ to boost their power output, which raised injection pressures and hence NOx output.
SCR changed all that, with unscrupulous companies developing and selling so-called AdBlue emulators, which ‘fooled’ the electronic control units of Euro 5 trucks into ‘thinking’ that the engine was being correctly dosed with AdBlue.
Operators benefited by not having to buy AdBlue, which gave them an unfair competitive advantage over compliant competitors, but the unregulated NOx emissions from ‘emulated’ engines were in some cases worse than those from an old Euro 3 truck.
These devices were widely marketed on the internet, with a disclaimer that the purchaser understood that the truck would exceed emissions limits with the device in action, and they were sold for fitment to trucks that would only be used off-highway, or were intended for export-only.
The waters were somewhat muddied by vehicle exporters quite legally removing SCR systems altogether on used trucks destined for export to markets where fuel quality and absence of AdBlue made them redundant.
Truck manufacturers, DAF for instance, control this process closely, only allowing the removal of emissions control systems once the truck has been de-registered in the UK.
But in some other countries, governments took a more robust view: Australia, for instance, made the import, sale or use of AdBlue emulators illegal.
DVSA chief executive Gareth Llewellyn said: “DVSA’s priority is to protect you from unsafe drivers and vehicles. We are committed to taking dangerous vehicles off Britain’s roads and this new initiative to target emissions fraud is a key part of that.
“Anyone who flouts the law is putting other road users, and the quality of our air, at risk. We won’t hesitate to take these drivers, operators and vehicles off our roads.”
The new roads minister Jesse Norman added: “I welcome this crackdown on rogue hauliers who cheat the system by installing bogus devices which lead to increased pollution. There has rightly been a huge public outcry against car manufacturers that have been cheating emissions standards, and the same rule should apply here too.”