Unless you’ve been at a very remote campsite for the past few days with no access to the news, you’ll have heard all about the Volkswagen ‘Dieselgate’ scandal. Authorities in the US say that they have discovered that VW has cheated its way through emissions testing, and that the true emissions of one of VW’s US-spec diesel engines are actually much higher than claimed.

When testing a VW 2.0-litre diesel (type EA 189), the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) found the car’s ECU switched to a different mode when the car’s sensors detected it was on a rolling road. The so-called ‘defeat device’ hidden in the car’s electronic brain allowed the car to pass emissions testing. 

Without the defeat device, the EPA says the engine emits up to 40 times the legal limit for nitrogen oxide, a pollutant that’s harmful to the lungs.

Fines and recalls in the US

In the US, VW has been forced to recall over 482,000 cars made between 2008 and 2015, including versions of the Golf, Jetta, Beetle and Passat. VW’s sister company, Audi, is also recalling some A3 models in the US. Fines could cost VW somewhere in the region of £11-12 billion.

The crisis at VW continues to escalate, not least because the EA 189 engine is used in many global markets. It has now emerged that some 11 million cars could be effected worldwide.

VW says Europe’s cars are legal 

VW has insisted that all of its current engines on sale in European markets are fully legal and meet the latest Euro 6 emissions standard. What’s not yet clear is whether the ‘defeat device’ has been affecting the emissions of VW cars that UK consumers have been driving – and towing with – over recent years.

The scandal has rocked VW Group to its foundations, with speculation that the CEO, Martin Winterkorn, will be out of a job by the end of the week. In a video address through Volkswagen’s media website, he said: “We are going to clarify the background unsparingly, and at this very moment, everything is being put on the table as quickly, thoroughly and transparently as possible. The irregularities with these engines contradict everything for which Volkswagen stands. We want to continue to work closely with the relevant state departments and authorities.”

Winterkorn also suggested that the emissions-test cheating had been brought about by a small number of VW employees, and was not widely known about before the EPA revealed the existence of the ‘defeat device’:  “It would be wrong if the hard and honest work of 600,000 people comes under general suspicion because of the bad mistakes of a few. Our team does not deserve this.”

There are more questions than answers at the moment. Is this an isolated one off, or have other VW engines been fitted with ‘defeat devices’ which the authorities failed to detect? If VW has been able to cheat the tests, have other car manufacturers done the same? And how should emissions testing – in the US and Europe – be tightened up to make sure car manufacturers can’t find ways around the testing?

What should UK caravanners do next?

In the meantime, what should you do if you drive and tow with a VW Group diesel? Our advice would be to continue as normal. There’s no firm evidence that UK-spec cars have cheated their way around European emissions tests, and it will take time to discover if they have.

There are new developments in this story every day, so we’d advise keeping an eye on the news section of the Autocar website (our sister magazine) to keep up with the latest on the VW emissions scandal