Sniffing a Scandal

They only crucified Jesus once – and that was enough (so we are told) to atone for all mankind’s sins . . . in perpetuity.

And mankind did (and does) sin. In the moral sense. Murder, theft, rape and all the other uglies.

VW suffers crucifixion in perpetuity for its sins – which are of a purely statutory nature. Like failing to buckle-up for safety. So far, the German automaker has been godsmacked to the tune of $30.4 billion (not a typo) in fines and other levies for tuning its diesel-powered cars to pass government emissions certification tests.

To which the obvious rejoinder is – well, what’s the problem? They passed the tests, right?

Ah, but they didn’t really pass the tests. VW “cheated” by programming the cars to make it through the tests, then altered their programming once through the tests.

Here’s where things get . . . interesting.

The tests VW “cheated” on are not the same tests as the tailpipe exhaust emissions tests most of us have to subject our cars to, in order to register them and renew registration. All of the “cheating” VWs passed – and continue to pass – these “tailpipe sniffer” tests, which ought to give you some idea about the amount of “cheating” VW was up to on the other tests.

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The smog check joints – thousands of them, across the land – detected no smog (technically, no noxious compounds such as oxides of nitrogen) in excess of the allowable thresholds. The cars passed those tests. If their emissions were not within allowable limits, they wouldn’t have.

They also passed by the automated roadside emissions detectors in ultra-strict California. These snuff the air as cars pass by and if the air is not up to snuff, they snap a photo of the offending car’s plates and send its owner a nasty note informing him that he must bring the car in for examination, pronto – or else.

But not one VW diesel – as far as I have been able to determine – was identified as a “polluter” by these tests. Or the tests you stand in line to go through to get your tags renewed. The absence of any California drive-by smog alarums is particularly noteworthy because the cars being snuffed were being driven. Not idling while hooked to a test rig. But the “cheating” asserted by Uncle asserts that once out in the world, actually driving, the “cheating” cars became churning cauldrons of toxic effluvia-spewing foulness.

“Up to 40 times” the allowable amount of oxides of nitrogen! You may remember the cry (and the hue which went along for the ride). It sounds dark and stormy, extremely ominous. But if it really was anything like a black cloud of noxiousness, how come the roadside sniffers and tailpipe tests never identified even one?

One of two things must be true.

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