Audi Caught Cheating with Defeat Devices. Twice.

Posted on
Scott McCracken
#exhaust-system #diesel #recall
Cloud of emissions from a tail pipe

Back in 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) implemented tougher emissions standards for cars. That forced automakers to come up with creative solutions to balance their emissions output with consumer demand for fuel economy and performance.

Diesel engines have great fuel efficiency and power, but they also run dirty. So to meet regulations most companies started adding a urea-based solution, known as AdBlue, to their vehicles. There's a bit of science involved here 🤓. Essentially it helps the catalytic converter convert bad things (nitrous oxide) into good things (nitrogen and water).

Volkswagen took another approach.

Audis Involved in “Dieselgate”

In both Audi and VW 2.0L 4-cylinder diesel engines, they skipped the AdBlue and used an NOx trap instead. Those traps typically require the engine to use more fuel, but “clean diesels” didn't take an MPG hit.

It was magic…or so everyone thought. Really it was just cheating. Read more about Volkswagen's diesel defeat device.


There are many more VW models involved.

And Then, There Was that Other “Defeat Device”

2016 was the year of emissions cheating. VW's diesel emissions scandal resulted in so many headlines. So. Many. Headlines. It sure would have been nice to finish the year without having to mutter the words “defeat” or “device” between sips of eggnog.

But then a report by the German paper Bild am Sonntag scrooged up my holiday plans when they announced that CARB had discovered another defeat device on potentially hundreds of thousands of Audi vehicles. Swell.

The device used on these Audis is completely different from the one VW was caught using on its diesel engines. For starters, this one is part of the transmission – the ZF8 8-speed, automatic AL 551 transmission, to be exact. The device is also meant to skirt carbon dioxide emissions on both diesel and gas engines.

How it Works

The device is simple. Painfully simple. When the Audi is started up the transmission engages a “low C02” program and then starts monitoring the steering wheel. If the steering wheel is never turned more than 15 degrees—for example in a testing lab—the program keeps humming along all clean and green. When the steering wheel is turned, however, the program shuts off and the car starts spewin' out carbon dioxide above the legal limit.

It's estimated the devices were installed in Audi cars until May 2016. For those keeping score at home, that's waaaaay after the other VW emissions scandal hit the news. What's German for cojones?

The Lawsuit

A lawsuit has been filed on behalf of Audi owners. Audis that may have this device installed include any A6, A8, Q5, or Q7 vehicles with a 3-liter engine and the 'AL 551' transmission.

So, How's Audi Going to Deny This One?

Turns out VW's boss of the powertrain division, Axel Eiser, asked in an internal document when the “cycle-optimized shift program” would be ready for use. Ouch, but it gets worse.

Eiser allegedly says:

[The program] needs to be designed to be 100% active on the dyno [test machine], but only 0.01% in the hands of the customer.

Check mate.

Generations Where This Problem Has Been Reported

This problem has popped up in the following Audi generations.

Most years within a generation share the same parts and manufacturing process. You can also expect them to share the same problems. So while it may not be a problem in every year yet, it's worth looking out for.

Further Reading

A timeline of stories related to this problem. We try to boil these stories down to the most important bits so you can quickly see where things stand. Interested in getting these stories in an email? Signup for free email alerts for your vehicle over at

  1. When Volkswagen agreed to a multi-district settlement for selling polluting engines marketed as clean diesel,

    it did so knowing it’d have to pay billions of dollars to customers that owned or leased an affected vehicle when the news about the scandal broke.

    Some owners that had sold their affected vehicles before the news came out tried to file for compensation in court, but didn't get very far. That may be about to change due to an interesting court decision in California.…

    keep reading article "Judge's Decision May Open to the Door to New Diesel-Scandal Claims"
  2. Volkswagen has released a settlement update

    for 83,000 Audi, Porsche, and VW vehicles with TDI engines. And methinks owners are going to be Scrooge McDuck levels of happy.

    Owners of the 2009-2012 Audi Q7 3.0L diesel will be eligible for buyback offers between $26,000 to $58,000, depending on model year and mileage. Owners will also be given the option to keep their vehicles – if VW can come up with an adequate fix – and still receive up to $15,380 in compensation for their troubles.

    Even previous owners will be eligible for payments ranging from $4,627 to $7,747.…

    keep reading article "VW Releases 3.0L TDI Settlement Terms"
  3. Now might not be the best time to travel if you're a VW executive.

    While traveling in Florida, VW executive Oliver Schmidt was arrested and charged for his alleged role in the diesel emissions scandal. From

    "Schmidt has already appeared before a U.S. District Court in Miami but didn't enter a plea. He was ordered held for a hearing scheduled for Thursday, January 12, in front of Judge William C. Turnoff."

    Mr. Schmidt was charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, and violations of the U.S. Clean Air Act.…

    keep reading article "Feds Arrest VW Executive Oliver Schmidt"
  4. Volkswagen has received the stamp of approval for a fix of about 475,000 2-liter "clean diesel" vehicles.

    These are the so-called "generation 3" diesels and are all from the 2015 model year. The list includes the 2015 Audi A3.

    "Officials with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) say the approved emissions modifications will reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 80 to 90 percent."…

    keep reading article "Audi 'Gen 3' Diesel Fix Approved"
  5. A judge has given VW's diesel settlement preliminary approval

    , which means owners of 2-liter diesel Volkswagen and Audi vehicles are one step closer to the end of this mess.

    "Judge Charles Breyer already gave preliminary approval to the $15 billion settlement that will see about $10 billion go to U.S. car owners and about $5 billion to cover environmental damages. Now the judge says he is inclined to finalize the settlement terms by October 25, 2016, at least for the most part."…

    keep reading article "Audi 2-liter Diesel Owners One Step Closer to Settlement"
  6. A German newspaper says Volkswagen has been cheating again.

    This time using unapproved software on its 3-liter diesels. Oh, wünderbar.

    "The programs are allegedly used to shut off nitrogen oxide emissions controls after 22 minutes, about two minutes longer than the 20 minutes it takes to perform a typical emissions test. If true, emissions regulators would see normal emissions levels on test machines, then after about 22 minutes the emissions levels will shoot up."…

    keep reading article "VW Caught Cheating Again?"
  7. The EPA and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) have rejected Volkswagen's plan to fix the 500,000 diesel vehicles that contain defeat devices.

    They also don't buy that VW didn't lie, like the CEO insists.

    "“They [Volkswagen] continued and compounded the lie and when they were caught they tried to deny it. The result is thousands of tons of nitrogen oxide that have harmed the health of Californians. They need to make it right. Today's action is a step in the direction of assuring that will happen." - CARB"

    keep reading article "EPA Rejects VW’s Proposed Diesel Fix"
  8. **Sp

    aking in front of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee, VW USA CEO, Michael Horn, didn't have much good news to share. Horn said he believes each vehicle will require 5 to 10 hours of work to bring the cars legal according to the standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). However, Mr. Horn said it's possible repairs on the cars could cost more than the value of the cars.

    keep reading article "VW USA Says it Will Take Years to Fix Diesel Audis, VWs"
  9. Volkswagen, parent company of Audi, has been caught cheating EPA rules by a team of researchers.

    The company used a "defeat device" to get around EPA emissions standards for air pollution.

    "The EPA says the "defeat device" is sophisticated software on VW cars that detects when the car is going through official emissions testing. When the software recognizes an official test is underway, it turns on full emissions controls to make it appear the emission standards are within the rules. Once the official tests are completed, the emission controls are decreased during normal driving."…

    keep reading article "Uh Oh. VW (and Audi) Caught Cheating on Diesel Emissions"

OK, Now What?

Maybe you've experienced this problem. Maybe you're concerned you will soon. Whatever the reason, here's a handful of things you can do to make sure it gets the attention it deserves.

  1. File Your Complaint is a free site dedicated to uncovering problem trends and informing owners about potential issues with their cars. Major class action law firms use this data when researching cases.

    Add a Complaint
  2. Notify CAS

    The Center for Auto Safety (CAS) is a pro-consumer organization that researches auto safety issues & often compels the US government to do the right thing through lobbying & lawsuits.

    Notify The CAS
  3. Report a Safety Concern

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the US agency with the authority to conduct vehicle defect investigations & force recalls. Their focus is on safety-related issues.

    Report to NHTSA