Death of the Diesel Continues: CARB Probe Prompts Recall of 500,000 Cummins Trucks

The fuel economy benefits of diesels come with undesirable harmful health effects.

The California Air Resources Board says that 500,000 heavy-duty trucks manufactured by Cummins will be recalled due to excess emissions caused by defective catalysts.

Owners of 2010–2015 model-year vehicles must replace faulty emissions components. The recall number includes about 232,000 Dodge Ram 2500 and 3500 vehicles with Cummins engines that had the same SCR defect. Recalls for those vehicles were approved in July 2016 and July 2017, respectively, and are already underway.See AutoInformed

The excess emissions were discovered after CARB launched its new Heavy Duty In-Use Compliance program in 2016. The Cummins action is the first major recall resulting from the program, in which subject vehicles are equipped with Portable Emissions Measurement Systems (PEMS) to measure truck emissions while operating on streets and highways under normal operating demands and conditions.

There is precedent here: CARB has monitored light-duty vehicles (cars and pickups) for decades. It initiated a program in 2016 to bring private fleet-owned or rental trucks that had been operating for several years for testing. Initial readings of some of the Cummins engines revealed higher than expected emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), a smog-forming pollutant. This led to more comprehensive testing by CARB.

“Increased vigilance and testing led directly to a positive result. Our new heavy-duty in-use compliance program ensures that heavy-duty and other trucks already in operation meet the required emissions standards both in the lab and on the road,” said CARB Chair Mary D. Nichols. “Our portable testing equipment tells us exactly how clean a truck is when it’s actually operating in the real world: pulling a full load and driving on roads and through neighborhoods where people live.”

After CARB shared the initial findings with Cummins, the company conducted its own testing to confirm the failures and agreed to institute a voluntary recall, ultimately affecting more than 800,000 vehicles, to replace the catalysts.

The trucks will be recalled in a two-phases:

  1. Starting in August 2018, owners of the 500,000-plus affected vehicles will receive letters with instructions on how to get their catalysts replaced or receive reimbursement for the cost of the replacement.
  2. The second phase begins in March 2019. Replacing the catalyst is required for vehicle owners to renew their California DMV registration on most engine families.

CARB The testing confirmed that the selective catalytic reduction (SCR) systems were defective, causing emissions of NOx to exceed state and federal standards. The same problem was found to affect about 60 “engine families” under the Cummins name found in a wide range of vehicles, from big-rigs, to larger pickup trucks and some buses Says that the cause of the excess emissions was purely mechanical – the faster-than-expected degradation of the catalyst – and not the product of a ‘defeat device’ or cheating on tests as was the case with 2009-2015 Volkswagen 2 and 3–liter diesel-powered passenger cars and SUVs. The degrading catalysts also do not pose a safety issue, and do not affect current model year Cummins engine families.

“CARB’s in-use testing of the vehicles played a key role in identifying the problem. Once Cummins was made aware of the issue, they cooperated with CARB and U.S. EPA and agreed to recall the full range of engine families, pay for all required repairs and reimburse owners who may have already paid for an SCR replacement,” according to CARB.

Following the recall, CARB and EPA will work together to ensure that the affected vehicles will meet all emissions standards.

*An engine family is the basic unit that CARB and U.S. EPA use to identify a group of vehicles or engines for certification and compliance purposes.

About Ken Zino

Ken Zino is an auto industry veteran with global experience in print, broadcast and electronic media. He has auto testing, marketing, public relations and communications expertise garnered while working in Asia, Europe and the U.S.
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