Diesel software upgrade now mandatory in California

| 12/14/2004

A voluntary program to upgrade pollution control software on some diesel trucks operating in California is now mandatory.

Last week, the California Air Resources Board decided to end its seven-month voluntary program after manufacturers failed to meet their goals under the effort. Jerry Martin, a spokesman for the board, said the mandatory order affects all diesel engines made from 1993 to 1998, including those based in California and those based elsewhere that operate in California.

The Air Resources Board announced March 25 that it had adopted the voluntary plan to upgrade pollution-control software on diesel trucks that operate in the state. Under an agreement with engine manufacturers, truck owners were allowed to take their rigs into dealers, who would perform the half-hour to hourlong installation of new software. The engine manufacturers have agreed to pay for the software and its installation, the board said. 

The engine manufacturers were supposed to have 35 percent of the engines upgraded by November. However, outside of one engine maker that met its goal, manufacturers were able to upgrade only 18 percent of engines. At the start of the program in March, 13 percent were already upgraded.

The one engine maker that met the goal was Detroit Diesel Corp., which will be allowed to continue its voluntary effort.

“These vehicles have been operating on California’s streets and roads for more than 10 years without any appreciable effort being made to replace their defective software and reduce their emissions,” said CARB Chairman Alan Lloyd in a prepared statement. “In March, we gave the manufacturers six months to upgrade a reasonable number of these trucks to avoid regulation but we have not seen enough progress to wait longer and put Californians at further risk; therefore we must enact the regulation without further delay.”

In 2003, the Air Resources Board announced it would propose a regulation to require makers of heavy-duty diesel engines to upgrade the software in the chips for engines made from 1993 to 1998.

The regulations were rooted in a controversy that started in the 1990s. Officials claim that at that time, engine manufacturers used computers on diesel vehicles that allowed their engines to comply with emission limits. However, officials claim those same computer chips also allowed the engine to operate differently during highway driving, increasing nitrogen oxide emissions.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Air Resources Board considered those chips to be “defeat devices,” or devices designed to help the vehicle avoid pollution restrictions.

In 1998, Caterpillar, Cummins, Detroit Diesel, Navistar, Mack/Renault and Volvo signed consent decrees with the EPA, the Department of Justice and the Air Resources Board. The Low NOx Rebuild Program, which was part of those consent decrees, called for the manufacturers to upgrade software to reduce NOx emissions.

The upgrades were to occur when engines were overhauled. Now, they will be required whether or not the engine is due for an overhaul.

The new order will require 1993-94 model year trucks to be upgraded by April 30, 2005.

Those built in model years 1995-96 are to have their upgrades completed by Aug. 31, 2005, and those built in 1997 and 1998 must be upgraded by Dec. 31, 2005. Owners of 1997 and 1998 medium heavy-duty vehicles, mainly delivery trucks, have until Dec. 31, 2006, to upgrade their software.

– By Mark H. Reddig, associate editor