Indiana-based Cummins recalls 500,000 trucks over faulty system releasing excess pollution

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In the largest voluntary truck emissions recall to date, Indiana-based Cummins Inc. is recalling nearly 500,000 vehicles from the roads across the United States to correct a faulty engine system. The system, meant to control emissions, actually caused the excess release of a potent air pollutant.

This failure, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is the result of a defective part and does not involve a “defeat device” — or illegal software like that found to be used by Volkswagen to mask pollution levels during emissions tests.

This “recall is a great example of how government and industry work together to protect health and the environment, said EPA Office of Air and Radiation assistant administrator Bill Wehrum in a release.

Testing is meant to ensure that pollution controls are working properly throughout an engine’s useful life, he added, “And, if they don’t, then companies step up to set things right.”

The recall affects medium- and heavy-duty trucks produced from 2010 through 2015. Medium-duty trucks are predominantly pick-up and tow trucks while the heavy-duty vehicles include buses, local delivery trucks, tankers, cement mixers and semi-trucks.

Those vehicles are equipped with a system called selective catalytic reduction that is designed to control nitrogen oxide emissions. Nitrogen oxide, or NOx, is a potent air pollutant that contributes to smog in the air.

According to regulations, the system is required to control the pollution for the full useful life of the vehicle — determined by a set amount of miles or years. However, testing completed through a new compliance program at the California Air Resources Board found that the systems were defective and degrading within just a few years of installation. The degrading system does not pose a safety risk.

That default did, however, result in emissions of NOx that exceeded state and federal standards. That said, it is not possible to give an accurate estimate of the excess NOx put into the air from these trucks, according to the California group.

The Cummins action marks the first major recall resulting from the new program, established in 2016 to identify vehicles and engines that are not meeting emissions standards and require the manufacturer to recall and fix them.

“We have a history of providing technological innovation that our customers can depend on,” Cummins spokesman Jon Mills told IndyStar. “When our products don’t perform as expected for our customers, we are concerned about how our customers may be impacted, which is why we proactively and collaboratively worked with the agencies to develop the voluntary recall plan.”

The trucks will be recalled in two phases, with the first starting in August 2018 and the second in March 2019. Owners of the more than 500,000 affected vehicles will receive letters with instructions on how and when to replace the systems or receive reimbursement for the replacement. If the parts are available, Cummins said, the fix should take just two to four hours.

An earlier Cummins recall, approved in July 2016 and July 2017, is already underway for roughly 232,000 Dodge Ram pickup trucks. That recall brings the total number of affected vehicles to more than 750,000, according to the EPA.

The cause of the default was purely mechanical, the California Air Resources Board stressed. So-called “defeat devices” were used with 2009 to 2015 Volkswagen diesel-powered passenger cars and SUVs to cheat on emissions tests, which came to light in 2015 in a scandal now know as “Dieselgate.”

Cummins has cooperated with CARB and the EPA and agreed to pay for all required repairs as a result of the faulty system. During its earnings call this week, the Fortune 500 company announced a pre-tax charge of $181 million related to the recall.

Mills said Cummins welcomes agencies working to develop and implement tough emissions regulations and enforcing compliance on those levels.

The recall, Mills said, “was in the best interest of our customers and the environment.”