In February 2016, Mercedes-Benz was hit with a federal class action lawsuit alleging that a nitrogen-oxide reduction system in BlueTEC diesel cars emits illegal levels of pollution in cold temperatures.
The class action (PDF) was filed by Ulyana Lynevych, a woman from Illinois who bought a Mercedes ML 350 SUV in August 2014. She relied on statements by Mercedes-Benz that the pollutant-limiting BlueTEC engine was cleaner, more powerful, and more efficient than gas-burning engines.
Lawyers are seeking compensation on behalf of everyone in the United States who bought a “BlueTEC Clean Diesel” vehicle. At least two more class actions (PDF) have been filed by people in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Texas, Virginia, and Washington. Mercedes insists the feature is designed to protect the engine and exhaust system from condensation and corrosion, which the auto-maker says is not illegal.
Emissions Controls Shut Off Below 50ºF
The lawsuit claims BlueTEC diesel vehicles were marketed as “earth friendly,” but they actually pollute the environment at illegal levels when temperatures drop below 50ºF. On average, the cars emit 19-times the amount of nitrogen-oxide (NOx) allowed by federal law. In some cases, NOx emissions were 65-times higher than legal limits.
According to the complaint:
“Mercedes never disclosed to consumers that Mercedes diesels with BlueTEC engines may be ‘clean’ diesels when it is warm, but are ‘dirty’ diesels when it is not. Mercedes never disclosed that, when the temperature drops below 50 degrees, it prioritizes engine power and profits over people.”
What is BlueTEC Diesel?
BlueTEC diesel engines have emissions-limiting technology that is marketed as “the world’s cleanest and most advanced diesel” with “ultra- low emissions, high fuel economy and responsive performance” that emits “up to 30% lower greenhouse-gas emissions than gasoline.” Features of the system include:
- Diesel particulate filter (DPF): Catches particulate (soot) emissions.
- Selective catalytic reduction (SCR) system: Converts nitrogen-oxide emissions into harmless substances like nitrogen and oxygen, reducing NOx emissions by up to 90%.
Class Action Demands Injunction
Updating the software to fix the problem could dramatically impact performance and lower resale value on the car. Therefore, the lawsuit demands an injunction to force Mercedes-Benz to issue a recall, offer a free vehicle-replacement program, and refund costs and damages.
Will Mercedes Recall BlueTEC Diesels?
Mercedes calls allegations “unfounded” and does not plan to issue a recall. However, a federal law called the “Clean Air Act” gives the EPA authority to force car-maker to recall vehicles that do not meet federal emissions standards. The EPA can also order repairs. The easiest repair is updating the software to keep emissions-controls on, but this could negatively impact performance. Mercedes may have to pay compensation to owners and recall the vehicles to install new parts, such as a catalytic converter or a “flow transformer” as Volkswagen has done.
Mercedes-Benz Admits Shut-Off Device
Mercedes-Benz admits using the shut-off feature in C-class BlueTEC diesel vehicles to protect the engine and help the cars maintain their high-performance driving characteristics, according to a February 2016 article published in the German magazine Der Spiegel.
What Cars Are Affected?
- ML 320
- ML 350
- GL 320
- S 350
- E 320
- R 320
- E Class
- GL Class
- ML Class
- R Class
- S Class
- GLK Class
- GLE Class
Mercedes Diesel Scandal May Resemble Volkswagen
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has increased scrutiny of emissions-limiting software since September, when Volkswagen (VW) admitted installing an illegal “defeat device” on millions of cars to cheat emissions testing. The software could sense when the car was being tested and temporarily reduced emissions. On the road, the cars emitted up to 40X the acceptable amount of NOx.
Health Problems Linked to Nitrogen-Oxide (NOx)
Diesel emissions can cause a wide range of health problems, and NOx is specifically linked to airway inflammation, breathing problems in people with asthma, and respiratory diseases like emphysema and bronchitis. It can also aggravate existing heart disease, according to the EPA.