Road Trip: The Undoing of Volkswagen


Volkswagen’s scandal was discovered in the most American of ways: the good old fashioned college road trip.

In the spring of 2014, researchers from West Virginia, two professors and two students, were evaluating the tailpipe emissions of diesel cars made for the American market by European manufacturers, something never before studied in the academic realm. What better way to test the emissions than a road trip. The researchers put about 1,500 miles on each of the first two cars in the study, a Volkswagen Jetta and BMW X5, along California roadways. For their final car, a Volkswagen Passat, they wanted even more mileage, so they took the car on a road trip from Los Angeles to Seattle and back again, collecting data from more than 2,000 miles of testing.

The road trip was Volkswagen’s undoing. In theory, the Passat should have spewed the lowest levels of pollutants among the three cars because it was equipped with the more modern selective catalytic reduction technology. In actuality, the car, which had been certified at a California Air Resources Board facility prior to the start of the road trip, had elevated levels of NOx that were 20 times the baseline levels established beforehand.

The researchers double checked their test equipment for accuracy after initial readings that showed that the Jetta emitted 20 times the level of its baseline testing at the CARB facility. The research team reported their findings to CARB officials who then further investigated. CARB and EPA did their due diligence, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Parents, do not despair when your college kids say that they are taking a road trip. Clearly, it is for educational purposes only.

Thank you,

Michael K. Gillis, Esq.


1150 Walnut Street

Newton, MA 02461

Phone: 617-244-4300

Fax: 617-964-0862


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