U.S. Wants Fiat Chrysler To Pay Major Fine And Recall Cars Connected To Alleged Use Of Defeat Device

Graphic: Jason Torchinsky/Jalopnik
Graphic: Jason Torchinsky/Jalopnik

A year after regulators first revealed that it believed Fiat Chrysler had equipped “defeat devices” for emissions tests in diesel Jeep and Ram vehicles, the U.S. government has reportedly offered to settle its case against the automaker, so long as it pays a major fine and recalls every affected vehicle.


In a settlement offer that was obtained by Bloomberg, the U.S. Justice Department said any deal “must include very substantial civil penalties” to prevent future violations and “adequately reflect the seriousness of the conduct that led to these violations.” The proposal was offered last week, the news outlet says.

Here’s more from Bloomberg:

Reaching a final settlement would resolve civil violations of clean-air regulations laid out in a complaint filed May 23. The Justice Department said Fiat Chrysler had used illegal software to pass laboratory emissions tests while permitting its diesel vehicles to exceed pollution standards while on the road.

The proposed settlement doesn’t include an end to a criminal investigation into the automaker by the Justice Department related to diesel emissions.


A recall fix would have to bring all its vehicles into full compliance with emissions standards, according to the Justice Department letter. The case involves diesel-powered Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs and Ram 1500 pickups from model years 2014-2016 that regulators allege were sold with emission software that violated U.S. clean-air rules.

The document didn’t provide a specific figure the government had in mind for a fine, Bloomberg reports, but the Environmental Protection Agency previously estimated that FCA’s financial liability could end up as much as $4.6 billion.

In total, the government accused FCA of equipping about 104,000 diesel V6 Jeep and Ram vehicles made between 2014 and 2016 with a defeat device. The justice department’s lawsuit filed last summer alleged that FCA violated the Clean Air Act by installing at least eight undisclosed auxiliary emission control devices (AECDs)—more commonly known as defeat devices—on the 3.0-liter diesel vehicles.


AECDs are legal, so long as they’re used for appropriate reasons, like protecting an engine during high-stress drive cycles. But they must be disclosed to the EPA. The EPA suspected that FCA was using defeat devices as far back at 2015, Jalopnik first reported.

Spokespeople for FCA and the DOJ didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment from Jalopnik.

Senior Reporter, Jalopnik/Special Projects Desk



AECD’s are not more commonly known as defeat devices. That makes it sound like all AECD’s are defeat devices. This is not true. A defeat device is an illegal AECD.

There are two things that need to happen for an AECD to be legal. 1) it needs to be disclosed. FCA failed at this point. 2) it needs to be used for an approved reason. Some of those reasons are below, FCA may or may not have failed at this.

1) Used for vehicle starting, typically additional fuel is used at colder temperatures so that they engine doesn’t stall.

2) Used to protect the vehicle or its components. Classic example is enriching to lower exhaust temperatures and protect exhaust components.

3) Used to protect the passengers. One example is different algorithms can be used to warm up the engine faster to provide cabin heat and defrost performance.

4) Used in emergency vehicles. Typically a desiel vehicle will shut down if it runs out of DEF. Emergency vehicles are allowed to keep running.

Where FCA went wrong is they didn’t disclose all of the AECD’s in use (this is typically a document that is hundreds of pages long, its easy to miss something). They also *may* have stretched the definition of what necessary for engine protection means.

I always use a simple example when people say that FCA cheated like VAG. If you take a cheating Volkswagen and drive it exactly like an emissions cycle on the road it will fail emissions. If you take a RAM 1500 and drive it exactly like an emissions cycle on the road, it will behave exactly like during the test and pass. Where the FCA vehicle may emit more is during “off cycle” driving. It is very very difficult to determine what is and what is not acceptable during these “off cycle” driving tests.