Anatomy of a diesel breakdown

Producers, like nearly all relying on heavy trucks, weren't happy with Tier 4i emissions reduction systems in the first incarnations. | File photo

Industry and government officials agree that a monster was born when diesel engines were built to meet the Tier 4i criteria in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

But how did North America get into this mess?

The heavy truck industry says it started when engine manufacturers and the U.S. government led each other down a dark path, with neither of them knowing where they were going.

Shortly after 2000, manufacturers began circumventing emission standards by installing hidden “defeat software” in their emissions control systems.

The cheat software meant the engines could pass the snap throttle test with flying colours, but once the truck hit 50 km/h, the electronic control module opened up and the engine was as dirty as ever.

“Government caught the engine manufacturers red handed. The fines were going to run into the billions of dollars,” said Cam Mandel, owner of Taber Diesel in Taber, Alta.

“Industry leaders compared the known cost of the fines to the potential cost of covering warranty if they rushed to meet the upcoming Tier 4i emission criteria. They decided it would be better to fast track Tier 4i development and worry about the financial consequences later.”

Industry offered government a compromise. If government would reduce the fines, industry would bring the new Tier 4i engines to market 18 months earlier than required.

Government bureaucrats agreed to the compromise, believing that an extra 18 months of allegedly clean diesel engines would be a good thing for the environment. A deal was hatched and fast tracking began, complete with diesel particulate filters and a host of other devices.

“It’s called ‘pull through’, ” Mandel said.

“Industry pulls technology through the R and D as quickly as possible, just to get it out there. The deal was bad for everyone. It was a mess from the start because Tier 4i was not ready for the road. It hit the road anyway.”

It’s now generally conceded that everybody got the shaft on this deal, including fleet owners, dealers, engine manufacturers, independent owner/operators and the even the environment.

“The whole thing should never have happened,” Mandel said.

About the author


Stories from our other publications