Mercedes-Benz has been hit with a class action lawsuit claiming that BlueTEC diesel vehicles turn off a pollution-control system in cold temperature and emit up to 65X the legal limit of nitrogen-oxide.
Class Action Lawsuits
In February 2016, the first federal lawsuit (PDF) was filed against Mercedes-Benz in New Jersey. The lead plaintiff, Ulyana Lynevch, is a woman from Illinois who bought a Mercedes ML 350 in August 2014 partly because it was marketed as environmentally-friendly.
Since then, two more class actions (PDF) were filed by plaintiffs in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Texas, Virginia, and Washington. In response, the EPA asked Mercedes for an explanation. The auto-maker insists the feature is not illegal. It is designed to protect the engine and exhaust system by preventing condensation and corrosion.
BlueTEC Diesel Engines Marketed as “Green”
Mercedes-Benz claimed the BlueTEC diesel engines have “ultra-low emissions” with “up to 30% lower greenhouse-gas emissions than gasoline.” The vehicles have several features to control emissions, including a Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) to trap and remove particles (soot) and a Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) system to convert toxic nitrogen-oxide gas into harmless nitrogen and oxygen.
What is the Problem?
According to the lawsuit, emission-limiting features turn off when the temperature drops below 50ºF. Mercedes-Benz says it helps protect the engine and maintain performance, according to an article in the German magazine Der Spiegel.
The problem is that when emissions controls are turned off, the vehicles emit 19-times the legal limit of nitrogen-oxide (NOx) on average, and up to 65-times the limit in certain cases. 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.”
Fixing the Problem May Impact Resale
Due to the trade-off between performance and emissions, fixing the problem may not be easy. Simply updating the software could potentially impact driving characteristics and reduce resale value on the cars.
Class Action Demands Recall
The class action demands a court-ordered injunction against Mercedes-Benz to force the auto-maker to issue a recall, provide customers with a free replacement vehicle, and payment for lost resale value and other costs.
Section 207 of the “Clean Air Act” gives the EPA authority to force car-makers to issue recalls when a substantial number of cars violate emissions laws. If Mercedes recalls the vehicles, they will need to provide a solution. Updating the software could negatively impact performance and fuel-economy. When Volkswagen was faced with a similar dilemma, they paid owners compensation for lost resale value and installed new parts to reduce emissions.
Mercedes-Benz BlueTEC Diesel Vehicles
- 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
NOx Emissions and Health Problems
Nitrogen oxide (NOx) reacts with ammonia, moisture, and other substances in the air to create tiny particles that can penetrate deeply into sensitive parts of the lungs. Breathing NOx can cause or worsen breathing problems, including asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis. It can also aggravate existing heart disease, increasing the risk of hospitalization and death.
Mercedes Emissions Scandal May Resemble Volkswagen
Diesel vehicle emissions have been under scrutiny since September 2015, when Volkswagen (VW) admitted using illegal software to cheat emissions tests on about 500,000 2-liter four-cylinder diesel engines. The software could sense when the car was being tested for emissions and reduce pollution to meet legal limits. On the road, the cars emitted up to 40-times the acceptable amount of NOx.