German court rules that diesel software updates are mandatory

21 August 2018

21 August 2018

A German court has ruled that owners of diesel vehicles with manipulated engine control must have the software updates installed that have been sanctioned by the Kraftfahrt Bundesamt (KBA, the Federal Motor Vehicle Authority).

The latest decision by the Higher Administrative Court for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) gives road traffic authorities in the Cologne and Dusseldorf areas the legal right to take offending cars off the road. One local authority has already removed one car from circulation and threatened the driver of another with a fine as the owners have done nothing to rectify the defeat devices fitted to their cars. One case revolved around the evidence presented in a civil suit against the seller of the vehicle. The other car owner simply argued that his car alone would contribute only slightly to nitrogen dioxide emissions and so no intervention was required. Not surprisingly, both arguments were rejected by the court.

The KBA has previously warned that owners of some vehicles who fail to have manipulated diesel-emissions software fixed risk having their vehicles taken off the road, while Swiss authorities have halted registrations of some new Mercedes-Benz Vito vans and Porsche Macan and Cayenne SUVs that had diesel engines that disguised emissions levels. In Hamburg and Munich, authorities have already deregistered several vehicles fitted with Euro 5 engines after owners ignored recall requests. Further vehicles are at risk of being taken off the road in the German state of Bavaria, but drivers have been granted a grace period to make the repair.

Car owners have been reticent about the software update due to reports that the fix causes further problems. Problems reported include reduced fuel economy; diesel particulate filter (DPF) failure, excessive engine noise and excessive exhaust fumes.

On the back of these latest court decisions, the administrative courts in Cologne and Dusseldorf now have to deal with the legal question in a detailed lawsuit. Similar proceedings are pending in MÜnster, according to the Higher Administrative Court in the city, but have not yet been decided. Nevertheless, the expectation is that diesel software updates will now be considered mandatory across Germany.

Meanwhile, German environmental aid organisation DUH is lobbying the court in Dusseldorf for the introduction of a diesel driving ban in the city. The aim of the DUH is to reduce the nitrogen dioxide levels in Dusseldorf faster and therefore meet emissions targets sooner. Nitrogen dioxide limits were exceeded in the city and in 26 municipalities across the state of NRW in 2017 but there are currently no plans for a diesel driving ban. This is despite the fact that the local authority itself has claimed that emissions targets on the heavily congested Corneliusstraße in Dusseldorf would not be achieved until 2024. The argument is that this could be achieved two years earlier with a diesel driving ban.