The EPA announced Wednesday that Fiat Chrysler Automobiles would initiate an emissions-related recall on nearly 900,000 compact and mid-size cars and SUVs from the 2011 to 2016 model years. If you own an affected vehicle, we’ve answered some questions you may have below.
Related: Jeep, Ram Diesel Emissions Scandal: What Owners Need to Know
Which Cars Are Under Recall?
The six cars in the EPA’s announcement come from three brands, all of which fall under FCA’s U.S. umbrella:
If you own a vehicle on the list, it’s highly possible your car still won’t fall under this particular recall. While it’s unclear which exact vehicles are involved, the EPA’s announcement includes only certain examples of the given cars — front-wheel-drive variants of the Journey, Compass and Patriot, for example, not all-wheel-drive versions. The EPA says 862,520 vehicles in the U.S. are part of this recall, but a Cars.com analysis of Automotive News sales data indicates FCA likely sold some 2 million of the models above when they were new. Even if some are out of service or no longer in the country, it’s safe to say many more such vehicles exist in circulation than the recall involves. That means a sizable percentage of owners might be off the hook.
Asked if there’s a way owners can tell if their particular car is involved, an FCA spokesman said only that customers should contact their dealers.
Why Are These Cars Under Recall?
Blame deteriorating catalytic converters. FCA found that the converters, which turn engine pollutants into less-harmful tailpipe gases, suffered declining performance over time on the vehicles in question. EPA spokesman Kenneth Labbe wrote in an email to Cars.com that such deterioration enabled sulfur to inhibit their operation, allowing the cars to emit excessive nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide. (Sulfur is a naturally occurring component in gasoline that can impair emissions systems, thus contributing to air pollution.)
How Did the EPA Find Out About the Problem?
For some 20 years, automakers have been required to perform so-called “in-use testing,” which involves bringing older vehicles in to gauge the performance of their emissions systems. During such testing, FCA “saw a deterioration on some vehicles of the performance of the engine’s catalyst,” said Mark Chernoby, FCA’s chief technical compliance officer, in a conference call Wednesday with reporters. “The term we use is ‘conversion efficiency’ — its ability to convert certain gases.”
Conversion efficiency, it seems, was on the decline. Why? Chernoby cited engine and transmission calibrations, among other possible factors.
What Does the Recall Entail?
In affected cars, FCA will replace the catalytic converter and update software for the powertrain control module — that is, your car’s primary drivetrain computer. FCA will recycle the old catalytic converter to remove the precious metals common in such devices, a usual practice.
“Obviously the catalytic converter, that’s the biggest part of this,” Chernoby said. The replacement converter has a “different mixture of precious metals … to be less susceptible to sulfur in the fuel,” he added.
Will the Changes Affect Performance or Fuel Economy?
FCA claims not. There’s “no effect on drivability, performance or fuel economy,” Chernoby said.
When Can I Get My Car Fixed?
It depends on the model year. You can’t schedule an appointment at your dealership until receiving a notification from FCA. Due to the number of replacement catalytic converters needed, the automaker is recalling cars in waves.
- Model-year 2011 cars: First quarter of 2019
- Model-year 2012 cars: Second quarter of 2019
- Model-year 2013-14 cars: Third quarter of 2019
- Model-year 2015-16 cars: Fourth quarter of 2019
Replacement parts “may not be available” before the timeframe for a particular model year, EPA’s Labbe wrote. FCA spokesman Eric Mayne told Cars.com the first mailings went out in February.
Can I Drive My Car in the Meantime?
Yes. Owners “can continue to drive their vehicles” until they receive a notification from FCA, the EPA said Wednesday. Asked if the cars in question have a higher rate of check-engine lights or other vehicle failures, Labbe said no.
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What if My Car Needs an Emissions Test Before I Get the Recall Work Done?
It’s a good idea to get the recall work done first. Those “who live in locations subject to inspection and maintenance may be required to have the recall performed prior to having the inspection performed,” the EPA said Wednesday.
But if your vehicle is among a later wave of notices — say, a 2013-16 model whose recall isn’t scheduled until the third or fourth quarter this year — you might have an out. To pass emissions tests in areas that require them, consumers won’t be required to get the recall done “until after the recall has been activated for their specific model year,” Labbe wrote.
Is This Related to FCA’s Diesel Emissions Scandal?
No, according to Labbe. In fact, emissions recalls are relatively common. In a separate statement posted later Wednesday, the EPA said it procures some 150 vehicles a year — both 1- and 4-year-old vehicles, each wrangled for about a week of testing — in tandem with the auto industry, which does the same for about 2,000 vehicles of equivalent vintage. About 4 percent of these cars show higher-than-expected emissions, which can lead to such emissions recalls. In 2017, manufacturers conducted 85 emissions recalls on more than 5.3 million cars.
Did FCA Cheat? Will It Have to Pay Any Fines?
No, Labbe wrote. This is a voluntary recall. FCA did not commit any illegal actions, such as a defeat device, uncovered by the investigation. Regulators aren’t charging any civil fines in conjunction with the recall. Still, replacing catalytic converters — which can average $1,303 to $1,585 a pop, according to RepairPal — won’t be cheap for FCA. Asked how much the automaker will spend on the entire recall, Chernoby declined to say.
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