Volkswagen has had a previous run-in with U.S. authorities for selling vehicles that used so-called "defeat devices" to disable pollution-control systems in four models of its vehicles produced in 1973.
News reports archived by the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety show the German automaker, then known as Volkswagenwerk AG, and its American subsidiary, Volkswagen of America, paid a $120,000 fine in March 1974 to settle a complaint filed by the Environmental Protection Agency over the use of so-called "defeat devices" that disabled certain pollution-control systems. The complaint said the use of the devices violated the U.S. Clean Air Act.
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According to a March 13, 1974, account published in the Wall Street Journal, the complaint stated that VW didn't report to U.S. regulators that it had included temperature-sensing devices on certain models of "bus-like panel trucks, station wagons, combination vehicles and campmobiles" that disabled systems that controlled emissions and the flow of fuel and oxygen to the carburetor at low temperatures.
The case is similar to an EPA complaint against VW filed last week, in which Volkswagen is accused of surreptitiously equipping diesel vehicles with software designed to detect when they were undergoing emissions testing. During that time, the device turned on full emissions control systems. After the test was over, the controls were turned off, allowing the cars to pollute up to 40 times the allowable levels, according to the complaint, which was accompanied by an order to recall nearly 500,000 diesel vehicles sold in the U.S.