By Tony Barthel
Owners of diesel pickup trucks sometimes modify those trucks with a system that either offers better performance, improved fuel economy or some other benefit. One of the companies that make the tools to effect these modifications is EZ Lynk, based in the Cayman Islands. EZ Lynk is being sued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA claims EZ Lynk is violating “the Clean Air Act by refusing to provide EPA with information about the manufacture, sale, and use of EZ Lynk’s defeat device.”
In a press release on March 8, 2021, EZ Lynk responded to the government’s filing of the Clean Air Act complaint against it. The Company states: “The accusations by the federal government against EZ Lynk are without merit and do not reflect the facts. EZ Lynk welcomes the opportunity to correct the record and prove its case in a court of law….” (Read the rest of their press release here.)
It’s pretty easy to modify a truck nowadays. Your modern vehicle likely has an OBD-II port somewhere at the bottom of the instrument panel. In fact, all vehicles built since 1996 and sold in California and, thus, the rest of the U.S., do.
Technicians use the OBD-II port to easily read vehicle engine information as part of emissions testing. It also enabled mechanics similar access to what was going on under the hood. However, this also opened the door to everybody. It soon became possible to modify a vehicle’s operating software through this gateway by any ol’ person.
With EZ Lynk, anyone can use the OBD-II port to make changes to engine
With the EZ Lynk and other similar systems, you simply plug a device into your vehicle’s OBD-II port. Then you use your smartphone connected via Bluetooth to make changes to the engine management system. It’s actually really easy to do. And that’s why the EPA is so upset about the practice.
EZ Lynk could face a similar fate as H&S Performance, a popular diesel tuning company that was forced out of business in 2013 (but apparently now operating as H&S Motorsports, an “offspun” company). An injunction against sales and installation of the EZ Lynk device has already been requested. The U.S. government is seeking daily fines and civil penalties for the defendant it alleges is violating the Clean Air Act.
So, what is “rolling coal?”
EZ Lynk has one of the most popular and easy-to-use devices on the market. You may have seen a Cummins-powered Ram deliberately “rolling coal.” It was likely programmed to do so using EZ Lynk hardware. What is rolling coal? Essentially it is operating the diesel engine so inefficiently that it produces a thick cloud of black smoke. The practice is surprisingly popular.
Why is it harmful?
“Emissions controls on cars and trucks protect the public from harmful effects of air pollution. EZ Lynk has put the public’s health at risk by manufacturing and selling devices intended to disable those emissions controls. Through our lawsuit, we will prevent Defendants from continuing to sell this product and impose civil penalties to hold them to account,” says U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss.
According to the EPA, diesel trucks that have removed or modified their emission controls pollute exponentially more than their unmodified siblings. It is estimated that more than 550,000 medium-size trucks have had their emissions systems modified in some way to increase performance. The EPA’s study was limited to class 2b and class 3 diesel pickups with gross vehicle weights between 8,501 and 14,000 pounds. The studied vehicles had been tampered with between 2009 and 2020.
The report shows that 570,000 tons of excess NOx and 5,000 tons of excess diesel particulates are blown into the atmosphere by these trucks.
“Due to their severe excess NOx emissions, these trucks have an air quality impact equivalent to adding more than 9 million additional (compliant, non-tampered) diesel pickup trucks to our roads,” the report says.
Per capita, North Dakota has the highest number of offending vehicles, according to the EPA. It reports that 18.6 percent of trucks in the state have had their emissions systems tampered with. On the other hand, California has seen only 1.8 percent of its truck population modified. North Dakota is obviously a sparsely populated state. Texas is the leader if you look at physical numbers, with more than 65,000 modified trucks, according to the EPA.
Are the days of rolling coal over?
I have modified my own truck (a Ram 1500) using the OBD-II port. I added features that were optional, such as Daytime Running Lights, trailer management and other things. You could pay extra to have the mirrors tilt down when you shift the truck into reverse. Or you could just hack the software and employ this feature for free, as I did. I’ve hacked a few other aspects of the truck as well – it is very easy to do, frankly. But I haven’t messed with the truck’s performance or emissions.
With international emissions scandals such as Volkswagen’s “Dieselgate” forcing more attention on the subject, could the days of rolling coal be over? It seems so.