Flanders shortens tolerance for replacing defect diesel particle filter

From December 1st, 2023, the Flemish government won’t allow a tolerance period of one year anymore for replacing defective diesel particle filters but will shorten that period to three months. The two other Belgian Regions – Brussels and Wallonia – that agreed to the same one-year tolerance will return to a limited 15-day tolerance period after January 1st, 2024.

Traxio, the Belgian Federation of the Garage and Car Services sector, warns diesel car owners that a defective particle filter often results from a malfunctioning combustion process and offers certified ‘Eco Expert’ analysis at its member garages to prevent expensive replacements. It pleads for regular ‘eco’ inspections to be added to the car’s history in the CarPass database.

One million particles limit

A diesel particle test to map out the emission of particulate matter in the exhaust gases of Euro 5 or more recent Euro 6 diesel cars has been obligatory in Belgian technical control centers since July 2022. Diesel cars emitting more than one million particles per cubic cm get a red card forbidding the use of the vehicle on public roads, only allowing driving to a repair shop.

When made obligatory in July 2022, it turned out that the shortage of new particle filters in the supply chain made it impossible to have a defective diesel filter replaced within the 15-day time foreseen by the three Regions. So they agreed to make that three months initially, extending it to one year when it became clear that even three months weren’t enough in many cases.

Different regions, different rules

Those delivery problems are now a thing of the past, so the three Belgian regional governments responsible for the obligatory yearly technical control of vehicles decided to lift the tolerance period.

In Flanders, when emissions above one million particles are measured, diesel car owners will have three months to repair the car and two more opportunities to submit for re-examination, extending the tolerance period by up to six months. So actually, you’ll have nine months of tolerance before the car is forbidden in traffic.

In the two other regions, diesel cars get a ‘green card’ when particle emissions remain under 250.000 per cubic cm, a ‘yellow card’ allowing two years for repairs between 250.000 and 1.000.000 particles, and a ‘red card’ above that. In that case, only 15 days will be allowed to have the vehicle repaired from January 1st, 2024.

To compare: in the Netherlands, diesel cars fail the official annual vehicle inspection likewise from one million particles; in Germany, once over 250.000 particles, a vehicle gets ‘red.’

Up to 90% of inspected cars pass

According to figures of GOCA, the federation of (private) vehicle inspection companies, from July 2022 to September 2023, some 82.000 cars on a total of 881.876 inspected proved to have a defective particle filter, meaning 90,7% passed it. But these 9,3% generate as many harmful particles as 10 million vehicles with a good working filter would do, as this filter can eliminate up to 97% of them.

To compare: in Brussels, a similar percentage (89,4%) passed the particle test; in Wallonia, that percentage was higher (94,5%). But Wallonia only tests diesel cars of Euro 5b norm and younger, while Brussels and Flanders also inspect Euro 5a cars, which tend to be the most prone to failing.

238.000 premature deaths in EU

Fine particles are extremely unhealthy, causing 238.000 premature deaths in Europe and 3.900 in Belgium. So, according to Flemish Mobility Minister Lydia Peeters, everybody consents that this ‘extreme problem of air pollution’ must be tackled as soon as possible. Hence, the tolerance period was shortened from Friday, December 1st.

Replacing a defective particle filter on a modern diesel car can cost up to several thousands of euros, so Traxio wants to call upon car owners to have their vehicle inspected regularly to see if it still complies with the emission standards as it did when it first left the showroom.

Measuring eight harmful gases

It has certified a number of garages as ‘Eco Expert’, having the latest particle measurement instruments and gas analyzers. Car emissions contain eight gases, three harmless for health (N2, O2, and CO2), but five less harmless. These are carbon monoxide (CO), hydrocarbons (HC), sulfur (SO2), nitrogen (NOx) and particles (PN).

A technician can trace malfunctioning in the car’s combustion and gas treatment system by measuring all these gases with an analyzer and checking emission levels that meet the manufacturer’s standards even after a few years of usage.

Solving these problems in an early stage can prevent the expensive replacement of a particle filter that is only the last stage in the process without tackling the initial cause. Traxio says early repairs can be done much cheaper in most cases.

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