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Dealer’s Voice
It’s time to scrap Drive Clean once and for all

Published September 12, 2013

The Ontario Drive Clean program has been a thorn in the side of Ontario new-car dealers and consumers since it was introduced in 1999. New computerized testing procedures introduced in January have only added to that irritation.

Since its inception, Drive Clean has been highly controversial, and a means for the province to generate $30 million in revenue annually from car owners.

New-car dealers spent thousands of dollars to purchase testing equipment, only to realize that the costs and resources outweighed any benefits for car owners and for their businesses. Many dealers wish they could sell their equipment because it’s too costly and inefficient to operate.

Drive Clean may have been designed to identify the most polluting vehicles, but since 1999, 95 per cent of all cars and light trucks tested have passed on the first try.

At least, they did prior to the new computerized testing procedures. The new testing procedures checks onboard computers (rather than tailpipe emissions) on vehicles 1998 and newer. This new testing method has been extremely problematic, resulting in failure rates upwards of 50 per cent in some cases.

What’s more, most of the computerized tests are performed on newer-model vehicles, which under the former tailpipe measuring procedure would have passed with flying colours.

Many of the failures are the result of a “not ready” message caused by a drained battery, or from the loss of emissions data on a vehicle’s computer.

According to Drive Clean, to achieve a “ready” status requires a series of time-wasting maneuvers, such as parking the vehicle for eight hours without a start, idling the engine in Drive for 2-1/2 minutes with the air conditioning and rear defroster on, and driving it for 10 minutes at highway speeds and 20 minutes in stop-and-go-traffic.

The process of getting to “ready” can even take days, leaving dealerships and customers frustrated beyond measure. Plus, customers are charged an additional $17.50 each time their vehicle is re-tested.

According to the province, the original aim of Drive Clean was to reduce the amount of exhaust emissions into the atmosphere by identifying the most serious offenders.

But, in his 2012 annual report, Auditor General Jim McCarter said that 75 per cent of lower vehicle emissions since 1999 have resulted from better manufacturing standards for emission-control equipment and federal requirements for cleaner fuel.

The report also concluded that the worst-polluting vehicles “are exempt from emissions testing or will be tested using a less stringent method. The program’s light-duty component does not require vehicles built before 1988 to be tested, even though they would likely have about a 30-per-cent failure rate.”

Where’s the logic in that?

Whatever your personal views of Drive Clean, new-car dealers, auto technicians and consumers generally agree that it’s a technically flawed program and an unnecessary tax on motorists. The Trillium Automobile Dealers Association has long been in favour of scrapping the program altogether.

On a positive note, British Columbia says it will phase out its emission program at the end of 2014, and there is hope that the Ontario government may one day do the same.

What can car owners do to lend their voice to the growing opposition to Drive Clean? You can sign an online petition created by Michael Harris, MPP for Kitchener-Conestoga (scrapdriveclean.ca), which has already generated more than 10,000 signatures. Also, you can write to your local MPP.

In the meantime, if your vehicle is scheduled for an emissions test in the near future, please be patient. Service personnel and technicians are just as frustrated as motorists with the new testing procedures and they are doing their best to get the tests performed as quickly and efficiently as possible.

This column represents the views of TADA. Email president@tada.ca or visit tada.ca. Benny Leung, president of the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association, is a new-car dealer in the GTA

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