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Car maintenance tips

Drive Clean:
No sale if ‘check engine’ light is on

Published July 22, 2013
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Q: Lots of people drive with the “check engine” light on – which the new Drive Clean test no longer allows.  In most cases, the car has an emission issue but whose problem is it?  The owner?  The driver behind him?  Society?

I know this is getting philosophical and many people don’t like Drive Clean, but there’s a flipside to every coin.  Everyone is cheering for a green environment until the time comes to pay for it.

A: Drive Clean claims success in reducing smog since the program began in 1999.  Yet, 2005 was Toronto’s worst year on record with 48 “smog alert” days.

Modern vehicles are immensely cleaner than automobiles in use when the e-test program originated.  Nowadays, you’d be hard pressed to find a carburetor car on the roads.

Widespread adoption of fuel injection cleaned up emissions greatly. Vehicle technology and catalytic converters have also improved a great deal over time.  There’s no environmental benefit when tested vehicles pass – and most do.

Automobiles are just one source of pollution.  Other large scale industrial sources include incinerators, foundries, power plants and so forth.  But before chastising others, one should look in one’s own backyard, literally.

Seemingly benign activities such as leaf burning, a campfire, or using a home fireplace produce inordinate amounts of harmful (unscrubbed) emissions and particulate matter.  Additionally, the U.S. EPA cites that using a gas lawnmower for an hour produces as much smog as driving a new car at 540 km/h.  (Will  “Mow Clean” testing be next?)

Many readers report spending thousands of dollars on futile “check engine” light repair attempts.  In complex modern vehicles, such repairs are seldom straightforward – and may have no effect on emissions, as most passed the previous tailpipe e-test.  Under new e-test regulations, a “check engine” light on is now an automatic fail.

So, if your “check engine” light is on but the vehicle is otherwise running fine, you’ll now have to spend $450 on repair attempts every two years to get a conditional e-test pass to renew your plates.  And forget about selling it.  You need a clear pass for vehicle transfers.  No repair cost limit applies, so any vehicle with a “check engine” light on, no matter how new, is now essentially worthless to buyers – except perhaps a pittance as scrap metal or for parts.

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