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Drive Clean changes causing big headaches

Published February 1, 2013

Last week, I wrote about the Ontario Drive Clean emissions program and explained why the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association believes the program has outlived its usefulness in identifying the most polluting vehicles.

On Jan. 1, 2013, the government introduced a new computerized testing procedure that was supposed to make it more efficient to read a car’s computer history to see if it meets emissions standards.

In far too many instances, however, the new testing procedure has been a disaster. Our association (and the Used Car Dealers Association of Ontario) has been flooded with complaints from dealers and consumers over the past several weeks.

More: Drive Clean has outlasted its usefulness

More: ‘Check engine’ light on? Expect to fail new Drive Clean test

The problem is this: vehicles are manufactured with monitors that tell the Drive Clean equipment what components are — and are not — working. These monitors must complete a “drive cycle” — in other words, driven in certain ideal conditions — so the monitors prepare themselves and get “ready” to be tested. But countless vehicles are receiving a “Not Ready” message and cannot be properly tested when that message is on.

To get a vehicle to “Ready” status requires several onerous and time-wasting procedures, such as allowing the vehicle to be parked for eight hours; turning the A/C and rear defroster off and driving the vehicle for 10 minutes; driving the vehicle for 20 minutes in stop-and-go traffic.

This process can takes hours (sometimes days), by which time the customer is frustrated and runs the risk of driving with expired plates. To make matters worse, customers are charged an additional $17.50 each time their vehicle is retested!

Since Jan. 1, some dealers have reported Not Ready status rates of up to 30 per cent. In one instance, a customer in Sudbury bought a used vehicle from a GTA-based dealership. After driving to Toronto to pick up her vehicle, she was told that it hadn’t passed the test.

The result of this “Not Ready” status was that an employee had to drive the vehicle home and back, which added mileage, wasted gas, and increased the vulnerability of the vehicle getting damaged. Plus, the customer had to spend a night in a Toronto hotel while she waited.

These failures are holding up delivery times on sold units and causing frustration with dealership staff and their customers.

What’s more, most of the emissions tests are done on newer models. The TADA has long advocated against the need to test newer model vehicles (seven years and newer) when sold at a dealership. This requirement goes against Drive Clean’s seven-year exemption for newer cars.

Dealers are trying to provide customers with reassurance that their vehicles are not deficient: the delays are the result of computer errors. Many vehicles are even failing the tests on the second and third attempts.

Clearly, the government has jumped the gun on the new testing procedures. It should have “beta” tested the new software until the bugs were worked out before giving the program a green light.

Government representatives should bring their own cars in for an emissions test and experience the delays firsthand. They would realize the scope and severity of the problem and see the need for immediate action.

As these computer glitches continue to mount, relations between dealers and customers are becoming strained.

If you are awaiting a Drive Clean test on a newer model vehicle, I would ask for your patience in dealing with any delays with the new testing procedures. Technicians are working as fast as they can to resolve the glitches so that vehicles can get delivered on time.

For more information about the new computerized Drive Clean testing procedures, visit www.ene.gov.on.ca.

If you feel strongly about the need for the government to take immediate action, please write to your MPP.

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