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Drive Clean has outlived its usefulness

Published January 25, 2013

In 1999, the Ontario government introduced the Ontario Drive Clean program with the primary goal of testing automobile emissions and identifying the most polluting vehicles.

From its earliest days, Drive Clean has been marred by controversy. Participating dealers who purchased the testing equipment soon realized that the costs and resources outweighed any measurable benefits for car owners and for their businesses. In fact, within a few years, many dealers wished they could sell their testing equipment, citing it as too costly and inefficient to operate.

Consumers dislike Drive Clean as well. They resent the time and expense they have to incur every two years to have their vehicles tested, a pointless exercise given that most late-model cars and light trucks pass the emissions test with flying colours.

More: Avoid an unnecessary emissions test. Here’s how

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

A move to re-examine Drive Clean has been reignited after concerns were raised in Auditor General Jim McCarter’s 2012 annual report.

McCarter noted that vehicle emissions have declined significantly since Drive Clean’s inception in 1999, to the point that they are no longer among the major domestic contributors to smog in Ontario.

He also said ministry estimates show that more than 75 per cent of the reduction in vehicle emissions is due to better manufacturing standards for emission-control equipment and federal requirements for cleaner fuel.

The auditor general’s report reveals that the worst-polluting vehicles are either 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.”

In addition, because the owners of failing vehicles only have to spend $450 on repairs to obtain a conditional pass, about 18,000 vehicles were not fully repaired in 2011. For 25 per cent of the vehicles with partial repairs, the emissions readings for all pollutants were actually worse after the repair.

As if those inefficiencies weren’t enough, new-car dealers are required to perform an emissions test on vehicles once they are relicensed for a second time, regardless if those vehicles are still under warranty. This added cost is most certainly passed on to the consumer in the pricing of the vehicle.

Despite the fact that Drive Clean has almost no impact on the reduction of emissions in Ontario, the program lives on. Perhaps the biggest success of Drive Clean has been its ability to generate revenue for the government, to the tune of $30 million annually, according to the auditor general’s report.

It is totally unnecessary for late-model vehicles to have their emissions tested, but the government is only looking at increasing its revenue at the expense of car owners.

The Trillium Automobile Dealers Association has long been critical of Drive Clean. In light of the auditor general’s report, our association is in favour of scrapping the program altogether (British Columbia will discontinue its Drive Clean program for light vehicles in 2014, and five U.S. states have already scrapped it).

The latest news about Drive Clean (other than the auditor general’s observations) is that, as of Jan. 1, a new test will read your car’s computer history to see if your vehicle meets emission standards. The new Drive Clean test will obtain emissions control systems results directly from the vehicles’ on-board diagnostics (OBD) system.

For more information about these changes, go to driveclean.com.

All evidence suggests the Drive Clean program has outlived its usefulness. If you feel strongly about the need to eliminate this program in Ontario, I urge you to write to your MPP.

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