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Avoid an unnecessary emissions test. Here’s how

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An often-misunderstood Drive Clean exception could spare many drivers an unnecessary emissions test. Cutting through the contradictory information offered by some official sources, here’s the full story:

Going by model year, new vehicles don’t require e-testing until they’re seven years old. Vehicles older than the current model year do require testing for resale, but transfers between family members are exempt.

How you time your used car purchase and e-test will determine when your next mandatory test is.

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

More: Act fast on Drive Clean loophole

For example, I bought a 2007 vehicle in mid-December 2012 and needed an e-test for the ownership transfer. Had I gotten the test immediately in 2012, my next test would be in two years in 2014, as odd model-year vehicles require testing in even calendar years.

Instead, I waited one week until Jan. 2013 for the e-test, thereby deferring my next mandatory test to the sticker renewal date in Nov. 2016.

How is this possible?

While an e-test pass is only valid for 12 months, a fairly recent exemption was added to Drive Clean regulations in September of 2011. It stipulates that you’re exempt from the e-test for plate renewal if you’ve had one done in the previous calendar year for ownership transfer, or initial registration in Ontario, provided there is no additional ownership change, explains Catharine McGregor, spokesperson for Drive Clean.

So, an e-test for ownership transfer or initial registration done anytime from Jan. 2, 2013 onward (Jan. 1 is a holiday), would cover plate renewal throughout the following year, right up to Dec. 31, 2014.

Therefore, my Jan. 2013 pass exempts me from needing an e-test for the upcoming Nov. 2014 plate renewal and my next actual e-test won’t be until Nov. 2016 — almost four years after vehicle purchase in Dec. 2012.

Beyond the $40 savings on an unneeded e-test, taking full advantage of this consumer benefit permitted under Drive Clean rules safeguards you from what might happen in a year or so. For example, your vehicle’s “check engine” light may come on by then. And, if it’s not an obvious fix, you could be forced to spend $450 on mandatory repairs — which may yield no emissions benefit — just to get a conditional pass.

Many readers report having spent thousands on futile efforts to source a “check engine” problem. Remember also that many autos with a lit “check engine” light routinely passed the previous tailpipe sensor e-test.

Disconcertingly, my local licence office was apparently unaware of the new e-test exemption and wrongly instructed me — and who knows how many others — that another test is needed next year. Government officials were notified of this error and pledged to follow up with Service Ontario offices province-wide to ensure that consumers aren’t being told to undertake unnecessary e-tests.

Additionally, Drive Clean vowed to clarify the exemption on their website (, and review with hotline staff (1-888-758-2999), who had great difficulty answering my inquiry.

  • Avoid an unnecessary emissions test. Here’s how

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