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Act fast on Drive Clean loophole — you won't have it next year

  • Choosing a car at dealership. Thoughtful grey hair man in formalwear leaning at the car and looking away

Drive Clean is changing in 2013. Some vehicles that would pass today will fail the new test, but there is a one-time loophole — provided you act fast.

If your vehicle requires a test next year (all even model-years from 1988-2006), get it done before the end of 2012, after your birthday has passed. An e-test “pass” is good for one year but must be valid on the plate renewal date, normally your birthday.

Presently, a vehicle with the “check engine” light on may pass, but next year that’s an automatic fail.

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Electrical engineer and Drive Clean expert Eli Melnick of Start Auto Electric ( in Toronto explains:

Starting January 2013, light-duty vehicles of model-year 1998 and newer will undergo an OBD (On-Board Diagnostics) test in place of the current tailpipe test. A government-approved test unit will be plugged in to communicate with your vehicle’s on-board computer.

Under the OBD protocol adopted by Environment Canada, the on-board computer continuously performs a series of self-tests (while driving) of the various emission control systems. If a problem is detected, the OBD computer turns on the “Check Engine” or “Service Engine Soon” warning light.

Your vehicle will fail Drive Clean if the Check Engine light is on.

Further, the new test checks the status of the self-tests, also known as monitors. If the monitor self-tests haven’t been successfully completed, a Drive Clean fail will ensue. Erasing the on-board computer memory with a scan tool or by disconnecting the battery will clear all the monitors and again yield an automatic Drive Clean failure.

Once cleared, it could take two to four days of combined city and highway driving to allow the monitors to complete self-tests on most well-running vehicles. So, don’t wait until the last moment to get your car e-tested. Should your vehicle fail, it may take several days to complete the necessary repairs and get the monitors ready for a retest.

If your Check Engine light is on, it’s still advisable to complete the Drive Clean test and use the report to identify the problem area. The $35 fee is not unreasonable given the diagnostic information it yields.

Vehicles with monitors that are “not ready” will fail the new test. However, 1998-2000 model-year vehicles are permitted two monitors to be “not ready,” and 2001 and newer models are allowed one monitor “not ready,” and still pass. Most cars have four to five monitors.

Cars, vans and light trucks of model-years 1988 to 1997 aren’t OBD compatible and will receive a tailpipe test, similar to the current test.

Start Auto Electric is a beta-site for evaluating the new OBD test system and we’ve been using it since last March. (If you fail the OBD test in 2012, you’re given the old test — and a second chance to pass — at no extra cost. Next year, the old test is history.)

Most OBD tests can be completed in less than ten minutes.

  • Act fast on Drive Clean loophole — you won't have it next year

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