In 1999, the Ontario government introduced its controversial Drive Clean emission-testing program.
The program’s purpose is to identify vehicles with exhaust emissions that exceed the provincial standards. Passenger vehicles that are more than five years old must be inspected every two years, at $40 per test.
When Drive Clean was first introduced, hundreds of dealers and repair shops bought into the program, investing upwards of $70,000 each for testing equipment and computer software.
But within a few years, the program came under enormous scrutiny and criticism. In 2004, the provincial auditor condemned the program as inefficient, while a report published by the Hamilton Spectator concluded “99 per cent of three-year-old vehicles passed the test on their first try.”
To be fair, Drive Clean has achieved modest success from an environmental perspective. From 1999 through 2008, it reduced smog-causing emissions by approximately 266,000 tonnes. During the same period, the program also cut carbon monoxide emissions by about 2.5 million tonnes and carbon dioxide by about 250,000 tonnes.
Drive Clean’s aim is to identify vehicles that are causing the most pollution. But the offending vehicles are typically older models, with inefficient fuel and exhaust systems.
We’ve all seen older cars and trucks spewing smoke — those are the offending vehicles, not the newer models.
Many dealers and repair shops that invested in Drive Clean equipment, which kept breaking down, wound up selling or scrapping it because of the repair and maintenance costs.
Car owners have not supported Drive Clean, either. They resent paying for an emissions test their car will almost always pass.
But Drive Clean is here to stay — at least for a while. The provincial government is introducing long-overdue changes to the program, effective Sept. 1, 2011.
New vehicles will need to be tested for registration renewal at seven years of age, not five. Light-duty trucks will no longer require a test for family transfers and lease buyouts by the lessee.
No emissions test will be required for licence renewals if a vehicle passed the test in the previous calendar year. Plus, all vehicles that are plated “Historic” will no longer require testing.
The Toronto Automobile Dealers Association (TADA) supports these changes in principle, although we believe more could have been done to level the playing field for dealers selling pre-owned vehicles.
In a submission to the Ontario government, the TADA recommended a couple of changes to Drive Clean. It sought to remove the requirement of auto dealers to conduct an emissions test on a sale of a pre-owned vehicle if the model year falls under the five (soon to be seven) year Drive Clean exemption for new models.
We also sought to treat the sale of pre-owned vehicles by automobile dealers in the same manner as the current proposed changes allowing for a transfer of vehicle ownership among family members or self-lease buyouts.
Another important change is that all Drive Clean facilities will be obligated to update their testing equipment by Jan. 1, 2013. An online testing procedure will replace the dynamometer, which is a waste of energy and performs a task that can be easily done without it.
To reduce the odds of failing an emissions test, it’s best to keep your vehicle maintained so it burns cleaner (and less) fuel.
For more information about Drive Clean, or to find out when your vehicle should be tested, visit www.ene.gov.on.ca/environment.
This column represents the view of TADA. Email [email protected] or visit tada.ca. Sandy Liguori, president of the Toronto Automobile Dealers Association, is a new car dealer in the GTA.