The Hamilton Spectator - - WHEELS -

An up­date on the Drive Clean pro­gram

The On­tario govern­ment has an­nounced two sig­nif­i­cant and long-over­due changes to the con­tro­ver­sial Drive Clean emis­sions pro­gram.

In Novem­ber 2016, it an­nounced a start­ing date for the elim­i­na­tion of the $30 Drive Clean fee on ve­hi­cles seven years old and older. That date is April 2017, which is more than a year af­ter the govern­ment an­nounced it planned to kill the fee.

The govern­ment also an­nounced that, also start­ing in April 2017, an emis­sions test is no longer re­quired on the re­sale of pre-owned, sal­vaged or re­built light-duty ve­hi­cles, re­gard­less of age.

This would in­clude deal­er­ship com­pany ve­hi­cles, which are typ­i­cally grounded and sold with around 10,000 kilo­me­tres.

All ve­hi­cles built be­fore 1987 are ex­empt from Drive Clean test­ing.

Con­sumers do not need an emis­sions test for most hy­brid elec­tric ve­hi­cles, light-duty ve­hi­cles with a model year be­fore 1988, ve­hi­cles that are plated “his­toric” un­der the High­way Traf­fic Act, light-duty com­mer­cial farm-plated ve­hi­cles, kit cars and mo­tor­cy­cles.

Con­sumers may won­der about po­ten­tial emis­sion prob­lems on pre-owned ve­hi­cles that they are in­ter­ested in pur­chas­ing, but needn’t be. Fail­ure rates on newer model ve­hi­cles, in­clud­ing deal­er­ship com­pany ve­hi­cles, are al­most nil.

Since late-model-year and deal­er­ship com­pany ve­hi­cles sold by deal­ers are al­most new and un­der war­ranty, hav­ing to per­form an emis­sions test on them is un­nec­es­sary and a con­sid­er­able waste of time for deal­ers and con­sumers.

Emis­sions tests on newer-model, pre-owned ve­hi­cles, in­clud­ing deal­er­ship com­pany ve­hi­cles, have been a fi­nan­cial and/or phys­i­cal bur­den on deal­er­ships, au­to­mo­tive tech­ni­cians and con­sumers since the pro­gram was first es­tab­lished.

The Tril­lium Au­to­mo­bile Deal­ers As­so­ci­a­tion (TADA), which rep­re­sents 1,100 mem­ber deal­ers across On­tario, ap­plauds these re­cent changes and views them as vic­to­ries for deal­ers and con­sumers, but feels the govern­ment should have gone fur­ther and can­celled the Drive Clean pro­gram al­to­gether.

The $30 cost for run­ning emis­sions tests on older ve­hi­cles will now come from the govern­ment’s gen­eral rev­enues.

If a ve­hi­cle fails its ini­tial test when re­new­ing the reg­is­tra­tion, how­ever, the ve­hi­cle owner will now still have to pay to have their ve­hi­cle retested.

Fur­ther con­tribut­ing to Drive Clean’s in­ef­fi­ciency is the new com­put­er­ized test­ing pro­ce­dures, which were in­tro­duced in 2013. The new pro­ce­dures mea­sure on-board com­put­ers rather than ac­tual tailpipe emis­sions and have re­sulted in an in­crease in fail­ure rates.

The in­crease in fail­ure rates have been mostly the re­sult of sys­tem mal­func­tions, not in­creased ve­hi­cle emis­sions. When a ve­hi­cle fails an emis­sions test, the car owner must pay for a se­cond test at a cost of $17.50.

Since the On­tario Drive Clean pro­gram was first in­tro­duced in 1999, it has been mired in controversy.

In the past 10 years, the pro­gram has be­come an un­nec­es­sary tax on mo­torists given that most cur­rent-model-year ve­hi­cles pass the emis­sions test with fly­ing colours.

While it could be ar­gued that the pro­gram served a pur­pose in low­er­ing harm­ful emis­sions in the early years, Drive Clean has long since out­lived its use­ful­ness.

Ac­cord­ing to the pro­vin­cial govern­ment of the day in 1999, the orig­i­nal aim of Drive Clean was to serve as a tem­po­rary, rev­enue-neu­tral pro­gram to re­duce the amount of ex­haust emis­sions into the at­mos­phere by iden­ti­fy­ing the most se­ri­ous of­fend­ers. Drive Clean con­tin­ues to run a sur­plus of more than $11 mil­lion. The TADA will con­tinue to ad­vo­cate to scrap this un­nec­es­sary pro­gram and to make the govern­ment ac­count­able for the rev­enues it has gen­er­ated from Drive Clean. Bri­tish Columbia ended its emis­sions-test­ing pro­gram (AirCare) in 2014 af­ter 22 years.

Amer­i­can econ­o­mist and No­bel Prize-win­ner Mil­ton Fried­man once said, “Noth­ing is so per­ma­nent as a tem­po­rary govern­ment pro­gram.” Drive Clean fits that sen­ti­ment per­fectly.

AN­DREW FRAN­CIS WAL­LACE/Toronto Star file photo

Emis­sion-test fail­ure rates on newer-model ve­hi­cles, in­clud­ing deal­er­ship com­pany ve­hi­cles, are al­most non-ex­is­tent, Bob Redinger writes.

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