January 19, 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 measureable benefits for car owners and for their businesses. In fact, within a few years, many dealers had 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.
A move to reexamine Drive Clean in Ontario has been reignited after concerns were raised in the Ontario Auditor General’s 2012 Annual Report. Auditor General Jim McCarter said in a statement 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.
McCarter also said that Ministry estimates show that more than 75 per cent of the reduction in vehicle emissions is actually due to things like better manufacturing standards for emission-control equipment and federal requirements for cleaner fuel.
The Auditor General’s Report reveals that the worst polluting vehicles either “are 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% failure rate.”
In addition, because vehicle owners don’t have to incur any repair costs if the repair estimate is more than $450, 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 onto the consumer in the pricing of the vehicle.
It is totally unnecessary for late model vehicles to have their emissions tested, but again the government is only looking at increasing its revenue at the expense of the taxpayer.
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 to date has been its ability to generate revenues for the government, to the tune of $30 million annually, according to the Auditor General’s Report.
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 scrapping the program altogether (British Columbia has announced that it 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 Auditor General’s observations) is that, starting on January 1st, 2013, a new test will read your car’s computer history to see if your vehicle meets emission standards. The new Drive Clean test for OBD equipped vehicles will ask for emissions control systems results directly from the vehicles’ OBD computer.
For more information about these changes, visit www.ene.gov.on.ca.
All of the evidence surrounding the Drive Clean suggests that the program has outlived its usefulness. If you feel strongly about the need to eliminate the Drive Clean program in Ontario, I urge you to write to your MPP.