Auto Service World
Feature   August 1, 2001   by Jim Anderton

I/M, British Columbia Style

B.C.'s smooth-running AirCare program pioneered Canadian emissions certification testing.

Ontario’s Drive Clean program has attracted much attention with expanded coverage and a new higher repair limit (see Industry News, page 8) but it isn’t the first program of its kind in Canada. That honour goes to British Columbia, whose AirCare program has been running since September of 1992, and has racked up some impressive statistics. The test region extends from Lions Bay to Chilliwack in the Lower Fraser Valley, and to date has tested over 9 million vehicles. AirCare differs from the Ontario Drive Clean program (and Quebec Un Air D’Avenir) in that the testing and repair components of the system are separated. According to AirCare public relations manager Kevin Boothroyd, “unlike Ontario and the proposed Quebec program, it is a fully centralised program, not a “test and repair”. The group that put the program together prior to 1992 determined that they were going to have an absolute separation between the repair side and the test side. The analogy I always draw is the difference between the blood lab and the doctor. We basically perform the tests and if you fail, you go to the doctor, in this case a certified repair technician and that technician looks at those readings that are meaningful to him or her.”

The centralised test system encompasses 12 inspection centres, and 42 test lanes, with approximately 1.2 million vehicles registered in the Lower Fraser valley. The system is administered by Envirotest Canada, a private company contracted to run the program test facilities, including hiring of inspectors, building and maintenance of the system. The B.C. government certifies the repair technicians and repair centres, and quantifies results, such as repair and technician effectiveness indices.

Recently some new technology has been added to the program, explains Boothroyd: “We have a complete extranet, so all certified repair centres are now completely online. That means that where there used to be a paper transaction, it’s now done entirely on-line. In the past, if I failed an inspection I would take the paperwork to a certified repair tech and then come back. Now it’s all done online. So when you come in, the repair tech is able to enter the information, get all the current readings and really nifty graphs – it’s far more detailed in the information they can pull up. They can also get all the previous test records for that vehicle, so they can see things in terms of its history, instead just a one-time repair. You may see, for instance, a vehicle whose readings have worsened over time based on our significant repair test histories. A technician can learn new causes and effects. So, for example, if you start to see high CO on a specific part of the test, then you’ll be able to look at that and see that it could be the O2 sensor. It saves time because there is more data available to assess.”

The Test Procedure

1992 and newer vehicles use the I/M 140 test procedure. Testing takes place on a “rolling road” dynamometer, with the inspector “driving” the vehicle on a cycle displayed on a video screen. The driving cycle is 240 seconds long, representing the equivalent of 3.2 kilometres of driving at an average speed of 48 km/h and a peak of 92 km/h. Emissions are sampled on a second-by-second basis, and results calculated as the mass emitted of hydrocarbons, CO, and NOx. After a minimum of 30 seconds of operation, the computer compares the total mass of the three pollutants against a table derived from several thousand actual tests. The vehicles used to compile the table represent the sample that showed passing emissions from the 30th to the 240th second of the test, and if the current test vehicle is at or below these reference values, the car or light truck is issued a “fast pass”. Most vehicles require about 120 seconds of testing.

For vehicles that won’t fit on the dyno, or have full-time four-wheel drive, a “two speed idle test” is performed. The vehicle is probed, then “preconditioned” at 2500 RPM for 30 seconds. Idle is then allowed to return to normal, and a reading is taken after 10 seconds. If the vehicle fails the test, a second preconditioning and test is allowed, which overrides the “fail” if the vehicle passes on the second try. The extra test helps diagnose poor O2 sensor and catalytic converter operation. And what about diesels? They undergo a 147-second opacity test, (nominally 20 percent) using the I/M 240 driving cycle with correction factors applied for vehicle horsepower and dynamometer inertia. Diesels too big for the dyno receive a “snap-acceleration” test to the same standards.

Does AirCare work?

In its first seven years, the program reduced more than 700,000 tons of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen. And as Envirotest’s Kevin Boothroyd adds, “And that doesn’t count, of course, those cars that are operating better because of the program who get their cars serviced more regularly and tuned up because they have to come through for the test. Does it work? Absolutely.” SSGM

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