Auto Service World
Feature   May 1, 2011   by Tom Venetis, Editor

The Emissions Test

OBD II to become the new standard for emissions testing in the Province of Ontario

With the evolution of vehicle electronics and emissions systems, the traditional emissions test is undergoing some dramatic changes. In the United States, there has been a steady move to having emissions testing done through On-Board Diagnostic Testing (OBD) rather than relying solely on the traditional “tail-pipe” or dynamometer test. In the State of Nevada, for example, emissions tests have gone to using OBD II for vehicles that are 1996 and newer. Nevada emissions inspection stations come equipped with new OBD II analyzers that make the emissions tests simple and very quick, both for the technician and the vehicle owner.
The move to using OBD II for emissions testing in new vehicles is a natural transition, since ODB II became standard in model 1996 vehicles. The idea is that ODB II can provide a more accurate emissions criteria as the OBD II monitors the overall performance of a vehicle’s engine and can detect problems with the engine before it might show up as increase in emissions or even a catalytic converter failure. The idea is to make the emission test faster, more accurate and easier on the vehicle owner, and to help meet goals for reducing harmful emissions into the atmosphere.
In 2005, Ontario began a comprehensive review of its Drive Clean program that was introduced in the province in 1999. A final 200-plus page report was produced by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, looking at everything from the current state of the province’s air quality and its impact on human health to how the vehicle landscape in changing.
Working with DesRosiers Automotive Consulting, the study finds that in 2004, 55.8 per cent of Light Duty Vehicless (LDVs) were equipped with OBD II systems, and in 2007, 77 per cent of all LDVs were equipped with OBD II. The study goes onto to say that by 2017, 100 per cent of all vehicles that will be tested for emissions will have OBD II technologies.
The report recommended several possible options for new emissions testing:
Option 1
— Implement an OBD II-only program for 1998 and newer vehicles while retaining tailpipe testing on 1997 and older vehicles. The advantages for OBD II-based testing it that it has been shown to be very effective in identifying high-emitting vehicles; the test is quicker and easier to conduct than tailpipe testing; reduces wear on dynamometers; and would provide the opportunity for future program expansion into new OBD II-only regions. The disadvantages are that the testing is not immune to false failures or false passes; emissions reductions attributed to an ODB II-only program would need to be confirmed using some type of supplemental testing; relying entirely on OBD II for newer vehicles is risky since the performance on OBD II systems on high-mileage, older vehicles and on newer, ultra-low emissions vehicles remains uncertain; and having OBD II-only facilities could result in some industry dissatisfaction issues, since the costs for new OBD II-only DFCs would be much lower than those for ‘traditional’ DCFs.
Option 2
— ODB II and tailpipe on 1998 and newer (must pass both), ASM only for 1997 and older vehicles. The advantages of this option is that it allows identification and repair of a greater number of vehicles with high emissions and malfunctioning components; will help catch any tailpipe and OBD II false passes; allows ASM testing to continue if OBD II performance with high-mileage and/or ultra-low emissions vehicles is unacceptable (too many false fails or passes); and DCFs already have ASM equipment. The disadvantages are that it is more onerous on the vehicle owner who would have to pass two tests to register their vehicle; the higher costs to the inspection station because of the equipment needed and longer test times; higher costs to motorists; and more complex inspection systems and software logic.
Option 3
— OBD II on 1998 and newer vehicles, with tailpipe as a fallback if the vehicle fails an OBD II-based test. The advantages of this scenario is that is allows the Drive Clean program to gather the paired OBD II/ASM information for vehicles that fail the OBD II test and will likely have a better chance of acceptance with the public, as vehicle owners will get two chances to pass. Another is that it will allow for quicker tests. The disadvantages is that such a test will lose the benefits of catching OBD II false passes, and there are possible higher costs involved due to equipment costs and longer test times.
Option 4
— OBD II on all 1998 and newer vehicles, with a small sample of vehicles also given an ASM test for program evaluation purposes only. The advantage to this the test would allow the collection of emission information on a subset of the fleet getting the OBD II-only test. The disadvantage is the test results could be unpredictable and there is the possibility of increased wait times and much more complex inspections.
Jonathan Rose, press secretary with the Office of the Hon. John Wilkinson, Minister of the Environment, sent an email to SSGM Magazine outlining what the minister and his office can tell the public at the time of the preparation of this article. Mr. Rose wrote what has been decided is that Drive Clean changes will only apply to cars and light trucks, that the two extra years will be added to when vehicles will require their first test for registration, going from five to seven years and that there will be changes to address situation that require vehicles to be tested two times in two years by removing the requirements for a test for family transfers, lease buyouts by the lessee and eliminating the emissions test for license renewal if the test was done the previous year.
“We are modernizing the program now,” said Dolly Goyette, director of the Drive Clean Program in Toronto, when contacted by SSGM Magazine by email. She was able to provide more definitive answers to questions about the changes coming to Ontario’s emissions testing program.
“It makes sense because the majority of Ontario’s on-road vehicles are equipped to be tested using OBD technology. The test is faster and will save both consumers and Drive Clean facility operator’s time. Adopting OBD will also eliminate the need for Drive Clean facilities to maintain their aging and costly dynamometers after December 31, 2012.
“The existing dynamometer test equipment, Drive Clean computers and printers with be 13 years old by 2013, when the new on-board diagnostic equipment is fully implemented. As the equipment ages, it becomes very costly to maintain and some components become difficult to replace.”
For shops participating in the Drive Clean program, this means there will have to be some changes in terms of hardware to be used, as well as training of staff, added Goyette.
“Drive Clean Facilities must meet requirements related to the training/certification of staff, appropriate insurance coverage, working space and test equipment,” she said. “The Drive Clean office will accredit any facility that meets the requirements. Until January 1 2013, all facilities that test light-duty vehicles, including newly accredited facilities, will be required to provide dynamometer testing. Facilities that want to provide Dive Clean services in the modernized program will be required to purchase/lease new ministry-approved testing equipment.
“The new Drive Clean regulations takes effect July 1 2010, to allow enough time to properly make the transition to the new equipment. Some Drive Clean facilities will start receiving equipment and training in the fall 2011. By January 1 2013 all accredited facilities will be offering on-board diagnostic testing.”
Steve Bowles, owner of the Shelburn, Ont.-based Auto Centre Dufferin County Inc., who has been part of the Ontario Drive Clean program since 2002, said the changes are nothing to be surprised about as that is the way “the industry has been trending.”
Bowles said
for vehicle owners, the use of OBD II will likely make things easier for vehicle owners during their mandatory emissions testing for vehicle registration.
Jeff Taylor, senior automotive technician with Dundas, Ont.-based Eccles Auto Service Inc. agreed the changes being proposed are very good and do reflect the changes that have been happening with automotive technology, especially on the increasing importance of OBD II in vehicle diagnostics and maintenance.
“My concern is that there is going to be a learning curve, as while (OBD II) is universal across North America, (emissions) diagnosis for it will be tough for some,” he added.

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