Auto Service World
Feature   August 1, 2007   by CARS Magazine

Time for An Emissions Test?

Emissions test update reveals small changes, big questions

The time has come yet again for the annual SSGM review of the two major emissions testing programs in Canada, namely AirCare in BC, and Ontario’s Drive Clean. This year was not an overly spectacular year in terms of wholesale changes to either system; but what was changed in BC and what some are calling for in Ontario could have some far reaching implications further down the line.

British Columbia

In terms of our friends on the West coast, 2007 did, in fact, see some changes to the overall system, most of which fall along the same lines as the alterations made to Ontario’s Drive Clean in 2006.

According the provincial government, effective January 1, 2007, the AirCare program is introducing processes designed to target only those vehicles most likely to have emissions defects and exempt more of the newest model year vehicles from testing.

As such, in 2007, only 2000 and older model year vehicles require an inspection and eligible 1998 and newer model year vehicles are subjected to a scan of their OBD system to ensure that it is properly managing and monitoring the emissions system. Further, the fee structure will be altered slightly, with fees for 1992 and newer vehicles pegged at $45 and $23, for vehicles made in 1991 or earlier.

The final change in this year’s edition of BC’s AirCare program is that pressurized gas cap tests will be expanded to include model years 1996 and 1997, making such a test necessary for all vehicles built from 1975 to 1997.


While no major changes to Drive Clean were slated to take effect in 2007, it did mark the 8th year of the program, and as such, has opened the system to some lengthy and intriguing studies as to its overall effectiveness. One such study was released by researchers at the University of Guelph in Ontario.

According to the study, Ontario’s Drive Clean Program would achieve close to the same emission reduction and save taxpayers millions by targeting only older cars and testing less frequently. Further, according to the university, Professor John Livernois and PhD student Arian Khaleghi Moghadam of the Department of Economics are the first to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of the emission-reduction program.

The provincial program currently costs drivers $131 million a year, and fewer than 10 per cent of vehicles actually fail the test.

“A lot of people have the experience of having their car tested and passing,” said Livernois. “That means they are expending resources and getting nothing in terms of pollution reduction. We’re not saying to tolerate more pollution, but this is a very expensive way of reducing it.”

After examining results from the first three years of Ontario’s Drive Clean Program starting in 1999, Livernois and Moghadam found the province can achieve 70 per cent of emission reduction at one fifth the current cost if it limits testing to vehicles between six and 15 years old.

“We have found you can get a lot of emission reduction with a small amount of testing if you test the right cars,” said Livernois. “Ultimately they should be testing fewer age cohorts than they currently are and be testing them less often.”

Initially vehicles had to begin testing when they were three years old, but that requirement changed to five years in January 2006. Under the current program, vehicles between five and 12 years of age must undergo the test every two years, and vehicles older than 12 must be tested annually.

Livernois and Moghadam found that testing is more effective if it begins when a vehicle is six or even seven years old since the failure rate for vehicles less than six years is very low.

What’s more, the team found that testing is also more effective if it is conducted less frequently.

“It isn’t necessary for owners of older cars to have them tested annually because any repairs made from a fail are likely to last longer than a year,” said Livernois.

Instead, their analysis indicates that if testing is done every two or even three years, nearly the same pollution reduction is achieved at a substantially lower cost.

“The policy should be relaxed,” he said. “It would lead to a little more pollution, but large cost savings. These cost savings could then be allocated to a more effective pollution-reduction program such as better public transit. Pollution control is a good idea, but it should be done in the most effective way.”

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