Auto Service World
News   October 29, 2018   by Allan Janssen

COMMENTARY: I’m sorry to see Drive Clean go… OCOT? Not so much

A new government kills a couple of controversial programs, leaving shop owners wondering what it will mean to their businesses.

The Ontario College of Trades, which has been both hailed and hated for years, will wind down next year.

So, too, will the province’s longstanding emissions test program, Drive Clean.

With the back-to-back announcements, made over the course of a few short days, automotive professionals in Ontario were reminded just how easily governments can alter the operating conditions that govern an entire industry.

The question on everyone’s mind, of course is how the changing political tide will affect business.

It’s hard to believe the demise of OCOT will come as anything but good news to the vast majority of technicians who saw their fees jump overnight from $20 a year to $120. The increase was meant to finance a vast army of bureaucrats hired to manage registrations and enforcement officers to police work sites. There was also some talk of developing professional standards that would ensure that our trade was well-equipped to handle the latest automotive technology.

If the college had been able to make good on its promises – including to rid the province of back-yarders who dilute profitability in a super-competitive industry – it might have been heralded as a success. But over nearly 10 years, OCOT scored precious few victories and managed only to alienate its members with poor communication skills and a shocking level of disregard for the industry’s true needs.

So no great loss there.

The demise of Drive Clean, on the other hand, is more troubling.

The program, which was established at the end of the last century to ensure that gross polluting vehicles were either pulled from the road or fixed, has seen a lot of changes in nearly two decades of operation.

The test used to require the use of a dynamometer to allow tailpipe emissions to be accurately read. So thousands of Ontario shops dropped $80,000 on new equipment. In 2014, many those dynamometers became boat anchors when the province switched to using the OBD-II port to analyze vehicle performance.

There were continual questions about the accuracy of the tests. And, to keep the fickle electorate happy, the fees were first reduced and then no longer collected at the shop. Instead, they were reimbursed out of government coffers.

So, Drive Clean had its share of challenges too.

But unlike OCOT, it did score some very important victories. One of them was to bring the owners of older vehicles into an automotive repair and service bay at least once every two years. Technicians were not supposed to go looking for ancillary work to sell, but in many cases even a cursory look revealed the most dangerous vehicle conditions and incidents of neglect.

More importantly, it painted our industry in a positive light. We were not only protectors of the environment, but we ensured public safety. We were the good guys.

If Drive Clean business brought potential customers through the door and revealed the occasional work, well, we’re now going to have to find new ways to do those things.

Perhaps one lesson here is that shop owners should not rely too heavily on government programs to help build their businesses. Public initiatives are all too often fleeting and are subject to the whims not only of politicians but bureaucrats and voters too.

These are not people you want as silent partners in your business.


Agree or disagree? You can reach me at

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11 Comments » for COMMENTARY: I’m sorry to see Drive Clean go… OCOT? Not so much
  1. Kim Stankiewicz says:

    I agree that if the focus was more to help the industry deal with DIY repairs and restricting access to safety related parts as well as implementing an annual vehicle certification program, we would have perceived the fees differently. As it is we can only look back at another questionable government initiative that appears to have spent millions of tax dollars including legacy costs for public sector employees.

  2. Joe says:

    Drive Clean did its job for the timeline but all new cars are ulev’s now meaning its no longer required. In Ontario the problem has always been letting consumers drive unfit vehicles with no policing in place. Get mandatory safety checks in play regularly and not when someone sells a car. It will burn the legitimate customers but the dangerous cars will then be removed from the road. Making it a safer province to drive in

  3. Dan McGolrick says:

    it’s unbelievable that a vehicle never has to be safety inspected until the vehicle is resold!
    So a person buys a vehicle say with 100,000 km on it and it was safety when he purchased it but it never has to be safety again until they sell or scrap the vehicle!!
    also, why can unlicensed person is buy safety related components for their vehicles and install them themselves?
    I remember one time when I needed a connecter To hook up my natural gas barbecue. When I went to purchase the item I was asked for a gas license and I told him I had my propane license but wasn’t good enough. They refused to sell me the component.
    What we need is a government that can change the rules to make us all safer!

  4. jackie says:

    I don’t think we should have it anymore , there are a lot of places that don’t , we have a body shop , I think they should do more safety checks , iv seen a lot of cars that shouldn’t even be on the road , we seen a car that was given to a customer that is not even fit for the road ( given the that worked on her car never told her it was rotten under her car ,but charged he 3000.00 for repairs , so think safety checks would be a lot better then etest

  5. In response to Allan Janssen’s commentary regarding the demise of the Drive Clean program, I feel he got a few things wrong. In saying a victory was bringing in owners of older vehicles in at least once every two years is correct but that’s where the victory turns to defeat. Our government made sure the worst polluters would not be offended by being told their vehicle required excessive repairs and should not be driven in that condition by offering them a 2 year conditional pass. A very limited few did anything about it prior to the next mandatory test only to be told they could receive another conditional pass and just keep on going…..and the victory lies where again? As for painting our industry in a positive light I’m not sure if Mr. Janssen was ever behind the counter trying to explain the rules. I was a proponent of the program from its inception, taking time to educate our clients on its value, but after years of taking flack from consumers who are under the impression that facilities are making money hand over fist and cannot survive without it, a government who is afraid to impose strict rules to achieve maximum results and the expense our facility has incurred in the name of providing full service to our clients, I can honestly say I can’t wait for it to end!

  6. Craig says:

    First off,it is time for safety inspections either every year or two years for sticker renewal.What could also be done is to include the check engine light into the safety inspection and verify monitors have passed.Not only will our roads be safer but it will also be better for the environment.It is time to start forcing people to properly maintain their vehicles.Driving is a privilege,not a wright.If you cant afford to fix it,you cant afford to drive it.Safety inspection repairs should only be performed by licensed shops and technicians.This will also help eliminate alot of backyard work being done.

  7. Paul A. says:

    Two broken institutions being done-away with … Hoorah!

    However, this really shouldn’t be something to celebrate.

    Drive Clean served its purpose, and the intention is still sound, but the execution is terrible/flawed. Bi-annual safeties could include “MIL test” which (basically) encompasses everything that the “new” Drive Clean was covering. There is still a need to keep polluting cars off our roads, but it is illogical for those vehicles to be categorically unsafe!

    OCOT was a joke for our industry – This body did almost nothing for Licensed Technicians and Apprentices, except take more money from them. The most glaring example of this was the lead-up to the new provincial Safety Standards, which went into effect on July 1, 2016. OCOT did NOTHING to prepare “their“ 310S members for this historical update. (The last major revision was 42 years prior!) The Ministry of Transportation held information sessions for Motor Vehicle Inspection Stations/operators, but OCAT left their membership in-the-dark.

    The Automotive Repair Industry needs a body like OCAT, but NOT OCAT, for the workers, employers and the consumers – I hope that makes sense.

  8. greg edginton says:

    should be interesting to see if are licences go back down to 20 dollars a year or like the so called free e test will be twice as much

  9. greg edginton says:

    a simple solution to ocot not able to clean up back yard mechanics would be to make it mandatory to show a licence before selling them steering suspension and brakes over the counter u cant buy Freon without a ozone depletion card

  10. Not at all sad to see the Drive Clean program gone! We were an accredited test and repair center for 14 years and as soon as they announced Drive Cleans demise I immediately pulled the plug at our end and dropped out of the program. It’s like an anvil’s been lifted from my shoulders as the dealings with Parsons have been nothing but a hassle over the years. There’s a brand new hoist and a licensed tech now in the former E-test bay to further accommodate my customers needs. We certainly DID NOT need Driveclean to survive!

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