Auto Service World
Feature   February 1, 2014   by Steve Pawlett

Drive Clean Changes Spark Political Controversy

A recent announcement that the Ontario Drive Clean program will be reducing its fee from $35 to $30 is not impressing the Progressive Conservative party.
Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Michael Harris, who also serves as the party’s environment critic, held a media conference to criticize the move, and to outline the PC platform on the issue.
Essentially, the Conservatives want to scrap the Drive Clean program, which they claim has outlived its usefulness. The timing of this criticism conveniently falls in an election year.
“Reducing the Drive Clean fees might be good enough for the Liberals and even the NDP, but it’s not good enough for Ontario drivers,” said Harris, who said the Drive Clean program, when it was initiated, was supposed to be a temporary program with clear initiatives.
“If the Conservatives are claiming that a lot of people are complaining about the program, I would like to know who those people are. It’s like anything else: sometimes the squeaky wheel gets the grease. But we are not seeing a whole lot of backlash from consumers saying they want to cancel the program. That’s just not happening. And neither are the Drive Clean officials seeing that or hearing that,” explains AIA president Marc Brazeau.
“Whether you are a politician, a vehicle owner, or just an average consumer, one of the things that can’t be disputed – and this is all supported by studies – is that the number-one cause of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada continues to be personal vehicles. Many people like to pick on the oil sands and some of the other big industrial polluters, but the fact remains, vehicles ultimately remain the single largest emitters of greenhouse gas in Canada,” says Brazeau.
There are 20 million-plus vehicles on the road across the country today, and Ontario accounts for the majority of that number. The average age of a vehicle today is the highest it’s ever been at 9.3 years, and the average number of kilometres driven during the lifespan of that vehicle is 320,000 km.
“When you look at those leading indicators, it means that Ontario drivers are keeping their vehicles longer, they are driving their vehicles further, and if you’re going to take away a program that’s focused and intended to make sure older vehicles continue to be friendly to the environment and continue to have emissions systems that work, then to me, it is simply absurd for anyone to think that it’s time to cancel the program,” adds Brazeau. “In fact, the complete opposite should be happening. We should be expanding the program, because the fundamentals, in terms of number of vehicles, average age of vehicles, average number of kilometres driven, all point to the importance of having a program like Drive Clean.”
The Ontario government introduced changes to the Drive Clean program in January of last year. The changes streamlined the program and cut back on the amount of time required to administer it. For example, the new equipment no longer requires a dedicated service bay, so shops can work more efficiently. Technical upgrades to the test have not only simplified the administration of the test, but vastly reduced opportunities for fraud.
“The new test is a lot more accurate, and as a result, we actually saw a slight bump in the number of failures,” explains Brazeau. “Now again, I’d like to see a politician present their facts in terms of the environment, because these results mean that the new standards are in fact working.”
One of the things the Conservative government has been promoting of late is the need to stimulate the economy and create jobs. “The Drive Clean program is a win-win in this case. It’s a win for the environment, and ultimately a win for society and consumers, because we are ensuring that the vehicles on the road are not polluting or emitting excessive amounts of greenhouse gas.
“It also helps to ensure the industry continues to be innovative and continues to meet the driving needs of consumers. A tuned vehicle is a fuel-efficient vehicle. A lot of people may not be aware of the fact that a vehicle maintained from an emissions point of view is also a vehicle that’s going to burn less fuel, and it’s going to have a positive impact on the consumer’s pocketbook,” says Brazeau.
“The one thing we have been talking to all levels of government about [here in Ontario], is that what we need to do with the Drive Clean program is to look to move it to a Drive Safe program. The reason why we are promoting the concept of the Drive Safe program is that our studies, which were conducted by DesRosiers Automotive Consultants, clearly indicate that more and more vehicle owners are neglecting regular vehicle maintenance,” explains Brazeau.
DesRosiers’ research estimated that, averaged out, every single vehicle in Ontario is being under-maintained by $207 per service interval, which is about three services per year – or $600+ per year per vehicle. This lack of regular service affects not only emissions but people’s safety.
“When these vehicles were built, they were built with a designated service interval for regular maintenance. And we know, based on studies we have had conducted with DesRosiers, that more and more vehicle owners are neglecting this regular maintenance. So let’s take the concept of Drive Clean, turn that into a Drive Safe program, and now not only are you continuing to capture the emissions side but you are able to ensure the vehicles are safe to go back onto the roads,” says Brazeau.
“The benefit to the consumer is that you will end up with a vehicle in the long run that is more fuel-efficient, will be more reliable, and the pocketbook savings will be significant, because you will actually spend less on major repairs and you will be able to drive your vehicle longer and therefore not be tied to a monthly payment for a new vehicle,” adds Brazeau.