Auto Service World
Feature   November 1, 2006   by Andrew Ross, Publisher and Editor

Getting on the Radar

It is an inescapable fact that the automobile is, even in its most benign form, a primary producer of what we might call “pollution.”

As much as I love the automobile, and cannot deny what it has meant to the lives of so many people around the world for more than a century now, it cannot be denied that it also has a physical impact on the world.

In our corner of the planet, the current interplay of political interests has led us of late to the suggestion that federal laws curbing vehicle emissions should be introduced. For those who don’t know, the current rules required to “federalize” a vehicle for use on Canadian roads are part of a voluntary agreement with automakers, not a legislated one.

According to the latest initiatives by the current Canadian government, that is about to change. The agreement in place is slated to expire in 2010; the new rules would tighten emission-reduction regulations, according to the government, California style.

This is good news for all of us on the planet, but it is not without its challenges. Aside from the technical difficulty of getting a vehicle to run as effectively and efficiently in minus 40 degrees C as it would cruising Marina Del Rey, the desire to lessen the automobile’s impact creates ripples in the political landscape, too.

And that is where the aftermarket has to be concerned.

In the U.S., where the fight to reduce vehicle pollution has been waged with much more vigour–and opposed with equal vigour–than north of the border, in many states it has also spawned so-called “scrappage-law” initiatives, which are designed to remove old vehicles from the roads. The logic put forth suggests that removing older vehicles will have more impact on overall emissions than tightening rules on new vehicles. The reality is that this approach is generally unworkable, penalizes those at the very bottom of the economic scale and, as has been shown in a state-by-state fight in the U.S., is not cost-effective either.

And there is another factor to consider: total emissions output. While one might argue that a vehicle of an early-’90s vintage is a greater polluter than one purchased in the last two or three years, that older vehicle may be owned by a senior or occasional driver, and quite literally driven to church on Sundays or on short trips for groceries. The newer vehicle, driven by a working individual, could easily log 40,000 km a year, and be nearly worn out in five or six years, requiring replacement with all the accompanying environmental impacts of manufacturing that new vehicle. So, who is the big polluter? Scrappage laws do not take this into account, and the aftermarket needs to make this point with government clearly. The aftermarket also needs to make the point that the best route to minimize the impact of cars and light trucks over the long term is through mandated inspections and maintenance and raising public awareness.

Public awareness is often given short shrift as a way to change behaviour, but consider that people don’t smoke as much as they used to, and driving drunk is viewed very differently than it was a few decades ago. Change can happen.

It is obvious, or at least should be to anyone in this industry, that keeping cars cleaner is an important issue that the aftermarket can be effective at handling. I am not convinced that anyone in the current government knows this. There was certainly no evidence of it in the recent “green policy” announcements.

If the aftermarket as a whole does nothing else, it must make sure this changes.

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