Luckily, Bill S-2 proposes some changes that can fix a few of the holes – some, but not all
Originally published December 19, 2016
If there are outstanding recalls on your car that pertain to its emissions systems, you won’t find them on the Transport Canada site where you find the other outstanding recall information after punching in your VIN. So when you buy a car, you won’t know if it needs hundreds of dollars of repairs to its exhaust or engine until you visit the obligatory emissions test – repairs that could have conceivably been dealt with by a manufacturer-covered recall.
Under our last federal government, it was decided that emissions-related issues should be ferried over to a different department: environment. Even though those systems are, you know, attached to your car. The proposed legislation before the Senate that I wrote about last week would correct this. It’s another reason this Bill S-2 is important. We need one central real-time look-up for vehicle recall information.
The good news? The government has finally announced a date to drop the Drive Clean test fee in Ontario. As of April, consumers won’t have to fork over the 30 bucks it now costs (+HST) to get the mandatory emissions testing done every other year on cars over seven years old. The decision to cut the fee was announced nearly a year ago, and many drivers have been grudgingly paying for the required testing, wondering when the government was going to make good on its promise.
The bad news? The bad news is something you probably have no inkling about. You know when you are dutifully checking out the Transport Canada website for outstanding recalls on a vehicle? You’re doing your due diligence, chasing down all the loose ends but guess what? If there are outstanding recalls on your car that pertain to its emissions systems, you won’t find them on the Transport Canada site where you find the other outstanding recall information after punching in your VIN.
Everyone dreads having a failed emissions test, mostly because, “but the car runs just fine.” It’s a grudge match between consumers and the government. But what if, in some cases, a manufacturer was offering a fix and you just didn’t know about it?
Emissions testing is a prickly issue. If your engine light is on, you will not pass an emission test. Period. But sorting out why the light is on can be difficult or easy, expensive or cheap. There. That clear anything up?
That engine light on can refer to any part of your emissions system, and also many parts of it. Once it’s on, it can be layering in codes and faults. Everybody likes to find out it’s just because the gas cap wasn’t screwed on tight enough; nobody wants to hear they need a new exhaust system, though that can be the range of problems indicated by that little amber light.
At this time in Ontario, if you want to register a vehicle that has not just been purchased new, you need an emissions test done. Even if that car is less than seven years old. Even if that car is a demo on the dealer’s lot. You can see why it’s a hated test, though it was brought in by a conservative government and maintained by a liberal one, so unsurprisingly, politicians of all stripes have come to appreciate the money it tosses into the pot.
There are definitely reasons to question the usefulness of a system introduced in 1999, before vehicle manufacturers were producing the cars they currently are, with vastly improved emissions. Most vehicles pass the test (about 95 per cent by latest figures), and the real polluters – those vehicles pre-1987 – are exempt. More notable is the conditional pass: If the charges to repair your vehicle will exceed $450, you can get a conditional pass and theoretically kick the can down the line another two years. So, your polluting beast, the reason the program was ostensibly set up in the first place, gets to keep chugging along spewing out emissions for another two years. It’s like knowingly putting the wrong person in jail.
But back to how that recall legislation could help. Bill S-2 would provide a real-time, all-make website that would allow you to check for open recalls on your own vehicle or one you were considering purchasing. At this point, there’s a podge of information available to consumers, with Canadian law requiring manufacturers to contact by snail mail the original owner at their original address, and there ending their responsibility. That works well for those who buy a new car, keep it forever and never move, but it hardly suits the needs of many, many car owners.
Making emissions-related recalls part of that central system is important, and highlights why the patchwork system we have on all recalls isn’t good enough, especially surrounding the selling of used vehicles.
When Ontario Environment and Climate Change Minister Glen Murray announced the end of the Drive Clean fees for April of 2017, he also announced the government would be able to take advantage of new technology on as many as one in four cars that could send the required information directly to the government via telematics. For anyone who just knitted their eyebrows a little, get over it. Your car is already squealing on you to so many people you might as well get used to it. Tracking its emissions is almost quaint.
I took exception to one part of the Minister’s statement, however. Through the fabulousness of this snoopy tech, “we’re hoping within a year or two that people will not have to go to a garage at all,” he said. I understand his sentiment, but I’m not thrilled with the delivery. No matter how smart your car gets, it still needs a set of real eyes on it twice a year.