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  Mechanical Feature

I/M Programs ... What Is the State of Affairs?

Posted 11/19/2007
By Craig Van Batenburg, AAM

A look at inspection and maintenance programs in the 10 most populated states.

Depending on which state you live in or what part of your state you live in, an inspection/maintenance (I/M) program can help your business, not to mention keep cars safer and the air cleaner. I live in central Massachusetts and the entire state has a well-run safety and emission program. Van Batenburg's Garage Inc., my old shop that had been around for 27 years, was a state-certified emission repair facility for as long as Massachusetts had the program. If a motorist's car failed to pass an emission test, my shop was listed for repairs, along with others, and the list was handed to the car owner.

Consumers were also educated to use a certified shop. If they did not go to a state-recommended repair facility and needed a waiver, they couldn't get one. There was no place to hide; if your car, truck or motorcycle was registered, it was also inspected every year for safety-related defects.

Except for motorcycles, every car and light truck was inspected every two years for tailpipe emissions that can include OBD-II, EVAP and crankcase emissions. Pass/fail stickers are affixed to glass or the license plate for all to see. Sure there are phony stickers at times that are sold on the street and some people get caught, but by and large, it is an accepted program. Because it is statewide, there has been little complaining from motorists. It is fair, comprehensive, all-inclusive and affordable (about $15-$29 per year). As a result, Massachusetts citizens enjoy safer cars and cleaner air than many of the other 50 states.

Why have tests at all? Doesn't freedom mean doing what you want, when you want? With more than 43,000 traffic-related deaths in 2006, there are good reasons for safety inspections, and the air in many cities is not fit to breathe. The term "smog" has been used for a long time. It originated from England and was created by using the words "smoke" and "fog." We know smog is more complex than that. Smog is defined as "a visible mixture of air pollutants, including those that are formed by the burning of carbon-based fuels such as gasoline and diesel fuel." These pollutants combine in the lower atmosphere and, when exposed to sunlight, change their chemical structure to become "photochemical pollution."

Smog is a serious health hazard to all people, but even more so to children, the elderly, people with pulmonary and respiratory (lung) disorders, and the immune- suppressed population. Smog has been known to cause asthma attacks and headaches. It's also widely known to cause burning eyes, an itchy throat and a cough. Many believe it ultimately will cause death. What are individual states doing about such a serious health threat? Let's look at the 10 most populated states to see what they are doing about these problems.

As of 2005, the 10 most populated states in the country were California (36,132,147), Texas (22,859,968), New York (19,254,630), Florida (17,789,864), Illinois (12,763,371), Pennsylvania (12,429,616), Ohio (11,464,042), Michigan (10,120,860), Georgia (9,072,576) and New Jersey (8,717,925).

States that only require federally mandated emissions inspections are California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Nevada, Ohio, Washington and Wisconsin.

States and federal districts with periodic vehicle-safety inspections that may include emissions as well are the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia.

Maryland is the only state to have a safety inspection that is required prior to sale or transfer.

As I discovered while interviewing many shop owners for this article, this is a controversial subject.

California

California has a vehicle population of 31,399,596, according to AAA - with no safety inspections at all. California became known decades ago as the nation's "smog capital" because of the poor air quality in the Los Angeles basin area. Smog is worse in Los Angeles not just because of the large number of cars and trucks on the freeways, but because it sits in a "bowl" that allows air to get trapped, along with pollution.

In 1963, California became the first state to institute emission controls on new vehicles being sold in the state. Now the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is considered to be out front in legislating automobile emissions. So California is and always has been the leader in regulating auto emissions. Other states that have adopted the California rules are known as "Green States." They are Maine, Massachusetts, New York and Vermont.

Other states that are partially green are Rhode Island, Connecticut, Washington and Oregon. Some vehicle-emission controls are also covered for 10 years/150,000 miles in green states. It is a complicated tapestry of rules, state by state and county by county.

Californians are nice and thoughtful as seen by this exemption: "If you acquire a vehicle that is currently registered in California from a spouse, domestic partner, sibling, child, parent, grandparent, or grandchild, you are entitled to an exemption from the smog inspection. Other family members or relations are not exempt and are required to obtain a smog inspection certification."

Other program elements remain the same in both basic smog check and enhanced smog check areas. For instance, the repair cost minimum is $450 in both areas. Visual and functional checks are required, as are gas cap pressure checks. Vehicles with extremely high emissions are still labeled as "gross polluters." In summary, if you are a shop owner in California, you can expect your customers to perform preventive maintenance in areas with a smog check, but safety-related problems are up to the individual.

Texas

Many of the millions of vehicles on the road in Texas undergo annual emissions testing. Texas's emissions-testing program, "AirCheckTexas," does not cover the entire state. If you live in a non-emissions county in Texas, you have no smog checks. But if you live in an emissions county, it's a different story. You will be subjected to a smog check every year when you get your safety inspection. The counties that require emissions testing also have higher titling fees: $33 rather than $28. All cars in Texas undergo an annual safety inspection. Where mandated, an emissions inspection is added to this process. There are several different types of emissions testing. Each county decides which method or combination of methods it will employ. The three smog-inspection methods available are two-speed idle (TSI), on-board diagnostic (OBD-II), or acceleration simulation mode (ASM). The ASM and TSI methods are usually used for pre OBD-II, 1995 and older, and OBD-II testing for the rest.

By giving counties the power to regulate their cars and trucks, Texas runs the risk of consumer complaints that many times have shut down a program. Just look at the history of Maine, the first in the nation with an I/M 240 enhanced dyno testing program started back in the early '90s. It failed in part by not making it a statewide program. With a state as large as Texas, it would make sense to do OBD-II testing on every '96 and newer car and truck with a safety check for everyone. As the fleet ages, this may be possible.

New York

The New York Vehicle Inspection Program (NYVIP) is a program that includes an inspection of the emissions control systems on gas-powered vehicles that are model year '96 or newer. The check includes safety, gas cap and a visual inspection to be sure all emission-related parts are still bolted to the car. This is done at independent repair shops across the state that are licensed by the Department of Motor Vehicles. The inspection station also uses the NYVIP equipment to conduct the inspections for motorcycles, trailers and vehicles that have a model year of '95 and older.

Exempt vehicles are those that are gas powered and less than two model years old, or more than 25 model years old, electric powered, motorcycles, farm equipment or ones that are homemade.

Florida

In July 2000, the state of Florida abolished the auto emissions test requirement for all vehicles throughout the state. Its smog program lasted only nine years. Auto emissions requirements is a fiercely political issue for many Florida residents, shop owners and legislators.

Several counties allegedly registered air clean enough to make the tests obsolete, but even the counties with continuing poor air quality are looking for alternative ways to breathe easy again.

Meanwhile, as some Floridians let their cars go too long between inspections, the air will get worse and problem cars will stay on the road until matters get worse. There is no recourse in Florida for reporting gross emissions polluters.

Illinois

Many vehicles registered in Illinois are required by the state's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to have their emissions checked every two years. A notice is sent to car owners when it is time to get their car smog-checked. In many states, failing to obtain a smog certificate makes it illegal to register and operate the vehicle. But in Illinois, it also makes drivers illegal. If they do not get their vehicle tested on schedule, or their car is not brought into compliance, their Illinois driver's license may be suspended. The EPA oversees smog testing in the state of Illinois. The type of test varies based on the age and type of the vehicle.

The following vehicles are exempt from inspection: motorcycles, vehicles first registered in 1967 or earlier, farm vehicles and "implements of husbandry," antique vehicles 25 years or older, diesel-powered vehicles, and electric vehicles (most hybrids will not be exempt).

Pennsylvania

This state requires a vehicle emissions test once a year. Vehicles are tested at any Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (DOT)-approved service station, dealership or independent shop. The state recommends coordinating the test with the vehicle's annual safety inspection to save time. The cost for an emissions test varies with each station, as the state does not set the fee.

If the vehicle does not pass emissions, the car owner must foot the bill for all repair costs needed to bring it into compliance. You must then have it retested before your vehicle's current safety inspection expires. You won't be charged for this second test as long as you return to the same inspection station within 30 days.

If your vehicle fails a second time, you are eligible for a one-year waiver provided that you present proof that you spent more than $150 on emission repairs.

The following vehicles are exempt from emission tests: motorcycles, registered antiques, registered street rods and registered collectibles. The older car clubs worked hard to keep their members happy.

Ohio

Ohio E-check is the state's emissions testing program begun in 1996. The program has had its share of critics who have questioned its value, and over the years the program has been modified. The most recent overhaul occurred in January 2006.

E-check is mandatory in seven of the 88 Ohio counties. They are: Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain, Medina, Portage and Summit counties. There may be changes in 2008. There are some exceptions for cars in the seven counties. All qualifying vehicles in the seven counties must be tested every two years. A notification is sent in the mail 90 days before a vehicle's registration renewal date. A car can be tested up to a year in advance of the renewal date.

The state has a list of emissions stations by county. No appointment is needed for testing, which is free.

If your vehicle fails the test, you'll receive a diagnostic form (for vehicles made in 1981 or later) detailing the problem areas. You can address these at the repair center of your choice. Ohio's EPA does license certain repair shops that have certified emissions diagnosis and repair facilities and technicians who have had proper training. A list of these facilities is given to the car owner if they fail the test.

Michigan

Michigan does not require automobile or truck emissions testing. The state has been in a running battle with federal regulators over air quality in portions of western Michigan and the southeastern Michigan area, near Detroit, for years.

In fact, until 1995, auto emissions - but not emissions from trucks - were tested in scattered portions of the Detroit metropolitan area. Western Michigan was scheduled to begin testing in the late '90s, and several vehicle-testing facilities were constructed. But the state brokered a deal with the EPA that allowed it to postpone enactment of the program, and the facilities were sold to private entities.

Nonetheless, air quality in the Detroit area remains consistently below that of much of the rest of the state. The Detroit area has been looking at ways to reduce pollution. Among them: tightening standards for industrial pollution, encouraging car pooling, using cleaner-burning gasoline mixes in the summer months when the region is most likely to suffer smog alerts, and restricting the use of small engines - specifically gas-powered lawn mowers on days when the ozone concentration is particularly high.

Seeing as Detroit is the home of what used to be called the Big 3, now the Detroit 3, this is a dirty little secret. Most likely Michigan will get a program together in the future. C02 regulations may make all this a moot point if the federal government gets into the business of regulating greenhouse gases from tailpipes.

Georgia

All gasoline-powered passenger cars and light trucks 1982 and newer in the following Georgia counties must pass an emission inspection before being issued license plates: Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, Coweta, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry, Paulding and Rockdale. Motorcycles, RVs and motor homes do not require emissions testing. The cost of emission testing varies from $10 to $25, depending on location. If a vehicle does not pass the test, it must be fixed within 30 days. One free retest within 30 days of the original test is part of the deal.

Senior citizens who don't drive much and whose cars are 10 model years old or older might qualify for an exemption from emissions testing. You may also qualify for an extension for emissions testing if you are in the military, a student or have business obligations where either your vehicle is out of the emissions-testing area with you, or you are deployed or attend school out of the area, and your vehicle is not currently being driven.

You will need to provide proof that you are at least a two-hour drive from the emissions-testing area or that the car is not being driven. To do this, present parking or repair receipts, student transcripts, military orders or an affidavit from the military police stating that your car is with you at your current location. Also provide a copy of your military or student ID.

If your vehicle fails an inspection, and you spend $738 or more on repairs but the vehicle fails again, you might be eligible for a repair waiver that exempts the vehicle from having to pass the emissions test.

If your vehicle operates on only natural gas, propane, electricity or hydrogen, it does not require an emissions test.

If your vehicle is one of the following hybrid vehicles and you live in one of the emissions-testing counties, you will need to pass the emissions test: Toyota Prius, Honda Insight, Honda Civic or Ford Escape.

New Jersey

Motorists in New Jersey are required by the Motor Vehicle Commission to take their vehicles for an emissions inspection every two years (new cars can wait until they're four years old for their first inspection). A safety test is done at the same time. Upon passing the inspection, you will be issued a two-year windshield sticker. You have a choice whether to have your vehicle inspected at a state inspection facility or at a private facility. Private facilities charge a fee for the service, but if you take your car to a state facility, the inspection is free.

If your car is registered in New Jersey, you must perform the emissions test in New Jersey.

If the car fails its emissions test, it is taken by the owner to an emissions repair facility. Many independent inspection facilities are also certified emissions repair facilities, and they can perform the repairs and your reinspection.

If the vehicle fails the reinspection, and at least $450 was spent to reduce the vehicle's emissions (and that it passed an idle test), it may qualify for a waiver. The waiver threshold includes the costs (parts and labor) to have the emissions-related problem repaired by a certified emissions repair facility. Since certain air pollution equipment on your vehicle is required by federal law, repairing or replacing emissions system components that have been tampered with or are missing is not covered by the waiver.

Once repairs are completed, you must have your vehicle reinspected by a licensed inspector at a private or state inspection facility. New Jersey does not offer extensions for reinspection.

Summary

It looks like most states do not have safety programs, and emission programs go away as soon as the states can convince the EPA that another way of cleaning the air may work. Not a single interest group makes these programs a priority. Are they helpful? Sure. Are they needed? I believe they are. How do we get more states to adopt both safety and emissions? Tough assignment but worth doing for many reasons. If you are lucky enough to have a shop in a state that has a program, count your blessings. If not, get organized and start writing letters. Good luck!

Craig Van Batenburg, AAM, is the owner of the Automotive Career Development Center (ACDC), www.autocareers.org, and delivers management and technical seminars nationwide. He formerly owned Van Batenburg's Garage Inc. in Worcester, Mass., for more than 25 years. Van Batenburg is ASE master and L1 certified, with advanced skills in hybrid drive systems. You can reach him by e-mail at craig@auto-careers.org.


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