By Shari Prymak

In November 2016, the Ontario government announced that the $30 Drive Clean fee will be eliminated for vehicles older than seven years, effective as of April 2017. The fee will also be eliminated on the resale of pre-owned vehicles, salvage and rebuilt vehicles, regardless of their age. As has always been the case, vehicles that are 30 years of age or older or plated as historic are exempt from the test.

Vehicle owners will still have to perform the test when renewing registration. And those who own a vehicle that is seven years old or newer will still have to pay the $30 fee. If a vehicle fails the initial test, the vehicle owner will have to pay $17.50 to have their vehicle retested.

The Drive Clean program has been riddled with controversy ever since its inception back in 1999 under the Mike Harris government. Although critics applaud the recent changes, many feel that the government should cancel the program altogether.

Critics argue that the test is simply a waste of both time and money, as the failure rates on newer model year vehicles is almost zero. The test was originally conceived as a way to target the most serious offenders of exhaust emissions, however, things have changed dramatically since then. Many of the vehicles tested today far surpass the minimum emissions requirements of the test. Emissions controls in vehicle have dramatically improved over the last fifteen years, not because of Drive Clean, but due to improved manufacturing standards.

Another issue with the testing is the computerized testing system, which replaced the tailpipe testing system in 2013. The system measures emissions using the vehicle’s on-board computer. If a fault or check engine light is detected in the system, the vehicle will automatically fail the test. Simply clearing the check engine light will not solve the problem either. The owner will have to pay for any required repairs to fix the vehicle before performing the test again. Unsurprisingly, the computerized testing has led to an increase in failure rates and frustration for vehicle owners.

The government, however, maintains the position that Drive Clean is a meaningful way of reducing emissions and greenhouse gasses. They credit the program for removing around 335 tonnes of harmful pollutants out of the air from vehicles. Vehicles on the road are responsible for approximately one third of all greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute the Climate Change.

The government is considering a new automated, app-based, testing system to replace the current system. They estimate that most vehicles will soon be equipped with telematics systems that will allow for wireless upload of emissions data. Vehicle owners will no longer have to be inconvenienced by going to a garage for the test. When exactly this new system will be implemented, however, remains to be seen.