Long-term, inspection and maintenance (I/M) programs benefit consumers and automotive repair shops by forcing motorists to take better care of their vehicles. I/M programs also are cost-effective ways to reduce air pollution. These advantages merit a mention because today's proponents of smaller government would like nothing better than to see these programs postponed indefinitely or canceled. Certainly, no savvy politician will openly oppose clean air and safety.
But according to the Automotive Service Association (ASA), legislation was introduced in both houses of Congress that would delay I/M programs or repeal emission testing requirements. I'm convinced this equates to tossing out the baby with the bath water.
I also hear persistent griping from service shop owners and managers in non-I/M regions the EPA has targeted as needing a formal emission test program. All they see is the potential expense of additional equipment and paperwork for such a program.
Consider the following points and urge your congressmen to support the Clean Air Act and sensible, practical implementation of I/M programs.
First, I have worked in several emission test regions and used to be a certified emission inspector in my home state of Pennsylvania. Coincidentally, Pennsylvania has had a longstanding, relatively stringent safety inspection. When I sold diagnostic gear for a living, I personally emission-tested hundreds of vehicles while demonstrating equipment.
My firsthand experience supports points pro-emission forces cite. For example, the overwhelming majority of well-maintained vehicles pass emission tests with flying colors. The older a vehicle, the more likely it is to be a gross polluter. But an older car with 200,000 miles on the odometer will pass an emission test if it's been properly maintained.
Second, poorly maintained vehicles or those with serious mechanical, ignition or electronic breakdowns flunk emission tests. The bottom line here-which the anti-I/M camp often overlooks-is that these vehicles usually run poorly, experience premature engine wear and are legitimate candidates for diagnosis and repair.
Third, the average age of vehicles on the road today is 9 years old, which means the typical car being tested has a computer-controlled engine management system. These computers do their best to keep the vehicle running by electronically compensating for all sorts of underhood failures.
The computer does this by tweaking familiar things such as spark timing, air/fuel mixture and idle speed. More than one savvy technician has been surprised by a computer's ability to keep an ailing vehicle running for an extraordinarily long time.
Depending upon the system and the specific failure, the ``Check Engine'' warning light on the dashboard may or may not come on. Consumers and technicians find it hard to believe that neither design engineers nor marketing people want a ``Check Engine'' flashing on for any old fault. Experience shows there can be plenty wrong under the hood and the computer system's warning light never turns on!
But although the computer and warning light say ``yes,'' an emission test usually says ``no!'' to this type of vehicle. So, testing forces a tightwad driver to either cheat somehow or spend a minimal amount of money on diagnosis and repair. This is legitimate work he's postponed as long as possible.
Fourth, anyone who's been on the front lines in a service bay or at the service counter realizes many motorists anticipate a trip to a repair shop like an appointment for a root canal. Consequently, I/M programs are the friendly persuasion they need to maintain their vehicles the way they're supposed to in the first place. Again, experience shows I/M brings few unpleasant surprises to people who take care of their cars.
Furthermore, I/M is our best hope for forcing irresponsible motorists into fixing unsafe cars or gross polluters.
Finally, data shows auto emissions create a significant amount (50-70 percent) of dirty air in most non-attainment areas. It's also substantially cheaper per ton to reduce automotive pollutants than stationary-source emissions.
Debates rage over centralized versus decentralized emission testing. Practical implementation is always difficult and somewhere, someone will bleat that I/M programs are needless burdens and/or infringe on his rights.
But let's keep the debate focused on sensible I/M implementa-tion rather than safety or clean air per se. Press your legislators and trade association representatives to keep I/M viable and workable. The net result justifies I/M-and can help boost your service work.