DETROIT-No one ever said keeping an auto service shop ``green''-that is, environmentally compliant-would be easy. Service departments are confused over the plethora of environmental regulations affecting their business, and it's little wonder.
Automotive service has become one of the most regulated industries in the last 10 years. Nearly every aspect of servicing a car-from disposing of transmission fluid to recovering air conditioner refrigerant-has been the subject of some state or federal regulation.
And more regulations are in the pipeline.
Doug Greenhaus, director of environment, health and safety for the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), sees wash water and storm water as the next big area of regulation for auto service providers.
Congress is considering a Clean Water Bill that could affect how shops dispose of wash water from car-wash operations and floor washing and storm water coming off the buildings.
``In the old days, you could just dump it down the drain; but the government is very concerned about automotive service waste water going into surface water,'' Mr. Greenhaus said.
NADA is also working with the EPA's Ombudsman's Office on how to dispose of waste gas filters and waste paint filters, he said.
In a year, the EPA hopes to establish a national rule on volatile organic compounds allowed in automotive refinishing products. New legislation would regulate the compounds' emissions from auto body refinishing facilities.
Shops get creative
Despite the regulatory challenges ahead, auto service shops are more concerned about complying with current laws and reducing their costs. Some new-car dealerships, for example, have taken creative steps to protect the environment.
At Village Ford in Dearborn, Mich., the dealership offered customers a tree seedling for every old vehicle battery brought in on Earth Day. The promotion was sponsored by the dealership and its local Motorcraft distributor.
Village Ford's service department is heated by an oil furnace fueled by used motor oil. Reams of the dealership's used computer paper are bought by a recycler, with the proceeds then given to a chari-ty each Christmas.
At Jerry's Chevrolet in Weather-ford, Texas, a safety engineer contracted by the company updates managers monthly on new environmental and safety regulations and improvements the dealership needs to make.
At Krieger Ford in Columbus, Ohio, Parts and Service Director Michael Smith said the dealership recycles its nonhazardous solvents and then uses that mixture as a cleaning solution in its parts-cleaning bin.
``We reuse about 99 percent of our solvents and the sludge is given to a recycler who turns it into an alternative fuel,'' he said. The company also holds monthly meetings for parts and service employees to discuss new environmental regulations and the safe handling of hazardous wastes.
Employees at a Farmington Hills, Mich., car dealership participate in a waste minimization and reduction program. Recycled materials include motor oil, antifreeze, cardboard containers for parts, computer paper and scrap metal from the body shop.
To help clear up confusion about upcoming legislation, the EPA is launching an Electronic Education Information System in late September to inform and update automotive service personnel about regulations.
The agency is setting up a toll-free telephone number for managers and technicians to get information by phone or fax.
A phone number will be given for the appropriate state agency overseeing a particular area, such as hazardous wastes or wash-wa-ter disposal.
The system also will be provided as an online computer service. Service shop personnel can dial into a designated computer mailbox and call up the EPA rules on a particular subject.
Everett Bishop, an EPA official overseeing the information service, said the agency hopes to add individual state rules and information on upcoming federal legislation.
As the service is developed, the EPA also would like to receive input about environmental practices that have been successfully implemented by service shops.
Ms. Geist, a former Automotive News reporter, now works as a Detroit-based free-lance writer.