Motor Vehicles Wants to Stop Tailpipe-Emissions Testing on Older Cars

Tom Johnson | March 29, 2016 | Energy & Environment
Commission claims step could save $18 million a year, cut waiting times at state-run inspection stations

vehicle inspection station
The state is proposing changes to its vehicle inspection program that would exempt 200,000 older passenger cars — the ones most likely to pollute the air — from being tested for tailpipe emissions.

The New Jersey Motor Vehicles Commission published a regulatory proposal earlier this month to simplify its emissions-testing procedures, which the agency, says could save the state up to $18 million a year and reduce waiting times at state-run inspection stations.

The proposed changes mostly affect passenger vehicles built in 1995 or before by eliminating the traditional tailpipe-emissions test. It would also allow certain diesel-fueled cars to be self-inspected.

Motor vehicles and other types of transportation are the biggest source of air pollution in New Jersey, a state that has never met the federal air-quality standard for ground-level ozone, the main ingredient in smog.

The auto-emissions-testing program has been a key component of the State Implementation Plan, a blueprint approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for coming into compliance with the air-quality standard. Whether the agency will go along with the changes is uncertain.

Some environmentalists, however, have already weighed in. “The oldest cars — the clunkers — are the biggest problem,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “It’s 200,000 cars that pollute the most.’’

The Christie administration eliminated the decades-old auto-safety inspection program in 2010 as part of a budget-saving move during a fiscal crisis. At the same time, it eased the emissions-testing requirement for brand-new cars from one to five years.

Under the new proposal, the state will rely on sophisticated on-board diagnostic equipment in vehicles to make sure they are running properly and not polluting the air. The existing OBD test only requires six minutes while the so-called Two-Speed Idle test takes about 15 minutes, a change that will reduce waiting times for motorists.

Eliminating the latter test also will save the state’s 600 private-inspection garages from going out and replacing existing tailpipe-emission equipment, which is reaching the end of its useful life, according to the proposal. The changes also will ease a testing requirement dealing with fuel caps to ensure they are not leaking vapors.

The rule proposal also would reduce the number of vehicles showing up at state-run inspection stations by requiring commercial vehicles to be tested and all re-inspections when vehicles fail to take place at private garages.

Tittel also objected to eliminating the tailpipe-testing requirement because motorists might be less likely to maintain their cars by changing the oil, getting tune-ups and checking tires.

The proposal also would require all emergency-exit safety requirements on buses comply with federal requirements bringing the state into compliance with federal law.