Finding fresh air amid a smog-choked world

Jan. 1, 2020
Vehicle emissions testing could generate profits for shop owners.

It seems that no matter how hard you try and run away from it, civilization will eventually find you. Twenty years ago, I could name almost every person who walked through the door and even knew what most of them drove. Today I still recognize some, but the population in what was once a small town in a quiet state has exploded. The final proof that New Hampshire is really growing came with the announcement that the state will now require vehicle emissions testing. There are enough of us driving around to be a major source of pollution.

I’m not surprised or even complaining that this is happening, but I am a little taken aback by how it is being perceived by some folks. Massachusetts has had tailpipe testing for a while, and a few of the New Hampshire counties that border Massachusetts do too, but it was dropped on our side. I was told that if you knew you had a vehicle that wouldn’t pass, you could find a willing test station that would use the results from a known good vehicle, and you were on your way. The new system that the state is proposing is an OBDII test that is linked directly into a database at the state DMV. Any 1996 or newer vehicle gets hooked up to the state-supplied garage/leased code reader and the results are transmitted back to the DMV. No MIL and no codes set means you pass, and you’re good for another year. As simple as it is, I’ve heard complaints criticizing the coming changes.

Most of the shop owners are upset with having to lease the equipment, provide a high-speed data connection at their own expense and purchase another set of windshield stickers from the state. In truth, these tools are just like any of the others in their toolbox. If used properly, they will generate profits and save the customers money in the long run. The big question seems to be how much to charge for the service or figure out how much the customer will be willing to pay. The lease price (at least for now) is low enough that if you only do one inspection a day and charge an extra $2, you’ll cover the cost of the leased equipment. If you factor in labor and the other associated costs, it will be roughly double the cost of a typical safety inspection.

The average motorist complains they are paying twice as much for the same service, but with no added benefits. I’m sure these same sentiments were expressed when states first started checking things like tires, brakes and suspensions, but the benefits soon became obvious to most people.

Testing will also help to raise the bar a little bit as far as technician knowledge goes. Just because the ECM sets a code for an O2 sensor, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it went bad all by itself, and the smart technician will look for the reason rather than risk having a comeback. 

A few of the local newspapers have editorialized that OBD testing is nothing more than government intrusion into a problem that doesn’t exist. Since only the newer “cleaner running” cars are being tested, how will it help? OBDII has been around for nine years now and I’ve seen enough ’01 and newer vehicles with over 100,000 miles on them to know that it’s time to start checking. I’ve yet to see a problem that government couldn’t intercede in and make worse, but in this case they’ve pretty much left it up to those of us in the parts and service industry to see that things get done properly and have still allowed the free market system to work.

It’s like a breath of fresh air in a smog-choked world.

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