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A New Tool for Automobile Inspection and Maintenance

IP-1-2002 (January 2002)
Author: Dr. Donald H. Stedman

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Executive Summary

Federally-mandated emissions testing of automobiles in Colorado has decreased emissions, albeit much less than predicted. Recent breakthroughs in manufacturing low-emitting vehicles and in remote sensing of a moving car’s exhaust could enable Colorado to phase out or drastically increase the efficiency of treadmill-style testing centers.

Remote sensing technology now allows a piece of equipment small enough to fit in a van to assess the mass of pollutants per gallon of fuel emitted by a passing car. Once an emissions scofflaw is identified, a number of options exist:
· immediate pullover and ticketing by a police officer;
· a “smart sign” simply informing each vehicle’s driver of how compliant or noncompliant their car is;
· a letter mailed to the driver’s home mandating a treadmill-style test within 30 days.

Under the current emissions testing protocol, every automobile that’s older than four years but not a “classic” must be tested every year or two, most at a cost to the owner of $24.25. Cars in good repair pass the tests without repairs or retesting. But the worst of the worst cars — the ones the tests are designed to catch — are only a small minority of the cars that pass through EnviroTest’s dynanometer stations. A large number of people are inconvenienced to catch one person who is non-compliant.

Remote sensing technology has become so sophisticated that individual cars in heavy traffic can be measured, thus reducing emissions testing costs and inconvenience to vehicle owners. The latest analytical software can tell a car that has just been started from one that is warmed up and still polluting.

Drivers who maintain relatively new cars in good shape would never have to be tested again, unless they passed a remote sensing site that noticed something wrong with their emissions. Only the drivers driving the illegally polluting cars would be notified or stopped regarding their emissions.

Specific recommendations include: introduction of a flat fee, no more than $71 per year, charged to all owners of vehicles in the testing area; “smart sign” public emissions information sites; continuous on-road emissions evaluations administered by the Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC); annual reports on the benefits of emissions testing to the Colorado General Assembly; either a gross emitter pullover program or a Clean Screen program coupled with a more efficient, faster, centralized testing program with the goal of developing into a gross polluter identification program.