NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

EPA Auto-Emission Rules Bound to Test Drivers' Patience

November 28, 2001

Beginning in January 2001, drivers of cars built after 1996 will have to check their "on-board diagnostic" systems to make sure they are not polluting the air. States will also have to use the systems in vehicle emissions inspection and maintenance programs. The mandates come courtesy of the Environmental Protection Agency.

But independent researchers are finding troubling flaws with the devices -- and that will mean more hassles and costs for drivers. Experts say it will also mean little real gain in reduced air pollution over previously existing systems.

  • For example, cars can fail the test for reasons completely unrelated to what is coming out of the tailpipe -- due to a burned-out bulb, perhaps, or damaged sensors.
  • Several studies have shown that the tests will likely fail many cars that are clean -- forcing owners into repair shops for needless fixes and possible rip-offs.
  • Experts report that cars built after 1996 are extremely clean and tend to stay that way for years.
  • The National Research Council has urged delay in implementing this new system until more research on its effectiveness can be done.

Critics are reminding the EPA that technology is available to catch the relatively small proportion of drivers who are polluting. Utilizing those methods, they say, would spare drivers of clean cars from wasting their time.

Source: Editorial, "New Emissions Rules Offer Drivers Bigger Headaches," USA Today, November 27, 2001; "Evaluating Vehicle Emissions Inspection and Maintenance Programs," National Research Council, 2001.


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