AirCare takes aim at inaccuracies

There is no guaranteed profit margin for AirCare contractors. The program is designed to break even.

Editor: Re: AirCare needs to be shuttered, (The Times, June 19).

The recent letter to the editor from Roland Seguin concerning the AirCare program contains many inaccuracies.

It seems that Seguin has been getting his information about the AirCare program from a popular internet source which, unfortunately, contains a lot of misinformation posted by contributors without confirmation of accuracy.  The truth is that AirCare is a user-pay, revenue-neutral program designed to identify and correct vehicles that are polluting excessively.

By legislation, the AirCare test fees can be set no higher than what is needed to recover the operating cost of the program.  All funds collected from motorists at the time of inspection must be applied to the operation of the program and to no other purpose.  Therefore, someone who doesn’t own a vehicle pays nothing towards AirCare.

Since only vehicles older than seven model years are required to be tested, more than 40 per cent of the vehicles registered in the Lower Mainland also pay nothing to AirCare.

The AirCare program is delivered under contract to TransLink by a private company, Envirotest Canada.  The contractor, employing about 150 British Columbians, will be paid $14.65 million in 2012 to operate the 10 inspection centres and 32 inspection lanes.  There is no guaranteed profit margin.

Pacific Vehicle Testing Technologies, a subsidiary of TransLink with 11 employees, administers the testing contract, provides technical support to the repair industry, analyzes program data, and reports on the effectiveness of the program.  The cost of these administrative functions, also covered by the inspection fees, varies from year to year, but is generally less than $2 million.

Reports containing statistical data on every year of the program’s operation since 1992 are available on the AirCare web site at  TransLink also publishes financial data about AirCare in its public reports. Fluctuations in test volumes means that the program tends to alternate between making and losing some money over the years, but the goal is always to reach a net zero result at the conclusion of the program.

Since 1992, the AirCare program has been effective at reducing vehicle-generated emissions. In fact, approximately 930,000 individual vehicles have failed an AirCare inspection at some point over the past 20 years.  In addition to identifying excess-emitting vehicles, AirCare has worked closely with the repair industry to enhance the skills of automotive technicians so that failing vehicles can be effectively repaired.

Much of the emission reduction attributable to AirCare is the direct result of repairing or replacing defective components such as oxygen sensors and catalytic converters. However, the program provides additional emission reductions through other mechanisms such as improved preventative maintenance and pre-inspection repairs done by motorists who want to avoid failing the test, and accelerated fleet turnover prompted by the retirement of vehicles that are not worth repairing.

An independent review of the program conducted in 2010 suggested that the effect of AirCare on light-duty vehicle emissions in calendar year 2010 was between 15 and 21 per cent, on a health-weighted basis.

The technology to eliminate 90 per cent or more of harmful tailpipe emissions from vehicles has been required on all new vehicles sold in Canada since the 1998 model year, although emission controls were first required as long ago as 1971.  Although vehicles continue to become cleaner, reaching about 99 per cent reduction in 2004-2006, the greatest strides have been made in making vehicles more resistant to wear and tear and in reducing the need for periodic maintenance in order to prevent deterioration of the emission control system.

It is this improved durability of vehicles manufactured since model year 1998 that has allowed the exemption of vehicles from testing for seven years and continues to reduce the failure rate.  However, failures are found in all model years currently being tested, ranging from about three per cent for 2005 models to more than 30 per cent for pre-1980 vehicles. The current overall failure rate, based on the number of failed inspections divided by the total number of inspections, is about 10 per cent and about 35,000 vehicles will fail in 2012, many for the first time ever.

Vehicle manufacturers have been required to include an on-board diagnostic (OBD) system on all vehicles since 1998.  For this reason AirCare transitioned to an OBD test in calendar year 2007 for these newer vehicles.

Since then, the failure rate for OBD-equipped vehicles has been consistently around five per cent, meaning that these vehicles are being presented for testing with the dashboard “Check Engine” light illuminated.

Fortunately, the success rate for OBD repairs is very good and almost all of these vehicles have been successfully repaired.  It remains to be seen what the rate of defect development will be in future years and how responsive vehicle owners will be to the “Check Engine” light coming on when mandatory emission testing no longer exists. However, it is likely that the failure rate will continue to decrease as pre-1998 vehicles drop out of use.

The decision to end AirCare testing after 2014 has now been made. Until then, the program will continue to screen the older portion of the vehicle fleet to identify the highest polluters and require that they be repaired.  As someone who has been with AirCare since it began, I am proud of the past accomplishments of this program and remain committed to keeping AirCare as effective and efficient as possible in its remaining years.

Dave Gourley,

general manager, AirCare

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