Ontario will finally eliminate the initial $30 Drive Clean fee in April 2017, nearly 14 months after it first announced it would kill the fee — a delay that irked auto dealers impatient for the change.
Minister of Finance Charles Sousa said in a budget delivered Feb. 25 the fee, but not the test itself, would be eliminated sometime in 2016-2017.
April 2017 was a proposed date and nearly nine months after the budget, the government still hadn’t committed to it. In the first of several emails this month, a Minster of Environment and Climate Change spokesman told Automotive News Canada on Nov. 15 that “beginning in April 2017, Ontario is eliminating the $30 fee for initial Drive Clean tests.”
“It’s about time,” Trillium Automobile Dealers’ Association Government Liaison Frank Notte said. “I think anybody can reasonably expect that something announced in a budget can take effect in four or six months down the road.”
The Drive Clean test determines if a vehicle meets Ontario emissions standards. If it doesn’t, a vehicle owner must make necessary repairs before the vehicle is allowed on the road.
The association viewed the fee, which has generated $5 million for the government, as just another tax on car buyers, who already pay for vehicle permits ($20), plates ($45) and yearly plate stickers ($60 in northern Ontario and $120 in southern Ontario).
Not fully satisfied
While TADA is happy the fee is going away, it isn’t fully satisfied with the government’s decision. It wants the Drive Clean program eliminated, or at the very least it wants used cars newer than seven years old to be exempt. That’s because demos and pre-owned vehicles, some of which are just a few months old, still require the test. Although, that requirement may change, too, the ministry told Automotive News Canada in a followup email received Tuesday.
Demos are considered used in Ontario, and therefore required a test before being sold.
“It’s just a pain, especially for new car dealers, to get the test when the car is essentially brand new,” Notte said.
Used vehicles older than the current year must pass a valid Drive Clean test when they are sold. The rule applies to dealers and private sales. Only vehicles sold to an immediate family member are exempt from a test.
“If a demo is six months old and a dealer gets around to selling it, he has to waste the time and money on the test when he knows the car is going to pass anyway,” Notte said.
According to an Ontario Auditor General’s report in 2012: “As of December 2011, half of all light-duty vehicles registered in Ontario had been built in the last seven years. For those in this category that had an emissions test in 2010 [likely due to an owner- ship transfer], the initial failure rate was one per cent or less.”
New and used differences
New cars purchased from a dealer are exempt from the test, but cars and light-duty vehicles are required to get the test every two years, once the vehicle is seven years old. Auto dealers say it doesn’t make sense that a two-year-old used car sold at a dealership needs a test but a six-year-old car that was bought new and hasn’t changed hands doesn’t.
“Even late model [used] cars, two and three years old, still need the test. It’s almost guaranteed the [newer pre-owned] car is going to pass so you might as well just send $30 to the government instead,” Notte said. “But, if you buy a new car, you don’t need the first test until seven years down the road.”
TADA may get its wish.
More changes to the program are coming, a ministry spokesman told Automotive News.
The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change is proposing a number of improvements, most of them dealing with paperwork, documentation and service in island communities.
However, it is being proposed that used vehicles that aren’t seven years old will no longer require the test when they change ownership.
All light-duty vehicles will still require their first biennial Drive Clean test for licence plate renewal at seven years old.
The 75-day public consultation period on the proposed changes closed Oct. 8, 2016.
“We strongly support the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change’s proposal to eliminate the emissions test requirement on light-duty re-sale vehicles that are under seven years of age,” read a TADA submission during consultation. “Furthermore, we strongly encourage the government to move swiftly and implement this policy to take effect Jan. 1, 2017.”
The ministry wouldn’t say which changes are coming.
“While it’s too soon to answer questions regarding the timing of the proposed changes, the ministry should have a better idea in mid-December,” spokesman Gary Wheeler said in an email.
Province to pay for tests
Mechanics conducting tests on demos and used cars at dealerships are taking time away from other customers, costing dealerships money, Notte said.
The $30 fee is currently used to reimburse the dealer or mechanic for conducting the test. Vehicle owners had to pay for any repairs.
Funds to support the program will come from the government’s general revenue, once the fee is axed.
Notte said dealers and their staff face the brunt of consumer criticism of the program because they’re on the front lines daily.
“Whether there is something wrong with the car or not, or people are unhappy with Drive Clean itself ... they’ll hear about it,” Notte said. “If you get someone who just hates Drive Clean, it will always be made clear to the dealer the customer isn’t happy with Drive Clean.”
The Province defends the program, claiming that “in 2012 alone, Drive Clean prevented almost 30,000 tonnes of smog-causing pollutants from being released into the air we breathe.”
However, the Auditor General found the Ministry’s own estimates show that more than 75 per cent of the reduction in vehicle emissions is actually due to things like better manufacturing standards for emission-control equipment and federal requirements for cleaner fuel.”