1988 Carbodies FX4S Plus
The author’s London Taxi, a 1988 Carbodies FX4S Plus. Click image to enlarge

By Murray Jackson

The old-car hobby is a multimillion-dollar contributor to the Ontario economy. The tourism industry benefits from the thousands of Canadian and U.S. visitors who travel to Ontario car shows. Charities gain from car club fundraisers. At the same time, old-car hobbyists do much to preserve Ontario’s motoring history.

On November 18, 2005, Ontario Environment Minister Laurel Broten announced several proposed changes to the Drive Clean program. Chief among the proposals was an increase in the exemption period for new cars to five years from three. That has new-car owners smiling.

But other proposals will negatively, and disproportionately, affect Ontario’s old-car hobbyists. One key change would eliminate the rolling, 20-year-old exemption from Drive Clean testing. Collector cars that are 1988 or newer will not be exempt from testing until they reach 30 years of age. Even then, these vehicles will only be excepted if they qualify for special historic or year-of-manufacture licence plates. Many 30-plus-year-old vehicles will not meet the criteria for these plates, so they never will be exempt from emissions testing.

Data compiled by DesRosiers Automotive Consultants show that vehicles more than 20 years of age comprise a very small proportion of Ontario’s light duty vehicle population, yet these are the vehicles that will be adversely affected by the proposed changes.

The contribution of collector cars to air pollution is particularly small because they are generally well-maintained and are used infrequently. Of the 20-to 30-year-old cars in Ontario that aren’t little-used collector cars, many are owned by persons on fixed or limited incomes – often retirees – who don’t drive much and cannot afford newer cars. The proposed changes will hit these folks in the pocketbook.

The new provisions would put an unfair financial burden on old-car hobbyists, given their small numbers and the insignificant impact their cars have on pollution levels.
Under the proposed system, vehicles from five to 11 years old would be tested every second year, as is the case now. But all vehicles more than 11 years old would be tested annually until they are 30 or older.

This proposal lacks logic. It is unlikely that doubling the testing frequency for collector cars will result in more failed tests. Ontario’s old-car hobbyists often store their vehicles during the harsh winter months. Because of this, owners with winter birthdays already cannot renew the registrations for their vehicles during their birth month every second year – the emissions-test years. That’s because the Drive Clean certificate that is required to renew a registration cannot be obtained while the vehicle is in winter storage. Owners must purchase a trip permit in the spring to legally take their vehicles to a Drive Clean test station before renewing their registration. This awkward procedure and additional expense was bad enough when it happened only once every two years. In the future it could be an annual irritation!

The proposed changes mean that Drive Clean test stations would have reduced revenues because new cars would not be tested until they are five years old. Many testing stations have not recouped their investment in Drive Clean equipment. A cynical observer could easily conclude that the removal of the 20-year-old exemption and the imposition of annual testing for vehicles more than 11 years old are convenient ways of replacing new-car revenue lost by Drive Clean testers, thus reducing potential complaints from that quarter. This would appear to be the legislative equivalent of the tail wagging the dog.

More information can be found on the Drive Clean website, www.driveclean.com.

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