20190302_bta_Galbraith inspection 2

Mechanic and state vehicle inspector Andrew Buckley, of Middlesex, works on a car at Perry’s Gas and Service in Montpelier.

Many Vermonters received a confusing postcard from the Department of Motor Vehicles in January. The card thanked readers for their participation in Vermont’s new statewide electronic inspections program, called the Automated Vehicle Inspection Program, or AVIP.

The DMV postcard explained that since 2017, during the first two years of the new electronic program, vehicle owners were able to receive a conditional pass on their inspections, even when their car did not pass the emissions component of the test. The conditional pass was meant to help the state — both car owners and mechanics — get up to speed on how the new program worked, while also giving car owners a long window to make needed repairs.

But the DMV postcard included this confusing sentence: “Beginning January 15, 2019, all vehicles presented for inspection must pass the emissions and safety components to receive a pass sticker.” This statement left many Vermonters, including this writer, believing that the state was implementing a new emissions testing program.

But emissions testing is in fact not new in Vermont, and has been part of vehicle inspections since 1996, explains Scott Davidson, chief inspector with DMV. The Federal Clean Air Act, and subsequent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations, require many states to adopt a vehicle emissions inspection and maintenance program. Vermont complied with that requirement in 1996, with on-board diagnostic, or OBD, emissions inspections. OBD emissions inspections became fully effective in 1999.

While some states are not required to have emissions testing programs, Vermont is part of a region ranging from Maryland to Maine in which all states are required by the federal government to have an emissions testing program. This is because our region is designated as a part of the country that experiences poor air quality.

The Clean Air Act called for a reduction of toxic air pollution, of which the number one source in Vermont is vehicle emissions. To address this, for the last 20 years, vehicle emissions inspections have been combined with safety inspections as part of the annual vehicle inspection program. What is new about Vermont’s inspection program is AVIP, which puts each inspected car into a statewide database that is accessible to all inspectors.

There is also a new component to the emission testing program, explained Davidson, which is a waiver that gives car owners up to a year to make repairs to their emissions system if there is a problem that costs more than $200 to repair, and which is not covered by the vehicle’s emissions warranty.

The waiver program is important because it is both consumer education and protection. “Many people don’t realize they have an emissions warranty” that will cover emissions repairs, said Davidson.

In addition to the waiver, the postcard talked about “readiness” for emissions testing, and, says Davidson, this was another confusing point for readers. Basically, this breaks down to the car’s computer system, clearing its data from the system if the car battery dies or is replaced. Without enough data in the system to complete the OBD emissions test, the car would fail inspection.

Normally, this readiness isn’t a problem for vehicle owners, unless the battery recently lost power. But, even in that case, says Davidson, it is easily remedied by doing a little highway and city driving, so that your car’s computer system has enough data to allow the OBD scanning tool to complete its emissions performance analysis. A simple round trip from Williston to Montpelier, for example, that is complete with highway miles and stop-and-go city driving, will remedy that problem.

“It happens with snowbirds too, like my own parents,” says Davidson, describing Vermonters who travel to Florida for the winter, leaving behind their car. Many unplug the car battery while they are gone for the winter, then plug it in when they return to Vermont in the spring and head to the inspection station. In this case, their car may not have enough data to perform the emissions test.

Some Vermonters are not happy about AVIP and the emissions testing program. It’s viewed as a liberal policy meant to make money by adding regulations that hurt Vermonters, especially the poor. Bill S.84, an act relating to emissions inspections, which is moving through the State House now, is meant to address this. Anyone who is concerned about the impact of emissions testing on Vermonters should contact their local legislator or the DMV, says Davidson. “I read all of the comments that come to us,” he said.

The emissions testing program is not meant to hurt Vermonters but rather help them by providing clean air, according to policymakers.

“Motor vehicles are the largest source of a number of air pollutants in Vermont,” explains Deirdra Ritzer, an environmental analyst with the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation Air Quality Division.

Emissions testing is designed, explains Davidson, to help keep our air clean, so there is real benefit to Vermonters. We don’t experience smog and poor air quality that can compromise our health. He understands that the inspection program is changing with AVIP and the emissions test waiver.

Despite the discomfort of change, Davidson points out, “I don’t think anyone doesn’t like clean air.”

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