Exclusive: Newer cars almost never fail Drive Clean. Why keep testing them?

Watch: Exclusive investigation finds many vehicles are near perfect. Sean O’Shea reports 

In the last nine months of 2012, thousands of owners of 2005 Dodge Caravans in Ontario got an unwelcome surprise with the paperwork for their renewal sticker: Their vehicles were due for a Drive Clean emissions test, which had to be done before the plate renewal could be processed.

So they made the time, all 14,825 of them, found a garage or dealership displaying the program’s cartoon logo of a car with a halo, and found something to do while a mechanic did the $35 test (since lowered to $30). In aggregate, they paid more than half a million dollars – $518,875.

And the test itself?

Most of the Caravan owners got good news – nearly all of them, in fact. The pass rate was 99.1%.

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Interactive: How does your car stack up?

The chart illustrates each car make and model’s failure rate. Hover over or click on a red dot for details; search a vehicle in the box below.

That was the story for pretty much all the 2005 model years, which were reaching the seven-year age point where the testing rule kicks in. In the nine-month period, owners of just under 300,000 2005-model vehicles had them tested across Ontario, paying just over ten million dollars. About 95 per cent of them passed.

READ: Cost of Drive Clean vehicle emissions tests to be lowered

Among 2005-model cars, Honda CRVs did well (99.4% pass rate). So did Corollas (99.4%) and Matrixes (99.5%).

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SUVs, minivans, compacts – pretty much everything from the class of 2005 did very well, except for Crown Victorias, mainstay of police vehicle fleets, at only 91.2%; and Lincoln Town Cars, at a truly embarrassing 86.7% pass rate.

Forty-two 2005 models that appear more than 100 times in the database, such as the 491 Infiniti G35Xs, had a 100% pass rate.

Global News obtained a trove of Drive Clean testing data from Ontario’s Environment Ministry under an access-to-information request.

The data reveal stratospheric pass rates for newer-model cars – so much so it’s leading some to question why bother testing these vehicles at all.

“Drive Clean was a temporary program that has now outlived its usefulness,” Progressive Conservative environment critic Michael Harris told Global Toronto’s Sean O’Shea Tuesday. “With the advancement in fuel technology, it’s rendered the program useless, really, and we’re calling for it to be scrapped.”

Rising Drive Clean pass rates are usually linked to rising emission and fuel efficiency standards in cars made after the beginning of the 21st century. (Of the 500 worst-performing make/model years in the data, 469, or 93%, were from 2001 or earlier.)

Ontario’s Drive Clean program has been in place since 1999, when it was introduced by then-PC Premier Mike Harris’s government. The idea was to identify and repair cars and trucks that polluted excessively.  Since then, more than 38 million tests have been carried out under the program.

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“It’s very irritating for consumers and dealers alike,” says Frank Notte, director of government relations with the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association. “People have to take time off work, it’s money out of their pocket, and we can be fairly certain the car is going to pass anyway.”

In 2013, the program changed from measuring tailpipe emissions to testing the car’s onboard computers. Global News doesn’t have testing data for this new method.

“We are reviewing the data constantly, and making changes to the program,” said Environment Ministry spokesperson Kate Jordan. ” Any car, regardless of how old it is, can become a gross polluter if it’s not properly maintained, and that’s why getting a Drive Clean test is so important.

“We recognize that cars today are made with newer, more advanced technology and better emissions standards, but DriveClean continues to play an important part in improving air quality.”


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