Davidson - Cobb story

Scott Davidson, chief inspector for the Department of Motor Vehicles, poses for a photo in his Montpelier office.

As of Jan. 15, vehicle inspection stations in Vermont no longer could grant conditional permits for cars that failed the state’s emissions test. Elimination of the permits was mandated by Act 206 from last year. Legislation has been introduced this session that would amend the emissions rules so that only newer cars, ten years old or less, would be subject to an on-board diagnostic (OBD) emissions test.

After the new rule went into effect on Jan. 15, vehicles that fail the OBD test will fail inspection, according to Scott Davidson, chief inspector for the Department of Motor Vehicles.

“That means you won’t get a sticker and you won’t be able to drive the vehicle until the problem is fixed,” Davidson said.

Vermont had allowed conditional permits for only two years, from January 2017, when Vermont inspections changed from a paper system to an electronic data collection and management system referred to as the Automated Vehicle Inspection Program (AVIP), to this year. Vermont started checking emissions in 1996 after a mandate from the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The biggest difference between what was done before 2017 and now is the switch to the computer-based, on-board inspections. All inspection stations use a computer tablet that reads the data from the vehicle’s computer. When a problem is found it is reported not only to the inspector but also to a state data base that is accessible to all inspectors. Vermont does not do OBD tests on pre-1996 vehicles, instead inspections of older cars involve visual checks of the emissions components.

“A conditional pass was provided for vehicles failing the on-board diagnostic system portion of the inspection, designed to help inspection stations adjust to the new system, and to provide motorists with additional time to complete emissions repairs,” Davidson said.

Reaction by inspectors to the elimination of the conditional permits is mixed. Brent Scarborough, manager of the Midas shop in Rutland, said it could be a “huge problem”.

“A customer could spend $1,800 on repairs and we would have totally fixed the problem but we still couldn’t give them a sticker, ” he said. The reason is because of the drive test required after a repair.

“I can’t do a 30 or 40 mile road test, we just don’t have that much time,” he said.

“Having to drive the vehicle to get it ready is not new. The amount of driving required depends on a variety for factors and is specific to the make and model of the vehicle,” Davidson said.

Inspectors agree the road test is not new but say under the new guidelines, the road test could take up to a half hour.

Last year, Vermont inspectors performed 470,515 OBD tests of which 69,958 (14.8 percent) failed. 32,713 of the failed tests did not pass because the car was not ready. Not ready means the vehicle’s computer had not recently checked the emissions control system.

Al Miller, service advisor for Cody Chevrolet of Berlin, said the problem is more for the customer than for his staff.

“If a customer comes in on the 29th of the month and the car fails the emissions test, they’re not going to get their car inspected, even if we fix the problem,” Miller said.

The biggest problem for car owners could be an increase in costs, said Rick Carrara, owner of Rutland Autoworks.

“In the past if a car didn’t pass I didn’t charge. But every time I hook up a car to the computer, I have to pay a fee. If I have to test a car two or three times, I may have to start charging. I have no choice,” he said.

Although conditional waivers are no longer available, the state has added a time extension waiver which is similar to the conditional waiver but is granted only for cars that need repairs in excess of $200 and the repairs needed are not covered under warranty.

“We understand that required repairs can sometimes be cost-prohibitive, so we have created a time extension waiver that may be available for emissions-related repairs,” said DMV Commissioner Wanda Minoli. “The waiver will give motorists one year to make emissions-related repairs necessary to pass inspection.”

Last Tuesday, the Senate Transportation Committee voted unanimously to advance a bill that would require all vehicles to undergo safety inspections each year but would eliminate the OBD emissions test for cars that are ten years old or older.

Whatever happens with the emissions rules, most inspectors are happy with the OBD system.

“We had a learning curve to get use to the new computer but since then it’s been pretty smooth,” said Jack Laberti, owner of Summer Street Auto in Barre. The computer system is much better for record keeping than the old paper system, he said.

Terry Winters, service manager at Formula Ford in Barre, agreed. “The new system protects us and the customer,” he said. Problems that are discovered are recorded and stored on the state data base that is checked by the inspectors, customers cannot shop around hoping to find a station that might miss or ignore a problem.

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