Putting Your Car on the Treadmill

Starting this October, your car's inspection sticker is going to cost a little more. And, your car will have to pass some additional tests.

It's all part of an effort to reduce air pollution and its impact on your health.

Officially, it's an enhanced vehicle emissions inspection and maintenance program. And environmental experts say it's necessary, because cars, trucks and buses emit more than 40 percent of the pollutants that cause ground level ozone. Smog.

How many people are affected? More than 750,000 Massachusetts residents suffer from heart or lung ailments seriously aggravated by air pollution.

Massachusetts has done a lot in recent years to improve air quality. But, not enough, according to the federal government.

This state's air quality still fails to meet standards set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, so the federal Clean Air Act of 1990 requires Massachusetts to strengthen its vehicle emissions inspection program.

Beginning this fall, in addition to the safety and emissions tests that you're used to, the inspection program will test your personal vehicle under real driving conditions. Your car will be put on a dynamometer, or treadmill, connected to a computer that will measure your vehicle's pollution level. And, for the first time, diesel trucks and buses will be tested, as well.

Vehicles made prior to 1984 will not require an emissions inspection and new cars will be exempt for two years. And, to make it more user friendly, cars with a fantastic history of clean emissions will not have to take the test either.

State experts tell me that the new tests should reduce air pollution caused by cars, trucks and buses, by an estimated 25 percent.

Of course, the new tests will require new equipment. And that means that inspection stations have to pick up the bill for the new equipment, about $700 a month. That includes everything, from training to maintenance. Increased dealer cost per test, other than the equipment, will be three cents. The cost of power usage.

At first, the state was concerned that there wouldn't be enough inspection stations willing to take on the cost of new equipment. And inspection station owners expressed fears about the final cost of the equipment. It looks like the concerns have all but disappeared.

The equipment cost is far less than first estimated, thanks to a bulk buy.

And the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs has been recruiting across the state. So far, more than three quarters of the necessary inspection stations have indicated interest in being one of 1,200 inspection sites in Massachusetts. That's a decrease from the current number of sites, but Environmental Affairs will be sure that there will be inspection stations conveniently located across the state.

Right now, you pay $15 for a sticker. The gas station gets $12.50. This fall, you'll probably pay $23, and the inspection station will get $15.66.

But that $23 is just a guess right now. There's a hearing in the State House Monday to help determine just how much you will pay. Closer to home, another hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, April 29th, at the Department of Environmental Protection offices at 436 Dwight Street in Springfield.

That $23, by the way, is one of the lowest fees in the country when it comes to car inspections.

There are a lot more details--about how all inspection stations will be linked, about new emissions equipment being installed in cars, for example. You'll be hearing a lot more about what you have to do.

But, for now, just know that, beginning next October, you'll get a safety inspection every year. An emissions test every two years. Cost per year, as of now, $23.

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