As part of my recent process of renewing the registration on my car I encountered a major flaw in the Ontario Drive Clean program. This issue is a common but mostly overlooked problem encountered by anyone with an older car with the high possibility of failing the emissions test.
When I investigated what the options were for keeping the car on the road I was astounded at the blatant conflict of interest in the system.
If your car is unable to pass the emissions test it is possible to get a conditional license that is valid for one year . This is in itself a good idea as it gives drivers time to make repairs or retest the car. In order to qualify your car has to have failed an initial test, have had $450 in repair work done, and then failed a subsequent retest. This also seems fair enough in principle.
The problem is that the only garages that you are allowed to have the $450 in qualifying repairs done for a conditional license are those that also conduct the emissions test. The potential for abuse with this power is enormous as garages could easily defraud customers by intentionally failing cars to receive more repair work.
Leaving the results of the testing process in the hands of those best situated to make more money off repairs is a bad idea. The issue is also that a failed result is good for the garage whether the results are faked or not. Customers anxious to be able to drive their vehicle are presented with the choice of potentially failing a re-test of the car or getting the threshold $450 in work done that would secure a conditional pass regardless of the outcome of the test. This opens the door for garages to propose expensive and potentially unnecessary repairs when the real solution could be much less expensive.
It is surprising that a conflict of interest this serious is so blatant while facing no major criticism. There are two very simple solutions that could significantly improve the structure of emissions testing in Ontario. The simplest solution would be to require that emissions testing facilities be in no way affiliated with any organization that does repair work on vehicles. This is impractical so a more reasonable solution would be to either disallow repairs from being made as the same garage or to restrict testing facilities from conducting repairs related to emissions testing.
The above not withstanding, provided the car is taken to a licensed garage, there should be no restriction on where a driver chooses to get repair work done. This legislated repair oligopoly is just another example of how the province of Ontario seem to believe that a system that allows private companies to operate without any direct competition wont result in the consumer being screwed over.