Sometime last year, a story made the news in New Jersey, which seemed to garner little attention in the press. The State Government announced that during calendar year 2017, “older vehicles” would no longer be subject to mandatory emissions inspection.
A quick refresher for those who do not reside in the Garden State: for years, NJ subjected passenger cars to an annual inspection, consisting of both safety-related items such as tires, lights, horn, etc., and emissions testing, covering both a tailpipe sniff and a fuel filler cap integrity check. A few years ago, the law changed from an annual inspection to a biannual one. A few years after that, the safety portion of the inspection was dropped.
The announcement from the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission allowed that 1995 and older cars would no longer require any type of inspection. Model year 1996 and newer cars would continue as before, needing an emissions test every two years.
Was the 1995-1996 cutoff arbitrary? Not at all. The Federal Government requires that 1996 and newer passenger cars possess “On Board Diagnostic” (OBD) testing capability with a standardized access plug, and standardized Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTCs). The 1996 nationwide requirement was actually a Phase Two level. So-called OBD I was a California requirement, but never a Federal requirement. Even if not mandatory, most 1991-1995 cars have some sort of rudimentary ability to read DTCs through an OBD system.
What does this technical discussion have to do with the State of NJ? Simple: cost. For a NJ inspection station to test emissions, two sets of equipment were needed: one to read OBD I (1995 and older), and one to read OBD II (1996 and newer). There is no compatibility between the two. The State Government saw this as nothing more than a money-saving decision. By eliminating testing for the older cars, only one set of test equipment must be purchased.
The newest vehicles which no longer need to pass an inspection are 22 years old. Since the average age of light-duty vehicles on the road today is 11 years, one can rationalize that as a percentage of the highway population, there are relatively few cars which may become “gross polluters”. (For what it’s worth, the NJ law as written still requires vehicle owners to maintain their cars, and further states that drivers can be cited for “malfunctioning or missing equipment”.)
Speaking from personal experience: my 1993 Mazda Miata, which I’ve owned since 1996, had always passed NJ emissions, until it failed in 2015. There were no warning lights, nor did the car behave any differently. It turned out that the car needed an oxygen sensor (for which there is no regular replacement interval). Had I not had the vehicle inspected, how would I have known?
Without getting too political, this comes down to a difference of opinion between those who believe in greater individual responsibility, versus those who believe that our government does occasionally need to act in order to protect the greater good. In this case, I see both sides. I actually have a bigger issue with the removal of all safety inspections. Cars alongside me on the road may have bald tires, worn-out brakes, and inoperative headlights, but are still operating legally (and yes, as stated above, they can be cited for obvious defects. When is the last time that happened in New Jersey?).
The new law regarding the emissions testing for 1995 and older vehicles went into effect on May 1, 2017. Owners of affected vehicles were told that the state would be mailing notices. As the owner of such an affected vehicle, I got my notice last week:
It’s in the glove box, but I didn’t check to be certain that the VINs match!
Yesterday, I took a razor blade to the inspection sticker, scraped it off for the last time, and spent quite a few minutes cleaning 24 years’ worth of adhesive residue. The new notice went into the glove box (thank goodness the state didn’t require that it be displayed on the dashboard), and I stood back to admire the newly-bare windshield glass.
My 1993 Miata looks just like all Miatas built from 1990 through 1997. How long might it be before I’m stopped for driving with a missing inspection sticker?
All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.