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State vehicle emission tests to end

Legislation requiring testing sunsets Dec. 31, 2019; Salmon Creek inspection station to close June 3

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
4 Photos
Gabriel Engel tests the emissions of a diesel truck at the Washington State Emission Inspection Station in Vancouver. The Salmon Creek site is scheduled to close in early June. All vehicle smog testing will be done in east Vancouver.
Gabriel Engel tests the emissions of a diesel truck at the Washington State Emission Inspection Station in Vancouver. The Salmon Creek site is scheduled to close in early June. All vehicle smog testing will be done in east Vancouver. (Photos by Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Aside from a trip to the Department of Licensing, there are few rituals associated with owning a car that people probably enjoy less than getting their vehicle’s emissions tested.

Vancouver drivers can rejoice, but not too much. In just a few years, the program is going away entirely. But until then, getting your older car tested in Vancouver is going to get a little less convenient.

The Washington State Vehicle Emission Inspection station in Salmon Creek opened in 1993, the same year smog testing came to Clark County. It’s scheduled to close permanently on June 3. Its operations are being transferred to the state’s other testing station on Northeast 136th Avenue in east Vancouver.

The facility’s parking lot and four bays sat empty, save the vehicles that trickled in one at a time, on Wednesday afternoon.

Only about 140 cars per day come to this station, with more rolling in at the end of the month just before registration tabs are renewed, said Anne Hagerty of Applus+ Technologies Inc., the company that operates the testing stations.

“And every year, we test fewer cars,” she said, referencing the fact that once a car reaches a certain age, it no longer needs to be tested.

As it currently stands, the state mandates emissions testing of cars built between 1993 and 2009. Last year, the station tested about 40,200 cars and slightly more than half of those tested at the east Vancouver site.

Hagerty said all seven employees at the Salmon Creek facility have been offered jobs at the other location. But for the employees and their colleagues in east Vancouver, it might not be a bad idea to begin polishing up their resumes. The legislation behind vehicle emission testing in the state’s most populated counties will sunset Dec. 31, 2019.

Washington adopted California’s vehicle emission standards in 2005, which are stricter than federal standards. Putting an eventual end to emissions testing, which has been in place since 1981, was one of the deals struck to get enough legislators to move the bill though.

Under the state’s Clean Car Law, vehicles made after 2009 need to meet strict clean air standards to be registered or sold in Washington. New cars that don’t meet those standards can’t be sold or registered in the state.

Camille St. Onge, a spokeswoman for the Washington Department of Ecology, said the state has tested just under 900,000 vehicles over the life of the program, and just under 12 percent of them failed the test. Modern cars run cleaner than in the past.

As far as vehicles are concerned, the state’s air quality is improving. Ecology estimates that diesel pollution in the state dropped by 45 percent between 2005 and 2014, largely due to improved fuels and new engines with advanced emission control systems.

“Back when we started this program, we were in a different scenario where cars didn’t meet clean cars standards in our state now,” she said.

Drivers pay $15 to get their vehicles tested at an Applus+ station; $12 of that goes to the company, with the remaining $3 going to the state.

If a car fails the emissions test and needs to be repaired, drivers need to show they spent at least $150 trying to correct the problem.

But some people are critical of the program. A few mechanics who were interviewed but declined to be named said $150 is rarely enough to actually correct the problem and amounted to little more than an extra fee for driving a polluting car.

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