NJ Motorists Will Soon Have to Pay for Emissions Re-Inspection

By Brenda Flanagan

Used to be, they’d stick a probe in your car’s tailpipe to test emissions at New Jersey motor vehicle inspection stations. If you failed, workers slapped a red sticker on your windshield, you got the problem fixed and came back for a free re-inspection. Well, not any more.

Starting May 1, the tailpipe test gets retired. And within a few months, no more free do-overs, either.

“Well I have to say, that’s a bummer. It sucks. I don’t like it,” said one motorist.

“That’s crazy! You already have to pay to get repairs, repair whatever’s wrong with it,” said another driver.

“To meet both cost-saving needs and to make the most out of advancing technologies, the MVC is making changes to our inspection program, which will also mean improved customer service,” said New Jersey MVC Chair Raymond Martinez.

Beginning in May, the Motor Vehicle Commission will only test emissions using the car’s “OBD” or on-board diagnostic computer. Without having to wait for time-consuming tailpipe tests, motorists will move through the lines faster. Further, the MVC’s new rules exempt all passenger cars model year 1995 and older from any inspections at all because they don’t have diagnostic computers.

“OK, I kind of like that rule,” said a driver going through inspection who just failed.

The MVC says some 200,000 older cars on the road in New Jersey won’t need to get their engines tuned to clean up emissions. They’ll just keep on driving.

“We’ve all seen cars that look like they shouldn’t be on the road. And the official response from the state of New Jersey shouldn’t be, ‘Oh, don’t worry about it. You don’t have to get tested anymore,’” said Doug O’Malley of Environment New Jersey.

“I certainly think this is going to have an impact on the roadways in terms of safety. Just think, if you’re not burning the fuel in your vehicle correctly, it means there’s something wrong with your engine. Does it stop working when you’re in your driveway or when you’re on the Turnpike?” asked Cathleen Lewis, director of public affairs and government relations for AAA of New Jersey.

These old cars get permanently retired at a rate of 3,500 a month though according to the MVC so most will be off-highway within five years anyway. Every tailpipe test costs the state more than $20. So exempting older cars saves $4 million and pushing do-overs onto private garages could eventually save millions more. That’ll be a bonanza for hundreds of local auto repair shops. It’s also why limo driver Fernando Mosconi’s trying to save a few bucks, by getting his company’s entire fleet re-inspected now — before the rules change.

“We pay taxes, we pay registration, we pay everything so I think we should continue the way it is,” he said.

Private inspectors did more than 336,000 emissions tests in New Jersey a couple years ago. These rules could double that business. And at up to $50 a pop, that’s not too shabby.