Mike Anello, co-owner of Woodstock Automotive on Mill Hill Rd. pulls out the OBD II, which connects the computer to the car during inspection.
Tania Barricklo – Daily Freeman
His 2009 Chevy Cobalt did not pass the emissions portion of the New York State vehicle inspection, and mechanics at Above All Auto Repair on Route 44/55 in Highland did what they could to get him back on the road.
At issue is the “check engine” light, also known as the Malfunction Indicator Lamp.
“It wouldn’t go off, so I took it to a couple of places. I just wanted to get it through inspection,” Court said in recent days.
The dealership where he bought the car told him it was a problem with the valves and low compression and quoted him an estimate of $2,400 to make the repairs necessary to get it through inspection.
Frustrated, the cash-strapped Court took it to the Highland shop and was told the top half of the engine needed to be removed and sent away for repairs.The whole thing would cost him just over $1,200.
Court anticipated getting his car back on Jan. 19, though not necessarily with the official 2015 red inspection sticker.
“I have to drive it around a few days to reset the codes,” he said. “They will give me a temporary sticker for 10 days. If another code comes up, then I’m out of luck.”
Meanwhile, he and his girlfriend, Rose Gurrieri, were stranded in their three-room apartment, wondering how they would pay for the mounting costs.
The pair is on disability and had to rely on Gurreri’s mother to put a down payment on the work that has already been done.
For them, like many other working class New Yorkers or those on fixed incomes, just maintaining the vehicle throughout the year has been a challenge, particularly with the high cost of living in the Empire State.
According to the Vehicle and Traffic Law, Article 5, Periodic Inspection of Motor Vehicles, Section 301, “The commissioner requires that every motor vehicle registered in this state be inspected once each year for safety, and at least biennially for emissions.”
The New York Department of Motor Vehicles administers vehicle laws enacted by the state Legislature.For the safety portion of the inspection, cars are checked for properly functioning seat belts, brakes, steering and all steering linkages, tires, lights, windshield and other glass, wipers, blades, horn and mirrors.
Each vehicle registered in the state must be inspected annually before the current sticker expires or whenever the vehicle is registered under a different name.
New York is far from the only state requiring regular safety checks, although less than half have periodic inspection programs in place, according to autoinc.org, the Automotive Service Association’s online publication. The majority of these states, it notes, are in the Northeast.
In a September 2014 report, Autoinc. further stated that the scarcity of periodic motor vehicle inspections, “coupled with the current economic conditions, have led to an increased number of neglected repairs.”
As far as New York’s emissions program, it grew out of the 1990 federal Clean Air Act and is carried out by the DMV, according to spokesman Chet Lasell.
“Standards are set by the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation ... with the agreement and approval of the EPA in accordance with the Clean Air Act,” he wrote in an email.
While Court agrees in theory with the standards, he thinks they may be a bit stringent and, in many cases, too costly for the average New Yorker.
“It’s been annoying,” he said. “We just wanted to get the car through, and now, we’re stuck. It’s just a little too much.”
That’s a sentiment shared by Dave Hollar of the town of Ulster. Since he bought a 2003 Hyundai Elantra for his daughter, Sarah, in 2009, he’s had nothing but problems.
“It’s basically every three to six months after we get something fixed, the ‘check engine’ light will come on,” he said. “Usually it’s a different code (showing up) than the previous one that’s been repaired. We’ve done four or five over the years. Once, it was the catalytic converter. Another time, it was the gas cap. The key thing is the car always runs fine. There’s nothing wrong with it, but the computer thinks there is.”
Hollar, a programmer at IBM, said he has put close to $2,000 into emissions repairs over the years – an amount he believes is more than the value of the car, which he intends to replace in the coming months.
As far as New York’s strict vehicle emission standards, Hollar isn’t so sure they do what they’re intended to do.
“If it truly means your car is polluting, fine, but I think when it continually happens, there’s a glitch and you’re forced to take care of that, even though you know there’s nothing truly wrong with the car.”
For others, public health trumps everything, particularly when it comes regulating air pollutants.
“It (emissions) is not a mechanical issue, but it’s certainly a safety issue,” said Daniel Gartenstein, assistant corporate counsel for the city of Kingston. “The federal government has implemented restrictions regarding emissions, and it’s not for a municipality to ignore those requirements, and it’s not for drivers to simply ignore them and continue to drive.”
In New York state, if a driver is caught with an expired inspection sticker, police issue a traffic ticket ranging from $25 to $50 (up to 60 days late) or $50 to $100 (past 60 days).
Mandatory state surcharges of $55 as well as additional fees are added to the fine, according to the DMV.
Drivers also can get parking tickets if their cars have expired stickers or no stickers.
Most courts dismiss those cases where a driver shows proof of inspection immediately following a ticket.
In Gartenstein’s role, he sees numerous people in traffic court each Wednesday for violations like cellphone use, speeding and expired inspection stickers.He said most of the expired inspections are simply because drivers overlooked them.
“The vast majority of the defendants simply forgot or their wife forgot or their kids forgot. You’d be amazed how many of them blame a family member,” he said. “Most people who can’t afford to pay for repairs to their vehicle are not driving and are relying on public transportation. I have never had someone come into city court and tell me the inspection expired because they couldn’t afford to get the car fixed.”
Moreover, Gartenstein does not see it as a growing problem, even in the still-struggling economy.
“It comes in waves. Some weeks, we have 10 or 20 (expired inspection violations). Some weeks, we have none."
"I wouldn’t say there isn’t anything to this,” the attorney said of the link between expired stickers and the poor. “I think there are financial hardships people deal with on a daily basis, and one of those is the price of maintaining private transportation and this is part of that equation.”
For those with limited means like Court, there is a solution if certain conditions are met. It is called a waiver, or “pass.”
“An emission inspection waiver is provided for in regulation and is allowed by terms under New York’s agreement with the EPA,” Lasell noted. “If a person attempts to repair their vehicle after an ‘OBD2’ (Onboard Diagnostics) emission failure and the vehicle still fails the ‘OBD2’ portion of the inspection after repair, a waiver may be offered by the inspection station.”
In order for that to happen, the vehicle must pass the safety inspection and emission control devices must show no signs of tampering, Lasell said.
Additionally, the repairs must total at least $450.
Court had no idea about the waiver and said he wasn’t ready to go in that direction.Late in the game, he ended up renting a car so he could get out of the apartment and run errands, and his mechanic, Mike Dubois, even paid for three days.
But a funny thing happened as Court pulled out of the car rental shop, leaving him slightly bemused.
“The ‘check engine’ light was on,” he said. “It makes you wonder.”
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