Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Wasting Gas to Save the Planet

This afternoon found me spending my lunch break (or being non-hourly, a period of time in the middle of the day) driving in circles for no reason other than to save the planet.

You see, I have been so unsporting as to own a 1996 Toyota Camry, which despite looking a bit dirty gets great mileage and has 118k miles on it. Most people would think this was a keeper -- except, it seems, my state's environmental regulations. You see, 1996 was the first year during which the current type of ODB II emissions monitoring system was required, and the one on my car, being a first year out attempt, is rather flaky. It doesn't help that my car was originally manufactured for the California market, which has it's own totally unique set of emissions monitoring requirements, which don't match the rest of the country and which Texas mechanics don't seem to be very good with.

So while my car invariably passes the actual tailpipe test, it frequently has a check engine light on, which constitutes an automatic fail on our emissions test here in Texas. Over the years I've spent plenty of money (indeed, almost all the money that I've ever had to spend on care repairs) on getting the car to pass emissions, though last time around I learned that since I always pass the tailpipe emissions anyway, I can just reset the computer sixty miles before going in for my state inspection, and I'll usually be fine.

Thus, I found myself this afternoon driving in circles to get up to sixty miles so I could get my inspection sticker (which was long overdue). A cop pulled me over and observed that my sticker was out of date. I told him that I was aware of this (MrsDarwin having been pulled over in my car last week for the same reason, thus spurring me to action to get things fixed) and was trying to get the requisite miles on the computer after working on it to be able to pass inspection. The officer helpfully advised me to go find a parking lot to rack up sixty miles driving in circles in so that I wouldn't be violating the law on public road, but let me off with a warning.

So the car is now down getting inspected. Here's hoping that 48 miles on the computer allowed enough tests to run for it to pass. But one can't help being deeply cynical about the whole process. The bottom line I've got from various mechanics is: Your car is a 96. It'll probably always be trouble on the check engine light. You can either drive it and deal with it each year, or sell it and get a newer one.

At the end of the day, I can't help suspecting one of the real reasons for all our regulations in regards to cars is to make sure that the car inventory turns over often enough. Having driven my car 4,600 miles in the last 16 months (so the JiffyLube guy told me in wonder) I'm not exactly destroying the planet -- but the government won't rest until I shell out the money to buy a new car, which would probably involve more emissions to produce than driving my '96 around for another decade.


Meredith said...

I drive a 96 Toyota Avalon, and also hold my breath every time I go through the emissions test.

Ginkgo100 said...

I guess the cop has to say that, but it would definitely have been better to practice on the public roads rather than in a dangerous place like a parking lot. Too many pedestrians and other hazards.

How overdue is your sticker? Mine was due in April. I took it in last month, but failed because I had just replaced the battery—and the idiot system wouldn't let the car pass until I'd driven a hundred miles or so. We went on vacation the next day and I forgot to take it in within the 14 days they said I could get a free re-inspection. So now I have to pay again. Wish I'd known before I got the battery replaced.

In Colorado, you don't have to do it every year. Much more sensible. It varies depending on how old your car is, but I think it's never more often than every two years.

By the way, have you seen my new blog design? I'd like to know what you think.

Darwin said...

Um, yeah, well... It expired last July. Long story, but I'd got away with it till last week.

I got mine to pass with 49 miles since resetting the battery, so you may be able to get away with less that 100.

The new blog design is pretty snazzy. My personal preference is more in the solid colors and small fonts line, but this looks very slick.

Kelly said...

Emissions test? Does that vary by state, because I've never needed one.

Dorian Speed said...

It's weird to me how anal Texas is about driving regulations and ticketry, given it's image as "a whole other country" of frontier-type mavericks.

Maybe I'm just bitter about that ticket we got in Cuero.

Darwin said...


Yes. Not all states have them, and the requirements vary.


Indeed, and what is it with homeowners associations in Texas?

Deacon Bill Burns said...

If you get one of those handheld testers, you can reset the computer yourself. They cost about $100.

Darwin said...

Just so's you know, the car did indeed pass.

Dorian Speed said...

I am here both to express relief and to say that I regret my inappropriate use of apostrophe in the comment from yesterday evening.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Be careful about resetting car computers. A feckless mechanic did that to our 2000 Saturn SL a few years ago, and not only would it not pass the emissions test after that, but his clumsiness, in the words of the Saturn mechanic, "fried just about everything under your hood." The mechanic's boss, an honorable man, ate the $1000+ it cost to repair the damage.

Our SL is just barely too recent to be grandfathered in for a tailpipe check, but with a '96 I'd think you'd be able to get the manual tailpipe check if the computer emissions check doesn't work. Turns out that though our SL fails emissions inspection at the computer because of its age and orneriness, our inspection mechanic(honorable mechanic above doesn't do inspections) has discovered that if you run the test a dozen or so times, at some point our car's computer will break down under the extraordinary interrogation techniques and confess that its emissions are in order.

Our mechanic has also mentioned that the emissions legislation, while crazy-making for the citizenry, was a great boon (or boondoggle) for the big chains that do inspection, as the little corner inspection places, or gas stations that did inspections too, couldn't afford the costly equipment suddenly required by law. My favorite little inspection place, convenient to my house and run by shockingly honest Evangelicals (shocking for mechanics, not for Evangelicals) with little English but great car skills, was put out of business by the emissions check law.

DMinor said...

4600 miles in the last 16 months --
Wow! Not a lot of travelling in that car.

Georgia doesn't have an emmissions inspection, unless you live in the Atlanta Metro area. The emmisions always used to get me when I lived in Maryland -- good for costing us repairs we could ill afford.

Anonymous said...

Darwin wrote: "At the end of the day, I can't help suspecting one of the real reasons for all our regulations in regards to cars is to make sure that the car inventory turns over often enough."

Probably true, and a totally valid reason it is. Old cars pollute more.