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New equipment to check auto emissions

Brett Salander doesn’t have $7,500 to squander.

But that’s the price Salander, mechanic and owner of Howard’s Auto Repair in Tarentum, likely will have to pay to conduct business beginning in March. And he said, ultimately, the consumer will pay.

Due to new emissions-testing guidelines, mechanics will be required to buy equipment in order to take a reading from a vehicle’s onboard diagnostic system, which is expected to examine a vehicle’s emissions system more thoroughly than the current tailpipe test.

In the coming months, the computerized test will be in place at state inspection stations in Allegheny, Beaver, Washington and Westmoreland counties, plus a sizable portion of southeastern Pennsylvania, for use on all consumer vehicles made since 1996. The tailpipe test will still be acceptable for vehicles built before 1996.

“Nobody wants to buy more equipment to do the same thing,” Salander said. “Bottom line, we’re here to eat. I just shrug my shoulders. Guess what• I’m not going to buy (the equipment). You guys are. I can’t absorb (the cost).”

Joan Nissley, a spokeswoman for PennDOT, said the state is looking to certify multiple vendors for the equipment, which is projected to cost from $4,500 to $7,500. Prices will be market-driven, Nissley said.

That does little to soften the blow to Salander and other mechanics who spent as much as $20,000 on current emissions equipment.

“To me, it’s really disappointing and upsetting,” said Chuck Shumaker, owner of Oakmont Automotive along Hulton Road. “I paid $15,000 for my last machine this time of year in 1997.

“You just have to deal with it. Even the tool suppliers are saying it’s a bad thing. Either you do it, or you don’t do it.”

Equipment finds other problems

The new testing equipment can read about 400 codes from a vehicle’s onboard computer system. That also can help mechanics diagnose problems that often are overlooked.

“If there’s something wrong with the emissions in your car, the computer should know it,” said Bill Reese, mechanic at Melwood Automotive in Allegheny Township.

One concern with the new computerized testing involves a vehicle’s “check engine” light.Although many drivers ignore that warning, the light indicates something, in fact, is wrong with the car — not always emissions.

“I’ve seen cars with check engine lights pass emissions tests with tailpipe tests,” Reese said.

But if a vehicle’s “check engine” light turns on or is on during a computerized emissions test, that car fails.

Salander said he has the diagnostics equipment that can be connected to a vehicle’s computer and indicate problems with emissions.

But unlike the soon-to-be state-approved equipment, “(the results) won’t be certified,” Salander said.

Automobiles produce about one-third of polluting emissions in Pennsylvania, said Kurt Knaus, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Mechanics in the greater Pittsburgh area may use the new test beginning in January. They are required to be set up for testing by March.

“It does the same test. The end result is the same,” Shumaker said. “If one county has to do it, why shouldn’t the whole nation• That’s my outlook.”


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