E-test dead April 1st: ServiceOntario sticker issuers expect busy day

EASTERN ONTARIO — That blasted “check engine” light won’t matter as of April 1st, when Ontario’s “Drive Clean” regime officially sputters to an end.

And that day is expected to be a busy one at local ServiceOntario centres as a potential backlog of vehicle owners come in to renew expired licence plates on older machines that otherwise needed an ‘e-test’ for validation stickers purchased before April Fool’s Day.

Staff on the transportation ministry hotline confirmed the e-test requirement disappears for all cars and light trucks April 1 — even those whose stickers expired prior to that date.

In short, the looming change may be tempting some vehicle owners with recently expired stickers to skip what would have been their final Drive Clean e-test. They may be taking their chances and driving with expired plates for a few days or weeks — at the risk of a $110 fine — or parking their vehicles for a short period.

And there has been a measurable decline in renewals in the weeks leading up to Drive Clean’s demise, confirms Harry Malhi of the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services, though he couldn’t say why. “While we are not able to speculate on the reasons for the decrease, we can confirm that when compared to the same period last year, there has been a slight decrease over the last couple of months in the number of validation stickers issued by ServiceOntario,” Malhi said by email.

Although a red-tape hassle, the e-test was free of charge to vehicle owners in its latest all-electronic version — but at a cost to the Ontario treasury of $40-million a year. The vast majority of vehicles were passing the test anyway, with a tiny minority failing or requiring follow-up repair, all facts touted by the Ford government, which is following through on a campaign promise to nix the 20-year-old program.

In a press release, local MPP Jim McDonell trumpeted that his constituents “will no longer be required to take time out of their busy days for Drive Clean tests.”

Meanwhile, Winchester Automotive Services proprietor Bob Fetterly says he’s still conducting some Drive Clean tests as the program winds down — but he’s increasingly seen clients inquire and then put it off as well.
“Yeah, there have been customers that have postponed licensing,” said Fetterly. “There are going to be a lot of people sitting and waiting” for the program to end at this point, he added.

Others have chosen to go ahead with an e-test at this late date, he said, because they do a lot of commuting and just don’t want to risk driving with an expired sticker for even a day or two.

The government remunerates his business $30 for each test carried out, Fetterly explained, adding he has offered the service more as a means of drawing customers to the shop than a money-maker.

The involved equipment amounts to just a computer and related monitors these days, as the province did away with actual tail-pipe testing several years ago.

Fetterly suggested the province should replace Drive Clean with annual mandated vehicle safety checks — as done in some U.S. states.

Heavy vehicles of 4,800 kg and above remain subject to Drive Clean testing.

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