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 A cop pulled me over and observed that my sticker was out of date.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. The original motivation for the regulations was no doubt environmental, but by the time everyone got done touching it, things tinkered with enough to provide a healthy boost to consumer demand. 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.