In a partial victory for opponents of North Carolinas state-mandated auto inspections program, owners of new cars and trucks will no longer face emissions tests starting in 2014.
Mirroring a national trend, Gov. Bev Perdue signed a bill this week that exempts vehicles three years old and newer from annual checks intended to fight pollution.
Auto owners still must pass yearly safety tests of tires, headlights, wipers and other parts to renew their auto registration.
But the new law means drivers in 48 counties, including Mecklenburg, wont have to pay for emissions testing some view as unnecessary. A safety test costs drivers $13.60, with an additional $16.40 for the emissions inspections
The Perdue administration said Thursday that advances in auto efficiency rendered emissions testing useless for newer vehicles.
The governor realizes in these tough economic times, new car owners can save a few dollars, spokeswoman Chris Mackey said.
Previous attempts to ease inspection requirements in North Carolina have been defeated by political allies of garage owners.
As recently as May, a General Assembly joint transportation committee voted 7-5 to scuttle a budget provision that would have ended safety and emissions test requirements for newer vehicles.
Supporters argued inspections for cars three years old and newer are unneeded because those cars rarely fail.
Critics said reducing requirements would hurt auto repair garages, inspection stations, tire shops and others who count on the testing for profits.
In July, the legislature approved new legislation, House Bill 585, by wide margins. Perdue signed the bill into law Wednesday.
The bills primary sponsor Rep. G.L. Pridgen, R-Lumberton, did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Report on fraud at garages
The new emissions testing rule comes after a series by the Observer last fall found some garages passed unsafe vehicles or ripped off customers with unneeded repairs.
Crooked garages falsified emissions test results, sometimes for bribes.
Amid a state crackdown last year, criminal and civil charges were filed against hundreds of garages and their employees who passed cars suspiciously soon after they failed at another garage.
Perdue ordered a full review of the inspection program after the Observers investigation. She said at the time that the state should consider exempting new vehicles from inspections since they are still under manufacturer warranties.
A national trend
The reform in North Carolina follows similar moves in places such as Missouri and New Jersey and Washington, D.C., that have repealed or exempted vehicles from inspection. At least 10 of the 33 states that require mandatory emissions testing exempt vehicles three years-old or newer.
Emissions testing in North Carolina began in Mecklenburg County in the 1980s and spread to other parts of the state to meet federal clear-air rules. Vehicles made in 1996 or after were subject to the testing requirement.
But a 2008 study by the N.C. Program Evaluation, the legislatures watchdog agency, suggested exempting newer cars because so few failed. The report also found there is no evidence emission testing improved air quality.
The state Department of Transportation and the state Division of Air Quality reported that North Carolina could exempt vehicles three-years old and newer from emissions testing and still meeting federal clean-air standards.