Pyke: More than 130,000 vehicles fail state emissions tests

After the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency suspended mailing reminders about checkups in order to save money, readers wondered: How many cars actually fail emissions tests?

Glad you asked. It turns out about 7 percent of light-duty vehicles flunked emissions tests in 2014, a Freedom of Information Act request to the IEPA showed. That's 133,104 out of 1.9 million cars, vans and SUVs, according to the most recent annual report.

Data from 2013 indicated a similar pattern, with a 7 percent failure rate, or 131,328 out of 1.87 million cars, vans and SUVs checked.

So, if 93 percent of vehicles pass emissions tests, does it matter if 7 percent don't? Health experts, including the U.S. EPA, say the checkups are essential.

“Automotive emissions are the largest causes of air pollution,” said Angela Tin of the American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest. “We cannot recover these emissions once they are released into the air, and they contribute to the additive causes of lung disease.”

Emissions tests aren't statewide; instead they're mandated in metro Chicago and East St. Louis because of smog levels. The IEPA stopped mailing the reminders in December. Normally, you can't renew your license sticker without a current emissions test, but the IEPA and Secretary of State Jesse White agreed to temporarily waive the requirement to avoid piling on drivers.

Those actions caught the attention of the U.S. EPA, which chided the state in February and demanded an explanation. The IEPA plans to send a response next week, a spokeswoman told me.

State officials have stressed that the law hasn't changed and eligible vehicles still must be checked.

You should know

A dive into IEPA 2015 emissions test data produced flashbacks to the 1990s along with other facts.

• Remember GMC Jimmys, Ford Thunderbirds, Oldsmobile Cutlass Supremes and Plymouth Neons? Those beloved icons, circa 1996, were among 129,294 vehicles that didn't meet emissions standards last year.

• Nearly one-quarter of all the vehicles that flunked in 2015 were 1990s-era models, ranging from 1996 to 1999.

• Chevrolet vehicles followed by Ford and Toyota had the highest number of failed tests in 2015. It's not surprising, Toyota spokesman Rick Bourgoise said, explaining there's a direct correlation between the popularity of the three brands and the IEPA data. Other manufacturers may have fewer failures but that's because fewer people are driving their vehicles, he noted. “The top three are the top three brands in sales,” he noted.

• To that point, Aston Martins accounted for less than 1 percent of failures.

• Recent models from 2011 that fell short included 466 Nissans such as Altimas, Altima Hybrids, Maximas and Sentras. Spokesman David Reuter said all Nissans are certified by the EPA before they are sold and come with a three-year warranty that ensures vehicles conform with emissions standards.

Your voice

Reaction from readers, including Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico, helped drive this column.

“I am an environmentalist and I am concerned about air quality,” Chirico wrote. “I am also a practical person who is concerned about the cost of government. It seems to me that as automobile standards have continued to tighten the controls on emissions there is less and less need for annual testing. Today's cars emit far less harmful emissions than the cars of the past. Every year there are fewer and fewer older model cars that are most at risk of being polluters.

“My question is, how many vehicles fail the test as a percentage of all vehicles? Does it still make sense to test every car?”

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Pace holds public hearings this week on adding a new bus route along Ogden Avenue in DuPage County plus changes to Routes 462, 464, 684, 686, 688, 689, 714, 821, and 829. Forums run 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Naperville city hall, 400 S. Eagle St., on Wednesday at Lisle village hall, 925 Burlington Ave., and Thursday at Downers Grove village hall, 801 Burlington Ave.

Gridlock alert

It's starting to get ugly.

• Dundee Road regulars should watch out for daytime lane closures between Route 53 and Kennicott Avenue in Arlington Heights. Work starts Monday as IDOT improves several Dundee Road intersections.

• Kane County drivers should avoid Route 72 and Big Timber Road starting this week. IDOT will be adding turn lanes and widening the intersection, so expect delays.

• It will be slow going overnight Monday and Tuesday on the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90) at Roselle Road as Illinois tollway crews install a bridge beam.

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