23K flunked emissions; Zia dropped from vanity plates - Albuquerque Journal

23K flunked emissions; Zia dropped from vanity plates

HOW MANY CARS FAIL EMISSIONS? That question comes in an email from John, who says “I’ve had many vehicles emissions-tested in Albuquerque over the past 20 years. No vehicle has ever failed, some just two years old and one now over 20 years old.”

And so he asks “what’s the ratio of vehicles tested divided into vehicles failing emission test? A more interesting statistic would be the emission failure rate by age of vehicle or vehicle odometer mileage. If failure rates are very low, what’s the purpose of testing other than to provide a steady flow of business to emissions-test facilities?”

First, the purpose of testing is to address metro-area violations of the national ambient air quality standard for carbon monoxide and comply with the Federal Clean Air Act of 1977. Emissions testing has been done steadily on vehicles registered in Bernalillo County since 1989 (before that New Mexico was one of just eight states to be sanctioned by the EPA and lose federal highway funding for not operating a required vehicle inspection and maintenance program).

All 1987-and-newer vehicles under 10,001 pounds, including hybrids, must pass an emissions test. Vehicles exempt from emissions testing are new ones purchased from a dealer or manufacturer (they get a pass for four years), and dedicated electric, diesel, those used only for legally sanctioned competition, those not operated on public street or highways, farm equipment and those weighing more than 10,001 pounds or more.

To John’s question, in 2021, the more than 130 Air Care Stations across Albuquerque and Bernalillo County tested 259,183 vehicles; 9%, or 23,326 of them, failed, according to data from the city’s Environmental Health Department. While the highest failure rate was in 1987 models (30% of 381, or 114), vehicles from every single model year failed, including 2022.

The model years 2007 and older all had double-digit failure rates. In 2007, 10% of the 12,726 vehicles tested, 1,272, flunked emissions.

In 2016 models, 4% of the 21,220 tested, 848, failed.

And of the 2022 models tested (required if you bought from a private party and not the dealer/manufacturer), 1% of the 76 vehicles flunked.

A list of Air Care Stations is available at CABQ.gov. The Vehicle Pollution Management Department offers one free retest for vehicles within 90 days of the failed test date. Once you have addressed the reason your vehicle failed (we once had one fail for a bad gas cap – lose the seal and you flunk), you should take the vehicle and failed test to VPMD at 1500 Broadway NE for a free retest. Email vpm@cabq.gov or call 505-764-1110 for more information.

VANITY PLATES SHED SPECIAL CHARACTERS: Steve Suttle says “In the entire history of N.M. vanity plates from 1967 on, the customer was able to get a dash, a space, a tilde – really – or the Zia sun symbol on the plate.” Meanwhile, “the Zia has been on every regular-issue plate since 1927. Now, for reasons unexplained, those symbols are no longer available on vanity plates. Does anyone know why?”

Yes, and it’s a law enforcement issue.

Charlie Moore of the state Taxation and Revenue Department, parent to the Motor Vehicle Division, explains “it looks like the change happened in 2017, and people who already had vanity plates with some of the discontinued characters were allowed to keep using them. We removed their availability mainly due to safety issues. Law enforcement’s NLETS system doesn’t support the lookup of any special characters. So, if they look up Scooby-1 or Scooby1 it will bring up multiple vehicles and owners. This also can happen with automated toll booths.

“The other problem is that when customers try to renew online or through the IVR (integrated voice response), typing or adding a tilde or a Zia symbol is very difficult, and most of these customers run into renewal problems because the system will bring up multiple records.”

As for the Zias on regular plates, those are OK if they are the small ones used as a standard character for separating letters and numbers. Moore says “if it’s part of the plate design, they’ll get that. They just can’t order up an alpha-numeric combination including a Zia.”

Editorial page editor D’Val Westphal tackles commuter issues for the metro area on Mondays. Reach her at 823-3858; dwestphal@abqjournal.com; or 7777 Jefferson NE, Albuquerque, NM, 87109.


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