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What are the emissions failure rates for cars of various ages?

WHY CHECK EMISSIONS ON NEWER VEHICLES? That question comes from Lloyd Bonzon, who emails that “it seems to me that the required Bernalillo County 2-year emissions checks for ‘new’ cars are a waste of time and money.”

And, he asks, “has anyone ever looked at the emissions-test failure-rate data for 2-, 4-, 6-, 8-, 10-, etc year-old vehicles? I can’t imagine that there are many failures for ‘new’ cars given the engine technology available today. I do believe that cars ‘of a certain age’ might be worth checking, but it would be necessary to determine at what age a vehicle is ‘old.’ ”

Lloyd’s bottom line? “Just ‘show me the data!’ ”

Here it is, courtesy of Dario W. Rocha, the Environmental Health supervisor in the city’s Vehicle Pollution Management Division, with a little background first, a reminder that even new stuff breaks, and the teaser that “old” is about four years.

Rocha explains that the method behind the emissions checks is “to ensure Albuquerque and Bernalillo County enjoy clean air and are in attainment with national health-based standards. Mobile on-road emissions from vehicles account for a majority of air pollution within Bernalillo County, according to an air toxics study.”

And while federal law requires modern vehicle technology “to minimize vehicle emissions,” he says “these complex technologies do sometimes suffer mechanical failure. Other points of weakness include gas caps, which can lose the integrity of the seal and potentially emit 30 gallons of fuel vapor per year into the atmosphere per car, and the practice of after-market modification of mechanical parts to increase performance, which can undermine the effectiveness of emissions controls.”

As for what’s new and what’s old, Rocha says “data from Bernalillo County testing stations located throughout Bernalillo County demonstrate that vehicles four years and older fail at a higher rate than might be expected. For example, during calendar year 2013, there were 246,046 total tests performed in Bernalillo County, and vehicles four years old failed at a rate of 2.6 percent. That number increases approximately 1 percent with each additional year of vehicle age.”

In addition, flagging a problem early can result in cheaper repair bills than letting it continue down the road.

Now for Lloyd’s data. Of all of the vehicles tested in each cohort:

• 4 years of age: 2.6 percent failed the initial test.

• 5 years of age: 3.39 percent failed the initial test.

• 6 years of age: 4.15 percent failed the initial test.

• 7 years of age: 5.55 percent failed the initial test.

• 8 years of age: 8.89 percent failed the initial test.

• 9 years of age: 9.42 percent failed the initial test.

As a clarifier, Rocha points out that since 2012, new cars can go four years after purchase before requiring an emissions check (unless it changes ownership – then it automatically moves to the standard two-year cycle).

HOW MANY FIREFIGHTERS DOES IT TAKE TO GO SHOPPING? Dee Turner emails, “I frequently see firefighters shopping at the supermarket. They always park the big firetruck right in front of the store. Is it necessary for them to take the firetruck to go shopping? Seems like this is a waste of taxpayer money. Couldn’t they take a regular vehicle?”

Only if you want them to waste time going to get the truck when the call comes in that there’s a fire.

Melissa Romero, the public affairs officer for the Albuquerque Fire Department, explains that “our firefighters and paramedics staff the city of Albuquerque fire stations 24/7, 365 days a year. They remain in service and ready to respond to our citizens any time an emergency occurs. Because they need their vehicles to respond, they cannot use an alternate vehicle to stay in district and shop for their meals during their 48-hour shift.”

As for sending one firefighter on errands, Romero says, “While on duty, the crews must stay together at all times to be able respond to emergencies quickly and efficiently to save the citizens they serve.”

ANOTHER GAS STATION JUST OFF PASEO: And several readers noted that last week’s column on the lack of gas stations on Paseo del Norte missed one. Donn and Mark called to echo Callista, who emails a reminder of “the gas station on Wyoming, just off of PDN: Smith’s gas.”

Assistant editorial page editor D’Val Westphal tackles commuter issues for the Metro area on Mondays and West Siders and Rio Ranchoans on Saturdays. Reach her at 823-3858;; P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, NM 87103; or go to to read previous columns and join in the conversation.


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