As the jingle goes, sort of, what is more American than baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and ... old Chevrolets, Fords, Dodges, etc.?
For reasons either nostalgic or economic, old cars and trucks are a popular part of the American roadscape. And so is a healthy mistrust of too much bureaucracy.
So, in a victory for the advocates of less government regulation (and common sense), New Jersey has dropped the requirement to have emissions tests performed on pre-1996 vehicles.
It's a welcome move to save costs by doing less. The worry is that the policy leaves the worst-polluting cars free to belch smog without any fear by the owner of being refused an inspection sticker. But it's a worry that is disappearing as quickly as the cars themselves, an estimated 3,500 of which are taken off the road each month, according to the state Motor Vehicle Commission.
The reason for the change is to save money by getting rid of outdated technology required at inspection stations to test pre-1996 passenger vehicles. Newer cars are equipped with on-board diagnostics that allow emissions to be tested with more modern equipment.
"It would be too early to give you a dollar figure for cost savings," says MVC spokeswoman Mairin Bellack, who stresses testing for newer vehicles will continue. "I can state that the state will save money by utilizing newer technology and not having to service out-of-date technology."
Environmentalists are concerned that the almost 200,000 pre-1996 vehicles still on New Jersey roads include 50,000 clunkers that cause the most pollution. But the policy change has the support of the state Department of Environmental Protection, which needed approval from the federal Environmental Protection Agency to proceed.
Also, while the change eliminates inspections for older cars, it does not exempt owners from being cited for not maintaining all mechanical and emissions equipment.
"I can't fail a car with a cracked windshield, but you can still get a ticket for it," says Brian McNellis, whose Linwood Gulf performs private inspections.
McNellis also makes the point the change will make it easier to sell 1995 and older cars because the worry the vehicle won't pass inspection is gone. That adds a potential boost in commerce to the advantages of the new policy.
For most drivers of the 5.7 million passenger vehicles registered in New Jersey, the inspection schedule will remain the same - one test when a new vehicle gets to be 5 years old and every other year thereafter. For those with exempt vehicles, the state says it is sending notices six to eight weeks before they would have been due for inspection. Owners will be told to remove their old inspection stickers and keep the new notice with their vehicles in case they are pulled over by police.
If you are among those who get the notice, welcome the victory for less regulation and enjoy your old ride, while it lasts.