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Mechanic's Corner

Wrong Time for More Pressure on Consumers of Auto Repair

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I have worked in the California Smog and Emissions Testing program for over 22 years.

I have worked in the Gold Shield Program, which helps to certify Gross Polluter vehicles (vehicles that fail their Emissions Inspection by a wide margin) since 1995.  Sometimes the Gold Shield Shops and Technicians that do this work do not get paid for all the time and work they put in when they are bringing an older vehicle, that may have high mileage, back into spec so it can pass an Emissions Test.  That said, there is a feeling of satisfaction in knowing that you are cleaning the air and helping someone who usually does not have a lot of money.

In the fall of 2008, the game got even tougher for the Consumer and the Shops.  The State of California is requiring that all Gold Shield repaired vehicles must pass the present day Smog Inspection as well as the next Smog Inspection in 2 years. This means that the money supplied from the State, which is up to $500.00 per vehicle may not be sufficient to repair the vehicle (The consumer has either a $100 or $20 co-pay depending on their income level).  This means that anywhere from $520-$600 of work can be done on the vehicle.  With the new guidelines, some Gold Shield Shops are turning away the lower income consumers, so they won't have to try and repair a polluting vehicle if they know that $600 is insufficient to get it to pass, not only now, but also in 2 years.

For the Shops that are willing to try and help the consumer, they are being penalized and even losing their Gold Shield status because helping a person's car pass on the $600 budget may mean that the Emission Reduction Score doesn't please the State Regulators enough.

Aren't we in one of the worst Economic Catastrophes in the last 100 Years?  The assistance money for the consumer comes from a tax ($39 per vehicle) on the sale of new cars.  It has nothing to do with the State Budget.  Can't the State regulators be a little compassionate to the consumers, at least until the Credit Crisis works it self out?

I have had customers literally break down into tears when I said that the $600 is not going to be enough to get their car to pass.  Some of them have been out of work for many months and need their vehicle to look for a new job.  I and the owner of the shop where I work have performed unbilled work on several vehicles to get them to legally pass, albeit barely in some cases.  I really don't think that this is the appropriate time to pressure the Gold Shield Shops and consumers with ever more stringent and pressuring regulations.  A year ago, when people had more money, it was not a problem to bring the car into long-term Emission Compliance

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