There is a growing unease that old beater cars are about to re-emerge on Lower Mainland streets.
Metro Vancouver staff who monitor air quality have been seeing a spurt of Craigslist ads for older automobiles that never passed AirCare – and now won't be required to after the 22-year-old emissions-testing program was killed off by the province Dec. 31.
Ads like this gleeful one from the last week of December are telling: "Selling 1998 Chrysler intrepid, auto, runs great … 234xxx km, no aircare but you won't need in a week and on because no more aircare bs for good."
There were a sufficient number of those kinds of messages in a recent quick scan by Metro staff that the region's environment department plans to monitor vehicle registrations over the next year to see whether there's a noticeable increase in older cars on the road.
"It's enough of a concern for us to watch the registrations over the next year," said Eve Hou, an air-quality planner with Metro. "We can monitor if the age gets older."
Current ICBC statistics, which track how many cars are registered from each year of manufacture, show that there are very few vehicles on the road that are more than 35 years old.
Of the 1.4 million vehicles registered in the Lower Mainland last year, about 5,600 were pre-1970. Another 3,600 were from the 1970s; 17,500 were from the 1980s.
Then there are almost 200,000 from the 1990s, cars that are usually verging on the end of their first engine's life and frequently failed AirCare.
Secondhand-car dealers say they haven't seen any big rush of people trying to sell their older cars now that AirCare is gone.
"It's way too early to see that yet," Jeff Asaoka said. He guessed there might be a small burst of those kinds of cars on the market at some point, but doubted it would continue steadily.
And, "if they're big smokers, people won't want to buy them anyway."
But a host of local politicians, agencies and others worry that cars that used to get fixed to run cleaner won't any more.
The province, when phasing out AirCare, said the numbers of cars failing had dropped to only 8 per cent, or fewer than 40,000 cars a year.
But a report prepared for a group of union, health and environment organizations in March of 2014 said that many more vehicles than that – 100,000 a year – with emissions problems would likely end up on the road in B.C. if AirCare were killed.
"Because most owners understand that they will fail the test and incur additional costs if they show up for testing with an emissions-related problem, they have their vehicles maintained or repaired before taking the test," the report argued.
The report said that vehicle emissions in the region have been reduced by 28 per cent since AirCare started in 1992.
Vancouver Councillor Heather Deal, who chairs Metro Vancouver's environment committee, said there is a lot of anxiety about what the impact of the program's termination will have on local air quality.
Metro is trying to get the province to at least come up with a policy for vehicles that are labelled "gross emitters."
"There's nothing now to take those off the road," Ms. Deal said.
At the moment, the only way to deal with cars that appear to be belching polluting smoke is for someone to fill out an online complaint form on the Environment Ministry's complaint site.
People whose cars failed AirCare prior to Dec. 31 are now exempt from any retesting.