In tandem with the current operations to test exhaust noise, emissions testing has also been spotted at a few locations. The thing is, DOE has been doing this for years.
In the last week or two, all car enthusiasts could talk about was the fact that the police and JAS/DOE (the Department of Environment) have been setting up roadblocks and testing for excessive exhaust noise on both motorcycles and regular passenger vehicles. This has been a stark change of pace compared to what Malaysians have usually known, where the laws and regulations were usually applied to motorcycles and cars could get by provided they weren't excessively loud.
The issues started when DOE made it clear they would be testing according to a set of noise level requirements they had devised, which superseded the more arbitrary wording of JPJ's rules that essentially says "your exhaust must not be annoying". While many enthusiasts have quickly gone to quieten their cars, a more pressing issue has popped up - and it's the fact that DOE is also testing the emissions from your exhaust pipe.
We'll be the first to admit that this is highly unusual, as exhaust gas testers are not a particularly common piece of equipment in our part of the world. More than that is the fact that many people aren't sure if their car will pass, or what the legal limits are even set to - and in their defence, the actual requirements are buried deep within the regulations and schedules DOE has stipulated.
Following an incident where the owner of a 1994 Toyota Corolla had his car impounded, tested, and failed - we decided to dig a little deeper to figure out what exactly is the requirement to pass an emissions test, and how difficult it would be. Thanks to the officer in charge from Control of Pollution from Motor Vehicle, Air Division, DOE’s Headquarters, we were able to clarify how emissions testing is done. Let's break it down for you:
Emissions Testing Has Been Around For A While
Despite it being rarely seen, DOE has actually made emissions testing available at a number of PUSPAKOM centres around the country. For the most part, testing is on a voluntary basis - but it is also supposed to be a JPJ requirement when ownership transfer is involved. That is to say, if you've recently purchased a second-hand car you should have no fear that your car will fail an emissions test. Whether these tests are actually carried out is an entirely different story.
The Regulations Are Fairly Lax
In our conversation with DOE’s officer, we expressed concerns that owners of older cars may not be able to meet their emissions requirements, but he assured us that the levels set are easily achievable even with much older cars. In the 1980s, many cars were still sold without catalytic converters, and of course, emissions were much higher back then as the standards were vastly different from what we see today.
Testing is even less stringent than in other countries, which will actually measure the emissions as grams per kilometre (especially nasty in Germany). DOE requires you to idle your car after it has warmed up and they will test exhaust gas at the end of your exhaust pipe for 20 seconds to get a reading. If your car was made prior to 1st of January 1997, you need to be below 4.5% carbon monoxide and 800 ppm of hydrocarbons, while cars built and registered after this date have to hit a 3.5% carbon monoxide level and 600 ppm of hydrocarbons.
Most Cars Will Pass Without Issue
If that isn't enough to convince you, the majority of cars that have been tested through the years of emission testing have actually passed. In 2018 it was a little over 90% compliance, while 2019 saw closer to 95% compliance from those tested. Granted, in 2019 the actual sample size was under 600 cars (when there are 6.7 million cars in WPKL alone), but it should be a reasonable example to show that you don't need to start panicking. It just so happened that the aforementioned Corolla owner didn't pass, and some rectification works are necessary.
The Regulations Are Under Review
Despite how "ruthless" this regulation may seem, DOE is looking to review the regulations so that they make a little more sense for our automotive population. We say this because making a set of emissions regulations is not as simple as copying what other countries are doing, especially if the other countries have had a long history of doing so. Germany, for example, requires your emissions to meet the standards of the time your car was manufactured, which wouldn't work here because we had no real unified standard up until the last decade or so when it comes to emissions rules.
Similarly, a blanket requirement doesn't work because it would end up with many cars being taken off the road. Informing an owner that their car has to be rectified is one issue, but being able to actually rectify the issue with a reasonable budget is something entirely different. Catalytic converters, perhaps the largest aid to keeping emissions down, are wear and tear items and can be extremely expensive to replace.
To Sum It Up
There is absolutely no way that we, as a country, can avoid exhaust emissions regulations. It is something that every developed nation has, and it is something that is necessary to ensure we are doing our part to curb global warming and reduce the risk of health issues from effectively toxic air. That being said, our economic strength makes it difficult to impose hard and fast rules, as many car owners in lower-income groups are reliant on their vehicles for their livelihoods - even if their cars may not meet the regulations.
Perhaps the other issue that owners may face is that there is no way to check if their cars are meeting regulations short of going to PUSPAKOM and risking a defect notice. Each of these emissions testing devices costs between RM 40,000 and RM 50,000 - it's not something your average workshop can purchase as a diagnostic device. This issue needs to be addressed so that owners have the means to get their cars in working order without risking forfeiting their vehicles.
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