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House of Representatives
Session of 2017 - 2018 Regular Session


Posted: December 15, 2016 12:40 PM
From: Representative John A. Lawrence
To: All House members
Subject: Cosponsor Memo – Eliminating Dynamometer and Tailpipe Emissions Testing for 1992-1995 Model Year Automobiles
Dear Colleagues –

In the near future, I will introduce legislation changing how the emissions test is administered for model year 1992-1995 automobiles in Pittsburgh and the greater Philadelphia region. This proposal will do away with the tailpipe test performed in Pittsburgh, and the two-speed idle test via a dynamometer/treadmill in the Philadelphia region, and replace them with a gas cap test and a visual inspection. The reason for this change is that while the tests are currently on a schedule to be phased–out by 2021, the antiquated equipment at local mechanic shops across the state is, at this point, over 20 years old, and increasingly difficult to maintain or purchase new. As a result, affected vehicle owners are having trouble complying with the law.


Automotive emissions testing has a long history in Pennsylvania. Current policies, instituted over the last twenty years, result from a patchwork of legislation, court decisions, and regulations. This legislation deals narrowly with a specific subset of gasoline powered passenger vehicles and light trucks manufactured from 1992-1995.

In 1996, the OBD II standard was adopted across the automotive industry. This computer based technology allows auto mechanics to diagnose engine issues by plugging a handheld device into the car’s computer. This technology is used on emissions testing for all automobiles manufactured from 1996 to present.

Prior to 1996, emissions testing was performed by a tailpipe probe attached to a computer analyzer or a combination of a probe with a dynamometer. For those unfamiliar with this term, a dynamometer is a large device that the car is driven onto for testing. The device has a “treadmill” and probes are placed in the vehicle’s tailpipe. Using the device, the mechanic starts the car and “drives” it on the treadmill to simulate driving in the real world. The probe tests the resulting emissions, and the results of the test are used to determine if the car passes or fails.

When OBD II began, a phase-out of the tailpipe/dynamometer was planned to begin in 2003 by PennDOT Regulation. Vehicle model years in the 1970s and early 1980s were the first to drop off, and each year the next model year dropped from the requirement. Thus, as of 2017, a small window of vehicles from model year 1992-1995 are still subject to the tailpipe/dynamometer test if they are not registered as antiques, classics or collectibles.

At one time, dynamometers were in every mechanic’s shop in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Each shop bought (usually at a cost of $10,000 or more) and maintained their own dynamometer equipment. As time progressed, these dynamometers have become relics of time gone by. They are no longer manufactured, and if they break, they are difficult to fix since parts are non-existent. The same goes for the accompanying computer equipment and software in both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia region stations. In addition, the number of 1992-1995 model year vehicles actively on the road decreases every day, so mechanics have increasingly little incentive to keep the old dynamometer equipment. From the mechanics perspective, if their dynamometer breaks, it makes no sense to spend money to maintain and store equipment rarely used.

This is increasingly becoming an issue for the owners of 1992-1995 model year vehicles. In some areas it is very difficult to find anyone who has the equipment necessary to perform the emissions test without driving a long distance.

Under current law and regulation, the need for dynamometers in the Philadelphia region and tailpipe tests in Pittsburgh will be completely phased out when 1995 model year vehicles hit the 25 year mark in the year 2021. My proposal will accelerate the phase out starting July 1, 2017. After this date, model year 1992-1995 vehicles will instead be subject to a gas cap test and a visual inspection.

Your support of this initiative would be welcome.

Introduced as HB86