Faulty engine light illuminates government over-regulation
STEVEN KURLANDER, Florida VoicesAfter dealing with a faulty O2 sensor on my car this week, I've developed a new appreciation for the debate about government over-regulation.
Published: September 28, 2012
Published: September 28, 2012
Specifically, I'm frustrated with the way that the Environmental Protection Agency and state governments regulate exhaust emissions on cars and trucks.
My story started about a month ago, after Hurricane Isaac turned the streets of my West Palm Beach neighborhood into rivers. In trying to navigate my way through, I destroyed my car's engine and had to have it replaced.
After numerous consultations with the repair shop, I thought I knew what to expect, but when I went to pick up my car, the mechanic told me one of the exhaust sensors needed to be replaced. Sure enough, there on the bill was a note that said: "O2 sensor low."
"That's going to cost you an additional $150," he said. "If you want, we can get the part early and have it done tomorrow."
The mechanic assured me the car was otherwise running fine, so I cranked the engine and decided to leave. But low and behold, the engine light was on.
I've had issues with engine lights before. On several cars, I've had sensors that registered false readings because I had failed to screw the fuel cap on correctly. Fuel caps are a big cause of false alerts since the sensors arrived on the scene in the 1970s. They've caused many a car owner to pay for unnecessary computer diagnostic tests that can lead to expensive repair bills.
On one trip from Florida to New York, I pulled into a Toyota dealership in Brunswick, Ga., after having filled up with gas and noticing the engine light come on. After a night's stay, they told me the catalytic converter was shot and had to be replaced for $1,200. Instead, I got back in the car and kept driving. The engine light went out as I crossed the New York-Pennsylvania border. Two years later, it still has not come back on.
O2 censors are mandated by the EPA and several states to monitor the level of oxygen in a vehicle's exhaust so that onboard computers can regulate the air/fuel mixture and reduce engine emissions. These sensors, which are mounted in various spots in the exhaust system, are designed to last fewer than 100,000 miles. There are laws on the books against tampering with them. (Hot-rodders hate them because they don't allow engines to work at maximum power.) In states that require auto inspections, an illuminated engine light can cause a car to be taken off the road.
When I called a mechanic friend in my hometown, I learned the failure of O2 sensors is common, but the part should only cost $30 to replace. He assured me that I could make my planned trip from Florida to New York without worry. He said he knew of people who drove more than 100,000 miles with the engine light on.
He was right. I drove my car with its fixed-up engine to upstate New York, and got between 33 and 36 miles per gallon.
But for 20 hours and 1,400 miles, I had to stare at that yellow engine light.
Before the trip, a friend suggested I get a sticker with a smiley face to stick on the dashboard light and just keep driving.
I should have listened to him. That engine light drove me nuts the entire way – and made me think that there has to be a better way to regulate auto emissions and control air pollution without faulty government sensorship.
Steven Kurlander blogs at Kurly's Kommentary, writes a weekly column for Fort Lauderdale's Sun-Sentinel and is a South Florida communications strategist.