I flunked the emissions test, and the DMV doesn't care

A recent dawn collision on Route 1 with a deer might have been a death sentence for my beloved 2008 Mini, which had just finished clocking 197,000 miles on the odometer.

But, like the deer, which darted away from the scene of the crash it caused, the Mini has managed to soldier on toward 200,000 miles, with a new $234 junkyard headlight in place, the hood sheet metal still a little crinkly around the edges, not unlike the wrinkles around my own old eyes.

Its next challenge was an emissions test, which I will admit I put off a long time ago, well past its due date, fearing the cost of dealer-required diagnostics to figure out how to turn off the long-illuminated engine light. Even I know an illuminated engine light is an automatic emissions fail, for reasons I couldn't begin to explain.

Like the deer collision, I thought the upcoming required registration renewal, which would certainly require passing the emissions test — right? — would be the Mini's undoing.

Not so. The Mini did roundly fail an emissions test. And yet I have successfully renewed the registration, which a Department of Motor Vehicles representative assured me on Friday, after I spent more than two hours waiting to talk to her on the phone, will remain in effect until August 2021, whether the Mini ever passes an emissions retest or not.

I suppose I could sell a tutorial on how to do this, but instead I'll explain it here for free, another perk for subscribers of The Day.

It was actually a very helpful manager of the testing station at a tire shop (I will protect his identity here) who first explained to me how this was going to work.

"All they want is their money," the testing center manager told me, in a tone I've gotten used to hearing people use when talking about Connecticut government.

By the time I had arrived at his desk, I had decided on a game plan to save the Mini. I had already sent in the registration renewal form that arrived in the mail and gotten back a letter announcing that the renewal was suspended, because of the lack of an emissions test. They kept my fee payment.

My plan then was to get the emissions failure and move on to the dealer diagnostics, to find out whether the estimated repairs would be a car killer or not. My experience is that it's hard to visit the Mini dealer for less than $1,000, though they are very nice and always wash and vacuum the car.

But then the emissions testing manager rocked my diminishing Mini world, explaining that even a test failure would reinstate my registration renewal, and I would have until the next renewal to finally get an emissions pass.

This seemed like crazy talk to me, and to everyone to whom I told the story. That can't possibly be, was the consensus.

I got nothing in the mail for a week after the test failure. I finally braved a call to find out what was going on. Even when the DMV representative told me the registration was in effect until 2021, I pressed her about the failure and the allowed 60 days for a successful retest.

"There's nothing they can do until you go to renew the registration again," she told me, in that same tone I'm used to hearing people use when talking about state government.

Maybe they do only want their money.

Still, I think I may move on to diagnostics and an attempt as passing. My other car is electric. I want to do my part for clean air, even though I live in a country in which the president doesn't.

Connecticut deer willing, I think the Mini will probably be able to roll on well past its newly allotted August 2021 Connecticut registration deadline.

And my new best friend, the emissions testing manager, told me the trick only works once, that the Mini will have to pass before the next renewal. This time, I trust he's right.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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