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Clark: After emission test ordeal, winter’ll be a breeze

In an effort to help fix Washington’s budget mess I have purchased yet another old clunker.

Helping the state wasn’t my intent, of course. It only turned out that way after my 1990 Lincoln Town Car flunked the state’s Emission Exam Scam worse than a public school kid taking the WASL.

That sent me out on a costly emission vision quest to get the car in passable shape.

Before we go any further I know that some of you are thinking:

“Clark, haven’t you ruined the environment enough? You need another monoxide-spewing gas guzzler like Spokane needs another garbage goat.”

And that’s just from my lovely wife, Sherry.

It’s true I love automotive oddities like Steve Tucker loves golf. Those who read me should know that I own a red 1967 Vista Cruiser station wagon and a sage green 1987 Jaguar XJ6.

But the other day The Spokesman-Review published a chilling story that caught my attention:

“Coming winter could justify snowblower buy,” stated the headline.

According to weather watchers, we may be in for another one of those Snokane winters where schools close and slow-moving winos sometimes freeze to the sidewalks.

I can’t subject my cherished vintage chrome wheels to the frigid rigors of an icy apocalypse, I told Sherry.

I need a Snow Car.

I’ve devoted a lot of thought lately in developing the Snow Car philosophy.

I’m talking about a cheap but reliable vehicle that will get you to the liquor store in a blizzard, but won’t break your heart should it run afoul of one of our abominable snowplow drivers.

So when I heard that my pal, Joe Brasch, was unloading his aged Town Car for 500 bucks, I said, “Sold.”

He even sweetened the deal by tossing in a brand-new set of those fancy Blizzak snow tires.

Man, I can hardly wait to get some studs put in those babies.

Haw. Scared you, didn’t I?

I dig the Town Car vibe. It’s no wonder it was voted No. 1 winter cruiser by Mafiosa Magazine.

As any self-respecting mobster will tell you, the Town Car comes with a spacious trunk that will fit up to six “stoolies” for traction.

Everything started souring, however, when I went to a licensing shop to get the Town Car’s title switched over in my name.

“You’ll have to get an emission inspection,” said the young man behind the counter.

“But it just had an emission inspection,” I sputtered like a leaky valve.

As I soon learned, there are many variables when it comes to the state emission inspection requirements.

Whether you need retesting depends on things like the year of car, whether you were inspected within the last 365 days, whether you live in a testing zone, whether you have a peanut allergy, whether your zodiac sign is currently in an ascending or descending lunar phase …

In short, it’s even more complicated than Spokane Mayor Mary Verner’s scheme to base lawn sprinkling on hose color and house numbers.

I still don’t understand all the emission rules. I just said OK and drove away feeling sort of honored to live in a state with such a sophisticated level of larceny.

At the emission factory on Hamilton, I lined up, forked over 15 bucks and waited my turn to have probes shoved up my tailpipe.

And I mean that in an appropriate nonproctology way.

Part of the emission test involved putting the Town Car’s rear wheels on some rollers. Then I had to push down the accelerator to get it to read 25 miles an hour on an old television screen.

Failing to hit the right speed zone after multiple attempts, the woman conducting my test had me get out of the car and take a timeout in a booth. Meanwhile, she slid behind the wheel and made the test look easier than eating peach cobbler.

It was so humiliating.

After that I got back into the car and waited. “You failed the test,” she said, handing me a slip of paper that showed that I flunked the idling part of the exam.

I could have told her that without any probing. My editors have been calling me a shiftless idler for years.

Off I went on a journey of Town Car improvement. That meant I had to choose one of the many auto shops sanctioned by the emissions people and pray that someone could make the Town Car less toxic or give me a waiver.

That’s the beauty of the state emission-go-round. You can get a waiver if “you have spent at least $150 on diagnosis and/or appropriate emissions repairs by an Authorized Emission Specialist,” it stated on one of the documents I received.

Oh, hell, I thought as I read this. I liked our old system of bribery and graft better.

Just let me pay somebody off so I can go home.

Fortunately, the day was saved when I met some sympathetic and friendly faces, namely Ron Hamel and Bob Leland, at Spokane Auto Care on Francis.

Turns out that Hamel is a longtime guitar player. Finally, an auto mechanic I can relate to.

They took in the Town Car. One of the shop men installed something that looked like a cross between a flashlight and a suppository.

An hour and $172.58 later, I was back to be tested for the second time of the day. At least the second test is free.

Praise Jeebus, I passed. Of course, it didn’t matter because I’d paid enough to be waivered.

But I felt a little better, anyway. At least I did until I drove back to the license shop and paid more money for tabs and title change.

You know, this Snow Car philosophy has a few holes in it.

Doug Clark can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or