I’m in favor of breathing clean air, but lately I’ve been finding it rather expensive. The Clean Air Act of 1990 required the states to conduct vehicle emission tests. Since then, several states have opted out of testing, because it’s ineffective or adding to the pollution with lines of cars idling in the testing lanes.

Illinois is one of 32 states still requiring it but only in the Chicago and East St. Louis areas. As we all know, we can’t pass the test, if we have a check engine light on. I don’t know about you but my check engine lights are always triggered by faulty sensors – rather than real problems.

So I’m comfortable driving around with a light that went on because I sneezed during a fill-up or something. My last car had a warning light on for years. The one time it went off for a half hour, I drove right to the Air Team facility and passed the test.

This year, I was calmly renewing the sticker for my license plate, when the clerk pointed out that I needed to pass the emissions test first. This was discouraging, because my new car had a wrench light burning steadily. I was thankful, though, that for the first time in my life I had purchased a vehicle warranty.

I took the car to my dealership and they said there was nothing wrong with it, other than a faulty sensor. My extended warranty did not cover the sensor. They charged me $143 to extinguish the light. I was heading to the testing site when it popped back on.

I returned to the dealership, and they directed me to another dealership to have the sensor “reprogrammed.” The service rep had to replace the sensor instead. My wallet $365 lighter, I drove away warning-light free. I passed the emission test and hunted for a currency exchange. A squad car tailed me. He had plenty of cars to choose from – the vehicles around me all had expired stickers.

Anyway, I got the sticker without further incident. But the whole ordeal was kind of hard to stomach. A meaningless light had cost me over $500. I called back my service rep and asked her whether “check engine” lights were part of planned obsolescence. She said that cars were generally well-made these days – except for the electronics.

She saw this as a growing problem with non-automotive products like TVs and refrigerators. She has had a number of appliances fail to survive their first year and thinks it might be part of a larger scheme to separate us from our money.

I called my dealership and requested a refund for their failure to accomplish anything. The service manager agreed to mail me a check for half.

Wow, suddenly I could breathe a little easier.

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.