birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

The Underemployed Editor's Guide to Emissions Testing

Replacing the catalytic converter on a 2003 Honda Civic costs about a thousand dollars. The value of a 2003 Honda Civic in good shape, which might not be an accurate description of mine, is about four thousand dollars. I do care about not releasing more harmful exhaust into the atmosphere than I have to, or I thought I cared, until my mechanic Tony explained to me that the car would drive totally fine, but in order to get the check engine light to turn off and stop polluting so much, it would cost me a grand.

So I drove with the check engine light on. It was a great solution, except that in Washington, cars need emissions testing every two years. I'm not sure what I was thinking when I drove the car to be tested. Somehow I believed they actually tested your emissions at an emissions testing facility, but of course when I think about it that would be very hard to make practical; what they do is plug in to your car's computer, and if your check engine light is on with a code noting that your catalytic converter is broken, you fail the test.

Truthfully, I couldn't afford to spend a thousand dollars to pass, and the state has considered this: the testing facility provided me with a list of state-approved auto shops where I could pay $150 for a certificate to testify that they couldn't fix my emissions for under $150. For some reason, this made me completely crazy -- the idea of paying that much on purpose for someone to do nothing. So I went back to Tony.

Tony is a slim-featured Japanese man with a wry sense of humor and a slight trace of an accent. After an incident in Oregon where my spark plug timing failed and I had an unexpected detour to the side of the road followed by a two-day layover, when I brought the car back to him anxious about something, he gave me a long look and said, "Oh, now you're scared..."

He turned the check engine light off for me, noting that it would likely come back on when the car reached highway speeds. Then he explained that it was necessary to drive for a while for the car to register as ready to test. So I drove aimlessly, at under 45 mph, for much of an afternoon, and went back to the testing facility...where I totally, totally passed.

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