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15 Minutes With…Scott Bauer, Emissions Test Inspector

What's it like to test the vehicle emissions of more than 100 cars a day? We talked to an inspector to find out. 

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Unless you’ve been stuck in traffic behind an old pickup belching smoke, you probably haven’t thought about vehicle emissions much this year. Chances are, the last time you worried about it was when you took your car to an Air Care Colorado emissions testing center for inspection.

In January, you’ll have to fret about this even less, as the state transitions from a four-model year exemption to a seven-model year exemption. (For example, a 2011 vehicle won’t need to be checked until 2018. For details on the changes, click here.) Older vehicles, though, will still need the I/M 240 dynamometer test—otherwise known as the “treadmill” test—where cars are strapped down on massive rollers. Once they’re locked in, vehicle emissions inspectors drive the car in place, and simulate a variety of conditions (stop-and-go in the city, speedy highway driving, and more) via a videogame-like monitor that tells them when to accelerate or brake. All the while, they track your vehicle’s emissions to make sure that your car isn’t belching out too many pollutants. We talked to Scott Bauer, an inspector at Air Care Colorado in Littleton, about his dream car, video games, and messy drivers.

5280: How long have you worked at Air Care Colorado as an inspector?

Scott Bauer: I’ve been here now for seven years. It was supposed to be a six-month job for me, just a temporary thing.

How did you find out about the job?

I was getting my car tested and saw the “help wanted” sign. Said, “I bet I could be a cashier or something.” So I started out being a cashier. I was very nervous about driving the cars. I think I cashed for about six weeks and then the summer help went away, so they made me start driving. I get really bored if I’m not driving. I get very nervous. I hate seeing the line of cars.

I think the people in line agree.

They do. It’s frustrating for us, too.

How many cars do you see come down the line each day?

I test, on average, 80 cars a day, minimum. I did 130 cars on Monday.

What’s the best part of your job?

You get to test drive all these cars. Its not like you are out on the road, but it gives you a very good idea what might be a good fit. I had a dream when I was a kid: I always wanted an MG Midget. No way. Getting in and out of those tiny cars? I’m getting too old.

What’s your dream car now?

I’m actually driving it. I’ve got a Toyota 4Runner. It’s comfortable. You can get in and out. It’s a Toyota; it’s a good clean car. Toyotas and Hondas are my favorite cars.

What’s the strangest car you’ve tested?

We had a racing car that we actually had to climb through the window. It was welded shut. The state made us test it. Normally, we won’t test a car if the driver’s door doesn’t open.

What type of car do you see the most of?

Subarus. If I don’t drive 20 Subarus a day, I’m wondering if something’s wrong.

You must see some weird stuff.

Yeah, you get to see how messy [people] are. Some people apologize. Hey, I don’t judge on how you keep your car. Now, my son? I do.

The computer monitor kind of looks like an old video game. Does that get boring?

I probably played too much Pac-Man as a kid and this is probably my penance for that. Now I play it all day long.

Follow senior editor Natasha Gardner on Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

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