MERCED — This weekend, area residents will likely be lining up for free emissions testing for their cars and trucks, potentially qualifying for $500 in repair vouchers, under a popular government program to improve air conditions.
The valleywide "Tune In & Tune Up" event has grown dramatically in recent years, according to regional air quality officials. Last year, the program came to 19 locations, up from three in 2010.
The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District has teamed up with the regional nonprofit Valley Clean Air Now to expand the program, bringing it to smaller communities in the Central Valley.
Passenger vehicles are a major source of pollution in the region that the air district has yet to fully address, said Jamie Holt, spokeswoman for the air district.
"We have a relatively old passenger vehicle fleet," she said. "We have folks running around in 10-, 15-, in some cases 20-year-old cars. So those cars emit more. It's really for those folks that have older vehicles that just don't have the finances to be able to make those repairs."
The event in Merced is scheduled for 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Merced County Fairgrounds at 900 Martin Luther King Jr. Way and 11th Street.
The first 525 vehicles that qualify after a free emissions test will receive a $500 voucher for repairs at a participating smog shop. A list of participating businesses will be available at the event.
Smog certificates will not be available at the event.
Drivers should expect a two-hour wait, according to air district officials. There will be free food and drinks starting at 9 a.m.
"It's been a huge success," Holt said. "In some cases, we have people that show up the night before and camp out."
The air district allocated $4 million this year to the program. Valley Clean Air Now put in about $250,000.
Because of the valley's dangerously unhealthy air conditions, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency levies a $29 million annual fine on residents, collected through a vehicle registration fee.
Those funds are used by the air district to implement air quality improvement programs such as Tune In & Tune Up.
Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or email@example.com.