By Kurtis Ming

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Drivers unable to pass smog may be able to get their repairs done for free — at least to them, Call Kurtis has learned.

The California Bureau of Automotive Repair has run its Consumer Assistance Program for years — offering millions of dollars every year to drivers unable to afford smog repairs. The money given away by the controversial program is generated from taxes and fees on California drivers’ DMV registrations and smog checks.

Tommy Valdez’s Toyota sedan was two decades old, and he didn’t know anything was wrong until it failed smog.

Unable to register it by law until he could get it repaired, he wasn’t sure where to turn.

“I was like, ‘What am I gonna do? How much is this gonna cost me?'” he said.

The answer was about $900, to fix a faulty catalytic converter and oxygen sensor, he said.

More than Valdez could afford.

“I saw that and I was like, ‘Wow,'” he said.

BAR’s program is meant to clean up the air, by offering drivers incentives to fix or retire their older cars.

If you meet income requirements, the state will pay up to $500 in repairs, or up to $1,500 if you retire your old vehicle.

Dismantlers like Pick N Pull in Rancho Cordova will cut you a check the same day you bring your vehicle in to retire it — and crush your car to recycle it for scrap metal.

“We want to be able to get those vehicles off the road,” said Russ Heimerich of the Bureau of Automotive Repair.

Heimerich said the the entire program repaired at least 23,507 cars in 2012 and retired at least 39,413 — but at a cost of $77 million.

Who pays for it? You do, through fees when you register your car, or get it smogged, all for the cause of saving the environment.

“The question is how much bang for the dollar are we getting,” said taxpayer advocate Jon Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

The State estimates last year the program cut down on 13,722 tons of emmissions — equivalent to about 181 tanker trucks operating for the year or the emmission of 685 homes, according to Environmental Protection Agency calculations.

Coupal said that’s nowhere near enough to justify the cost to drivers.

“Other drivers should not be financing that,” he said.

“Thank God we have it,” Valdez said.

Valdez collected his $500 from the state to fix his car and paid the remainder on his own.

“Honestly, this program saved my life,” he said.

State law requires California to do something to get polluting vehicles off the road. This is what they have come up with.

What do you think of the program? Let us know in the comments below or on the Call Kurtis Facebook page.

To see if you qualify for repairs, you can visit the Consumer Assistance Program Web page.

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