“Safe” Today . . . But How About Next Month?

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Do state-mandated “safety” inspections ensure a “safe” car? On the day of the inspection, sure. The tires are ok, the brakes check out. Fine.

But what about next week?

And six months down the road?

Aye, there’s the rub.

Literally. Things like tires and brakes – and windshield wipers and suspension components – wear out over time because of friction; i.e. because they rub up against something and as a result of that, they wear down. It’s a gradual process and a differential process; different  parts wear at different rates. Brake pads might last 50,000 miles or more. Or half as long.

It depends on the car; it depends on how the car is driven.

Some wear items – like tires – are pretty obvious. No tools or disassembly are required; just have a look. If the wear indicators – raised strips that run across the tread – are becoming visible, it’s a clue you’ll need new tires soon. If the tires are bald – or there’s a bulge or tear on the sidewall –  you need new tires today.

Brakes and other wear items are not as obvious.

Sometimes, you can tell by a cursory visual check, but usually, it’s necessary to go a little deeper – with tools.

For brakes,  a wheel must usually be removed to have a look at the pads and also to check for other important things such as wheel bearing adjustment, the condition of suspension bits and pieces, etc.

Arguably, this ought to be done more than just once a year.

The safety inspector will pass the car on the day it was inspected, based on its condition that day. A car with just enough tread left on its tires – or just enough brake material left  to meet the requirements – will get a sticker. But is the car “safe” to operate for another 12 months, until the next inspection is due?

Not necessarily.

The inspector may – and should – advise the owner that the car is on the verge of needing new tires or brakes (and so on) and that the owner ought to look into this before the next inspection date. But it’s up to the driver to keep on top of it.

Will he? Especially when the sticker says the car is “safe” for a full year?

That depends on how conscientious the owner is.

Many owners no longer are – and they are arguably less so precisely because of the state-mandated inspections.

Many people no longer even regularly check the air pressure in their tires; after all, won’t the tire pressure monitors – also mandated by the government – do that for them?


And sometimes, not.

The government-mandated tire pressure monitors frequently give inaccurate readings. They also – like the safety inspection sticker on the windshield – tend to have the perverse unintended consequence of encouraging a passive attitude in the owner.

People used to be taught to check air pressure themselves, regularly.

And they still should check it, themselves – manually – using a stick or similar mechanical gauge. Electronic sensors should not be relied upon to replace a simple act of diligence when it comes to – as the Safety Nazis constantly remind us – several thousand pounds of steel and glass moving at high speed.

Same issue with the state-mandated inspections. The danger is that they encourage offloading of responsibility for keeping the car in good order.

It has a current sticker, after all!

Even if a person is well-intended and a state safety inspector conscientiously informs the owner that his car will likely need new tires/brakes (and so on) “soon,” that is easily forgotten as people get busy with life. Remember: Wear happens at varying rates. The brakes, for instance, may have a third or more of their friction material still left at the time of inspection and – usually – that is enough to last at least a another year.

But what if the car is turned over to a hot-rod teenage son or daughter to drive? And the pads wear at a faster rate?

Because the government (via the proxy of the safety inspector) has assumed operational responsibility for keeping track of critical wear items, this may and probably will pass unnoticed, possibly with serious, even life-ending consequences.

Technically – legally – the responsibility is still squarely in the lap of the owner of the vehicle. But the policy encourages inattention and neglect.

Much in the same way that government-guaranteed health insurance arguably discourages people from taking good care of their bodies.

After all, they are “covered”!

Ultimately, we are all responsible for ourselves – our bodies as well as our cars. Don’t assume your car is “safe” just because it has a sticker on the windshield!

. . .

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  1. This is what I fear is not being learned by enough drivers today.

    They are taught that when something may be wrong, an idiot light will flash to warn them of the impending danger. Unfortunately, that warning is too often ignored. People HAVE gotten lazy about checking routine items about their vehicles.

    In line with these government-mandated vehicular warning accessories, I also think overall knowledge of the functions of different parts of the vehicle are to blame. I remember looking at a vehicle purchase this past year (the vehicle manufacturer shall remain nameless) and noticing the lack of a spare tire and jack. When I commented on this to the salesman, the response was, “If you get a flat tire, just call a tow truck. You do have roadside service, right?” Well, yeah, but I also have the skill to change a tire without power tools in under 10 minutes; why should I have to wait an hour for a tow?

    When your vehicle doesn’t have these goofy warning lights, you are forced into the habit of actually looking for obvious problems. When you get the warning lights, you get silly incidents like false positives all the time, and you don’t have the electrical skill to turn them off. And you then forget to look for the obvious, since that’s what the warning light is for.

    This is one area where I have plenty of respect for OTR drivers: They habitually will check around every area of their truck and trailer every time they are about to pull away, to make extra-certain that they don’t have any obvious problems staring at them. Car drivers? Not so much.

    • OTR drivers are expected to do a proper pre-trip at least every day, but one place you’ll almost never see a truck’s hood raised is in a truckstop. The most that most drivers did routinely when I was longhauling was kick the tires. Fortunately, most decent carriers do what the drivers are supposed to every time they get access to their trucks.
      I still remember the only time I was ever placed out of service. I had just had 2 or 3 days off the truck and had submitted a work order to check all the lug nuts on the tractor because I’d found a loose on the drive axle. Not only did they not check anything on the truck, when I got to the first scale house, the officer spotted the formerly loose, now missing, lug nut and put the truck out of service. I called a service truck from the payphone in the lot and after replacing the missing lug nut and torquing all of the others, the mechanic still had enough time in the obligatory hour to share the pizza I’d ordered from down the street. I showed the officer the receipt and he put the truck back in service without a writeup, and I proceeded. He said he was going to call the shop manager and give him hell for ignoring my truck after I showed him the writeup I’d submitted before I took the time off. I never heard anything about it from the shop, but they never ignored my truck again when I was off it.

      • I could write a book about finding stuff and not writing it down since I’d be given hell if I did but given more hell if I got caught or it broke on the road. Week before last I spotted some loose lug nuts and told the boss. I got out the big hose and wrench and hammered the loose one back on and the really loose one had the inside lug stripped so I removed the outer instead of loosing it. It was like that last time I knew. Then I went to the back drive axle and it has loose nuts. I tighten those too but they were getting loose again when I last saw them. Boss just shook his head said “We gotta roll”. Of course my name’s on that when it comes to ticket time.

        The tarp tore up recently and I told the boss. You won’t need it he said. He’s been right so far, even though I’ve hauled countless 84,000 lb loads with the rock well above the side boards and blowing out like crazy. Seems like everyone on the highway thinks I need a tarp except the boss. My name will be on that ticket too.

        I mentioned the brakes needed adjusting badly. He just gave me a dirty look. My name, my life…..and everybody else I kill will be on that write-up. This is what you get with “some” unregulated owners.

        Hauling one overload(45+tons per load)after another from a pit to a site, both on county roads, I did a walk-around, as I am prone to do several times a day. I came limping back to the site, unloaded and then showed the foreman the suspension part on a KW(triangle looking thing that holds both axles, good idea, bad execution with pot metal). Foreman asks me “How did you ever find that?”. He doesn’t do walk-arounds when he drives. FF a month and another driver is driving that truck with new parts, just not enough new ones. He’s coming up a really steep ramp out of a pit when both axles turned and the rear nearly crawled over the front. No big deal when I looked at it, a really big deal to the driver. When something breaks on one side don’t worry your pretty head about the other side when you fix the obviously broken side, it’ll be ok.

        Then you get into the “if you have this company on your truck pull over”. Headed back to the pit in a ‘new’POS two story International. I hate these trucks more than I can say having driven 3 of them, a sure sign of cheap, cheap , cheap.

        I see the DOT doing a Level 3 on another rig. Better you than me I’m thinking. I’d gone maybe a mile and they were on my ass. I pull over and they pull over in the barditch side, level 2 for me too.

        One ran up and got on my passenger side and looked in “Hey B, what the hell you doing in this?”. Oh, just lucky I guess, somebody else is using my normal POS. He gave me the usual “level2” thing and I got out. I had just lost a new backup light because the holding frame had had a bolt break and flung it off. He noticed that, as if you could not and mentioned it. I shook my head and said Somewhere there’s a brand new backup light. He thought about it and looked at an air line on the drivers side tank. You got a leak there since there was black dirt built up around the joint. Yep, nasty air coming out with oil and I couldn’t argue. Turns out he just used that as a pretense to let me go with a warning for the light. He said if you head on to get another load I’ll red tag it. Yep, BTDT. I said I’d go fix it and the backup light too. He was just giving me a break so as not to have to go through all the stuff wrong and increase my CSA. I thanked him and went back the other way going across the barditch to the access road, illegal but he nor I gave a shit. I got back to town(late), got a light, got the right parts and fixed the truck on the main business highway through town in front of the parts house. Drove that POS back to the house and had a cold one before addressing the light. You know it’s bad when you have a mechanic but you take your rig home so you can fix the broken shit on it every day. It’s pretty bad when two DOT stop you, speak to you by your first name and then find something to let you go home and keep it off the road. They were there the next day and so was I. They drove by and noticed my fixed light and could probably see the replaced line and didn’t stop me. I’m sure they joked “Hey, want to trade jobs with B?” ha ha ha ha ha

        • An instructor at the driving school that I attended became the director after the ex-DEA officer that had been the director when I was student, and he hired me on the spot after the placement director sent me to him.
          I had 50 months of longhaul experience with a clean MVR and had paid my student loan off in half the time allocated. I was the kind of role model they wanted teaching their students. I managed to alienate most of the other instructors in 6 months, because I could reach and teach students they couldn’t.
          He commonly said that real truck drivers usually had a 9/16 wrench in their cupholder of their back pocket. In the world of automatic slacks, they don’t work anymore.

  2. Inspections are a pain in the neck for everyone, but they hurt poor and disadvantaged people harder than most other people. These folks are usually driving 20 year old cars that are well past their prime. They struggle to keep things up, but most of them are generally safe cars. When the inspection mechanics see these older, more worn cars they don’t have any empathy for the poor schmuck living paycheck to paycheck who drives it. They just see a vehicle they’re sure won’t pass, so they dig until they find something, while letting the new Range Rover slide by without even looking at it.

    Another problem with inspections is that to do them properly it takes about an hour. Here in Missouri they only make $12 on each inspection, so they are losing quite a bit of money every time they do one. All the shops around here won’t make an appointment for it, so you have to sit and wait until they decide to get around to it, which sometimes takes hours. If you are a regular customer who brings them other business you get treated pretty good, but for those of us who still do all our own auto repairs they don’t have much incentive to make the effort to do anything for you when it comes to getting the sticker and they try to make it as big of a pain as they can to try to discourage you from bringing it back to them the next time.

  3. Inspections are welfare for mechanics. In Pennsylvania anyone with a set of air tools usually has an inspection license too. Once you’re hooked into the network its no big deal to get a sticker. But until I “knew a guy” it was almost always a $500 sticker, or more if I wasn’t paying attention or didn’t dress like a college student.

    And let’s not forget the other problem, if I knew the brakes were getting thin, but it was another month until the inspection was due, well, why not wait since I know the wrench is going to find something wrong anyway?That happened several times when I figured I’d let something major go so that he’ll overlook the smaller stuff. Usually worked too.

  4. I had a Chevy Venture Van. I took it in for NY inspection, everything passed. When I started it to leave the mechanic’s the brake pedal went right to the floor. One of the front brake lines blew out right there. AAA thought I was crazy to want it towed home when I was already at a repair shop. I put new brake lines all the way around and probably still saved money. So you’re definitely not safe just because of the sticker. That van also had a check engine light that came on periodically, stupid EVAP ghost. I took great pride in getting it to pass OBD2 inspection with my trusty scan tool. I still see the van tooling down the road occasionally. Makes me wonder how many people scrap perfectly good cars because of needless emissions nonsense.

  5. The USPS is a quasi-privatised federal agency, and they have never had license plates.
    Each post office is like a franchise, they can pick, choose, and ignore the rules in the DMM as they choose.
    It used to be that one could receive general delivery at any post office, based on zip code. That is only true where there is only one post office in a given municipality. Then there are places like Quartzsite, Arizona where street addresses are of no use in receiving mail because there is no mail delivery to street addresses. If you are lucky enough to live at a street address, the best you can do is get a free post office box. If not, you get general delivery for 30 days and then you have to rent a post office box for $47 for 6 months. I find it easier, faster, and cheaper to pick up packages at a private receiving company. The post office at home can just keep all my mail until I return in the spring.

  6. We have TMPS to tell people what they could see if they bothered to look, but nothing to tell them what they can’t see, even if they look, that they have a tail, brake, or signal light out. Of course, if there is a loose nut behind the wheel, everything else is up for grabs.

  7. The inspections have always been a bit of a farce.
    Plus being a pain.
    I inspected my wife’s car years ago. She had the engine 2 quarts down in oil. The radiator needed fluid. The battery at the time needed water. That was a Buick Century wagon. Same car had a light module go out coming back from Akron, Ohio one night. The Buick dealer was not even open on a Saturday.
    The truth is the only effective inspection should be at the factory. The only EPA inspection I ever failed with was an American made vehicle that was 10 years old.
    All the foreign cars passed.
    The problem is highway robbery by the state. And that is one thing they are very good at.
    Take the camera inspections at a light as an example. They don’t tell you they shortened the yellow light to guarantee people violating the law!
    Last night the yellow was approximately 2 seconds. The courts do not want to interfere with the robbery of citizens and that is really wrong.
    We need to get all the big brother laws off the books and get government as much as possible out of our lives. To do that we have to get rid of an entire class of lazy bums. That would be your lawyers.
    Lawyers have the most inclusive union the world has ever seen and they rob people without any check on the system.
    Doctors are not very far behind them. Though a doctor may save your life in the process. It might cost a 160,000 dollars to do it.
    The professional class in this country is to blame. They believe they do not have to work for a living and rightfully so.
    So they set up systems where they steal the money legally and they are very good at it.
    In the process they steal from windows and unwed mothers raising children. They steal 1/3rd of the first check you get on workman’s comp.
    (You cannot get workman’s comp anymore without a lawyer being involved.)
    Like a bank charging 30 dollars for an accounting error. If they make the mistake they do not get charged.
    A healthy system would only have 15% professional people in the system. We are currently much higher than that.
    I suggest we get rid of all the thief laws. The ones that cheat the general public legally out of their hard earned money.

  8. I would never live in an “inspection state” again! The time and money that was wasted every year fixing piddling non-issues, like superficial windshield cracks; brake hoses appearing to be more than 6 months old; etc. can now be used to actually improve my vehicles and fix things that actually matter, now that I don’t live in an inspection state.

    And funny, how the inspections were always more concerned with non-issues, or with just making some money off of you, that they’d often fail to catch things that actually mattered….like the old F350 that this guy whom my friend knew, brought in, with plumber’s compression fittings holding the brake lines together. THAT sailed right through!

    The worst state though, is Taxachussetts! And their inspections are the worst, too! So many not-very-old vehicles in the junkyards there…perfectly good vehicles, which were scrapped because they had a few very minor issues, which, if paying to have fixed, could easily add up to several grand in that communist hell-hole, where everything is super-expensive (A brake job; a small rust hole in the sheet metal from all the salt they use on the raods; an exhaust leak = more to fix than your creampuff 8 year-old vehicle is worth- and yes, they will fail ’em for any body rust!).

    Then they do an emissions test. How much more pollution is created by having to manufacture thousands upon thousands of new vehicles, because perfectly good ones are being scrapped?

  9. In Missouri, they will fail your vehicle if the rubber brake lines have tiny weather cracks, or if it has a cracked windshield anywhere in the path of a windshield wiper blade even though it remains as smooth as a new one due to it being safety glass.

  10. Here in Commiefornia, where everything is run by jack booted thugs, we don’t have car safety inspections! All that CA cares about is that you’re running a stock exhaust and intake system, so once every two years, we have to drag our cars in for that. It doesn’t matter if it’s on fire, driving on its rims without tires, as long as it passes the OBD-II diagnostic, you’re good to go. If you bought an aftermarket air filter, well, too bad, you fail.

    We don’t seem to have any more problems with poorly maintained cars than other states, most of whom do mandate those inspections.

  11. The only benefit I see, as a guy who maintains his cars, is that the certification of a car to some kind of technical standard is worthwhile whenever the ownership changes. That way, the new owner would be reassured that the car he’s buying has met some standard of repair. In MD, you need to have a state inspection prior to licensing a car (i.e. putting plates on it) for the first time. Typically, this is concurrent with titling the car too, but you *can* title a car w/o getting plates for it. (say, if you’ve bought a project car.) Now in VA, you have a yearly inspection. Like Eric says, inspected today may not be safe tomorrow. For example, my wife’s car just passed, but the tires should be replaced. I was planning on replacing them in 2018, so now I can do that according to *my* timetable. I just hate the gov’t telling me I have to buy tires.

    Oh, BTW, if you get caught w/expired VA state inspection, it is $100 fine. The cynic in me says this is mostly what inspection is all about: I see cops all the time just walking thru stopped traffic pulling people over for expired inspections. (Happened to me too, once dammit!)

    • Hi Tom,

      I see these inspections as yet another case of everyone having to be treated as a presumptive imbecile because of a few actual imbeciles.

      The government’s solution for everything is one-size-fits-all.

      • Yep! The most valuable lesson learned in Uncle’s schools is “Because Billy was late for class we all have to stay late.”

        Of course Billy got an atomic wedgie after class, which insured no one would be staying late because of him again. For whatever reason that doesn’t seem to scale in the real world.

  12. when I inspect a vehicle I make two lists one for a sticker then recommended or in the near future repairs Tires I grade on a curve spring time I will let them slide and fall I will not let a borderline tire go sometimes you put the sticker on it so they can save up the money to replace the part and them getting a 135 dollar penalty does not help any one that is money they could use to fix their car It is the same as penalizing some one for not having some thing they could not afford in the first place like health insurance

    • Hi Outlaw,

      Sound policy.

      I’d add that if people weren’t forced to pay for so many things they don’t need or want they’d have the money – and the time (less work) to keep up with their cars!

      • I just had to replace the last 2 original TPMS sensors on the Lexus. If you ever put tires on a 8-10 year old car, replace all the sensors. Otherwise you’re paying twice to get the tires mounted & balanced. And yes, it’s a system for idiots who don’t maintain their vehicles. Everyone else has to pay $25 + labor for each sensor (or $70 each, in the case of mine) because *some people* don’t know how to run a pressure gauge.

        • Gotta love it, too…. Have an old car with no TPMS? No problemo! But if your newer car has it, and it doesn’t work…you aren’t allowed to drive it. If it has it…it has to work. Yet, if it’s not working, you’re no worse off than the person with the old car which doesn’t have TPMS to begin with!

          The insanity of government!

        • TPMS really grinds my gears…. If you’re going to do some bullshit like this at least have it tell me the tire pressures on dash display. At least have it save me some labor. BTW, my cars’ tires were a good 8psi low after the weather change. All three cars, all twelve tires, in active service all at the same time the same amount low from roughly the same required pressure. So I know it’s the seasonal change. The one with TPMS? Not a peep. It’s useless to me. It’s just an expense I now have to pay for.

          • Unfortunately, my truck has TPMS. I got all sorts of intermittent faulty error messages and warning chimes with it – even when I know my tires were inflated properly. When I had new tires mounted a year or two ago, I told the guy to put regular valve stems on and leave the TPMS ones off, thinking I would circumvent the stupid system and its warnings altogether. The only thing that accomplished is now I have the TPMS warning light on CONSTANTLY now! At the time, I didn’t realize how the valve stems “communicated” with the vehicle (the vehicle measures the sensors while they are in motion). I admit my ignorance for how the system worked at the time I had them removed, but man, what a retarded mandate! As far as I have researched, there is no way to disable the system and it’s warnings (like you can with seatbelt chimes, etc.).

  13. Ultimately, we are all responsible for ourselves

    and THIS is the root of all such tomfoolery, Eric. The ral diseases are wo, both forms of moral cancer: first, kids are raised these days to not ever really carry any responsibility themselves, that’s always “somebody else’s job”.

    Second, government as god, another mantra from the control freak lefties, “assumes all responsibility” for us, if we only DO WHAT WE”RE TOLD TO DO. Instead of bearing the burden of taking care of our own horse, mule, car, as are all but commanded to fob it off onto someone/thing else. government being the all knowing all present all wise all powerful provider of all we need.

  14. The Utah Legislature, in a moment of sanity, repealed vehicle inspections in the last legislative session. The new statute takes effect in 2018.

    • Hi Tuanorea,

      These are part of the mandatory saaaaaaaaaafety suite, so I would not disable them unless you do not have to deal with state saaaaaaaafety insections. They will fail the car if the dashboard lights don’t cycle (as with air bags).


      • And they can be integrated with the stability system. If the computer sees that a tire is flat, it won’t use it to correct your trajectory. Which could mean that you hit the guardrail or another car. (ignoring the fact that you should have had the skill to keep your car under control, but unanticipated stuff happens sometimes).

  15. VA. used to require inspection every six months. It’s been a while.
    I seem to recall that Mass. at one time didn’t have a regular inspection. You were subject to being pulled over and having your car gone over on the side of the road. That was probably in the 1950’s.
    Funny thing is if you look at official USPS vehicles, they don’t have inspection stickers on them.

      • Workin on it Texas. Willing to dump money perpetually into my current truck over buying a new one. All at a lower rate than a 4 year auto loan payment I might add.

      • Pretty soon they will be expired and non-licensable, short of adding all the required aftermarket accessories. Antiques are obviously unsafe because of the absence of late model safety equipment.

        • Hi Bill,

          I think – I fear – that you are right, especially once my generation (Gen X, the last generation that still liked cars) passes away and maybe sooner.

          Most Millennials don’t care – and will welcome automated “transportation as a service.”

          • “(A)utomated ‘transportation as a service.'” is something I remember a former executive director of the Regional Transportation District in Denver talking about at a meeting I have with him and a couple of other reporters from KGNU in the late 1970s. He spoke of small vehicles, capable of running on light rail, which were fully automated and would carry up to 3 or 4 passengers. Of course, this was long before GPS, so it would have been a return to trolleys, which ran in Denver in my mother’s youth.
            I’d be willing to give up ownership of my personal transportation infrastructure only if it could take me everywhere my van does now, and that would still be in the fantasy range. Since vandwelling is still an extreme splinter lifestyle, I doubt that it would be a legally acceptable option to central planners.

              • Holy crap! Can you imagine? The cost of the infrastructure; 70 9000 lb. vehicles, all the garbage to maintain it, etc. and for what? To ferry around a handful of college students! What a waste! I mean, oh, how wonderfully efficient and green mass transit is! 😉

                I spent 30 days in Morgantown one night….

    • USPS vehicles do not even have license plates. Not even federal ones.

      For states that have done away with inspections there is no difference in equipment related collisions. Why? Because there are so very few to begin with.

      The only studies that ever show inspections do anything are those studies conducted by those who do the inspections.


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