CarTalk.com Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

State Safety Inspection Programs: Useful or not?

Years ago I lived in a place that required safety inspections for all cars. You took your car to a mechanic and they verified

  • the windshield wipers cleaned the windows adequately
  • all the exterior lights worked
  • they removed one front and one rear drum and verified everything about the brakes was in spec
  • tire tread within spec
  • quick look as suspension/steering components, brief, they’d only note something really bad

This safety inspection didn’t cost very much, $15 I think. I always thought that was a pretty good program. It seemed to produce a population of cars where all the lights worked, the windshield washers worked, and the brakes & tires were functional. It’s true this was a bit of a hassle for the owner, but overall good bang for the buck.

Here in Calif there’s no such safety inspection program. In some ways it’s good there isn’t one here, b/c Calif politicos don’t seem to be able to do anything in a simple fashion. They’d be inspecting the tire pressure monitor accuracy, the brightness of the backup camera display screen, etc. But if states could come up with a simple safety inspection program for a minor fee, as described above, I think that would be a good thing. Other people here I ask tell me “no”, “it would just be a way to scam more money from the car owner”.

What do you think?

I live in California, same as you . . .

And I can’t imagine that if a state-sanctioned safety inspection were required, that they would be looking at that stuff

I think they would be looking at the stuff from your original list, plus maybe make sure the tires didn’t have bubbles, obvious belt separation, brake lines/hoses about to burst, etc.

1 Like

In WI, they only check for engine codes, no codes you are good. Every 2 years. So for the past 1.5 years I have had the Check Engine soon. P0400, small evap leak. If we move to MN no problem, A new gas cap did not help this time, 2 years ago it did. I am waiting to see if the car lasts another 6 months to get it fixed before the next emissions check. I think the safety tests are good. People do not care about things even if they break. Example, neighbor I see a busted tie rod hanging down, let him know, later 2 busted rtie rods hanging down, I mentioned it and he says it is ok as long as I don’t go over 35 mph. Evidently there are 2 bulbs behind my light, one burnt out, if they both burn out I will never see it again, but will not pass emissions test either.

1 Like

I think a mandatory state safety inspection is vital. We had such a thing in NJ until the moron Gov. Christie abolished it. Just look at all the posts we get from people who drive unsafe vehicles.

5 Likes

I got to thinking about this subject when I was walking past a big-box parts store a few weeks back and I noticed a set of four brake pads l laying in the gutter. Somebody must have changed their brake pads on the side of the road. On all four brake pads the rivets were the only part hitting the disc, by a rather large margin I took all four pads w/me b/c the metal backing plates looked pretty sturdy, must be useable for something :wink:

1 Like

About 55 years ago Mississippi introduced a safety inspection that only large, well equipped shops could handle. A front end drag station was necessary as was a headlight alignment unit. And either a stationary dynamometer with brake testing ability or a good 1/4 mile of road to test drive also. The shop only made $1 in the first years and when the inspection was taken off the books 2 years ago the shops were making $5. From the beginning it was a scam by shops to find every problem conceivable and make them seem mandatory to repair. But the car owner could just pay the fee and move on looking for a more cooperative shop and there were always a few of those. Politics can make anything useful into an annoying and costly ordeal.

3 Likes

In WI, like many other states where inspection is required, you can have one system monitor not ready to read and pass inspection as long as your check engine light is functioning and not on.

Luckily for you the evaporative emissions system is usually the last to reset.

I have lived in Fla now in Ga & for a short while in S C all used to have safty inspection’s but dropped them it was run by the state & no private shop’s were involved after they were dropped you would see a lot of of light;s not working & bad tire;s on the road,

1 Like

Come on over to PA… They’ve been inspection vehicles every single year here my entire life and I’m sure longer than the early 70’s… including the ones that roll off the assembly line.

Every year… If I wasn’t a mechanic, I’d have run away screaming long ago. What a normal citizen is subjected to each year I cannot imagine.

3 Likes

I am not going to try the not ready to read test, If it makes it to the next emissions, it could be a number of things, but I will get it fixed and play by the book. until then life goes on.

The one not ready to read rule IS in the book, actually for 1990 to 2001vehicles in your state , it is two systems not ready to read.

Like many things in life, good is good enough when perfect is too expensive.

When I was a kid, they used to set up safety check stations and they’d flag you over to get checked. Things like lights, tires, etc. Then you’d get a big green sticker with a check mark on it pasted to the windshield like a Yellowstone park sticker to obstruct your vision. Haven’t seen it for 50 years or more. We had the emissions inspections for a few years but the governor rightly determined the only one benefiting were the inspection vendors and eliminated it. Recently the accident report was published and nary a mention of equipment failure as a cause. So yeah I think it’s another sounds good and makes you feel good program but has little real impact.

2003, bummer for me

When Florida had inspections you would see cars with all manner of obvious problems. Seemed traffic law enforcement attitude was, current safety sticker—ignore the defect(s).
Some inspectors were morons. I had a brand new exhaust system. Three times they claimed there was a leak at one of the clamps, shop had tightened the clamp after each visit. Time used doing this prevented me from getting my wheel bearings repacked, sure enough wheel bearing failed on the interstate.

I walked through a big parking lot in Florida this summer twice a day. A few times I noticed the condition of the tires on the parked vehicles. I was surprised at how many had very worn tires that would not have come close to passing a safety inspection.

Neither Ohio nor Florida have had mandatory safety inspections while I lived there. The rolling junkpiles I see in both states tell me they should have something.

As in all such programs the difference between effective ones and scam-fests are in the details.

My Ohio county had emissions inspections for a few years. Contracted to a private company to roll-test OBD1 cars every 2 years and tail-pipe sniff. Not very useful for 2 year old cars - they helped make profit. For older cars, not sure the break-point, the maximum spend to pass was $150 and you got a waiver. This was to not over-burden the poor. The net effect was to keep the gross polluters on the road. Once OBD2 cars arrived, they’d just stick their heads into the car - no CEL and and you pass. It had NO effect on ozone in my county and quietly faded away in the late 90’s

German, UK and Japanese drivers must go to a government operated facility every few years (the TUV and the MOT) and the inspection is very thorough. The opportunity for scams is minimal.

It effectively eliminates many 5 year old and older cars from the roads that are then scrapped or shipped to countries with less strenuous inspections. Makes driving cars in Germany, the UK and Japan VERY expensive.

And the rest of Europe as well.

1 Like

Emissions and safety testing are two different animals. Safety testing around here also includes checking ball joints for excessive play. This is something a lot of vehicles fail and the owner is clueless. Are they preventing more serious failures on the road? Probably. There is a fairly lengthy list of safety checks. It’s well intentioned but is easily corrupted when the same garage that performs the inspections also does auto repairs. I had one guy literally scouring an older car I brought in. His face inches from the tail light lenses, I asked him what the heck he was doing- looking for cracks. Are you serious? You want me to do a thorough job right? No, I want a sticker…

I have mixed feelings.

For responsible car owners like most of us, safety inspections are an inconvenience, particularly if you have red or amber tape on your tail lights, which is forbidden in many states, but should be allowed in my opinion.

However, I see so many malfunctioning brake lights on my commute that I see the need for safety inspections.

Ball joints, all right!
A few years ago, I was getting out of my car,walking in a parking lot when I heard a big kaboom!. There in the roadway was a pickup truck, with its front end collapsed.
Let’s just say his left front wheel’s camber was WAY out of adjustment specs.
Fortunately, this road has a speed limit of 35 or so. I’d hate to have a ball joint failure on the freeway.