Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Car Mechanics

A few years ago I had to get my Subaru inspected for my registration.  I was relatively new in town and wasn't familiar with the various service stations.  I took my three year old car in to a tire dealership that does inspections and was shocked to find that I did not pass inspection.  Apparently there was too much rust on my brake rotors.  Since the car was pretty new and the brakes seemed to work fine I chose not to have the expensive work done.  I had to pay an inspection fee though.

I took the car to another inspection center where it passed with flying colors. 

As I thought about the situation, I began to recognize the unfairness of the position the car-owner is put in.  An unethical inspection center can get lots of extra business by finding problems.  In my opinion, the center that performs the inspection should not be allowed to do the work they deem to be required, as it provides an incentive for them to invent problems.

One could argue that this might put unsafe vehicles back on the road, but the vehicle was driven to the service center in the first place, so it's not as if it hasn't been on the road. 

One could argue that an unsafe car could just be taken from one service center to another until the vehicle passes.  One solution to this could be a three strikes and you're out rule, but more effective would be inspection criteria that are objective.  It should not be a judgment call as to whether a vehicle passes inspection.  The measurements to be made at inspection should be clearly described so that a car gets consistent results from one center to another.

Most owners are not very familiar with their cars.  I was ripped off for an unnecessary three hundred dollar rear brake job on my old K5 Blazer back in the 90's.  There's nothing more convincing than having a mechanic show you a broken piece from your car, telling you that the part needs to be replaced.  The shop that I was taken by was later shut down because they performed unnecessary work.

The rust on my brake rotors that caused me to fail my inspection is apparently a normal finding on a car that sits for a few days, especially if it is humid. 

The best solution of all is to report unsavory mechanics to the Better Business Bureau or the state DMV and to establish a relationship with a good mechanic.  The Mechanics File on Car Talk is a database of over 16,000 mechanics that are recommended by listeners of the Public Radio show Car Talk.

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