Inspection Overhaul

Published: May. 21, 2018 at 2:52 PM EDT
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Changes are coming to the way your car gets inspected.

The DMV says it's the first time they've updated the Vermont inspection manual since 2013. So what will those changes mean for you? Some may save you money but will they compromise your safety? Our Cat Viglienzoni takes a closer look.

More than 573,000 cars in Vermont were inspected last year.

"I think it's expected, you know, living in the Northeast. Our cars rust out, things happen," driver Ryan McLaren said.

And while many people agree inspections are necessary, drivers know car repairs add up.

"Nobody wants to do extra work," driver Eliva Atherton said.

But you may soon have to make fewer fixes.

"We have just gone through a major rewrite," said Wanda Minoli, the interim commissioner of the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles.

Minoli says her department is overhauling the state's inspection manual, chopping it from 600 pages down to about 200.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: Why the 'now' for upgrading the inspection manual?

Wanda Minoli: Part of the 'now' is the data that we received from the inspection program throughout the year.

For the last year, the DMV has been collecting information about Vermont cars through the new Automated Vehicle Inspection Program. And Minoli says as stations used the computerized system, the DMV learned.

"It became clear that there are some areas that we needed to advise better," she said.

Part of the rewrite addresses wording to simplify and clarify for inspectors what the state deems "safe." For example, how much rust is allowed on your brakes and where.

"No longer fail for the surface rust on the brakes," Minoli noted.

Those changes may mean instead of having to make a repair, you'll get an advisory warning you that you'll eventually need to shell out cash if the problem gets worse.

Cat Viglienzoni: Are drivers going to be saving money with this?

Wanda Minoli: We do not want Vermonters making unnecessary repairs.

Here's what won't cause an inspection to fail under the new proposed requirements:

-Front window tint

-Cracked lights, unless water can leak in

-Broken rear wiper blade or headlight wipers

-Cracked or worn power steering belts

-Damaged wheel bolts, nuts, studs or lugs

-Surface rust on brakes

-Axle shaft and CV boot looseness, unless performance is affected

-Shock absorber leaks, unless actively dripping

-Parking brake failure is now for manual transmission only

And some requirements will be removed from the inspection list:

-Sun visors

-Tire pressure monitoring indicator lamp

-Visual check of all lamp functions

-Checks of all interior switches

-Exposed wiring/damage and poor connections

-Checking battery for secure installation

We asked a mechanic if all those items are truly unnecessary.

Cat Viglienzoni: If they're not going to require you to do everything you're doing now, is there a concern that vehicles on Vermont's roads may not be safe?

Brian Moegelin: Oh, sure.

Moegelin says his shop, Brian's North End Automotive, takes their inspections seriously.

"Our shop is putting our name on your vehicle and basically saying that we feel that your vehicle is going to be safe for a year, at least a year," Moegelin said.

While he agrees that window tint, tire pressure monitoring lights and sun visors are not that important, he does have concerns about other items the DMV wants to strike off the inspection checklist, like not checking for damaged lugs or studs on your wheels.

"That to me right there makes me think that they're ignoring a pretty significant safety issue," Moegelin said. "You know, that's the one thing that keeps your wheels to the vehicle."

He says his customers know he doesn't want them spending unnecessary money either. But they're also trusting him to notice when a small problem could lead to a bigger one.

"It's all logical stuff. If your power steering belt is worn, that means it's going to break soon," Moegelin said.

But he agrees with other changes, clarifying brake rust for example. That's an area where he says shady shops often take advantage of customers.

"They're taking the wording, the current wording in the book, and running with it and failing certain brake parts on vehicles which should never have been failed," he said.

Cat Viglienzoni: We want safety but we don't want to spend a ton of money. Do these rules find a balance in that?

Wanda Minoli: The new, proposed rules do find a balance in that.

Minoli says safety is the advisory committee's top priority and they would not have proposed changes that compromise it.

"We don't want our messaging to be that 'because DMV said you needed to do this,'" she explained. "We wanted it to be a partnership and we want it to be about safe vehicles on the road."

Another change is that starting in January 2019, the state will begin ending the conditional pass and requiring drivers to fix their check engine light.

If you want to weigh in on the proposed changes, the DMV is taking public comment next month. Here are the dates and locations:

-June 12 - 10 a.m. AOT District 3 Maintenance Facility, 61 Valley View, Mendon

-June 14 - 2 p.m. Emory Hebard State Office Building, Room #250, 100 Main Street, Newport

-June 15 - 5 p.m. South Burlington Police Dept. 2nd Floor Community Room, 19 Gregory Drive, South Burlington

-June 19 - 10 a.m. & 6 p.m. Pavilion Auditorium, 109 State Street, Montpelier


For a year now, Vermont has been collecting detailed information about cars in the state thanks to the new electronic inspection program. Cat Viglienzoni asked the DMV what we've learned about the safety of the vehicles that are out sharing the roads with us each day.

A year ago, when the DMV launched the Automated Vehicle Inspection Program replacing carbon paper with tablets, inspection stations were wary. Some were not happy about shelling out thousands of dollars for a system. Others welcomed the upgrade to digital. Customers worried it would cost them more.

"The answer is yeah, it does cost people more," Moegelin said.

Moegelin says many shops did raise their prices to cover the cost of equipment and the AVIP surcharge. But he says implementing the tablet was easy even if he's not sure it's actually cutting down on so-called lick-and-stick shops.

"I think it's a good feature to have, I just question whether it's doing its job as far as making shops accountable as far as making vehicles that are on Vermont's roads safe," Moegelin said. "I think with anything there's going to be a loophole that people will find."

The DMV maintains being stricter wasn't the only goal.

"We have accomplished consistency," Minoli said.

Minoli says from what they have heard, stations have adjusted. And now, her department has data about the state's fleet that it's never had before.

Cat Viglienzoni: What is the overall assessment of how we're doing?

Wanda Minoli: I think the overall assessment is that we are doing well... Our cars-- the cars that are driven on our roads for the most part-- are meeting safety inspection.

Nearly 85 percent of cars passed their inspections last year. Only 2 percent outright failed.

Total Inspections: 573,695

Pass: 479,414 = 84 percent

Conditional Pass: 63,052 = 11 percent

Repaired to Pass/Conditional Pass: 21,459 = 4 percent

Fail: 9,970 = 2 percent

Thanks to the new data, now in addition to knowing how many cars failed, Minoli also knows why; brakes were the major reason, but also issues with various lights, tire wear and wiper blades.

Top 10 Reasons for Failure:

-Visual brake inspection: 6,125

-Interior light functions: 3,128

-Exhaust system: 2,991

-Brake system integrity: 2,793

-Tires wear: 2,774

-Ball joints: 2,537

-Tire pressure light: 2,340

-Tie rod ends: 1,708

-Cracked exterior lights: 1,576

-Wiper blades: 1,486

Minoli says that list will change, though, starting next year. Some of those items are being removed with the new rewrite of the DMV's inspection manual. Like the tire pressure gauge which Minoli says they got a lot of feedback about.

"We are moving that into the advisory category," Minoli said. "There's a question about how does that relate to safety and it's also an expensive item to replace, so we are looking at a balance."

Likewise, interior light functions and cracked lights. But mechanics like Moegelin say just because you won't have to repair them for your car to pass doesn't mean you shouldn't.

"Cracked lenses are usually issues as far as why bulbs go bad prematurely. If you don't have good brake lights or people can't see you, visibility is a huge factor as far as whether a vehicle is safe or not," Moegelin said.

Drivers we spoke with agreed.

"It's kind of like preventive maintenance. It'll probably save us money in the long run. So it's worth getting it checked out, so long as you have a mechanic you trust," driver Ryan McLaren said.

Last year, there were also concerns the cost of the AVIP equipment was going to force some inspection stations out of business. A couple hundred have closed. In 2016, there were 1,365. Now, there are 1,158. The DMV had said they expected to lose some shops, ones that didn't do enough inspections and didn't want to invest in new equipment.