By Fran Maye
When the District of Columbia eliminated vehicle safety inspections earlier this month, it joined 19 other states that do not require state inspections. And while Pennsylvania may not be eliminating state inspections altogether, officials are looking at making changes to the program, including rewriting the manual overseeing the inspection process.
"It seems like this kind of talk about eliminating state inspections only happens when the economy is bad," said Hal Lewis, owner of H&R Auto Repair in Kennett Square, and president of the Alliance of Auto Service Providers in District 13. "I feel strongly that state inspections are a good thing."
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation recently completed an effectiveness study that concluded that annual vehicle inspections in the state save 150 lives per year. Thirty years ago, Pennsylvania mandated vehicle inspections twice per year. But as cars got safer and their reliability increased, it was lowered to once per year. Since that time, some other states in the nation have eliminated vehicle safety inspections entirely.
But many local auto service shops feel that Pennsylvania should not join the trend to eliminate state inspections.
"It's a safety factor, definitely," said Bob Gray, service manager at Chevrolet of Kennett Square. "And it would hurt business."
Gray said the condition of cars in Florida is terrible because that state has no annual safety inspection. He said he doesn't like to travel on the roads there because cars don't have to be inspected.
Tom Myers, owner of M&M Auto Repair in Kennett Square, said annual inspections keep the roads safe. His cousin died when the exhaust system on his 1974 Thunderbird rotted out and fumes got to the interior. That was 25 years ago. State inspections catch that kind of thing, he said.
"Cars need to be safe going down the highway," he said. "Tires and brakes only last 20,000 to 70,000 miles depending on driving habits."
Myers said state inspections provide preventive maintenance, often saving vehicle owners money. He points to the problem of lower ball joints on Chevrolet S-10 pickup trucks which fail often if not greased regularly.
"(State inspections) keep people from getting hurt," said Bob Blittersdorf, owner of Blitz Auto on State Street in Kennett Square. "Plus, you can catch a little problem before it becomes a big problem."
"Modern cars are a lot more dependable, but still need maintenance," said Lewis. "I have a 1992 Ford Ranger with 302,000 miles and it has the same engine and transmission. The public needs to be guided when it comes to auto safety. They rejected seat belts in the 60s and air bags in the 90s, yet they are in every car now."
Lewis said some people have called for the elimination of state inspections for all new cars, but he said he remembers a time 24 years ago when a customer brought in his new car for state inspection and it had no shocks.
The Pa. Safety inspection program began in 1932. Auto service stations pay $2 for each safety sticker and $2.50 for an emissions sticker.