Growing up in a working class community in southwestern Pennsylvania in the 1950s and 1960s, with steelworker, factory and coal miner families fighting the constant economic battle to keep their financial heads above water, vehicle inspections were a constant concern. In those days, the inspections were twice a year, and, for folks living pay check to pay check, the inspection fee and the required repairs could be a tremendous burden.
And though vehicles were not as technologically complex back then as they are now — and, in my neighborhood, do-it-yourself and having a friend do the repairs was a standard way of life — meeting the inspection standards for tires, lights, exhaust, brakes, glass and body work was a real challenge. One way folks used to avoid the inspection problems was to drive the 25 or 30 miles south to nearby West Virginia and register the car there because that state did not have any inspection programs.
Again, from the perspective of the average working man or woman, the vehicle inspection program was just a way for the government to reach into the worker’s pocket, and certainly a way to drive business to the shops that were designated as “official inspection stations.” I had a cousin who worked in one of the better shops in town that had official inspection designation, and he often spoke about how it drove business for that shop. It was well-known back then that a little political influence could go a long toward getting the inspection designation.
Today, according to one unofficial source, there are 18 states with periodic vehicle safety inspections, with one state requiring inspection prior to registration or transfer. In almost all of these states, such inspections are done at state-operated or -approved garages. And, in many metropolitan areas around the country, emissions testing driven by the 1990 Clean Air Act is mandatory. Inspection programs are being considered in a number of other states currently, and, nationally, the Motor Vehicle & Highway Safety Improvement Act of 2011 has been introduced in the U.S Senate.
Based on my background, both prior to my time in the aftermarket as well as since, the future of inspection programs intrigues me from many different perspectives.
I certainly understand those in our industry who see the inspection programs as beneficial to both safety and clean air. But to pretend that we don’t come out ahead regarding business in parts and labor services is naive at best and insincere at worst. The average automotive service consumer is not so easily misled and realizes that our industry’s position on such regulations and legislation can be construed as self-serving and often in our economic best interest. That puts us in a tough position when supporting such programs, regardless of how sincere our intentions may be.
In no way should we stay away from supporting such inspection efforts, nor should we back away from spreading the word on the value of regular maintenance and service. A well-maintained vehicle is a cost-effective way to build value and to keep our families safe and sound as they travel the roadways. A well-maintained car is a more efficient and a financially sound way of putting more money back in the consumer’s pocket long term — all the while solidly protecting the air and water we need to take stewardship over. And a properly maintained and inspected vehicle is safer — a priceless asset when it comes to our loved ones.
Particularly at the shop level, we always have to fight the perception that all we care about in the aftermarket is driving the invoice upward, pushing more to the bottom line. In our business or in business in general, like it or not, the bottom line is not the bottom line. Providing value for the American consumer is what sets successful, long-term businesses apart from the rest — and what drives our businesses even more than most.
Gary A. Molinaro, Editor/Publisher