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The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) in May published a proposed amendment to the Federal Register calling for all states to require a mandatory periodic motor vehicle inspection (PMVI) for every registered vehicle.

But many state PMVI programs may soon come under fire in elections across the country.

The NHTSA and the secretary of transportation are charged with issuing general guidelines for all states to follow in regards to vehicle safety. Yet, state governments must decide the installation of state inspections and their specific requirements. 

In recent years, state governments have lessened, diminished or flat out done away with programs in an effort to cut spending. New Jersey and Washington, D.C., both lost PMVI programs in recent years, and states such as North Carolina, Utah and Hawaii are currently in jeopardy of losing theirs.

According to Bob Redding, the Washington, D.C.,  representative of the Automotive Service Association, roughly half the country is subject to mandatory inspections.

“And it doesn’t just have an immense impact on the safety of motorists,” Redding says. “It’s going to have an effect on a lot of repair facilities, too.”

Although it varies from state to state, the vast majority of PMVI programs require registered vehicles to meet preset inspection requirements. If a vehicle is found to have any problems, it must have problems fixed before it is approved.
Bottom line: State inspections create a lot of business for repair shops in areas that have strong programs. Without those mandatory PMVIs, some shop owners are concerned about what it would mean to their revenues.
Rick Hughlett, owner of Rick’s Automotive Inc., in Springfield, Mo., feels it would “ding” his shop if his state eliminated its program.

“It’s hard to really say how much it would, but there’d be an effect,” Hughlett says. “The most we can charge for them in Missouri is $12.50, and on the inspection itself, we don’t really make any money. But I spend thousands and thousands of dollars a year advertising just to get a customer inside the door. And for $12.50 for an inspection, one the customers have to get, if that’s all it costs to get the customer into the door, it’s well worth it.”

Many consider both Missouri and Pennsylvania to have the strongest programs, Redding says. Neither is in jeopardy of losing the PMVI requirements, and the benefits, Redding says, are clear. Recent studies have pointed to both states as being the safest for motorists, and many feel it’s due to the PMVI program.

“It’s pretty simple,” says Howard Pitkow, owner of Wagonwerx Inc., in Wyndmoor, Penn. “The inspections ensure that the cars on the road are safe. If the cars are safe, there are going to be less accidents.”

Pitkow feels that one of the reasons Pennsylvania stands out from some other states is because it requires both an emissions test and a mechanical test as part of the PMVI program. If a vehicle does not pass any requirements in emissions testing, it cannot move on to the mechanical part.
“It’s nice because not only are we ensuring safe cars, but they’re clean cars as well,” Pitkow says.

Hughlett says he hasn’t heard those opposed to PMVIs claim that it doesn’t help vehicle safety. The usual argument, he says, is whether or not it is up to the state to require motorists to do inspections that should be their duty as vehicle owners.

“We had a congressman come through a while back and he was opposed to it,” Hughlett says. “He was in here saying, ‘Well, I know what I’m doing and I take good care of my car. I don’t need to come in here for someone to tell me what I need.’ And I remember saying, ‘Well, that’s fine and good if you feel that way, but what about the one coming down the road, coming at you that hasn’t been maintained?’”

The issue, Hughlett says, is bigger than the effect on a shop’s bottom line, but the industry certainly has more than enough reason to back it.

Redding hopes the recent push from NHTSA helps more states to adopt programs. But he fears the increase in vehicle quality and the pension for penny pinching in state governments these days doesn’t bode well for it.

“The hope, and it’s certainly the position of ASA, is that all states nationwide will have programs,” he says. “They’re needed, and they make a difference—not just for safety but for shop owners, as well.”

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