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By Don Patten

Don Patten is a leading expert in automotive education. His text book Automotive Service Basics published by Prentice Hall is used in automotive instruction courses world wide.

Each year we take our vehicles in for their yearly inspection. For less than ten dollars a certified mechanic will look over many important items on your vehicle to see if it is safe for you and others to continue driving. In most cases it is treated like going to the dentist. You don't like to do it for they may find something wrong that will be real expensive to fix.

So what do most people do? They find an inspection station where they specialize in paper hanging (putting on a sticker without doing the work). There is a serious problem with this! What if there is something major wrong with your vehicle that could place your life in danger? Instead, you should find an inspector that will do all the work and do his best to find any problems. Who wouldn't want to repair any major problems before they become serious and life threatening?

To pay someone for not doing the work defeats the system and is fraud. Plus, it puts both you and others at risk. I wouldn't want to be a passenger in your vehicle if it has never been checked for wear and damage. I don't want to be a part of your test to see how long a vehicle can be driven without service.

There are two major areas in the current inspection program which are:

== 1. Safety Equipment. These are the things that make driving safer both for you and others on the highway.

== 2. Exhaust Emission Controls tampering Check. Checks in this category make sure that the items placed in the vehicle to prevent air pollution are hooked up. There is a movement toward making sure they are working but this is not state or nation wide as yet.

Let's take a look at these major inspection areas in more detail:

Safety Equipment Inspection Items.

== 1. Vehicle lights.

This includes a check to see if headlights, beam indicator light, parking lights, license plate light, tail lights, stop lights, and directional signals are working properly. If you don't want to pay to have a bulb replaced, inspect the lights before you go to renew your inspection and replace any burned out light bulbs yourself. At least point out that they are not working to the inspector and arrange to have him replace them.

== 2. Brake system.

Both the service brakes and the parking brakes should be tested. To inspect brakes properly a wheel should be removed. This is one of the least done of the inspection items and the most critical. In fact as I write this I can not honestly tell you that all the parking brakes work on all the vehicles I drive. I never use them. Do you always use your parking brake each time you park your vehicle?

== 3. Steering Mechanism.

This includes the power steering system along with the tie rod ends, idler arms, shock absorbers, ball joints, and all parts vital to the control of your vehicle.

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== 4. Windshield wiper.

The wiper should work and the blade should be checked for proper tension as well as condition.

== 5. Horn.

It should work when the horn button is pressed.

== 6. Tires.

There should be no cuts and the tread should be at the legal depth. This means that no tread bars (depth lines built into the tire) should be showing or visible.

== 7. Rear view mirror.

The inside mirror and side mirrors should be in place. Sometimes an inside mirror will detach from the windshield. This should be glued back. The reflective part of the mirror has to be in place.

== 8. Window tinting.

This was put in the inspection because some owners were tinting their windows to the point where no one could see into the vehicle. This was a danger to traffic officers when they stopped a vehicle.

== 9. Exhaust system.

This system, if full of holes, can be a health hazard to the driver. Carbon monoxide can be drawn into the vehicle and cause the passengers and driver to pass out. There is also a noise level that should not be exceeded. An exhaust system control is build into your vehicle to reduce the amount of harmful gasses produced by your engine. One car does not make too much difference but all vehicles put together have reduced the quality of the air we breathe.

So it is important to all of us that we do not have a problem with any vehicle on the road. We should all object if this safe guard is being ignored. These items are supposed to be inspected: catalytic converter, air inspection system, PCV valve, unleaded gas restrictor, exhaust gas recirculation valve, thermostatic air control, oxygen sensor, and evaporative emission system. Most of you haven't the slightest clue what these parts are, where they are located or if they are working. This is why it is important that a qualified technician take a look at these items at least once a year. Remember, at this point he only has to see if they have been disabled. He doesn't have to check them for proper working order. This can be done by an exhaust gas analyzer but at this point the inspector is not authorized to include this in the inspection process.

Do your part to keep us all safe. Have your vehicle checked over carefully by a qualified technician once a year. Make the inspection system work. Don't try to cheat the system. You would feel terrible if someone you loved got hurt in an improperly inspected vehicle you were responsible for maintaining. Yes, the yearly vehicle inspection is very important.

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