Vermonters who may have “shopped around” for a mechanic to get their vehicle to pass inspection are running out of time and luck.
The state is about to introduce a computerized vehicle inspection system, creating a database that’s designed to ensure more accurate and uniform vehicle inspections.
Called the automated vehicle inspection program, or AVIP, the new system is being rolled out in the spring to the state’s roughly 1,500 inspection stations.
Each inspection station will buy a specially designed wireless tablet that plugs into a vehicle’s onboard computer system to track emissions-related data. It also allows mechanics to enter safety inspection data and take a photo of the vehicle.
The results are then wirelessly sent to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
“The new device will help in the electronic collection of data so we know why the majority of cars fail an inspection, something we don’t know now,” said Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Robert Ide.
He said the new system will get rid of the paperwork now required.
“We and Maine are the last two states that are still on a handwritten basis,” Ide said. “Everybody else that does safety inspections has already gone automated.”
Although the inspection standards aren’t changing, Ide said his department is well aware that there are “varying qualities of work being done by inspection stations, and there are people who need to shop for that mechanic who has less stringent standards.”
The AVIP computer tablet reads the VIN of a car, motorcycle or pickup truck and then walks the technician through each step of the safety inspection process.
Ide said the statewide database allows the department to know whether someone whose vehicle failed to pass inspection is shopping around for an inspection sticker. “We are now going to know that the second station inspected the vehicle that had previously been failed,” he said, “and that gives us a way to go and say, ‘Was the necessary repair completed?’”
Ide stressed that the overwhelming majority of inspection stations “are highly ethical and do conform to the program.”
More than four-dozen informational sessions were held around the state seeking input from inspection stations.
According to Ide, the feedback was mostly “very positive and (most) see it as an improvement.”
The reaction from local mechanics was mixed.
“In the long run, it will be more beneficial, cleaner emissions in the air and what not,” said Jeff Flanders, who runs Greg’s Auto on Strongs Avenue in Rutland.
Flanders said most other states are using automated inspection programs, so it was just a matter of time before Vermont caught up with the rest of the country.
Rick Carrara, of Rutland Autoworks on North Main Street, said, while the inspection criteria remains the same, the computerized system will catch vehicles that shouldn’t pass inspection, “You’re always going to have people inspect cars that aren’t inspectable,” Carrara said.
John Cragin, of Cragin’s Service Center on State Street, Rutland, said his primary concern is the cost to repair a vehicle’s emissions equipment.
“My biggest issue with it is going to be the expense to my customers, who are hard-working people,” Cragin said.
He said he’d like to see the state exempt vehicles that are more than 10 years old from the emission standards. Emission standards apply to vehicles from model year 1996 on.
A person who answered the phone at Carey’s Auto Sales on North Main Street, Rutland said the new program represents just another expense and “a thorn in our side.”
For consumers, he said, it will “cost people tons of money” to get their vehicles repaired to pass inspection.
Both Flanders and Carrara said faulty emissions equipment is a major reason why vehicles fail inspection. They also said the equipment, like catalytic converters, is expensive to fix.
As a consequence, Flanders said, he expects quite a few owners will come to the conclusion that their older vehicles will be too expansive to repair.
Under current inspection regulations, a vehicle cannot pass inspection if its check-engine light stays on. However, a moratorium is in effect during the first year of the new inspection system, giving vehicle owners a temporary reprieve to get their check-engine problem fixed.
Ide said, for a number of years his department has worked closely with the Agency of Natural Resources to reduce emissions. (The emissions component was added to vehicle safety inspections in the mid-1990s).
“The motor vehicle community, including trucks, is a significant addition to the air-quality issues facing every state,” he said.
Ide said one unintended result of the new inspection procedure is that it will take some vehicles off the road. “It certainly has that potential,” he said.
The state awarded the AVIP contract to Parsons, a California-based technology firm. Parsons will provide ruggedized tablets and support, with inspection stations required to pay $1,624 for each tablet, plus a $2.21 fee for each inspection.
Cragin and the other inspection stations contacted said they would raise their inspection fees, which currently range between $35 and $40, to cover the cost of the equipment when the new system goes online in mid-March.
They said the amount of increase had yet to be determined.