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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Exploring vehicle inspections

Some states mandate annual vehicle safety inspections to qualify for registration renewal—Washington and Idaho do not.  It was just announced that the average age of our American “fleet” has reached a record 11.8 years, which leads one to question why we don’t inspect.

First, states are grappling with budget shortfalls, so allocated funding for such a program is unlikely.  I have no cost/benefit data, but a resulting reduction in accidents and breakdowns might eliminate some amount of taxpayer burden if the state’s vehicle fleet were in better condition.

Around the country, states have many differing approaches to inspection.  Besides safety inspections, some states also do emissions and VIN (vehicle identification number) checks.  As an example of monetary constraints, the state of Washington used to perform physical VIN checks for out-of-state vehicles seeking registration for a $15 fee; today, the fee is still charged but the physical inspection has ceased.

Even within our “green” atmosphere, only about 30 states do emission testing.  In Washington, it’s only required in the urban areas of Clark, King, Pierce, Snohomish and Spokane counties.  There are no vehicle tests (safety, VIN or emissions) in the states of Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and South Carolina.

I think safety inspections are not mandated for one of the same reasons studded tires are not banned:  Legislators are hesitant to offend any voting group, no matter how small.  If they sign a bill banning studs, they will arouse the ire of stud users (less than 5 percent in western, and about 10 percent in eastern, Washington) in their state.  If they sign a bill requiring inspections, drivers would resent costs to fix shortcomings, or potentially lose their ride if unable to afford repairs.

Currently, only 17 states (Delaware, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia) perform passenger vehicle safety inspections.  Stipulations vary, but usually include an exemption for new vehicles lasting two to five years depending on the state.  Older vehicles are subject to the inspections either annually or biennially. 

But to me, the physical fitness of an automobile is an important safety consideration for operators, occupants and surrounding drivers.  Marginal equipment and mechanical functions are contributing factors in many accidents, but that data is rarely quantified.  For example, if a vehicle strikes another at an intersection, the driver may be cited for failure to yield right of way, but faulty brakes and bald tires could be partially to blame.

Those states requiring inspections are quite thorough when physically performing them.  Around here, I hear complaints about burned-out headlights, too-tall trucks and overly darkened vehicle windows.  Safety inspections would take care of all that, as lighting, glass glazing and height requirements are all checked.

Additionally, state-mandated safety inspections include scrutiny of suspension, steering, brakes, wheels, tires, mirrors, windshield washers, defroster, wipers, speedometer, odometer, exhaust system, horn, seat belts, body and chassis.  I can walk through almost any parking lot and find cars and trucks that would fail inspection based on remaining tire tread alone!

Since we are not among the states offering safety inspections, owners who can’t do it themselves should have vehicles professionally checked annually.  It makes no sense to place your life and lives of others in jeopardy by operating a vehicle with evident mechanical flaws.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at