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Virginia Safety Inspection Program


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Virginia's Governor in his 2020 budget proposal has included elimination of the state's vehicle safety inspection program.  In addition, a state legislator has introduced a bill doing the same.  I serve on the board of the Virginia Automotive Association, a group of over 200 independent shops who have banded together to lobby in the interests of our industry. VAA has ponied up a a $25000 increase in the lobbying budget to fight the move.   As a shop owner, I have mixed emotions on the subject, but if I were gambling I would bet that the program will go away.   On one hand, it's kind of nice that the state's motorists are forced to bring their cars to a shop once a year, giving us an opportunity to make them life-long customers. Also, it has created a cadre of technicians in the state who have been vetted and background checked by the state police.   On the other hand, there are a litany of negatives inluding  customer resentment, anger when their vehicle fails, uneven management by the state police who oversee the program due to limited resources.  Some shops are "by the book" while others are "sticker mills" who will pass anything.  Unfortunately, VAA and others have been unable to produce hard statistics that show that the program .makes a difference in highway safety.  The big studies I have found blame driver error for the majority of accidents.  What is ironic is that just this year VAA won a long battle to get the inspection fee raised from 16 to 20 dollars.   The legislature convenes in January to enact laws that will take effect in June.

I would like to hear how other Virginia shop owners feel and I would like to hear from other states that have witnessed termination of these programs.

Mark Anderton

 

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Hi Mark,

Texas was under the gun to cancel our inspection program and before doing so, they commissioned UT to perform a study.  Their results are public.  We had on state representative in particular, who was pushing to get rid of it, living in my district, and we voted him out.  Still had more.  There were a total of 5 bills in this legislative session that were killed by our lobbying group.  I can provide a bit of data that might let you see how Texas handled it and provide contact information of our lobbying group.   Hope this helps.

Some background on our Safety inspections.  We are not that tough.  Brakes, tires, lugnuts if visible, wipers, lights, horns, power steering, 1 mirror and exhaust leaks.   No inspection of front windshield unless it is really bad.   No disassembly is allowed, which implies no racking of cars, which means that we won't generally spot and eliminate rust bucket cars.  So, braking test, then visual inspections of all other systems while on the ground.  Tires are 2/32" (we've only heard rumors of snow elsewhere).  Brakes must stop the car and no obvious safety issue noted.  Much discretion allowed to the inspector, so if something is bad, it can be called out and the car blocked from passing.  It could be over-ridden by a regional State Inspector Supervisor if protested, but they tend to do the right thing.   All of this is done for a whopping $7.   If you live in a SMOG county, then $18.50 more to get an ODB readout and a gas cap leak check.  Annual cost here $25.50.

News link:

Study Results:

And you may already know our lobbying group:  

Texas Vehicle Inspection Association
6101 Long Prairie Rd Ste. 744-240
Flower Mound, 75028 

--brian

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The practice of ending safety inspections in NJ completely changed the business.  We saw glass guys fold within 30 days.  Because once the state ended safety inspections, they ended as part of the inspection process.  Meaning you no longer failed for a cracked windshield.

 

I would do a little digging on what exactly that means for you and your state, because for us it was a license to drive anything that could pass emissions.  It was more of a political move, used to trim the DMV budget and move money around.  It is the worst thing any state can do for public safety.  We see some insanely unsafe vehicles driving and there is nothing anyone can do.  As long as the check engine light isn't on, the state doesn't care.

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Hi Mark - we’re here in VA, too. We agree with the mixed emotions. We know that inspections do lead to customer interactions and some honest repairs. But we also know that we can get bogged down in nothing but inspections, which is highly unprofitable. I would like to see the process revamped, not removed. Perhaps annual inspections are excessive; I believe there are other states where inspections aren’t required until a vehicle hits a certain age or mileage. In PA, shops have the right to charge whatever they want for an inspection - that would be wonderful! The customer can choose to pay more to work with someone they trust, would help deflect some of those customers pounding at your door at the end of the month. 

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On 1/2/2020 at 9:49 AM, bantar said:

Hi Mark,

Texas was under the gun to cancel our inspection program and before doing so, they commissioned UT to perform a study.  Their results are public.  We had on state representative in particular, who was pushing to get rid of it, living in my district, and we voted him out.  Still had more.  There were a total of 5 bills in this legislative session that were killed by our lobbying group.  I can provide a bit of data that might let you see how Texas handled it and provide contact information of our lobbying group.   Hope this helps.

Some background on our Safety inspections.  We are not that tough.  Brakes, tires, lugnuts if visible, wipers, lights, horns, power steering, 1 mirror and exhaust leaks.   No inspection of front windshield unless it is really bad.   No disassembly is allowed, which implies no racking of cars, which means that we won't generally spot and eliminate rust bucket cars.  So, braking test, then visual inspections of all other systems while on the ground.  Tires are 2/32" (we've only heard rumors of snow elsewhere).  Brakes must stop the car and no obvious safety issue noted.  Much discretion allowed to the inspector, so if something is bad, it can be called out and the car blocked from passing.  It could be over-ridden by a regional State Inspector Supervisor if protested, but they tend to do the right thing.   All of this is done for a whopping $7.   If you live in a SMOG county, then $18.50 more to get an ODB readout and a gas cap leak check.  Annual cost here $25.50.

News link:

Study Results:

And you may already know our lobbying group:  

Texas Vehicle Inspection Association
6101 Long Prairie Rd Ste. 744-240
Flower Mound, 75028 

--brian

The complete study is available here: https://citainsp.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/safteyInspectFullStudy-TX.pdf

 

A lot of good stats in there, like the attached:

 

 

2020-01-06_14-48-50.jpg

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  • 4 weeks later...

I started out as a technician in Virginia and I was a VSP licensed Safety Inspector for 3 years.  The program has a lot of problems as you mentioned.  Some places will put a sticker on anything.  When you reject a sticker the customer is mad.  When you require a repair for a sticker, that is almost always your best sales tool ever.  I always felt good about making the roads safer.  The price for an inspection is below what it costs to pay most technicians, but that was generally gained back in repairs to pass.

 

I took issue with the dealership method of inspections.  There was only 1 inspector on a team, who wrote stickers for everyone on the team, for cars he never looked at.  That was a job requirement if you were an inspector, despite it being completely against the law.  I left that job and later found out there are entire dealerships with only 1 or 2 inspectors writing stickers for more than 50 inspections in a day. 

 

The state police support varies by location.  In Virginia Beach, our station assigned trooper was trying to bust us and shut us down.  In Newport News, our trooper was actually trying to improve vehicle safety and would back us.

 

Now working as a technician in Tennessee, I see a large loss of sales for legitimate safety related repairs due to there being no safety inspection requirement.  I see many vehicles that would fail the Virginia inspection and I am horrified when I can do nothing about it.  

 

Whether or not the safety inspection has an impact on safety involves statistics I do not have, but I can say with certainty that while i was a Virginia Safety Inspector I rejected and repaired many unsafe vehicles and felt good about it.   

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I'm in Minnesota which has no safety inspection program. We also are in a state that is very generous in their usage of salt for road maintenance. We get a few cars in here every year that NEED to be crushed. I've had to inform owners that their car is NOT safe to drive, only to have them drive away after I refused to do the repairs. My wife and kids are on these roads as well, and I still feel guilt about not having some way to get those cars off the road.  While a big part of me doesn't believe in expanding our government control, I do believe there needs to be some standards.  I also deal with commercial vehicles, and they all have to go through an annual inspection.  A few years ago I had a car in here in the middle of summer that was unsafe to drive. I had to decline working on that vehicle as the left rear lateral link was rusted away from the body. I could push the tire forward and back in the wheel well almost to the point of hitting the wheel well.  The customer claimed it was the only thing he had to drive and until the 1st of the month he couldn't replace it, but he would.  I had no legal recourse to keep him from driving his car. 6 month later in the middle of winter he came into my shop with his arm in a sling because the same car went out of control on icy roads and he rolled it multiple times.  He wanted me to get his other vehicle repaired. A very rusted out truck.  I stood my ground and said absolutely not, and then helped him figure out a way to buy a better car within his means.  He is now a loyal customer in a safe vehicle.  I now don't have to worry that the next time he loses control of his unsafe vehicle my wife and kids could be on the road with him.  There has to be some legal recourse us as shops have to put an unsafe car out of it's misery.

 

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  • 4 weeks later...

The Virginia legislature ended its 2020 session last night, wisely voting to keep the annual inspection program.  It was touch and go throughout the session with a lot of sentiment for getting rid of the program, a compromise proposal for inspecting every two years  and a final vote to leave the program as-is . The Virginia Automotive Association is entirely responsible for saving this program which benefits every citizen living in and passing through Virginia.  New proposals will come up next year to eliminate inspections and the battle will begin again.

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The Virginia Inspection process is summarized here,  The irony of this thing is that last year we fought and won a battle to have the inspection fee raised from $16 to $20 signed off by the same governor who proposed eliminating the program this year.  $20 is pretty meager compensation for a job that takes the tech about 40 minutes per car.  Then the service writer has to compile the digital inspection, prepare an estimate and then spend "quality time" with the vehicle's owner.  No question it brings in vehicles and gives us a chance to make them lifelong customers.  It also makes for a busy first and last week of the month.  We can do them by appointment now which makes it a lot less hectic.

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The link is private to you.  Can't click on it.

Wow, $20 for 40 minutes is terrible.  We're $25.50 for 15 minutes.   Add extra 5 minutes for failures and an extra 5 minutes if they are first time visitors (and an extra 20 minutes if I'm flapping my gums).   Our association is working on trying to get a small fee increase, but it'll be tough.

For sure, we meet many people as a result of this program.    Some become customers and some are consumers passing thru.   For as many as we fail, it's refreshingly surprising that most folks are chill about it.   But, it recently garnered me a 1 star review because "we turned his check engine light on" during the inspection.  We declined to start the inspection upon seeing it and he left owing no money, yet were graced with a review.

As a low end service, we somewhat dislike this offering, but from a marketing perspective, it's a gold mine. 

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  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

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      It always amazes me when I hear about a technician who quits one repair shop to go work at another shop for less money. I know you have heard of this too, and you’ve probably asked yourself, “Can this be true? And Why?” The answer rests within the culture of the company. More specifically, the boss, manager, or a toxic work environment literally pushed the technician out the door.
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      Shop owners: Focus more on employee retention than acquisition. This is not to say that you should not be constantly recruiting. You should. What it does means is that once you hire someone, your job isn’t over, that’s when it begins. Get to know your technicians. Build strong relationships. Have frequent one-on-ones. Engage in meaningful conversation. Find what truly motivates your technicians. You may be surprised that while money is a motivator, it’s usually not the prime motivator.
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