Getting a car to pass safety inspection in North Carolina can depend more on which garage you choose than the vehicle's actual condition - even with defects as obvious as bald tires, missing parts and broken headlights.Read the full article
The state-mandated inspections are supposed to correct dangerous problems that cause crashes. The program is supposed to be uniform from station to station, and across the state.
But an investigation by The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer found pass-fail rates can vary dramatically from one garage to another. And inspection stations differ even more sharply in how often they find and fix safety flaws - if they report them at all - so cars can legitimately pass inspection.
The uneven numbers reflect concerns about cheating and uncertainty about whether motorists who fork over the fees get what they pay for.
The state Division of Motor Vehicles wants to build public confidence in its inspection program after a string of political embarrassments, program changes that irked car owners and a legislative report that faulted DMV's oversight of inspection stations. Commissioner Mike Robertson said fraud is a big issue for the emissions inspections required in 48 counties and for the statewide safety tests.
During a five-month period this year, DMV investigators flagged more than 2,500 cars that passed safety or emissions checks at one station "suspiciously soon" after flunking at another. They examined most of the cars and found hundreds still had the mechanical flaws that caused them to fail inspection initially.
Nearly 600 inspection stations and technicians were charged with civil and criminal violations. And 17 car owners were charged, too - mostly with infractions that carry $50 fines.
"We determined they were station-shopping, where they knew their vehicle was inadequate - and they shopped around until they got their vehicle to pass," said Jimmie Massengill, an assistant supervisor in DMV's license and theft bureau. "I have seen cases where individuals have gone to as many as three separate stations to get their vehicles to pass."
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