Auto Service World
Feature   May 1, 2014   by Auto Service World


The automotive aftermarket has always had an uneasy relationship with legislators. Sometimes it wins, as regulations force drivers out of the back shed and into the professional shops; other times it just adds to the cost of doing business. Often it’s hard to tell what the true impact of changes will be for years.
Sometimes new rules have hurt business by adding an administrative burden, such as environmental regulations, health and safety, and yes, even the requirements for technician licensing. But there are also times when legislation has created whole new opportunities, weeded out the unprofessional and unqualified, and generally benefited the automotive aftermarket by reinforcing the standards for trained, qualified professionals.
Whether you’re looking back at the evolving mobile air conditioning service business, the emissions testing programs that exist in B.C. and Ontario, or something as ubiquitous as tightened dumping regulations – which played such a large role in driving the oil change business to the professional sector, arguably even laying the groundwork for the creation of a whole new sector, quick-lube shops.
But there has been one area of regulation that has been sorely lacking in most of this country, despite decades of pressure: safety inspection.
While rules differ from one jurisdiction to another, for most of the cars on the road in Canada, cars are only inspected on resale, often at a point where they are well past their service intervals (human nature being what it is).
It is true that at first glance the inspection checklist looks comprehensive: brakes, suspension, steering, tires, and lighting must be working properly with specified limits on wear and tear, but doing an inspection as comprehensive as that might suggest is a practical impossibility, given the dollar figure charged – anywhere from $40 to $80 – with the result that much is left up to the technician’s judgment.
Simply put, the truly conscientious professional is at a disadvantage to those who might have a very different view of what constitutes a “minimum standard.”
And, with shops and technicians advertising low, low rates for an inspection that was designed to ensure that when a car was sold it was roadworthy, the low bar set for that inspection – lights and turn signals working, parking brake working – really did nothing to ensure that a vehicle had anything more than the appearance of being safe to drive.
In Ontario where I live, getting a car “safetied” has been viewed as a joke for decades. Growing up, virtually everybody knew a technician who would sign off on their latest heap. Judging from some of the cars on the road and the chatter on the Web, little has changed.
Until now. Buried deep in what Ontario’s Liberal government calls the Keeping Ontario’s Roads Safe Act – which gained the most press for its tightened rules on distracted driving and provisions for accommodating cyclists sharing the road – is the groundwork for a whole new inspection system.
Details aside (it may involve the addition of equipment such as brake-force testers and perhaps other pieces that have been in use in various jurisdictions around the world for years), it’s high time we took as much of the variability out of inspections as possible.
Relying on repeatable performance tests rather than static measurements has the potential to remove accusations of unnecessary repairs, increase the quality of parts on resale vehicles (as they would have to actually work, not just look the part), and drive out unscrupulous low-ball inspections.
Regardless of the final outcomes, moving to a safety-lane system is a good step, even if there is an initial cost to industry.
And it’s about time. In an automotive world where so much has changed, it’s inconceivable that how we determine what “safe” means should be left up to a system that was young when I was.
— Andrew Ross, editor and publisher

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