Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Forced car repairs

This morning, Jim went to get the car inspected. The mechanic deemed that the serpentine belt needed replacing and failed the vehicle. The mechanic told Jim that the state of North Carolina allowed him to fail a vehicle for this purpose. So basically, our car was held hostage for $120.

"Do you want to see the book?" the mechanic asked. Of course, I would have made him show me the book. But Jim eventually took his word for it and we have a new belt to go with our new inspection sticker.

Jim first told the mechanic he wanted a second opinion. He went to the parts store down the street and asked the guy: "So, what's the worst that can happen if a serpentine belt craps out while you're driving?"

The car stops and you have to pull over to the side of the road, he said. He added that inspectors are failing more and more cars lately for issues that are not safety related, like a worn serpentine belt. After deciding that replacing the belt himself would be too difficult, Jim went back and had the belt replaced.

Our questions are these: Since when does the state have the right to dictate what repairs we get to our car and when? and What is the state's motivation here? Now, I understand that certain repairs, like brakes, brake lights, wipers and headlights, are safety issues. Checking emissions, great. But a serpentine belt? Give me a break.

We moved here from a state that didn't do these annual vehicle inspections. Every three years, we were required to get an emissions test done. That was it. Now, every year, we end up spending money to get our vehicles to pass inspection. A few years ago, one of our cars failed because the gas gauge was broken and then again because of carbon buildup in the fuel line that was causing the vehicle to stall. The emissions were fine. Basically, if the check engine light was on, we couldn't pass, regardless of whether the issue was safety or just disrepair.

What's next? Annual home inspections that you can fail for not using compact fluorescent light bulbs. We primarily use the CFLs, but because we can afford it and because we chose to do so. That's the point here. Freedom to make choices, even the bad ones that hurt no one but us.

And beyond that, there's the possibility that forced car repairs are a racket born of corrupt politicians. I try not to sound too much like a conspiracy theorist, but what if the auto mechanics pressured the state to expand the reasons to fail vehicles to increase business? Actually, it's not too far fetched in a state where an optometrist in state government succeeded in passing a bill to require eye exams for all kindergarteners and another bill to help chiropractors who had given him campaign money.

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