Running the gamut, the Maine Vehicle Inspection shakedown 2012
My daughter is a student at USM (another shakedown for another thread :-)) and has decided to live off campus, so this summer she is not at home, and consequently, niether is the well used but well maintained 1999 Buick. It needed inspection so, since she had a lifetime wheel balance, rotation and alignment, I told her to take it over to VIP and get the oil changed, tires rotated, alignment checked and inspected. Being that it was in Cumberland county, I knew that it would have to pass enhanced inspection, but I personally did a top overhaul on it and had recently put a scan tool on it so no worries there. I fully expected for VIP to find SOMETHING wrong with it, as it is starting to show some signs of age, but when I got the call later, even I was surprised these are the items VIP claimed required repair to pass State inspection:
Rack and Pinion leaking
Front sway bar cracked
Exhaust hangers need replacing
Rocker panels gone (gone?)
Engine oil leak
Subframe bushings are flat
LF axle seal
Needless to say they scared her to death, and told her she shouldn't be driving the car. Based on what she told me about the car and what I had been hearing about VIP and inspections, I told her to drive the car home and I would check it out my self.
My top side inspection revealed the following:
Two burned out tailights- I replaced them
Rocker panels rusted out
Car drove fine, no evidence of any steering or suspension issue.
Took the car down to a local mechanic that I've used before that is thorough, but fair on inspections. I told them nothing about the previous findings. Here is the list from him:
Sway bar is cracked (common problem on these cars, the sway bar is hollow and it cracks at the end, it was still fully functional)
Left inner tie rod has a minute amount of end play-fail
Rocker panels are perforated - fail
He also noted there seemed to be a transmission fluid leak and asked if the cooler hoses had been recently replaced. I had replaced them about 6 months ago. One of the fittings on the transmission was oozing, Tightened it up on the spot.
I asked him if that would fail and he told me that if a drop of anything hits the floor while he has it on the lift, he is supposed to fail it.
I asked him about the following:
Steering rack - no issues
Exhaust hangers - front one is getting a little thin, but no issues
engine oil leak - no evidence
sub frame bushings - no issues
Axle seal - there are no axle seals, the CV boots look fine.
So now I had another list to get the car back on the road:
LF inner tie rod end
The mechanic quoted me ~$360 to replace the sway bar and tie rod end. My local body guy said $650 for the rockers, but he couldn't do it until the end of June.
I didn't really want to do the sway bar and tie rod end, but since I could get the parts for less than $100 and had some time I decided to do it myself.
After getting the sway bar and tie rod ends replaced ( I did both inner and outer on the driver's side) I decided to be proactive and get a new hanger welded on the exhaust since I was still waiting on the body shop appointment, I took the car to a local muffler shop and explained what I wanted done. They put the car on the rack and almost immediately came in to tell me I needed new brakes! These were the same brakes that VIP had measured the pads @ over 9mm and that I had been staring at while l changing the tie rod end and sway bar. The mechanic took me out and pointed at the rotor and said "see the rust, your brakes are bad". After explaining that I didn't need an inspection and pointing out that the rocker panels were rusted out and explaining to him that it was going to the body shop next week, I managed to finally get a new hanger welded on the exhaust system.
After living in this state for 17 years, I really wonder how someone who doesn't know anything about cars and has to hire a mechanic can afford to own a car here. If I had believed the VIP assesment, I would have been faced with junking a perfectly servicable vehicle. As it is, I will have spent ~$1000 to keep this car on the road for another year. None of the repairs really enhance the safety of my daughter, or the other vehicles on the road.
The good news is that in about a week, my daughter can have her car back. The bad news is the other daughter's car is due in August.
The Maine vehicle inspection system is nothing more than a government sponsored shakedown of it's citizens.