Why do we get vehicle safety inspections?
Getting your car inspected each year may seem like just an added hassle and expense, but these state vehicle safety tests are vital to keeping your car running at a safe level! In reality, many of us take for granted each day that our cars start in the morning and get us to where we need to go. Without regular car maintenance, this reliability wouldn’t last long.
State vehicle safety inspections require us to pay attention to our automobile’s maintenance services at least once a year, but paying more attention to the care of our cars can help us increase our vehicles’ life, help the environment, drive safely on the road and save money by avoiding expensive auto repairs!
To encourage awareness of the need to keep up with your regular auto maintenance services, the Car Care Council annually promotes car care months in April and October. Volunteers from across the country conduct inspection events and return the inspection forms to the Car Care Council for analysis. Not surprisingly, results from 722 cars tested in 12 states showed an 80% failure rate in 2008 for at least one part or system. That's 8 out of 10 cars failing at least one portion of the car inspection!
What Components Failed Car Inspections?
Statistics from the inspections show the need to educate consumers on the importance of auto maintenance and repair. What follows is a sampling of the percentage of cars failing each part of the inspection process during the most recent Car Care Council's testing.
Lubricants and Fluids
Based on the study, here are the failure percentages for auto lubricants and fluids:
Engine Oil - 32%
Washer Fluid - 23%
Coolant (Flush) - 21%
Transmission Fluid - 17%
Power Steering Fluid - 15%
Brake Fluid - 14%
Low fluid levels can affect the performance of your car, introduce safety issues and cause costly damage to the internal parts of your car. Overfilling your vehicle’s fluids, or driving with dirty fluids that are way past due to be changed, can also cause problems.
Based on the study, 15% of front windshield wipers and 10% of rear wipers failed.
Windshield wipers are a key safety feature for road visibility, but are often overlooked until it starts raining and they don’t work. It’s hard enough to see while driving in the rain, your windshield wipers should help you, not smear the rain and make it harder to see! Wiper blades should be checked periodically and replaced every six months. You should consider keeping an extra set of wiper blades in your car just in case - particularly during the rainy season and winter months.
Automotive lighting is a way of communicating among drivers and it's vital to any properly functioning car. Your car’s lights not only help you see what’s in front of you, they also help others determine what you’re going to do, whether it’s change lanes, reverse or brake. Your dashboard and check engine lights are also important, as they let you know how your car is operating or if auto repair services need to be performed.
Because lighting directly affects your safety and that of the cars around you, it's surprising to see the following failure rates in various lighting categories:
License Plate Lights - 10%
Brake Lights - 9%
Backup Lights - 3%
Side Marker Lights - 3%
Turn Signal Lights - 3%
Parking Lights/Tail Lights - 3%
Dash Indicator Lights - 2%
It's easy to see that taking a few minutes to check that all of your lights are operational is well worth the effort.
Engine & Safety-Related Parts
The following vehicle safety failure percentages all pertain to parts of your car that affect engine reliability or safety. These auto parts may not seem like they should be a huge concern, but the truth is these parts could be the difference between a small maintenance service and a large auto repair, or even an accident that requires auto body repair!
Air Filter - 18%
Belts - 18%
Check Engine Light - 9%
PCV Filter - 7%
Hoses - 7%
Radiator Cooling Fan(s) - 2%
Horn - 2%
Mirrors - 2%
A clogged or dirty air filter not only affects your car's performance (robbing you of power), it also affects your gas mileage. Since different types of filter elements and driving conditions affect the cleanliness of your air filter, you should consider replacement around every 15,000 miles or once a year, depending on your local driving conditions.
Drive belts stretch, crack and harden over time, which can lead to slipping or breaking, leaving you stranded. The belt tensioner maintains a constant pressure on the belt but, as the belt stretches, the tensioner may only take out some of the slack or with v-belts you must move a pulley or accessory to manually tighten the belts. Loose or slipping belts will squeal, especially when cold, and cause the power steering pump, water pump, alternator, or A/C compressor to not function at full capacity.
Check Engine Light
Obviously the "Check Engine Light" is a warning device to indicate a problem or condition requiring attention. Usually a flashing Check Engine Light means a problem has occurred that should be investigated as soon as possible, BUT a constant Check Engine Light indicates a major malfunction requiring you to pull over immediately and shut off the vehicle. The Check Engine Light can also mean that a specified service interval has been reached (100,000 miles for example) that requires a specific major service such as replacing the oxygen sensors. ALL Check Engine Light (or any other dashboard warning lights) should be investigated immediately to avoid unsafe or damaging operating conditions.
Some cars still have a PCV filter. If you have one, it should be replaced every 15,000 miles, along with the PCV valve. The PCV valve is normally located in a breather hose from the valve cover to the air intake system, the filter being located where that hose attaches to the air intake.
Your automobile has numerous hoses to check within the engine compartment, from the cooling system to the air intake system as well as the fuel system. Rubber hoses will get brittle with age and heat, which can cause them to fail. You can check hoses for flexibility by squeezing them (do so when cold, do not touch hot coolant hoses) and checking them for signs of cracking or splitting.
It also a good practice to replace all the coolant hoses including heater hoses every 3 or 4 years. Cracked or loose air system hoses can cause engine hesitation or inconsistent operation resulting in poor mileage. Check these periodically for cracks, splitting, or loose hose clamps. Cars with fuel injection use pre-fitted high-pressure fuel hose lines. These should be checked visually for cracking but if in need of replacement, they MUST be replaced with exact fitted replacements using proper tools and techniques.
Radiator Cooling Fans
Your radiator-cooling fan is designed to move air through the radiator when the car is at slower speeds or stopped. The air flow removes heat created by the engine from the coolant using the radiator as a conductor. If the cooling fan fails, it causes the coolant to retain heat, forcing the engine to run hot and eventually overheat.
Checking the horn is obviously quite simple - just press on the steering wheel horn pad or buttons. Due to the location of most horns in the front fender or radiator support areas, the wire connections can become damaged or disconnected due to road debris. Most horns have a dedicated fuse because it is a "hot" system that doesn't require the key in the ignition. If the horn doesn't work, first check the fuse box under the dashboard or inside the engine compartment. Then check the horns for loose or damaged wiring and repair or replace as needed.
Having functional mirrors on your car is essential to your safety and being able to see the other vehicles around you in traffic. All passenger vehicles must have either an inside rearview mirror plus one on the driver's door OR two outside mirrors one on each front door. A damaged or missing mirror is not only dangerous, it may also be against local vehicle laws. Always make sure you repair or replace any damaged mirrors in your vehicle right away.
So, would your car pass your state’s vehicle safety inspection?
Your trusted local mechanic will be able to help you with any or all of these vehicle safety checks, and can give you a proper recommendation on what needs to be repaired right away, and what repairs can be done in the future. Your car, truck, minivan, SUV or whatever you drive is one of your largest investments and deserves to be taken care of! Don’t wait until you fail your state vehicle safety inspection; make sure your automobile is driving its best today!