I think it is safe to say there are a great number of car owners that have been frustrated by the results of a Maryland State Inspection (MSI). After all, isn't it enough trouble finding a car you enjoy, negotiating the right price, and then dealing with the insurance and registration process? Why be required to inspect almost 100 different areas to ensure safety, especially since you have road tested the vehicle yourself and found it to seem so roadworthy?
The state of Maryland, and many other states as well, have
decided that a thorough safety inspection is something you need. And, it is also our experience here at LDG, from years of performing inspections on previously owned vehicles, even those which on the surface seem to be so roadworthy, a safety inspection is a good thing. It may seem quite the opposite. Past experiences may have led you to suspect the MSI to be a good way to get 'taken' for unnecessary car repairs. And unfortunately in our trade, there are situations in which some facilities will take advantage of its customers and use the MSI to do that. That however, is not the norm, and it is certainly not the reason why the state developed this program. In the following article we hope to
help you 'get informed', specifically about the intentions and details of the Maryland Vehicle Safety Inspection.
What's the purpose?
The purpose is simple...provide a simple, cost effective, and uniform program that will provide security and peace of mind for the automobile consumer. With the strict mandatory enforcement of this procedure, safety on the highway is improved, less 'post-purchase' problems and lawsuits occur. When everything is done right, it really does benefit you!
How thorough is an MSI and what is NOT checked?
Although the actual vehicle inspection is quite detailed, it is important to understand that there are some areas of the vehicle that are not checked during an MSI. This is not to say these areas can't be checked, but because an MSI, at minimum, takes about 1 hours to perform, these other areas are not usually checked. If you, however, plan to purchase the car being inspected, it would benefit you to know what will not be checked. You may want to have those additional checks performed (an option here at LDG). Listed below are seven areas for which states avoid making requirements and yet may be areas of possible concern.
* Preventive Maintenance areas.
* Air Conditioning or heat, unless the malfunction is not electrically safe.
* Air Bags, if equipped. Inspectors are only required to check that no warning light is on. Other checks on the system are not performed.
* Anti-lock brakes (ABS) are not checked for operation, only that no warning light is on.
* Ignition system and engine performance related areas (as long as it does not directly involve an emission control device. Example, a missing EGR valve.)
* The function of any of the onboard computer systems (as long as they don't directly affect one of the safety functions of the vehicle).
* Entertainment accessories, such as radio, tape or CD players, or alarm systems.
Although all of the above mentioned areas are important, the one that can hurt the most is that of preventive maintenance. Inspecting for that can identify a neglected vehicle and keep you from inheriting the consequences of that neglect. Having belts and hoses that are worn, a cooling system that is full of corrosion, or having an engine with worn out tune up parts that could cause a breakdown, can bring an unexpected 'surprise' to your life. That is not a great way to begin a vehicle/owner relationship!
Also, because of the way the MSI is structured, items either pass or fail. Unfortunately, there are no 'REPLACE SOON' or 'GETTING CLOSE' specifications. For example, you could have a brake drum or brake rotor that is .001" away from it's limit, and it will pass. Unless you realize this by examining your inspection check sheet, or unless your service advisor happens to mention this to you, the fact that brake repairs will soon be needed would remain unknown. It is helpful to know what will be coming up in the near future so you can plan ahead or even take care of those borderline situations at that time to eliminate having to bring your vehicle back at a less convenient time. At LDG, we try to give you as clear a picture as possible, so you can make the decision as to when to take care of those borderline situations. Being advised properly can be beneficial to both you and your car, now and later down the road.
Don't let a hasty car purchase ruin your day. Having an LDG Maintenance Inspection performed at the time of the MSI will give you 'the full scoop' about the condition of the car you are about to buy!
So what IS checked?
The inspection itself should be fairly routine for each and every shop since the state has given clear guidelines and procedures to be followed. The state requires the use of their Inspection Check Sheet to keep everything somewhat consistent. The inspection form has 24 different subject areas with 90 different actual parts to check. There are also several boxes that require measurements, like the thickness of brake rotors or the amount of play in ball joints, which are to be compared to the manufacturer's specifications for that vehicle.
In the next few pages we will briefly cover all the important areas of the inspection sheet. This will give you a better understanding of some of the tests performed as well as some of the reasons that would cause a car to fail.
The steering portion of the MSI is one of the more important areas for safety. All steering components are checked, from the steering wheel (for cracking and looseness) and the column, through all the steering linkages (tie rods, steering rack and pinion), to the front wheels. Most of the steering linkages have specific tolerances allowable. These will be clearly noted on the report. This section also includes front and rear alignment specifications.
State inspectors are among the few technicians who will accurately and thoroughly perform suspension and steering checks. Those components range from the strut or shock for dampening ability, to the springs that support the load of the vehicle, to the ball joints and control arms that allow for steering and suspension movement. The specifications and wear measurements for ball joints are documented on the inspection check sheet, which can give you an idea of their condition, not just pass or fail. If you are ever in doubt about what those numbers represent simply ask the technician. He should be able to explain the numbers, as well as the step-by-step procedure that was used to obtain them, possibly even documenting it with literature.
What a critical area! There will be many specifications and measurements written for this section. These will include thickness for brake rotors and drums, thickness of brake pad and shoes material, and the condition of that material (cracked or overheated, etc.). A part of inspecting the brake system is evaluating how they perform on the road test. Any severe vibration or pulling problem, or a pedal problem (such as a fading or hard pedal) would be failed. The parking brake operation and adjustment is also checked. It should be able to hold the car on a 20 degree incline in either direction.
Wheels and Tires...
The wheels (rims) must be straight enough to be considered safe, and with no cracks or defects. All of the wheel nuts and studs must be present and in fair condition. There are many specifics regarding tires, but most of those are for out of the ordinary situations and will likely not affect your vehicle. The major things to check for are simple - tire damage that exposes its internal cording, improper inflation, excessive vibration, or a nail or screw puncture.
As for measuring tire wear, a tire tread depth gage is used. The law states that if a tire tread is worn to less than 2/32" (measured in a major tread groove, at any three equally spaced areas on the tire), it does not meet the tread depth requirement. A major tread groove is the deepest part of the tread, and does not necessarily include the outer edge of the tread area. But in some cases (as when steel cording is wearing through), that area too could be a cause of failure. As stated earlier, there are other checks performed for tires, but wear is the most common cause of failure.
The basic rule for vehicle exhaust systems is somewhat simple - no leaks. Any leaks through rusted holes or loose clamps will fail. The state previously allowed inspectors to squeeze suspect pipes with some sort of pliers to identify weak spots, but this is no longer permitted. To aid in identifying smaller leaks, which are not always obvious, a rag is placed over the tailpipe while the car is idling. There will be a hissing sound from any leakage points.
Beyond that, the vehicle must be equipped with whatever exhaust components the vehicle was equipped with when new. Also, all exhaust hangers and brackets must be present and in fair condition.
Bumpers and Body...
There are many specifics concerning bumpers, bumper height, their construction type, size, and placement. However, if your bumper is the factory installed unit, and it's anywhere close to original condition, it will probably pass. Trailer hitches (and their installation integrity) are not checked, as long as they do not interfere with the original bumper. A look around the exterior body of the car will identify any rust holes through which exhaust fumes could enter the vehicle. Any protrusions from the body, from accidents or otherwise, fail. Anything that could be a hazard (such as a piece of molding that could catch hold of a person's clothing) is also cause of failure. Any damage to the body will pass as long as it conforms to original form and it is considered permanent. Permanent means it's not going to fall off in the next good rainstorm. In other words, no scotch tape or wood-glue repairs, please!
Lights and Lenses...
Simply enough, lights are checked to see that they work and work when they are supposed to. Dash illumination and indicator lamps are checked for operation. Turn signal, brake warning, and high-beam indicator lights are checked as well. Also, the turn signals must cancel after a turn is made. All exterior lenses must be in fair condition with no serious cracks. The only cracks that will pass are superficial ones that do not emit any white light.
Fog light operation and adjustment is also inspected, and there are numerous restrictions concerning them. The headlight operation is checked and they are then aimed using an electronic headlight alignment machine. It is now law that the cost of aligning the headlights be included in the cost of the inspection.
The Electrical systems...
There are some minor details that fall under this part of the MSI. The battery must be securely fastened in its compartment. Also, the engine must only be able to start while the transmission is in neutral or park, not in a forward or reverse gear. All electrical safety related components, such as the horn, wipers, etc., and their wiring must be in ok condition.
All vehicles with a see-through rear window must have a rear view mirror. All vehicles must have a driver's side mirror, and if a vehicle does not have a rear view mirror, it must have a passenger side mirror. If your vehicle was equipped with a passenger's side mirror it must still be there. All mirrors must be securely mounted and free of cracks.
There are many restrictions for windshields and glass, even too many items to list. But we will give you a good understanding of the basics. The windshield is divided into three areas, the critical, non-critical, and the acute area. The acute area is the imaginary 5"x 8" box directly in front of the driver. This box contains the most restrictions, any one or combination or cracks, chips, half-moons, starts or bulls eyes in excess of 1/4 inches. The critical area is any surface that is touched during the stroke of the wipers. The non-critical area is the area outside the scope of the wiper stroke. These two areas have lesser restrictions. As for stickers, the best thing to do is remove all that are unnecessary. Some are allowed in certain places. Wiper blades are also checked and must be able to clear the water from the glass completely (in less than four strokes). They must also 'park' properly at the bottom of the windshield when turned off.
Miscellaneous Items Checked...
Speedometer operation is smooth and visible.
All safety belts lock and release properly.
Gear shift indicator is properly aligned.
All door latches/hinges open and close properly.
Should you ever have a disagreement about a failed item, you should first talk to your service advisor or to the technician who inspected the vehicle. If that does not resolve the issue, you have the option of contacting the Maryland State Police, Automotive Safety Enforcement Division (and you should do so quickly. The state usually has a time frame for dealing with such problems). In some cases, the inspection officer may elect to meet with you at the inspection station so that he can make an accurate decision with regards to the failed item. Usually, a decision is made quickly and with little effort!