28 November 2009

You think you’ve gone through a safety inspection of your car? Think again.

If you follow any of my ramblings on the other blog you know a little bit about our old truck that we use to bounce down the roads of Costa Rica. The truck has a name. Pat calls her “Suzie.” I call it “That %$!#&@ car.” Any-hoo, at this time of year in Costa Rica, EVERY car and truck in the country has to pay their annual license plate fee. Oh, but there’s a slight catch. They won’t accept your payment unless you have a new safety inspection certificate. No biggie? Yeah, right.

We made an appointment for one Friday evening because smart Costa Ricans know that not many people want to put up with government inspections when they could get an early start on the weekend, at a time that probably interferes with the first cocktail.

We were forewarned that Suzie’s lights all had to work, as well as the wipers, brakes and … electric windows? Damn. The front passenger window had a bad switch. Ever try to find an electric window switch for a 1994 Isuzu, in a little town in Costa Rica?

Amazingly, the local auto parts purveyor “had a friend” that could come up with a useable switch for “only $90, U.S.” Greeeaaaaat. We placed the order and some little courier boy, on a motor scooter, had it to our local parts shack within hours. These are resourceful people.

Anyway, after 10 minutes work, the window was operating just fine and we headed for the inspection station.

The Costa Rican Vehicle Inspection Station ain’t some ratty gas station or mechanics bay in a back alley. These places are huge, with efficient processing offices to take your fees (up front) and set up your “work order.”

Work order?

We trip-trapped around the back of the monster building and came up to 8 drive-through bays, wide and tall enough for a semi tractor and as long as a football field. The bays are each lined with blinking winking computer screens and control panels for (erk!) real testing equipment.

Our first “agent” did a walk around on Suzie and then started in:

High Beams
Left Turn Signal
Right Turn Signal
Wipers (wipers?)
Windshield washers (washers!?!)
Pop the hood and shake the battery and hoses (geez!)

Open my door and inspect the control panel; my seatbelt; the general interior

Open all the doors and check each seatbelt, buckling it in place.

Walk to the back and repeat the entire “lights routine,” including the brake lights.

“You have a very serious problem.” Damn.


“Your rear license plate light is out.”

“Oh, don’t worry, I’ll get it fixed.”

“You’ll have to get it fixed before I continue with this inspection.” Continue?

Aw, geez.

I’ll spare you the details of racing all over creation trying to find a light bulb for Suzie with little luck. By the time we finally found one and got the light working, the testing facility was closed.

Next day, at the crack of noon, we were back over to the testing station. Pray that the damn light works and that none of the others have shorted out in the mean time (Suzie likes to play that “works today but not tomorrow” game.)

Fortunately, all of the lights worked and we were motioned down the testing bay to the first “station.”

While a Technician stuck the familiar gas sensor rod up Suzie’s tail pipe, another motioned us up a few inches until the front wheels fell several inches into a pit. All of a sudden we could hear the wheels winding up. Then the left side started to rumble and bounce like we were running at high speed over a typical horrible country road. On a plainly visible computer screen, a graphic representation of a front suspension, left side, was bouncing all over the place and registering performance numbers. This was repeated to the right side. At this one station, they had tested the wheel bearings, shocks, springs, tires and ball joints.

Then we were moved up until the rear fell into the pit. Same story but now we were also on a dynamometer. Talk about a test!

Next we roll down the bay to the brake testing station (both front and rear, individually, plus the parking brake.) Then it’s on to the wheel alignment station and the headlight alignment station.

Unbelievably, that %$!#&@ car passed everything.

How many hundred thousand cars in the U.S. would fail this test? We could get all of those wrecks off the road if we had safety inspections like this.

But, then, again, what fun would that be if the Feds took over vehicle testing? All of those crooked cousins that own crooked inspection stations at their crooked gas stations would be out of business. Our economy would be in the tank.

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