Andy Gearhart, an American moving to Vancouver for an I.T. job, provided his 2006 Jeep Wrangler to CBC News, which then tested five mechanics authorized by the province to inspect Out of Province vehicles.
The same Jeep produced five different results, with estimates for fixes ranging from $0 to almost $700, highlighting the inconsistency among mechanics, even when conducting a standardized provincial test.
All cars coming from outside B.C. must pass a standardized safety inspection in order to be licensed in the province. These checks are conducted by mechanics and designated inspection facilities authorized by the B.C. Ministry of Transportation.
If the car fails, the mechanic recommends fixes that would allow it to pass on re-inspection.
CBC News first took the Jeep Wrangler to our fleet mechanic, Sam Tremblay, of Tremblay Motors, for a baseline estimate. He gave the vehicle a fail, and found three problems with the jeep.
It had no daytime running lights, a malfunctioning heater, and a cracked alternator belt that needed replacing. Total estimate to repair the issues was $500 including labour.
Equipped with our hidden cameras, we then took the jeep to four car repair shops in Vancouver, all designated by the Ministry of Transportation to conduct provincial inspections.
The fee for an inspection ranged from $44.75 to $134.38, including tax. All of them produced different results.
Very different opinions
Canadian Tire spotted only the lack of daytime running lights. Estimated cost for that alone was $370.
Speedy Brake Centre found two of the identified issues, the daytime running lights and the cracked belt, but it also found cracked brake shoes. Total estimated cost was $560.
Axle Alley also identified the daytime running lights, but also failed the springs and attachments. It recommended replacing three sway bar links. The total estimated cost for all repairs at this shop was more than $650.
H.K. Auto detected no safety problems, and was the only shop to pass the vehicle — and it issued a decal. The inspector insisted the jeep was safe to be on the road and he wasn’t out to make money by finding deficiencies in the car.
When contacted after our test, all the repair shops stood by their findings. Most claimed the discrepancy was a result of different inspectors with different levels of training and expertise.
“Some shops can be more aggressive with prospective repairs deeming items to be a failure that might not be an imminent problem or have enough wear to fail, the behaviour alone often accounts for problems in the trade,” writes Alex Hart of Axle Alley in an email to CBC News.
“Certainly when there’s an inspection, whether it’s on a vehicle or whether it’s your doctor inspecting your body, there’s going to be variability, there’s going to be different opinions,” says Tremblay. “We don’t want discrepancy between shops,” he adds.
'Not a lot of policing'
Dennis Pieschel, an independent auto inspector linked to the national consumer group, the Automobile Protection Association, says he’s not surprised at all by our findings.
“It’s a farce,” says Pieschel. “There’s not a lot of policing, the industry polices itself and unfortunately when that happens there’s a lot of abuse.”
According to numbers from the Ministry of Transportation, there are currently 31 provincial inspectors overseeing 8,000 authorized mechanics across the province at over 2,000 designated inspection facilities.
Insiders say the priority for those inspectors is regulating commercial vehicles — not overseeing private vehicle inspections.
In the past year alone, almost 50,000 out of province inspections were done.
In a statement to CBC News, the Ministry of Transportation insists it has a “robust” Vehicle Inspection Program in B.C., adding that changes were made to the Motor Vehicle Act in 2010 giving inspectors more oversight of authorized mechanics and designated facilities.
“We expect inspectors [authorized mechanics] to be consistent and follow the manual to ensure items are identified. There is some room for interpretation, based on the experience of the inspector [authorized mechanic],” said the statement.
The statement also indicated that the Ministry audited four of the five facilities we visited within the last 18 months and all passed. However, it will follow up based on the inconsistencies found in our investigation.