Friday | November 24, 2017
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Safety check fees set to go up

Hawaii drivers should expect to soon pay a little more to ensure their vehicles are road-ready.

A six-month backlog in updating safety inspection reports in the vehicle registration database has prompted the state to move to an electronic system that will add $4.49 to the cost of an inspection and create new requirements for inspection stations.

The changes, which would bring the cost of inspecting an automobile or truck to $19.19 and motorcycles or trailers to $13.24, are targeted to go into effect before the end of the year, after public hearings are held on each island. Fees for motor vehicle inspections have not been increased since the 1980s, a state Department of Transportation spokeswoman said.

Some local inspection station owners aren’t sure the proposed rule changes are the best solution. They fear the new rules would put more requirements on inspection stations while not compensating them for their work. But the state says the new electronic forms should make the inspection process more streamlined and reduce paperwork for inspection stations.

The fee increase would be split with the state receiving $1.70, the contractor for the electronic tablets and printer system receiving $1.69 and the inspection station receiving an extra $1.10, said DOT spokeswoman Carolyn Sluyter.

The contractor, Parsons, an international engineering and management services firm that does a lot of work for the military in Hawaii, will provide tablet computers, printers and routers to each inspection station. The company’s compensation comes only from its share of the inspection fee, Sluyter said.

The state’s backlog means that people seeking to register their vehicle electronically often find that the safety inspection information has not been updated, even when a safety inspection was passed months ago.

She said the electronic system would also relieve inspection stations of the task of compiling their monthly reports to the state showing how many inspections they did and what failed inspections.

“Basically the same thing is going to be easier to do because it’s all tallied electronically,” Sluyter said.

Inspection station owners aren’t so sure. They point to the new requirement that all inspection stations have a “DSL or higher” Internet connection, the fact that inspectors must be trained to use the new equipment, and the likelihood that each station will get only one tablet computer, further slowing down the inspection process.

There are so many problems with the current inspection process that it should be fixed before something new is tried, said Raymond Ciriako, owner of Precision Auto in Kailua-Kona. While the new stickers will have car tag numbers on them to help prevent them from being transferred from vehicle to vehicle, there are many other ways for drivers to game the system without getting caught, he said.

“The safety inspections don’t work. We need to learn how to walk before we can run,” Ciriako said. “We’re basically helping out the state. We’re still doing the same inspections.”

Inspection station owners have complained for years that the portion of the safety check fee they get to keep doesn’t come close to covering their costs.

Carla Perea, who owns AutoTech in Kealakekua, worries the proposed rule changes will cause longer inspections. She cites a portion of the proposed rules that add wording to the brake inspections about “screeching of pad wear indicator” and “pulsating brake pedal” as examples. That could increase the time it takes for technicians to spend on each vehicle, she said. The rules do remove the requirement that vehicles be failed if their wheels aren’t in alignment, however.

“It’s so much less (than the cost of the work), it’s like a charity,” Perea said. “The stations do it as a public service. I hope to get new customers, but sometimes we don’t.”

Sometimes, she added, she and her staff just get cursed at by unhappy vehicle owners who are disappointed their vehicles aren’t passing the inspection.

Hourly fees for work in West Hawaii shops start around $80, and technician fees start around $10 an hour, although Perea said she pays her technicians significantly more than that.

Under the draft rules, inspection stations would get to keep $15.80.

“It’s well under what any shop would charge,” Perea said. “It’s just not fair.”

Just to qualify as a safety check inspector is an involved process and a difficult exam, she added.

Her own husband, now retired, was a master technician and he failed the exam “miserably,” because he didn’t study hard enough, Perea said.

The proposed brake squeal and brake vibration inspection will add at least five, possibly 10 minutes to every exam, Perea said, because technicians will need to drive the vehicle on the street.

But Sluyter contends the brake inspection requirement, including driving the vehicle on a “clean, smooth, level, dry, hard surface” is currently in the rules; the proposed changes merely clarify them, she said.

“It’s the same inspection,” she said.

Public hearing dates have not yet been set, but there will be 30 days notice once they are.

The proposed rule changes can be found at