Most states have mandatory vehicle inspections. And they do keep us safe from drivers who are so inattentive at vehicle maintenance they'll drive on corded tires with no tail lights and a wheel about to fall off until their rusted Fred Flintstone floorboards give way and the whole car breaks in half. But they're also the bane of car enthusiasts, taking our beloved steeds off the roads - sometimes to save the environment, or sometimes for little or no good reason whatsoever. So many times I've dreaded that time of year rolling around again, hoping against hope that they'd slap their sticker of approval on my car for another year, and cringing at the legalized extortion I was about to suffer by driving an older car in, making their eyes light up with dollar signs.
Back in the days of the dreaded dyno testing - rollers that would supposedly test your emissions under "real world" conditions, rather than graph horsepower and torque as they were meant to - I had a rough time getting my car to pass. It was a 1991 Honda Civic wagon, with a basic D15B2 motor and no serious modifications - my fog lights, hood stripes, and genuine Civic Type R badge certainly could not be taken seriously. Yet no matter what I did, I could not get it to pass Massachusetts emissions. I'd be stuck in traffic behind a slow moving dump truck belching thick clouds of black smoke into the air with impunity, while my fuel sipping Civic with no visible smoke failed emissions. So I did the only logical thing - I moved to a part of Maine that doesn't require emissions testing. (Okay, there were other reasons for the move, too, but that's not important right now.) Once a legal resident, I registered it there immediately, and bam, it was instantly legal - including driving back to Massachusetts to flip the bird at the inspection station that kept failing me.
When I moved back to Massachusetts, I had the ugliest B13 Nissan Sentra SE-R ever. I called it the Millenium Falcon - it didn't look like much, but it had it where it counted. That was definitely one of the most fun cars I've ever owned. Unfortunately, though, the rust was already starting to win. Maine's standards are more lenient, plus I may or may not have "known a guy." But when I accidentally pushed a small hole into the rocker panel with my finger, I knew there was no way I'd be able to bring this car with me and keep it street legal. I sold it in Maine and got yet another Miata.
The worst, though, was my 2003 P71 (that's short for "Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor"). In April of 2012, the ABS failed. Whoop de do. Yes, I saw the posts on CrownVic.net saying "OMG DON'T DRIVE WITHOUT ABS AT ALL EVER OR YOU'LL SKID STRAIGHT INTO A STACK OF CRATES FILLED WITH 200 TONS OF TNT AND BLOW UP EVERYTHING EVER!!!!" or words to that effect. The truth is that I learned to drive without ABS. I've rarely had cars equipped with it. Some of them I've even driven on race tracks and lived to tell the tale. It's called "threshold braking." And it worked perfectly on the P71. I didn't notice any early lockup in the rear, as some warned I would. The brakes themselves were perfectly fine, so I kept driving it like that for many months.
The following February came around, and so did my inspection. Now, according to the MassRMV site, an ABS light will NOT fail an inspection. However, in Ford's infinite wisdom, they decided that an ABS failure would also light up the BRAKE warning light - a bright red beacon on the dashboard that screams "Fail me now!" That light is an automatic inspection failure, even though the brakes worked fine and had been for months.
So I paid the $93 for a brake system diagnosis. If it was a broken wire or something else easily fixed, no problem - fix it, pass it, and keep on trucking. But naturally, it was the ABS module itself. The part was a few hundred bucks, and of course it's buried under the dashboard, requiring hours of labor to get to and replace. Since it was the middle of winter and I had no time and no garage (even to dismantle the gauge cluster and pull a bulb or two), it was going to cost me about $1000 in the end. And even then, there was no way to know if something else was wrong that would also fail inspection, since the system can't be diagnosed without the module. It wasn't worth it for an 11 year old Ford with 160k miles. I traded it in on a Subaru BRZ instead. It burned me, though - this was a perfectly good car with many miles left, forced off the road by a technicality. I'd been considering a BRZ to replace it eventually, but I wasn't where I wanted to be financially before doing it. The dealer made it work anyway, and so I got my most expensive inspection sticker ever. It just happened to have a shiny new BRZ attached to it, which I admit did cushion the blow a bit.
I think any gearhead who tries to keep older cars on the road where inspection laws rule has some stories like this. What are some of yours?
(Top photo credit: Frivolity on the Edge)