Auto Inspections

Driver got a second opinion on safety inspection

At first, Rosalyn Raeford wasn't sure whether to believe the safety inspector who flunked her car, or the one who passed it a few hours later.

The state Division of Motor Vehicles wasn't sure either. So DMV dispatched its own inspector to examine Raeford's car the very next day.

A mechanic at a Durham Jiffy Lube put Raeford's green 2001 Lexus sedan on the lift last Tuesday morning and told her it could not pass its safety inspection. Three tires showed tread wear around the edges, he said, and they would have to be replaced.

Raeford was dismayed. She figured she had been let down by the mechanics at her Lexus dealer, where she had taken the car for a recent service visit. If they overlooked bad tires, how could she trust them?

"I don't just pay for service," said Raeford, 55, a librarian at Duke University. "I pay for peace of mind. I want a car on the road that's safe."

She accepted the failing grade from Jiffy Lube. Then she drove to the Lexus dealer to demand an explanation.

What she got instead was reassurance that the car was safe and street-legal. The Lexus folks showed her the DMV regulations and let her watch as they measured her tire treads with the state-approved depth gauge. They gave the car a passing grade.

Any doubts about the tires were resolved Wednesday, when a DMV license and theft inspector knocked on the door of Raeford's home in southern Durham.

Raeford had read about DMV enforcement efforts a few days earlier, in a News & Observer story about safety inspections. DMV cited nearly 600 mechanics and garages with civil and criminal violations this past summer after checking more than 2,500 cars that passed inspection "suspiciously soon" after failing somewhere else.

So she knew why the DMV guy was there. He wanted to see whether a car with unsafe tires had passed safety inspection illegally.

"They flagged my inspection on the computer since my car failed at one place and then passed at another," Raeford said. "He came and did the measurements again because he had to verify that all four tires should pass inspection."

Marge Howell, a DMV spokeswoman, confirmed that Raeford's car passed inspection. She said DMV is still checking on how Jiffy Lube handled the inspection, and why the two inspections disagreed.

A spokesman for Raleigh-based Quick 10 Corp., a Triangle-area franchisee for Jiffy Lube, said he'll make sure his mechanics understand DMV inspection standards.

"They all go to the same classes, and they're all licensed by the state," said Mike D. Davis, a Quick 10 vice president.

Raeford had tried to reach DMV's customer-service office by phone Wednesday morning because she had questions about the Jiffy Lube inspection, but she gave up after waiting on hold for 20 minutes. The last thing she expected was to see a DMV officer hurry to her house that same day.

"I was shocked that they had someone there so soon," Raeford said.

More than 8 million auto inspections are conducted across the state each year, with the results logged in real time on DMV's computer network. As part of DMV's effort to police inspections, the network flags cars that pass at one shop shortly after failing at another.

Howell said questionable cases are assigned to inspectors in regional offices as quickly as possible.

"We don't always get there the same day or the day after, but they do get assigned as soon as we see them come through," Howell said.

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