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By Terry Waterfield

When Nova Scotia introduced new legislation allowing longer periods for passenger vehicles and light trucks, concerns have been raised by various pockets in the province’s automotive industry.

Nova Scotia’s MVI Program, Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes...Changes to Nova Scotia’s motor vehicle inspection program draw mixed reactions. Two years ago, on February 26, 2009, Richard Hurlburt, minister of Service Nova Scotia and municipal relations for the province of Nova Scotia, announced changes in the province’s motor vehicle inspection program, allowing longer periods between inspections for passenger vehicles and light trucks.

In a press release issued at the time, Hurlburt said: “We are making changes that will reduce the burden on vehicle owners without compromising road safety or consumer protection.” The re-designed program applies to type 1 vehicles, which includes passenger cars, trucks or trailers of 4500 kg registered gross weight or less, motorcycles, and recreation vehicles such as motor homes and travel trailers. The changes, which went into effect on April 1, 2009, mean new type 1 vehicles do not require an inspection for the first three years provided the dealer completes a pre-delivery inspection or motor vehicle inspection, while Type 1 used vehicles will require an inspection every two years.

The regulations were not changed for type 2, or commercial vehicles, which includes taxis, ambulances, fire vehicles, tow trucks, hearses, buses not licensed as public passenger vehicles and trucks and trailers over 4500 kg., which will still require annual inspections. “We listened to Nova Scotians, we reviewed our program and those in place across Canada and around the globe,”  Hurlburt stated in the press release. “From this, there is no doubt that our program needed to change.”

Used type 1 vehicles sold in Nova Scotia by dealers, will, under the new regulations, carry a valid inspection sticker which has been issued within 30 days prior to the date of sale, showing a two year expiry date. A used vehicle purchased privately must display a valid motor vehicle inspection issued within 30 days prior to the sale showing a two year expiry date. The onus, under the regulations, is still on the owner to ensure the safety of his vehicle is maintained. And the government, for its part, is stepping up roadside inspections. Not everyone, however, agrees with the new regulations. The announcement of the new rules in 2009 brought a spate of comments from mechanics in Nova Scotia against the changes.

The changes, one mechanic suggested, will lead to more tickets and fines. There is a feeling among mechanics as well, that automobile owners will be facing larger repair bills under the new rules. The feeling is that annual inspections allow minor problems to be fixed before they grow in to bigger ones  and that more cars will pass inspection in the inspection stations, but then could fail a road-side inspection a year or so later.

The Automotive Trades Association of Atlantic Canada (A.T.A.), a partner of the Retail Gasoline Dealers Association  in Nova Scotia, which lists most of the inspection stations in the province on its membership rolls, also disagrees with the changes. In a letter to minister Bill Estabrooks on behalf of the Retail Gasoline Dealers Association (R.G.D.A.) Graham Cpntad, executive director of A.T.S./R.G.D.A. pointed out a number of the associations concerns over the new regulations.

 “Essentially the issue relates to the circumstances surrounding last year’s change to the MVI inspection period from one-year-to-two years and growing industry interest in a recommendation to reverse that decision. The decision to change the inspection period requirement was made by the previous government without notice or consultation with the industry,” Conrad pointed out in his letter. “We were very disappointed when we learned of the change as there was absolutely no discussion or opportunity to comment from the R.G.D.A. in spite of the fact that the Association has had such a long historical connection to this program. The R.G.D.A. actively supported the introduction of a compulsory Annual M.V.I. program implemented on January 1, 1967 as well as the changes to the program since then.

“The concern of the group was related not only to the manner in which the change occurred but also the likely reduction in vehicle repairs and ultimately levels of safety. The unexpected changes to the M.V.I. program left hundreds of inspection stations throughout the province unprepared to communicate the impact to their customers. Many M.V.I. inspection stations expressed concern over the inevitable shock consumers would receive for repair costs estimates on vehicles after two years of driving without an inspection. “While an inspection every two years may now be legal, it is generally regarded as not adequate for vehicles five years old or more.  The 2007 Automotive Industries Association of Canada outlook study indicated the average age of vehicles in Nova Scotia was eight years old and rising.”

The Automobile Industries Association of Canada learned in its study that more than 50 percent of the light vehicles on the road in 2009 were more than six years old, with half of those more than 13 years old. And with the combination of better built modern cars, coupled with the current economic situation, automobile owners were keeping their cars longer. According to the AIAC, by the year 2014, light vehicles 13 years old and older will account for more than 27 percent of the light vehicles on the road, while those between eight and 12 years old will account for almost 30 percent of the light vehicles.  This summer marks the two-year anniversary of the inspection changes and mechanics are bracing for the onslaught as the first batch of vehicles inspected under the new rules roll in for inspections. “The industry is in a period of waiting,” Conrad said. “Once the period of waiting is over and the industry realizes it, it’s going to have a profound effect on the motoring public.

“The average vehicle age is over 40 or 50,000 km. There is going to be so much repair work required it’s going to make some very big decisions by the public, or possibly large repair bills.” However, Nova Scotia motor vehicle department officials point out, that although Nova Scotia has increased the time between compulsory inspections they are still one of only three provinces in Canada that require ongoing inspections between passenger cars and light trucks. While Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick require annual inspections for all vehicles, Nova Scotia officials feel that a two year period should not make any difference in the number of unsafe cars on the road. “A general comment might be that, although we have a two year window it is important that drivers exercise due care and diligence to the condition of their vehicle and maintain it well,” Bill Lownds, Nova Scotia’s deputy registrar of motor vehicles explains. “Systematic checks and maintenance do go a long way to ensuring that the vehicle is safe on the road.”

Lownds points out that the province also has a program of road-side checks to monitor the situation, which historically has seen approximately 300 inspections per year. “There were 345 last year,” Lownds says. “Our mandate is to do about 200 a year, so there has been a slight increase. “We monitor it and it seems to be relatively the same as far as the number of vehicles that are failing. So I wouldn’t say at this time that the number of vehicles that are failing has increased.” Whatever the period between inspections, Lownds reminds drivers that it is not only important for owners to keep their car in proper operating condition for safety reasons, but also for the proper performance of the vehicle. “We encourage owners that it is important that proper maintenance is maintained on the vehicle,” Lownds says. “The older the car the more diligent one should be in making sure their car is working properly.”

Newfoundland and Labrador have, for many years, not required annual inspections, in line with other Canadian provinces from Quebec west. There is a regulation which requires a car or light truck or van to be inspected at the time of any sale, while taxis must be inspected every year. Heavy vehicles, truck, etc. (over 4500 kg.) require annual inspections, while public passenger buses must be inspected every March and September, beginning six months from the date of manufacture. The lack of an inspection program for light vehicles, however, does not excuse the owner from maintaining his vehicle in a safe condition and road-side inspections are carried out, with law enforcement agencies equipped with the ability to impound vehicles on the spot if the infractions are serious enough.

In Prince Edward Island, annual inspections are still the law. The rules are basically the same for both light and heavy vehicles, with “an annual inspection required on all motor vehicles and trailers. All commercial vehicles over 4500 kg. must also have valid inspections.” “We’ve had an annual safety check for cars since 1971,” John MacDonald, director of highway safety noted. “It’s a long standing program that seems well-received by the public.”  There are 200-plus inspection stations and 400-plus official inspection station mechanics in the province who conduct approximately 90,000 motor vehicle inspections annually. “The act has been amended over the years, standards have been improved and changed,” MacDonald notes. Despite the changes in Nova Scotia, which leaves P.E.I. as one of only two Canadian provinces which insist on annual inspections, there doesn’t seem to be any move to change the status quo there. “When Nova Scotia announced their changes in 2009 we briefed the minister, who asked if safety would be compromised.” MacDonald added. “The idea was advanced to government. They reviewed and weren’t prepared to go there. They thought that the public supported and wanted to retain the annual check. “We don’t get a lot of complaints with the system.”

New Brunswick rules are quite simple. Motor vehicle inspections are required to ensure that all motor vehicles meet required safety standards.  All passenger cars and trucks require an annual inspection.  Taxis and busses are inspected twice a year. Needless to say, all commercial vehicles are also required to face annual inspections.While there was some talk when Nova Scotia changed its rules, New Brunswick has not followed suit. Lisa Hartley of New Brunswick’s department of public safety told New Brunswick newspaper The Times and Transcript at the time that the New Brunswick motor vehicle inspection program has been kept because it contributes to safer roads. “We want to get unsafe cars off the highway, the issue is safety,” she is quoted in the newspaper.   

Much, much more in the print addition of Auto Atlantic.
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