Two for the Road is a hangout for mystery writers Tammy Kaehler and Simon Wood to chat, reminisce, gossip, speculate and argue about all things motorsport.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Road Test

By Simon

I’m going to say something that probably won’t go down very well with some people. I think the US government should have all road vehicles tested for their roadworthiness. If your car doesn’t pass, it doesn’t go on the road.

I can’t take the credit for this idea. A road worthiness test has been mandatory for all road vehicles for decades in the UK. Every car in the over three years old has to pass an MOT test (aka Ministry of Transport test) every year. Without a current certificate, you can’t get the vehicle insured. The test checks the mechanics (such as wheel bearings, brakes and shocks), functionality (such as headlight alignment, brake light operation, windshield wipers) as well exhaust emissions.

As a car owner in the UK, it’s a real drag. The test isn't all that expensive, but it’s a pain in the arse to drag the car someone to do the test, but I do appreciate it for a couple reasons. One, it’s a cheap inspection to find out if there's something serious wrong with my car. Two, it gives me a certain amount of confidence that a car is basic sound if it has a “long MOT” when I’m buying a secondhand car.

Here in the US, I don’t have that security. I’m engineer by training and I like things to work properly. It slays me when I see a poorly kept car on the road, especially those that are dangerous. I borrowed a friend’s car a couple of months ago with the alignment so off target, the car changed lanes every time I braked. That’s scary to me.

But that’s the things you can see are wrong. The problem with modern cars is that they hide a lot of issues. 20 years ago, if you had a blowout, you knew about it. Now, you can drive home and not know about it. the other week, I was watching a Nissan Murano’s front wheel jackhammer up and down because the shocks were shot, but the driver didn’t seem notice anything, although a quick look at the wear on the tires would give you a clue. So for reasons of public safety, we need a road worthiness test here in the US.

The reason for this little rant. A few months ago, I was driving on the freeway and the wheel sheared off a car coming in the opposite direction. The wheel jumped the median and flew down the freeway on a collision course with me. I dodged the wheel, but it destroyed the front of the car behind me. A safety inspection might have prevented an incident like this.


  1. California had this in place in the past, not sure if they still do. I attended high school in the Netherlands (army brat), and the condition of the vehicles in comparison to the US was dramatic. No driving around with broken taillights, windows, dents, holes, missing bumpers, tape, wire, missing hoods, doors, etc. I'm all in favor of keeping poorly maintained vehicles off the US roadways.

    1. I live in California and the only thing you do is a smog test.