In Massachusetts, non-commercial motor vehicles get inspected once a year. When I learned to drive, in the mid/late 1960s, it was twice, spring and fall. Now it’s once, and the year is, sensibly enough, broken into months; probably some effort is made to divide all registered vehicles into 12 semi-equal parts.
Since you have a whole month to get inspected, theoretically this avoids long lines at inspection stations that don’t require appointments. In practice — well, you know what happens: procrastinators all crowd in during the month’s last few days.
This would include me. Getting inspected provokes some anxiety, mostly about the possibility of doing something stupid like not noticing that one brake light is burned out, so I invariably put it off. These days Malvina Forester gets inspected in May. Around mid-month I realized that the hand brake wasn’t holding as well as it should, so I scheduled a visit to my mechanic for the Monday of the last full week in May. That would give me plenty of time to get inspected before the end of the month — which was actually the end of that week, because the last three days of the month were Memorial Day weekend.
Hand brake fixed, oil changed, everything in good working order, that Wednesday afternoon I headed off to my regular inspection station, Mid-Island Repair in beautiful downtown West Tisbury, better known as Kenny Belain’s. To my astonishment Malvina flunked the emissions test. WTF?
When you flunk the emissions test, you get a four-color brochure from the commonwealth about what this means and your Vehicle Inspection Report includes a list of “local registered emissions repair shops.” “Local” notwithstanding, only two of the 10 were on the Vineyard and Courtesy Motors, which has taken great care of my vehicles as long as I’ve been on the Vineyard, was not one of them.
So at the next opportunity I headed up there to consult with Larry, who now runs the shop with his son Jesse, who might not have been born when I made my first visit and if he was he would have been very young. Courtesy Motors is very well named: Larry is a soft-spoken, unfailingly polite guy who has never treated me like a car-clueless female even though on some occasions I have been known to act like one. He called my attention to the small print on page 2 of the inspection report: “Your vehicle’s On-Board Diagnostic (OBD) system is not ready to be tested. As a result, your vehicle cannot receive a complete emissions test at this time. This is often caused by a disconnected battery or recent repair work.”
Aha. Larry explained that mechanics may disconnect and reconnect the battery in the course of doing repairs, that this causes the car’s on-board computer to reset, and that the car has to be driven a while before it’s functioning normally again. I hadn’t driven much between between the repair work on Monday and inspection on Wednesday. This had to be it — I hoped. At least the specter of major repairs in my future receded somewhat. Larry said if I wanted to bring the car by before I took it to be re-inspected, they’d test the emissions to make sure I’d pass on the second try. The flunk report said that “if your vehicle does not pass a re-test within 60 days of its initial inspection, RMV [Registry of Motor Vehicles] may suspend your registration,” so this was reassuring.
In Massachusetts at least, all inspection flunks are not created equal. If you flunk any of the safety tests, you have only 7 days to fix them and get re-inspected. If you flunk the emissions test, you have 60 days. Clearly an emissions flunk is a higher class of flunk, and the two have different color Rs on the sticker so vigilant police officers can tell them apart.
The 60-day deadline gave me more time to procrastinate and worry from time to time about what-ifs. So at the tail end of June I finally got myself back to Kenny Belain’s. There were 9 or 10 cars in line: clearly I’m not the only one who leaves inspection to the last minute. July was coming right up, like on Thursday, so I turned around and went home.
When I returned, on Thursday, July 1, there was no line at all. Malvina passed her emissions test, we’re legal again, and I know better than to go for inspection soon after having repair work done. My inspection month is still May. Fine with me, because there are a lot more cars on the island in July.
Maybe next time I’ll know better than to leave it all to the end of the month?