Inspection Time
May 30th, 2016

If you hang onto a car long enough, it’ll be worth more than you paid for it. Furthermore, if you hold onto it for forty years, your car will no longer have to pass an annual safety inspection, which in Utah is nothing more than an added tax. I mean, if indeed safety is the goal, drivers should be required to undergo annual psychiatric evaluations.

I only recently learned that my 1973 Volkswagen Kombi is exempt—this after months of putting off the yearly ordeal. Nothing I hate worse than handing over the keys to my beloved bus to a stranger and then watching in agony as he fiddles with the controls in a vain effort to make something work. Last year it was the window washer, which conked out 25 years ago. The year before that it was the defroster, which never worked. It’s no accident that Dr. Jack Kevorkian chose a 1968 VW camper van for treating his suicidal patients. Just drive the patient around on a cold winter’s day until he quietly succumbs to hypothermia.

In years past I have devised various strategies for passing inspection tests. For example, if I suspected there was something wrong with the steering, I’d take it to a garage that specializes in transmissions. If the brakes were bad, I’d take it to a muffler shop. Magicians call this “misdirection,” and, often as not, it worked.

Back when I was a teenager, I also relied on magic to keep my 1950 Mercury on the road. What I’d do is forge an identification card for my friend Steve, whose family owned the local Dodge dealership. All I had to do was move Steve’s birth date back a few years and then leave my car unlocked. In the morning, voila—a current inspection sticker had magically appeared on my windshield! So it happened that for years no mechanic had ever looked under the hood or test driven Project Mercury. If he had, he’d surely have noted some defects. For instance, no reverse gear!

Project Mercury copy

Evidently no barkeep ever closely inspected Steve’s ID card, either. I mean, seriously, who in his right mind would admit a baby-faced kid who’d been fingerprinted by the FBI?

Fake ID copy

What with computerized record keeping, such subterfuge became impossible. As a result, you see fewer and fewer old cars on the road and also fewer underage drinkers. For the past several months, my VW van has sat gathering dust, thanks to the non-operating window washer. But finally I bit the bullet and ordered an aftermarket replacement, which I installed more or less successfully. Now whenever I push a plunger duct taped to the steering column, the driver’s side windscreen receives a little spritz—not enough to wash away a bug but perhaps enough to satisfy my local mechanic, John.

Window washer installed, I fired up the bus and drove it to John’s gas station, and that’s when I learned that my Volkswagen, which is now classified as a Vintage Vehicle, is exempt from future inspections. Wowee! I made a beeline to the local DMV, where I was greeted by helpful and courteous public servants who put to rest the stereotypes personified by Bart Simpson’s aunts Patty and Selma Bouvier. For want of a safety inspection, I had let the registration expire last August. Would I be taxed for the intervening eight months? I wondered.

“Of course not,” said the helpful and courteous public servant. “For your Vintage Vehicle, registration is a flat ten dollars.”

Holy cow! That’s about the same as it cost me for a lifetime senior pass to the national parks. Is this a great country or what? Well, it certainly is if you’re an old guy behind the wheel of an old car. So please, everybody—stop honking your horns and flipping me the bird. I know you’re envious, and I feel your pain. Unlike you, however, thanks be to Medicare, I can afford to address that pain.

-Richard Menzies