Sunday, March 08, 2009

Testing day

Today I took my car in for its Warrant of Fitness (WoF). It’s not the sort of thing I’d have chosen to do on a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon, but the WoF expired today, so this was necessary. If I’d waited until tomorrow to go and had an accident on the way, insurance probably wouldn’t cover it.

A Warrant of Fitness is a mandatory safety inspection to make sure vehicles are roadworthy. Cars less than five years old are inspected once a year, while cars older than five years are inspected every six months. My inspection cost $47 (today, about US$23.60). Oddly, there’s no emissions testing, though that has been suggested from time to time.

The exam takes 20-25 minutes and they check things like seatbelts and airbags, brakes, lights, glass (cracks and chips aren’t permitted), windscreen wipers and washer, doors (they must close and latch), speedometer, steering, suspension, exhaust (looking for breaks), fuel system, car body (rusted areas are not permitted), the underbody and general structural condition (chiefly looking for corrosion) and tyre condition and tread depth. As the photo above shows (and no, my car's not visible), there’s usually a queue, so the total time spent is often over an hour (in my case, about an hour and a quarter).

I watched the people—an odd assortment. Most memorable, apart from a couple cuties, were a woman in a Dolce and Gabbana top and her silver-haired husband who carried a woven flax big purse; they rode up in their Porsche.

The whole scene made me think how an immigrant wouldn’t have a clue what to do the first time they got a warrant, though the process is pretty simple. You drive up and park behind a car in one of the queues. You go inside, give your registration number (licence plate number), pay the fee, and you’re given the inspection form for your vehicle. You go back outside, place the form inside the car (like on the driver’s seat), leave the key in the ignition and go sit down to wait. Once the inspection is done, the inspector hands you the form back and—if your vehicle passed—you hand the form in and you’re given a little sticker for inside the windscreen. If they’re busy, you put the sticker on, if they’re not too busy, they do it. Once the sticker is on, you’re done.

If your car fails for some reason, you’re given the opportunity to fix it and can come back for a free re-check within 28 days. If you wait longer than 28 days, you have to pay the full fee all over again. A burned out taillight can be replaced right there—they stock replacement bulbs. Very often tyre shops and other repairers are located near to inspection centres, which must mean good business for them.

The whole point is to make sure that the cars on New Zealand roads are safe. As a result, you don’t see rattling, rusting cars that I grew up calling “beaters”, often called “bombs” here. The oldest cars you’re likely to see on the road—apart from classic cars—are about 10 years old. There are some that are older, of course, but they’ve been well-maintained over the years (or else they’d never get a WoF and wouldn’t be legal to drive on the road).

Unfortunately, even a well-maintained car doesn’t protect you from bad drivers. But that’s another story.


epilonious said...

So basically, it's a libertarian's nightmare.

I am very ambivalent about such rigorous car testing.

I know lots of people who drive 'beaters' who drive them safely and know how to keep them out of traffic and know their cars very well. I know lots of people who drive new cars who shouldn't be allowed out when it's raining because they won't put the cellphone down or stop going 80 on the onramp with a hairpin.

I consider SouthEastern US interstates in snow Darwin's playground ("Oh, it's not plowed, but I have a 4Runner with all-wheel-drive, so I can drive 60 MPH....")

I dunno. I feel like it needs to be split. Check the car to make sure it's not polluting horrendously or about to drop a control-arm... and then force every new driver to complete the week-long defensive-driving/skid-pad/slip-pad course. Nothing hammers into people's heads "and you want good tires because if you are sliding sideways and the tread comes off your gonna flip over and die" like a 180 in an old Taurus.

If you want old beater-cars off the road, instate one of those "hey, we'll give you $500 for the scrap metal and free haul-away" programs. Then the people who aren't particularly attached to their old 70's rust barges will line-up and suddenly steel will be a lot cheaper.

Arthur Schenck said...

New Zealand is a libertarian's nightmare, with a huge amount of government and social "control" not only accepted or assumed by the people, but actually demanded by them. This is a much more social-centric (not necessarily socialist) country than the US is.

I've advocated mandatory driver training because none at all is required right now. Most kids are taught by their parents or other family members and end up just learning their bad habits. Graduated licencing doesn't help that.

However, when I got my licence in Illinois, driver training wasn't technically required: You just had to wait two more years before you could get your licence. But insurance companies all offered discounts to people who'd gone through an approved course, and some in NZ do, too, but not many; sometimes it's only for fleet insurance for companies. But, then, insurance isn't mandatory in NZ, either.

The WoF system has been around for a long time now, so the rattle-traps get forced off the roads and have been for a long time. Used cars imported from Japan are cheap, good and not terribly old, so there's no reason—no economic incentive—to keep old beaters when a newer, better car is available at a reasonable price (well, until the recession this was a good option…). If people want to keep their old cars there's no reason they can't—as long as they can keep them roadworthy.

As a result of all this, the death rate from accidents caused by faulty/unsafe cars has dropped pretty dramatically over the years (leading cause of death from accidents is excessive speed followed by drink-driving). The cars most likely to have mechanical problems—especially poor brakes or bald tyres—belong to young drivers who are also the least experienced at driving. The WoF system catches the mechanical problems, better driver training would hep with the problem of inexperienced drivers.

epilonious said...

I agree with you on most points, and want to implant a meme in your head.

Don't think of WoF as "Warrant of Fitness"

Think of it as "World of Fail"

"My car didn't pass it's [World of Fail] test"

Heee, I'm giggling.