Do state-mandated “safety” inspections ensure a “safe” car? On the day of the inspection, sure. The tires are ok, the brakes check out. Fine.
But what about next week?
And six months down the road?
Aye, there’s the rub.
Literally. Things like tires and brakes – and windshield wipers and suspension components – wear out over time because of friction; i.e. because they rub up against something and as a result of that, they wear down. It’s a gradual process and a differential process; different parts wear at different rates. Brake pads might last 50,000 miles or more. Or half as long.
It depends on the car; it depends on how the car is driven.
Some wear items – like tires – are pretty obvious. No tools or disassembly are required; just have a look. If the wear indicators – raised strips that run across the tread – are becoming visible, it’s a clue you’ll need new tires soon. If the tires are bald – or there’s a bulge or tear on the sidewall – you need new tires today.
Brakes and other wear items are not as obvious.
Sometimes, you can tell by a cursory visual check, but usually, it’s necessary to go a little deeper – with tools.
For brakes, a wheel must usually be removed to have a look at the pads and also to check for other important things such as wheel bearing adjustment, the condition of suspension bits and pieces, etc.
Arguably, this ought to be done more than just once a year.
The safety inspector will pass the car on the day it was inspected, based on its condition that day. A car with just enough tread left on its tires – or just enough brake material left to meet the requirements – will get a sticker. But is the car “safe” to operate for another 12 months, until the next inspection is due?