NY eased auto inspections during COVID. What happens when they come back?
ALBANY — Hundreds of thousands of New York motorists have put off their vehicle inspection during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving auto shops bracing for an onslaught of customers whenever Gov. Andrew Cuomo decides to restore the annual requirement.
As of Sept. 4, New York auto shops had performed 739,000 fewer inspections since March compared to the average over the same period the prior five years, a decrease of about 11%, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
The drop is in large part due to Cuomo’s March 27 executive order temporarily suspending the annual vehicle inspection requirement, which came as the state took drastic steps to encourage people to stay home at the height of the coronavirus crisis.
Cuomo’s order is set to expire Oct. 4, though he could easily extend it as he has several times before.
New York’s inspection shop owners, who were hit with a significant drop in customers when COVID-19 was at its height, are encouraging Cuomo to let the order expire and reinstate the annual inspection requirement.
There are signs that may happen in the not-too-distant future: In recent weeks, the DMV has encouraged motorists to complete their inspections now even while Cuomo’s order remains in effect.
“The DMV encourages New Yorkers to have their vehicles inspected if they are past due,” DMV spokeswoman Lisa Koumjian said in a statement.
“The DMV is notifying customers who have an expired inspection or driver license that they are due for renewal and we are providing details on the ways in which they can renew.”
More than 10 million vehicles in New York
Cuomo’s order applied to any vehicle with an inspection that was current as of March 1.
About 10.5 million vehicles are registered to operate statewide, meaning many people have still opted to have their cars inspected despite temporarily not being required to do so.
The decrease in inspections is not entirely due to the order, either; Inspection totals fluctuate from year to year, and the state has seen an uptick in drivers taking their cars off the road during the pandemic, for example.
Each year, passengers vehicles are required to pass an inspection at an auto shop, which must check a variety of mechanical and emissions traits meant to ensure the car can operate safely. Inspections are also required any time a vehicle is sold or transferred to a new owner.
New York’s inspection requirements are stricter and more frequent than most states, many of which do not require a periodic safety check-up at all.
There are about 10,000 auto shops with state certification to perform inspections, according to Wayne Bombardiere, executive director of the state Association of Service Stations and Repair Shops.
Those shops were deemed essential by the state, so they’ve remained open during the COVID-19 pandemic. But with the inspection requirement suspended, many shops saw between a 30% and 60% drop in business from March through June, Bombardiere said.
And, more importantly, a lag in inspections could mean more cars with safety issues are on the roadways when they otherwise would have been flagged for repairs, he said.
“You’ve got six months worth of cars that haven’t been inspected that should have been inspected, and who knows what kind of danger those cars are right now,” Bombardiere said. “There could be some that are dangerous and some that are routine inspections.”
He continued: “If our businesses are open and functioning, there’s no reason people couldn’t get their car inspected.”
A chance to reconsider inspections?
John Corlett, AAA Northeast’s director of public and government affairs, said the current situation could be a chance for New York to reexamine its inspection system and determine whether the annual requirement is still necessary.
“I’m not saying we should do away with it, but maybe have a task force take a look at it with members of the service station industry,” Corlett said.
“It represents a steady stream of customers to the repair shops and they do look for important items on the inspection list, but I’m just saying it’s time to take a broader look at the whole thing.”
While the DMV is encouraging motorists to get their inspections, the agency has not given any indication about how much notice will be given before Cuomo’s order is rescinded.
Inspection shops would likely need significant lead time to allow them to keep up with an anticipated influx of customers.
In an interview last week, Bombardiere said Cuomo should consider providing notice now if, say, he decides to rescind the order at the end of October.
“They’re going to have to give notice,” he said. “If he announced today that everyone would have to be renewed by the end of the month, that would be tough. I don’t know if the industry can handle it that fast.”