Mainers know what questions to ask when someone is trying to sell them a used car.

How many miles are on the odometer? Has it ever been in an accident? And, the question to end all questions, will it pass a state inspection?

That third question could become moot if the Legislature adopts a pending bill that would eliminate the annual state inspection requirement for vehicles that are less than 20 years old.

Sen. David Miramant, D-Camden Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The measure, sponsored by Sen. David Miramant, D-Camden, is among a half dozen bills to be taken up by the Transportation Committee on Tuesday that would change the inspection law or eliminate it entirely. The panel has scheduled a 1 p.m. work session to debate the bills and recommend passage or defeat to the full Legislature.

Previous efforts to repeal or change Maine’s inspection sticker requirements have been met with stiff resistance in the Legislature, including in 2019 when the committee unanimously rejected a similar bill.

But Miramant and other advocates for ending the requirement say it doesn’t make Maine’s highways any safer, and that unscrupulous mechanics always find something to repair, largely because the $12.50 inspection fee doesn’t cover the cost of their time. Maine is among only 16 states that require an annual vehicle inspection, according to Miramant.

“I want the people of Maine not to be cheated out of millions and millions of dollars,” he said at a public hearing on the legislation last week.

Modern vehicles have many more built-in safety features that were not contemplated when the state’s inspection law was first adopted, the Camden lawmaker said. He contended that the annual inspection system makes some vehicle owners complacent about safety.

“Once I noticed my friend’s tires were worn down,” Miramant said. “I pointed it out but my friend just said, ‘It’s OK – I still have nine months left on my sticker.’ He’s going to wait instead of taking care of it now. This happens with brakes, mufflers and other systems as well.”

Beyond repealing the inspections or only applying them to older vehicles, other bills before the committee would extend the life of a sticker on new vehicles from 12 months to 24 months, or require a study of the inspection system and fee.

Lt. Bruce Scott, who heads the Maine State Police Traffic Safety Unit, testified in opposition to the measures. Scott said even brand-new vehicles can develop serious safety defects and that annual inspections in Maine can save not only lives but also money.

“An undiagnosed defect that cost $50 to fix today may indeed cost hundreds if not thousands when not immediately repaired,” Scott said.

The annual inspection fee generates about $3.5 million, which is deposited into the state’s Highway Fund, used largely to help build and maintain roads and bridges.

Scott said some have argued that free safety inspections are often offered with oil changes or when other service is given to a vehicle, and that’s another reason the state doesn’t need a formal inspection program.

“If the inspection program was eliminated, who would set the standards?” Scott asked. “Would they be arbitrary or capricious standards set by each repair facility? Who would ensure that the vehicle gets repaired? Would they need to be licensed? Who would license them? Would the technicians have to prove their proficiency in automotive mechanics? Would they have to be a person of honesty, integrity and reliability? The current inspection program has evolved over the years and has addressed these concerns and more.”

Support and opposition to the inspection requirements cut across party lines at the hearing, with both Democrats and Republicans finding themselves on different sides of the issue.

Rep. Lester Ordway, R-Standish

Rep. Lester Ordway, R-Standish, a longtime licensed auto mechanic, automotive instructor and former state police vehicle inspector, testified in strong opposition to repealing the sticker requirement.

In his 5o-year career working on vehicles, Ordway said, he’s seen all manner of safety violations and improper and unsafe do-it-yourself repair jobs.

“I’ve seen things you wouldn’t believe,” Ordway said. “We’re Mainers, we’re Yankees, we can rig some stuff. I’ve seen cars jacked up with two-by-fours or hockey pucks. I once saw a brake line replaced with a rubber vacuum hose. Some horrendous stuff.”

Ordway said he has seen fatal crashes involving vehicles with inspection violations, and if lawmakers want to alter the inspection program they should give it more teeth so police could punish unscrupulous mechanics – including the ones who will allow a vehicle to pass when it shouldn’t.

“The ones who will slap a sticker on for their buddy, because it doesn’t matter that much. It does,” Ordway said. “People will die. You know we got Gomer and Goober out there repairing automobiles in the backyard. It’s not good.”

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