As you might know,
in 1991, I bought a
five-year old VW
Jetta with 82,000
miles on the clock.
At the time, I knew
that the car was well-
built and included
some decent sheet
metal (such is impor-
tant as I live in the
Northeast and drive
through rough winters).
I figured I would get maybe 30,000 – 40,000 miles out of the car. Well, after
owning the Jetta 19 years and with 504,179 miles on the odometer, I just had
the car inspected.
How do you get ‘older cars’ through state inspections? Well, let me state
straight off that it takes some skill and I must honestly admit, a bit of luck!
I remember one time when I took my car to a Chrysler dealership that
offered a ‘coupon special’ or a few dollars off on the inspection. Usually,
such offers are a way for dealerships to get people in with a low inspection
price and then the dealer does ‘necessary repairs’ for the vehicle to pass the
Concerning the dealer’s low cost inspection offer, I figured, if the
dealer was game so was I. After my car was inspected, the dealer was
complaining to me about my inspection appointment being scheduled
for one hour before they closed. Additionally, they asked me why I
was having an 86 VW Jetta inspected as they did not know how to
work on it nor have the parts for repairs. Well, my reasoning was that
such tends to cut down on or eliminate the need for unnecessary repairs.
What I remember vividly about this particular inspection is that the
car needed a couple of light bulbs (the dealer did not stock them) and
I ran across the street, purchased the bulbs from an auto parts store and
the dealer or maybe even I installed them. I think the dealer stopped
offering inspection coupons a short time later.
Since I have owned my car for such a long period of time, I
have done many of the repairs, and I am on a first name basis
with a number of mechanics in my town (mechanics tend to get
a bit excited when they see a car with over 500,000 miles). I
know what the mechanics will be looking for when inspecting
Obviously, good tires are important. Next, brakes that have good
stopping power are paramount. The list is rounded out with no holes
in the body; rubber brake hoses that are not cracked; rotors (discs)
that are not warped; front caliper and rear brake cylinders that are
not leaking; shock absorbers that do not bounce or leak fluid; tight
ball joints and tie rods, a battery that is bolted down; as well as lights,
turn signals, horn, and windshield wipers that all work.
So, on an older vehicle with high mileage, if the brakes or rotors are
worn but will likely just pass the inspection, I have frequently replaced
them a week before the inspection. If you are able to do such work, the
cost is about $50 – $70. On my car, the brakes pads (and many other
parts for that matter) are lifetime replacement items (if the parts man-
ufacturer wants to offer a lifetime warranty, I am game) which have
helped to reduce the cost.
Additionally, I would schedule the car to be inspected say a month before
the sicker expired. Thus, if the car needed some ‘unforeseen’ work, I could
pull the car from the garage, do the work (or have it done) and bring it back
when the work was finished. In some instances (not very many however),
I would incur a second inspection fee. In most instances, the garage would
let me do the needed work and then bring the car back without an additional
Mechanics generally wanted to see my car succeed. After all, it is human
nature to get bored with regular type work, but something a bit out of the
ordinary is usually more interesting.
Over the years, I have tried not push inspection mechanics too hard as I
would eliminate ‘borderline’ inspection items. I would spend a bit more
to make certain the car passed, but I avoided the high cost garage repair bills.
Another strategy is to have all the important mechanical components repaired
and in good working order before the inspection, but actually having a few light
bulbs that do not work. This enables the garage to make a small amount of money
combined with the goal of avoiding a large inspection bill.
I must admit that I have stood quite near the mechanic when my car has been
inspected. Insurance regulations allow customers to be outside the garage door,
however, I have frequently been inside the garage to see the brake pads,
and the other inspection components. I guess that having a ‘high mileage
car’ has provided me with some street cred with mechanics).
It is nice when a tire store manager says, “Mr. Busch, if you need tires,
come see me and I will give you a good price” – and they do!
So what did it cost me to get my 1986 Volkswagen Jetta with 504,179
miles inspected and emissions tested? Well, I spent $30 for parts prior
to the inspection. And the actual inspection and emissions fee was $50.77.
Thus, the car did not need anything, and I will certainly drive with that!
Have an auto question or comment? You can email it to me at
Kbusch3@verizon.net. Kyle Busch is the author of “Drive the Best
for the Price…” www.DriveTheBestBook.com.