Once again, I’m stuck at the world’s longest traffic light, at the corner of Broadway and Ocean Street in South Portland. So I decide to play my favorite road trip game.

I call it “Why That Car Won’t Pass a State Inspection.” Some people complain about other drivers. I complain about other vehicles.

I start listing defects of the truck in the next lane over: There are shiny doodads dangling from the rear-view mirror, and scary tires extending beyond the fenders. I make a mental note not to steer too close, if the light ever changes.

I invite my fellow travelers to join my game and familiarize themselves with the motor vehicle inspection laws that are pertinent to every driver in Maine, and can be found on the Maine.gov Web site.

I know the laws, not just because I’m a licensed inspection technician, but also because I teach a Southern Maine Community College class to prepare automotive students to take the exam for their own licenses.

Twice a year, my students and I study the Maine Motor Vehicle Inspection Manual word for word. My students and I benefit further when an inspector personally addresses my class.

I thought I had mastered inspections when I was a technician, until I became a teacher and had to explain them to students in my own words. Repeated exposure to the material helps, but there’s another reason for my comprehension. The manual, along with the entire inspection program, is getting better and better.

When I studied the book for my exam in 1993, it was confusing and hard to follow. During inspections my copy grew layers of grease and dirt, as I flipped through the pages looking for information. I needed to show the customer my reason for failing his car, but I couldn’t find where it was written.

If I was able to find the topic, then I wasn’t always clear about the instruction. I feared a state trooper arbitrarily criticizing my judgment about an issue that was poorly explained in the book.

But in 2003, the Maine state police hired civilian Motor Vehicle Inspectors who were former automotive technicians. These new inspectors are automotive experts. They understand the needs of technicians and they speak the same language.

The manual has been re-written a few times under the guidance of the inspectors, and with each revision it becomes more technically accurate, specific, and organized. I am surprised by some of the legal changes that appear in each revision of the book, but I appreciate the clear communication.

I send my thanks to the inspectors for making technicians’ work easier, and Maine’s roads safer. Their work is little known, but widely helpful.

 

Ruth Morrison is an Automotive Technology Instructor and Department Chair at Southern Maine Community College. She holds certification as an ASE Master Technician and Advanced Level Specialist and was a former Ford Senior Master Technician. She graduated from the Ford ASSET Automotive Technology program at Central Maine Technical College and most recently earned her master’s in Adult Education from the University of Southern Maine.