The debate in Augusta over the need for Maine’s annual vehicle inspection program brings me back to the day I learned I was driving a death trap.

It was the summer of 2015, and the sticker on my 2005 Toyota Tacoma pickup had expired. I knew it would need, at least, new tires. So, I dropped it off at VIP Tires and Service in Gorham, ordered the tires and, as casually as I could, added, “Oh yeah, and it needs an inspection.”

A few hours later, my phone rang. It was the tire shop, but they weren’t calling about tires.

“The frame is rusted through completely,” the clerk told me. “In fact, there are a couple of places where the mechanic could poke his finger right through it.”

At first, I figured it was curtains for my old pickup. But then the clerk offered a ray of hope: Was I aware that Toyota had issued a recall on this very corrosion problem for this very model of pickup truck?

I wasn’t. The recall from Toyota had somehow escaped my notice – a mistake I’ll never make again.

“Call the dealer,” the clerk suggested. “Maybe they can still help you.”

Much to my pleasant surprise, the good folks at Prime Toyota told me the recall had not yet expired.

The work was backlogged, they cautioned, so it would take some time. But when I finally picked up the truck a couple of months later, it had a brand-new frame – I still don’t know how they did it.

Better yet, the pickup had a new sticker.

It’s easy to understand, maybe even applaud, efforts by state Rep. Rich Cebra, R-Naples, and Sen. David Miramant, D-Knox, to pull back on or even eliminate mandatory vehicle inspections in Maine.

They are, at the very least, a pain in the derriere. They can, and often do, lead to a hefty price tag – whether it’s four new tires, a brake job or any number of other costly fixes that most of us don’t even know we need until inspection time rolls around.

It wasn’t always this way. Back when I was in college and tooling around in my 1970 Volkswagen convertible, I knew every square inch of my beloved little bug. If the brakes were worn, I fixed them myself. If the blinker wouldn’t go on, I replaced the switch. When the heating ducts rusted out (as they always did), I even replaced them with a remarkably effective combination of duct tape and undercoating spray – the only downside being that the warm air coming out of the vents smelled distinctly like hot tar.

But those days are long gone. Beyond checking the oil or filling up the windshield fluid reservoir, my ignorance of modern-day automotive mechanics prevents me from even thinking about diving too deeply under the hood in search of red flags I probably wouldn’t recognize if they were staring me in the face.

In other words, much as I may cringe at the thought of a mechanic putting my vehicle up on the lift to look around, the annual inspection is my security blanket, a professional assurance that my vehicle is safe to operate.

Miramant, whose bill would eliminate inspections for all but commercial vehicles, fire trucks, trailers and a handful of others, told the Legislature’s Transportation Committee in written testimony that the $12.50 charge for most inspections creates a perverse incentive for mechanics to find problems that aren’t there and thus make the inspection worth their while.

“Less scrupulous inspectors always find something to fix,” Miramant told his fellow lawmakers. “These inspectors take advantage of folks who don’t know as much about their vehicle and are trusting their mechanic’s advice. The less opportunity for that, the better.”

Here’s a thought: If inspection mechanics out there are milking poor suckers like me for repairs we don’t need, why not crack down on the inspection mechanics? Maine law already requires that a mechanic produce old parts upon demand – making that standard procedure, along with maybe a cellphone photo of the original problem, could go a long way in proving the mechanic’s diagnosis.

Cebra, a longtime opponent of inspections who withdrew his proposals so the committee could focus solely on Miramant’s bill, told his fellow lawmakers that there’s no evidence that inspections lead to significant reductions in crashes or highway fatalities.

Yet, as Maine State Police Lt. Bruce Scott testified, 1,050 crashes per year, or 3 percent of Maine’s total, involve vehicles with deficiencies that contributed to the mishap. Simple logic dictates that if you take away the annual inspection, that number will inevitably rise.

Cebra, noting that only 16 states require vehicle inspection annually or biennially, also told the committee, “I do believe the issue is far more based on individual responsibility.”

The problem is how does one define “individual responsibility” in a state where, according to the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles, the average registration dates back 9.3 years and the average odometer reads 100,131 miles?

The simple reality is that all vehicles, sooner or later, start to fail.

Sometimes, that decline announces itself in such a way that we make a beeline to the local garage, regardless of what month is punched out on the inspection sticker.

Other times, the problem comes on so quickly that we’re stuck in the breakdown lane or, worse, upside down in a ditch.

Not all of those catastrophes are preventable. When a brake line or a tie rod decides to break, it breaks.

But in the 40-plus years that I’ve been a car owner, that’s not how most of my “car trouble” originated.

Rather, it started with that annual inspection. Followed by that gulp when the mechanic announced, “We have a problem.” And, yes, followed by that wave of relief when it was all fixed and I headed back out onto the road.

Scrap mandatory vehicle inspections?

I get the frustration. But as a guy who once drove merrily along on a frame that looked like Swiss cheese, I vote no.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

[email protected]