Safety First: Pull the Plates!

Safety First: Pull the Plates!
Dave Redinger is a retired mechanic with over 45 years’ experience. He now works as a consultant and legal advisor on mechanical matters offering advice to garage owners and lawyers. You can reach him at automotiveexpert.ca (Photo: Huw Evans)

We could use a law to allow automotive technicians to pull dangerous vehicles off the road.

I just renewed my Journeyman’s Licence(s) for the coming year. As we all know, there have been big changes at the Ontario College of Trades, and I have a feeling these changes are for the better.

The main effect so far has been a drastic drop in fees after a temporary pause in renewals. I guess I wouldn’t be the first one to congratulate the current government on a job well done.

More power for technicians

However, I feel that while the Conservatives are looking at the trades (specifically the automotive repair industry) they could delve a little deeper and make a few more changes. I have always been a proponent for giving the licenced tech the right to take an unsafe vehicle off the road. In other words, pull the plates off what obviously shouldn’t be in service.

Here’s my argument. See if you don’t agree: The facts are simple—you have just been under a car for, say, an oil change. Is it, or is it not, your job to scan the rest of the vehicle for obvious failures (brakes, front-end components, exhaust, etc.)?

Some would say the tech is just mining for work. The truth is, should something serious occur after the vehicle leaves the shop, you can bet that shop will end up in court defending the fact that they didn’t report any shortcomings.

When things go south and there’s blame to be shared, they sue everybody. There have been cases where mechanics have been charged with criminal negligence.

Pointing fingers

True example: We ran an oil change special through one of those coupon promotions on the Web. To our dismay, we really didn’t pick up any real business, because the clientele that’s attracted to these offers doesn’t spend any money on their vehicles.

The case that stands out for me has to do with a Honda Prelude with a loose upper ball joint. We pointed out the failure, which was serious, only to be called dishonest and crooks. We were accused of trying to take advantage of this guy while the thing was on the hoist. “Nothing wrong with my car, I’m not fixing what ain’t broke!” he told us. Heard it before? We all have.

As it so happened, the wheel did come off, and the police arrived at our door. Apparently, the owner claimed he just had it in the shop. Fortunately, we were prepared. Whenever we run into a case where vital work is refused, we make the owner sign-off that they are aware of the issue, but that they refuse to have us do anything about it.

In this case, the owner of the Prelude was charged. But in hindsight, the situation could have been a lot worse. Lives could have been lost. The right thing would have been for us to pull the plates and call the police. That’s the real solution.

Techs need to exercise the right of good judgement when it comes to safety on the road, but what they really need is the authority to pull the plates.

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