The Big Brother Inspection Kerfuffle

My parents helped me buy my first car but that was entirely self-preservation on my mom’s part. See, I had had a Triumph motorcycle. She was driving behind me as we returned from the shop when an oncoming car cut a little into my lane as I drifted a little toward the centerline and just tapped my foot peg a little.


It didn’t break my foot. I didn’t drop the bike. It did bend the footrest. And, of course, it proved I was invincible. And immortal. To everyone but my mom.

The long and the short of this story is that not much time passed before I was in a Triumph with four wheels instead of on a Triumph with two.

How Our Car Looks Before InspectionThat first car was a sad, 8-year old Triumph TR-3A with side curtains and a cast iron 1991 cc four-cylinder tractor engine that allegedly produced 100 horsepower, and standard disc brakes. Although it had just 50,000 miles, it was a tired, little car. My dad and I built new side curtains for it using Chuck Weiler’s miracle Hypalon™ fabric. The Standard-Triumph Motor Company sold only 74,800 TR3s in all its flavors. Only some 9,500 of the original 58,000 3As built survive today so I really wish I still had that little car.

But it probably wouldn’t pass inspection in Vermont today.

Speaking of passing, SWMBO got out of state last fall before her “sticker” came due, saving us that $40. It was well and truly expired when she got back, though.

Vermont’s new “Automated Vehicle Inspection Program” (AVIP) has “integrated electronic data collection and management into” the state’s inspection process. Inspection regulations have not changed but drivers may notice fewer inspection garages. And higher prices.

Ya think?

Vermont inspections typically cost between $35 and $50 last year, up from $20-25 a few years ago when the state last forced mechanics to buy new gear, first one OBD-II reader, then another.

Gerald, the neighboring mechanic, gave up the business this year.

“It was too expensive and too intrusive,” he said.

AOL Commissioner Robert Ide expected some of the smaller stations like Gerald’s would throw in the towel.

How Our Car Looks After Inspection“Some” mechanics will need to offset the $1,500-2,000 cost of new equipment, including a tablet computer with a camera to photograph your license plate, VIN plate, underbelly, and any repair that needs to be made, that uploads all that vehicle data to the state. The system will also make the inspection take longer to perform. Mechanics have to charge by the hour.

“I wonder if the data collected includes the onboard GPS readout,” my friend Dean “Dino” Russell mused. Dino is a roofer here in the middle Keys. Dancing about on roofs all his life has made him the most physically fit man in the Home Depot; it also gives him an overview of the conspiracies of everyday life.

“No, it doesn’t,” Mr. Ide said.

Motorists will be able to access their own vehicle’s inspection history and the history of other vehicles, identified by the Vehicle Identification Number. Only vehicle information relative to safety and emissions inspections will be made available.

“Uh oh,” said Dino.

Vermont contracted Parsons Corp., a huge engineering services firm out in Pasadena, to provide the equipment, networking, maintenance and support, and a technical support hotline for Vermont mechanics. Parsons is the sole suppler for ruggedized tablets and auxiliary stuff like printers. The inspection stations are required to pay $1,624 for each tablet, additional for other hardware, plus a small fixed fee for each inspection. How much the entire contract costs the state was not immediately available.

“Yeah, sure. Competitive bids with a governmental RFQ, so they know they will pay too much,” Dino said. “And there is a ‘street price’ so the bids will all be close enough to choose the ‘right’ vendor.”

The average age of the cars and trucks we drive has risen once again, now to now 11.6 years, as we keep them longer and longer. My (topless)(white) car is 17-years old. SWMBO’s “new” car celebrated its tenth birthday last fall. Registrations for light vehicles in operation in the U.S. hit a record 264 million.

“I wonder if the state is just flush and wants to share with a favorite business, kind of like the Exchange debacle, or if there’s a bigger motive,” Dino wondered.

I raised an eyebrow.

“Like a back door ‘clunker’ program.”

G. Stone Motors does say the new Inspection program “will eliminate older vehicles.”

The cars and trucks we drive are better made than my Triumph was. Back then, that 8-year old car with was 50,000 miles was down to its last owner before getting recycled into washing machines. Last year, I sold my now-17-year old white truck to a neighbor when it had almost three times that mileage. Some rust. Runs good. He drives it to Daytona every other weekend. Pulling a trailer.

Nobody’s talking about how to inspect that TR-3A but I did learn that “the manufacturer or distributor of each device or lens designed to control lights on motor vehicles shall apply to the commissioner for his approval of the use of such device or lens in” Vermont. I doubt anyone has done that for a now-70-year-old British sports car.

SWMBO’s now-10-year-old American sedan passed.


For the record, Florida has no vehicle inspection. A fellow I know in Big Pine drives a 1910 Oakland Model 25 every day. There must be a lesson in there somewhere.



Commuters are getting soaked in Florida. It ain’t raining.

Back in 2006, the American Association for State Highway and Transportation Officials and the Federal Highway Administration commissioned Future Financing Options to Meet Highway and Transit Needs. That and other studies going back to Robert Poole’s original paper for the Reason Foundation helped set up the market priced “express” lanes all over the country.

See, highway departments have tax-driven budgets.

Every politician says “I oppose solving these problems by raising taxes.”
“The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn’t get worse every time Congress meets.” –Will Rogers

Here in South Florida where 36-mile Krome Avenue project is now underway at a projected cost of $284.8 million, the Department of Transportation is always looking for ways to supplement its budget. They found it by adding toll lanes to the “free” Interstates. They call those “express lanes.” Most Floridians call them dangerous abominations.

Sen. Frank Artiles (R-Miami) filed SB 250 last month to do away with express lanes on all of Florida’s highways.

Yay, Frank!

Lane DivingThe bill will allow FDOT to collect tolls to pay off the bonds for the toll construction but the tolls must be eliminated after discharge of the project’s bond. It prohibits the creation of any new high occupancy toll lanes or express lanes. And it requires FDOT to change existing lanes so they are no longer high occupancy toll lanes or express lanes upon elimination of their tolls.

Here’s the biggie: Tolls may not be charged for use of an interstate highway where tolls were not charged as of July 1, 1997.

“The problem is government spends too much. So raising taxes is what politicians do, instead of reducing spending.” –Grover Norquist

In Miami, FDOT turned two existing lanes into toll lanes which simply shrank the highway for everyone. It was another money grab.
Miami drivers are so frustrated, the new South Florida sport is “lane diving,” that is, drivers diving in and out of express lanes.

Express Lane Accident“At any moment there is a chance that somebody is going to dive into my lane not wanting to pay the fee for the express lanes from the beginning,” Mark Kaire told WFTS in Tampa this month. The Miami attorney represents 10 clients suing FDOT; all were had accidents caused by the orange lane dividers that separate the express lanes from the regular lanes.

By the way, FDOT got it wrong another way. The “closed” signs on I-95 Express have a black background with the “No Vacancy” part illuminated in yellow lights. The trouble is, Florida highway regulatory signs must be black and white to be legal so the Florida Highway Patrol can’t enforce the FDOT request to not use the lanes.

If SB 250 is successful, FDOT will lose the $27.6 million in revenue they made last year.

I hope Florida hasn’t heard of the Alameda freight corridor plans. They charge up to $30 fees “on each container that uses or could have used the corridor.” I can just imagine the glee at that idea within FDOT.

“Let’s see. Harper drives up Krome Avenue to avoid our tolls on Florida’s Turnpike or the I-95 Express Lanes,” goes that thought balloon. “But he should take the turnpike, so we’ll deduct that fee from his SunPass.”

12,192 crashes occurred in the express lanes in Miami-Dade County alone but there were only five fatalities.

The Florida Department of Transportation, of course, maintains that the lanes are safe.

“I truly believe that it’s only a money-making scheme,” Sen. Artiles told Local 10 News. Me, too, Frank. Me, too.


Road Trip XVI-11

In our prior episode, I drove out of Arizona and through New Mexico where I still didn’t find my drivers’ license.


Oil Well

Texas has the most farms and the highest acreage in the United States. The state is ranked #1 for revenue generated from total livestock and livestock products and #2 for total agricultural revenue. Beef cattle represent the largest single segment of Texas agriculture bringing $7.4 billion or 56.7% of the state’s annual agricultural cash receipts. Texas leads the nation in the production of cattle, horses, sheep, goats, wool, mohair, hay and cotton. Cotton earns $1.9 billion and dairy products make “only” $947 million.
Ever since the discovery of oil at Spindletop, Texas has grown to be the sixth largest oil producer in the world. The state has known petroleum deposits of about 5 billion barrels, which makes up about one-fourth of the known U.S. reserves. The state’s refineries can process 4.6 million barrels of oil a day. Texas also leads in natural gas production, producing one-fourth of the nation’s supply. Petroleum companies based in include Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, Conoco-Phillips, Exxon-Mobil, Halliburton, Marathon Oil, Tesoro, Valero, and Western Refining.
Despite the extraordinary mileage many Texans drive, they consume, on average, only the fifth most energy (of all types) in the nation per capita and as a whole, following behind Wyoming, Alaska, Louisiana, North Dakota, and Iowa.

I chatted with a gentleman in Amarillo who had driven across the state. He had a trailer-load furniture coming from his home in Houston to his “summer house” near Amarillo.

“I’ve already driven halfway to California,” he said. That was a Texas exaggeration but only by about 100 miles. Since I opted against El Paso and San Antonio for this trip, I’ll drive only 700 miles across Texas instead of 1,000.

My first view of the Lone Star State was a cotton field with oil derricks and there were almost uncountable horsehead pumps/nodding donkeys filling the fields the rest of the way in. The drive to Midland was mostly pretty desolate so I was surprised to see an orchard as I left one small town.

I made it to Midland in time to spend a couple of hours at the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum. Natch, I started at the Chaparral wing where I “test drove” the 2E and had my picture taken and drooled over all the other cars. Every one except the model I sat in is in running shape and kept that way purposefully.

Test Driving the Chaparral 2E

Mr. Hall was a founder and charter member of the West Texas Region of the SCCA in the 1950s. He raced the cars he built in Midland and competed in Formula One from 1960 to 1963 but his place in motor sports history came because he was the engineer and driver and part owner, with Hap Sharp, of Chaparral Cars.

Business End of the Chaparral 2J, the Famed 'Goer-Blower'

Chaparral built the most innovative racecars in the United States Road Racing Championship and in the Can-Am of the ’60s most obviously because his aerodynamics shaped the coming generations of racing. He drove in SCCA Trans-Am Series and won the 12-Hour at Sebring in the ’70s, then took over as a team owner in CART and Champ Car Racing.

Rutherford's Chaparral_2K

His cars won the Indianapolis 500 with Al Unser driving in 1978 and Johnny Rutherford in 1980 in the radical new Chaparral 2K, the first ground effect car to be raced at Indy.
Chaparral 2K Ground Effects TunnelsAfter reading Zuckerman’s The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters, the museum’s “this is how it works” exhibits showed me the actual iron used from the earliest oil fields on. Many of the exhibits were created to teach kids how great oil and oil exploration is. Mythcrackers is one, with an introductory film that dispelling common petroleum myths in a Family Feud-style game show because “it’s what you think you know that just ain’t so.” They have a large display of paintings by artist Tom Lovell.

FlareThe industry museum shares the energy story and its impact on our daily lives with a journey through millions of years of history starting with the vast sea that covered the Permian Basin 230 million years ago.

Lightning chased me from the outdoor drilling and pump exhibits, though.
Early Mobile Drilling RigI had reserved a room in America’s Best Value Inn because when I called ahead to make sure I could check in with my passport, the desk clerk reminded me to book online because it was cheaper. I was quite pleased to have the real frig which froze my ices solid in the room. I left just three in the coolers overnight to keep them reasonable, so I had only a little ice to get. On the other hand, I The tub had no obvious diverter on the spout and no valve. I went to the front desk.

“This would have been a better night if you had a shower that worked or even a plug for the tub.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. You just have to pull on the thingie,” the desk clerk said.

Uh huh.

We eventually figured out that she meant to pull down on the aerator on the spigot. Like that’s intuitive.

It was going to rain so I had a waffle and headed for Shreveport.

Crossing the rest of Texas was a mostly boring, wet, ride. The rain started in earnest shortly after I left Midland, hammering down so hard some of the time that I used the fastest wiper speed and slowest truck speed, and continued until I was 50 miles from Louisiana. Traffic flowed at about 50 mph several times.

The highest speed limit I saw was just 75 and I don’t think anyone drove by at faster than 80 or 85. The rain meant I didn’t see all that much and wasn’t particularly enticed by any side trips. The rain also meant the NASCAR Cup race in Fort Worth turned into a night race, finally getting underway after a rain delay of nearly six hours Sunday. Reed Sorenson drove the #55 Trump-Pence Toyota which may have clinched the election although he finished the race in 35th.

Speaking of speed, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is still driving fast, even though he has been sidelined from NASCAR because of a concussion. Junior was pulled over for speeding while driving to Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday morning. His fiancee who was in the car with him tweeted a picture of a police officer writing out a warning for NASCAR’s most popular driver. According to her tweet, Junior didn’t get ticketed. She didn’t say how fast he was going.

Sweetwater Wind FarmI passed the huge Sweetwater wind farm in Nolan County but just one turbine out of 346 was turning. Sweetwater was built in five phases with GE 1.5 megawatt S turbines, SLE turbines, and XLE turbines plus Mitsubishi 1.0 megawatt turbines and Siemens 2.3 megawatt turbines.

I also passed an LA Fitness right next to a Golden Buffet.

Gas was consistently above $2/gallon across the state and seemed to average between $2.09 and $2.19. I filled the tank with Sunoco in Midland for $1.999.

Next stop the J Bennett Johnston Waterway, Dave Robicheaux’s house on the Teche, and a po’ boy.