It's about proper maintenance and safety

The implementation of the Motor Vehicle Inspection System (MVIS) is meeting with a lot of resistance.

A program that is meant to make motoring safer through a proper vehicular inspection similar to the UK's MOT (Ministry of Transport) test or Japan's shaken is facing opposition on various fronts. There is an uproar over vehicles that failed, over vehicles that passed, and even one that was damaged. There was a noise barrage earlier this week from some motorists. Even among us in the automotive press there are some that are strongly against while some are for MVIS.

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Was the implementation of the MVIS by the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and Land Transportation Office (LTO) via Private Motor Vehicle Inspection Centers (PMVICs) rushed?

While the old Republic Act 4136 from 1964 does lay out some guidelines for vehicle inspection, this particular MVIS concept has been in the cards since the time of President Arroyo in the early 2000s. Then the program was idle under President Aquino from 2010 to 2016, but in 2017 President Duterte's administration wanted to push it forward. We can't fault his administration for pushing something that will make for safer streets, but there was bound to be resistance.

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From what we gather and remember there was already opposition during the time of PGMA. The context of the time was that were recovering from a crisis that hit our economy hard, and many of the arguments then were along the lines of anti-poor, and that motor vehicle inspection was an extra burden on motorists.

Unless I'm mistaken, that is also one of the reasons why Private Emissions Testing Centers (PETCs) came about. The older DOTC and LTO couldn't implement MVIS due to the political pressure at the time, but they did implement the emissions standards to comply with the Clean Air Act of 1999. Emissions was the interim program but MVIS was the real goal.

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While the underlying factors are different, the situation 20 years ago versus now do have a lot of similarities, particularly with an economy that is hurting and jobs being lost. We're also spending more. We have to buy face masks, face shields, and hand sanitizers. Basic goods are getting more expensive. I mean, pork is at PHP 400+ per kilo, and chili peppers are at PHP 500+ per kilo right now. We are all adapting to this more expensive and more stressful new normal.

Given the context of 2021 (and 2020) should MVIS implementation been delayed? If the purpose was to hold more dry runs and tests, possibly.

But my opinion is this: MVIS is already decades overdue.

You do not need multiple doctorates, a degree in mechanical engineering or the eyes of a hawk to notice all the vehicles -be it two-wheeled, three-wheeled, four-wheeled, or more- that have potentially hazardous or dangerous faults. How many times have you been annoyed (or awakened) by motorcycles with open exhaust systems? How many times have you seen a jeepney or truck that can't seem to keep straight on the highway or even crab-walking (read: driving somewhat sideways)? How many times have you watched the news about buses that lost brakes? Let's make it simpler: how many times have you almost crashed into the back of another vehicle because all brake lights were busted?

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When I bought my first (second hand) car 20 years ago, I went to the LTO to have it inspected for renewal. The law, after all, mandates that vehicles being renewed for registration be inspected, but in reality the only check required was the emissions test. 19-year old me asked the guy at the LTO that was doing the engine stenciling if there was an employee or inspector that was coming out to inspect the vehicle, and he just said: OK pa naman kotse niyo, sir!

That is where the problem lies. We have a mindset that can be summed up as pwede pa yan or mapapakinabangan pa. The rough translation is it's still OK or it's still useful, but the somewhat more apt translation is if it ain't broke, don't fix it. We just dismiss any issues we see.

Do the 8-year-old tires on your car look old but still have tread on them? Hindi naman ako lalampas ng 100 km/h!

Is that oil or hydraulic fluid leaking under your vehicle? Umaandar pa naman, eh! 

Does your steering wheel shake when you brake? Alalayan ko na lang takbo ko!

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These are potentially dangerous things to ignore and dismiss. These are also indicative that the system is broken because we have a mindset that prioritizes convenience over what is proper and what is safe. You can spot it at the LTO with employees that are unwilling to check vehicles undergoing renewal. You can spot it with traffic enforcers that aren't apprehending motorists for anything other than the convenient violations such as coding or disregarding traffic signs. You can spot it when you don't take the time and spend the money to maintain your car.

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It's not laziness, apathy, or a simple unwillingness to do the job that sorely needs doing because of the paperwork involved. Those are just the symptoms. The real problem is the human factor.

People cannot be depended on to do the right thing all the time. When I brought my first car to an emission testing center for renewal, I noticed they didn't insert the emissions probe in the tailpipe. It was just at the tip of the muffler, and I asked them why. They said there's a greater chance of passing because if they put it near the tip and not inside the pipe, the sensor can read more ambient air and not the actual exhaust. I insisted they do it the proper way, and my car passed. I had a tune-up performed on my vehicle just a week earlier.

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Granted, not all PETCs or Private Emission Testing Centers are bad. There are many good ones out there that operate honestly and to the letter, but there are some that are glaringly bad. A few years ago we got hold of some images of "emissions tests" submitted to the LTO, and some are outright hilarious, especially with the use of photo editing software to fake the tests. We even heard of a PETC that was raided because of its address. It was located in a building... on the fourth floor. Try driving your car or motorcycle up those stairs.

With the PMVIC, that's what the DOTr and LTO wanted to address. They explicitly wanted minimal human intervention. That's why I find it strange that there are those saying that PMVICs are more corrupt. The system has been designed with safeguards in place because of the 2 decades of experience with PETCs.

Got issues with fake tests? There are CCTV cameras at each stage of the MVIS process, including one underneath the car as it goes on the lift. The PMVIC also has to store CCTV footage and testing data for up to a year so the LTO will have something to refer to if there's a discrepancy.

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Got a problem with subjectivity? Most of the tests are measured tests on really expensive testing equipment. If there's a fail, either the car actually fails or the technician made a mistake; if it's the latter, they'll redo it. There's nothing they can do about the subjective visual checks like checking the lights, leaks, and other components in Stage 1 of MVIS, but that's what the CCTVs are for.

Got a problem with under the table payments and pakiusap? Vehicle owners are not to be in contact with the technicians once the vehicle starts to undergo testing. This is like the no-contact apprehension system versus an MMDA enforcer. If a car fails on the basis of a valid test and proper technique, there are no arguments nor there are opportunities for areglo or a bribe.

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Last week, I visited a PMVIC to see how they really inspect our vehicles, and you'll be reading about and watching that experience later on. Towards the end of our session, I asked the general manager of the PMVIC the question on our minds: Can someone theoretically pay for your “divine intervention” to override and give an otherwise failed vehicle a passing MVISR?

He says it's possible, but not worth it.

For someone to get a fake passing mark, the GM would have to personally input his password into the system, adjust all the settings to be as lenient as possible, test the car under the false settings, and then set it all back for those that didn't bribe him. He says it's too much of a pain to do and would delay the many vehicles in the queue. 

If word got out that his PMVIC was willing to fake the results, his PMVIC would get suspended for 30 days and pay a hefty fine. If there's a second offense, the fine gets even bigger, and the suspension is doubled. On the third offense, he would lose the permit, putting his company's PHP 70+ million investment in jeopardy. And unlike a PETC where you can put the equipment in the trunk of a car and move to a different location under a new business name and a fresh permit from the LTO, in a PMVIC everything is bolted in and wired in.

PMVICs aren't perfect. Far from it. There are problems that need sorting out, and those combined are causing a PR crisis. There are claims of faulty brake tests. There was also a problem of a Subaru having its center differential destroyed because the technicians didn't know it was all-wheel-drive and didn't bring out the rollers. That one has reportedly already been sorted out, but in the future, it can be prevented by more training... and garage insurance.

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There was an erroneous 655.2 decibel reading from a Land Cruiser. In that case there was a glitch, further compounded because the safeguards against intervention means they wouldn't realize there was a faulty reading until the very end of the test when the MVISR was printed out. They did retest right away, and all was sorted out.

Many of these issues should have been addressed had there been a longer and more thorough dry run of the PMVICs. Much of that, however, was limited by external factors. Did anyone say pandemic?

Right now they're coming up with countermeasures to problems they are discovering. There are machine-related glitches and unforeseen factors that will probably emerge as time goes on. Earlier this week there was a post of an owner-type jeep that passed MVIS but had red auxiliary lights in front which is a clear violation of Republic Act 4136 (Article IV, Section 34 C). We checked the IRR and the operating guidelines of PMVICs, and while it says front parking lamps should only be white, yellow, or amber, it doesn't expressly mention that any red light will yield a fail. PMVICs are not empowered to enforce based on RA 4136; they can only operate based on the guidelines set by DOTr and LTO. Only traffic enforcers or the PNP-HPG can do that.

There are also issues with MVIS and public utility jeepneys. PMVICs don't have clear guidelines as to what constitutes a pass and a fail with jeepneys. There are also talks about subsidizing the cost of the testing for PUJs. But mostly, PMVICs need clear rules on what to check with PUJs because it can quickly become politicized (read: jeepney strike/rally). The same goes for trucks and the need for HDV or Heavy Duty Vehicle lanes at PMVICs.

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We don't deserve to be experimented on for a new program, but by and large we have all wanted the government to fix the problems in land transport for decades now. That time has come, and our generation will have the toughest time dealing with the change. 

What MVIS is meant to tell us is that we just need to fix and maintain our cars in the interest of safety. Your vehicle's lights, signals, safety features, brakes, suspension, emissions, and more will be checked or tested. 

We were informed of the case of a 65-year-old driver and his truck. He went to the PMVIC, paid PHP 1800 and had his truck tested. It failed. He then took his truck to get serviced and fixed the issues in the inspection report, came back, and failed again for other issues. He repeated the process again and again, constantly whittling down the list. Finally, after 10 visits, his truck passed inspection.

MVISR gave him a guide -a checklist, really- of things that needed fixing. All he had to do was address the problems one by one, and try again. And each of the retests was free of charge, though that would have been at the discretion of the PMVIC owner. Actually, some of the PMVICs have agreed that in order to get the public to accept the system, they are retesting for free. Check with your local PMVIC if that's the case. 

Think of it this way, the emissions test was more like a temperature check you get when entering a mall. This new system -once ironed out- can be the automotive equivalent of an executive check-up. You can even use the MVISR as an independent check as to whether your favorite service center is doing a good job maintaining your car, or whether you're just being taken for a ride.

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Unless you can convince me otherwise, the merits of MVIS far outweigh the criticisms. And you also have to ask yourself: are those criticisms based on objective arguments or vested interests? The prime proponents of that noise barrage on January 25 appears to have been a group of PETCs that stand to lose with the implementation of MVIS because emissions is the final test at a PMVIC. There is a lot of misinformation out there and a lot of fake news. Discerning what is a legitimate issue versus a fabricated one is getting harder and harder in this fast-paced world.

Is MVIS an inconvenience? Yes it is, but here's the inconvenient truth: responsible car ownership isn't cheap. If you thought that all there was to car ownership was the cash outlay, the amortization, and filling it up with fuel, you are in for a shock.

Car ownership isn't budget meal because the convenience of personal mobility comes with the inconvenience of the commitment to maintaining it.

No ifs. No buts. No coconuts.