If you are a District of Columbia automobile owner, having a car rechecked at a private service station under the city's recently altered safety inspection program may be hazardous to the health of your pocketbook, a D.C. official acknowledged yesterday.
Let's start with a specific case. Raymond Paul Hunter, who lives in the Tenleytown area of far Northwest, took his German-made car to a D.C. inspection station for its routine $7-a-year check. His left-turn blinker wasn't blinking, so he drove it to his Bethesda dealer for a repair.
That done, Hunter -- having been informed that the car could now be checked and his sticker issued at a convenient, private reinspection station -- took the car to one on nearby River Road. To his shock, Hunter said, the station charged him a $6 fee plus 18 cents city sales tax for the few seconds it took to eyeball the blinker that was no longer on the blink.
Hunter said he was under the impression that the city would pay for the reinspection.
Not so, said Bob Kozak, inspection maintenance program manager for the D.C. Transportation Department. These, he said, are the ground rules:
If your car flunks and you take it to a certified reinspection station to have the curative work done (for which, of course, you pay), the reinspection at that station is free. But if you take it to another repairman, as Hunter did in going to his Bethesda dealer, you have the choice of a free reinspection at a D.C. government station or paying at a certified private reinspection station. There are now about 20 around the city.
This column asked Kozak if a $6 fee was considered exorbitant for a few seconds of rechecking. He did not respond directly, but said the city has set no specific fee schedule for the reinspection stations, permitting them to charge hourly rates for as little as "a sixth of an hour" -- or 10 minutes -- for their work. That apparently meant that the River Road station charged Hunter a minimum fee based on a $30-an-hour labor charge.
A modest reform is on the way. Kozak said pamphlets to be given out in the future at the inspection stations will clearly lay out the ground rules.