9 Investigation: Undercover look at failing cars passing state inspections

by: Blair Miller Updated:

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Every year, car owners are required to get a state inspection.

It's supposed to be a way for mechanics to make sure cars on the road are safe and not  a danger to others.

Channel 9 went undercover for this 9 investigation and found some auto shops are breaking the law by passing cars for inspection when those cars really should fail.

Eyewitness News obtained a list of auto shops cited for passing cars on safety inspections when the cars should've failed.

It includes numerous shops in Charlotte.

That prompted Channel 9 to visit some of those shops to see if they're still passing cars unlawfully.

Eyewitness News took an SUV to David Sheehan, a certified mechanic with Goodyear for 25 years.

He closely inspected the vehicle and he quickly noticed all four tires were badly worn.

"This tire is deemed by the Department of Transportation as not being safe," Sheehan said. "They put these wear bars in the tire to give the consumer an indication of when they're worn out and (when) it's time to replace them."

Eyewitness News went through state records and found Plaza Auto Inspections on Eastway Drive was cited three times last year for passing cars that should have failed.

A Channel 9 employee took the SUV with the worn tires there first.

Eyewitness News found an inspection station at the same address, but with a slightly different name: Charlotte Auto Inspections.

The mechanic looked over the car and on his inspection checklist he passed the tires.

Because of an engine light on, he said he wouldn't be able to pass it unless we brought it back without the light on.

Days later, the SUV was brought back with the same tires and the engine light off and the mechanic passed it.

Channel 9 had the Goodyear mechanic check a second vehicle with a headlight out and a wiper blade ripped apart.

An undercover Channel 9 employee took the car to Arandas Auto Service on South Boulevard, another place the DMV cited for violations.

The mechanic quickly passed it.

Channel 9 took the same car to AAA Auto Care in Huntersville, which was also cited. The mechanic noticed the missing headlight and bad wiper blade.

"It will fail inspection today," the AAA worker said.

Eyewitness News went back to the two other shops that unlawfully passed the cars. First, Channel 9 visited Charlotte Auto Inspections.

Workers got upset when Channel 9 started asking about the inspection.

A few minutes later, a woman, who claimed to be the owner, agreed to speak with us.

When Eyewitness News asked if there was any connection to the old business that had its inspection license suspended, she said, "That's it. We're done."

At Arandas Auto Service, Channel 9 tracked down the mechanic who did the inspection.

At first, he stood by it, but when Eyewitness News told him we had cameras watching, he admitted he hadn't checked the car close enough.

"I might've missed that part right there. It's my mistake," the worker said.

Eyewitness News laid out the investigation to Department of Motor Vehicle inspectors.

Capt. Tommy Ratliff agrees the vehicles should've failed for safety reasons.

Ratliff says because of our investigation, his inspectors will now launch their own investigation into these repair shops.

"With your help, we will look into their activities," Ratliff said. "And use your video to assist us with the investigation."

Their investigation could uncover violations if they find what Channel 9 did -- and lead to everything from civil penalties like fines or even felony charges.

Eyewitness News will keep you informed on how the investigation unfolds.