6 Dec 2018

NZTA allowed dodgy brake tests to go on for years - documents

11:03 am on 6 December 2018

The list of dodgy Warrant of Fitness [WOF] issuers is growing by the week.

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The Transport Agency has suspended Auckland garage Super Cheap Tyres & Auto Services in St Johns. Photo: 123RF

The Transport Agency has suspended another Auckland garage Super Cheap Tyres & Auto Services in St Johns, taking the dodgy WOF toll to 20,000 and climbing.

"A review found Mr Ah Wong [of Super Cheap] was not properly inspecting vehicle interiors, seat belts, lighting systems and brakes. Mr Ah Wong has a long history of non-compliance," the agency said in a statement.

Newly-released emails and documents underline how the agency has allowed defective brake testing to go on for years.

Just last week the agency suspended another issuer - Orient Motors on Auckland's North Shore.

Documents show this is what the agency's certification officer found, when he visited Orient in early September this year.

"Tapley brake meter expired, found lying on floor with dust ring around the base ... beamsetter sighted with items on or around it."

This sort of flouting of the rules isn't unusual according to industry players.

"I've seen it all the time where people don't use a brake meter," one said.

"On their checksheet they would write some percentage for braking effectiveness... 82, 82, 82, 82, 82... whatever number they pick out of the sky."

However, the fact that Orient Motors in Archers Road, Glenfield, was not using either its brake testing or headlight high-beam setting equipment was not news to the Transport Agency.

It discovered this in a visit three years before, when it found the garage's WOF inspectors were unsafe and incompetent, and issued them a warning.

Orient Motors carried on, doing high volumes of warrants with very high pass rates, and, if anything, got worse.

In September this year Orient's two inspectors had failed in 17 out of 24 audit categories, including in all three brake safety areas.

"Reviews have outlined that the inspections completed are of a poor standard and pose a risk to vehicle safety, e.g. poor steering, suspension and brake checks," the agency's certifier wrote.

The certifier said both the garage's authorised inspectors had "no understanding of brake performance requirement".

The agency issued the garage an improvement form, which among other things says "brake testing equipment is to be used for EVERY WOF inspection".

It took the agency another seven weeks to warn Orient again, then it had a month to appeal the agency's decision before it was actually suspended last week.

Almost 3500 of Orient's warrants now have to be rechecked.

Orient Motors.

Orient Motors. Photo: RNZ / Nick Monro

Orient's checklist

The review of Orient Motors in September faulted one or the other or both of its two inspectors for the following:

  • "Shows no confidence with technical questions asked."
  • "Corrosion within 150mm of door latches not failed."
  • "Cursory structure inspection."
  • "Incorrect decision ... on dip light aim."
  • "Poor knowledge of light dip angles."
  • "Poor beamsetter and reflector checks."
  • "Child safety locks not assessed."
  • "Headrests and centre seatbelt adjustment not checked."
  • "Seatbelts not fully extended for inspection."
  • "Brake hoses not tested pressurised."
  • "No understanding of brake performance requirement."
  • "Tapley test not correctly completed."
  • "Power steering not running on laden checks."
  • "No lock to lock [steering] checks."
  • "[Tyre] tread surface and sidewalls not fully checked."
  • "No emission test or noise test."
  • "No knowledge of smoke test sequence."

'Franchise dealers are the biggest culprits'

"WOF has been a lucky dip for along long time," an industry insider told RNZ.

"It's right across the board, not just the small garages - franchise dealers are the biggest culprits."

The criticism though is not across the board, there's praise for a tightening since 2014 of the system for approving vehicle inspectors, however, there's been a lack of certifiers on the ground to enact and enforce it.

The agency is now recruiting 17 extra WOF certification officers on top of the 20 such officers it said it has.

The number of certifiers the agency has has been met with scepticism from those within the industry, and some say it needs 100 given they have to cover 12,000 vehicle inspectors.

Another problem raised with RNZ is that the rules allow, and in fact encourage, vehicle inspectors to do self-assessments, rather than getting a fellow inspector to check on them.

Inspectors are encouraged to rank their own performance out of a maximum three points.

Comments on the self assessments from inspectors include:

  • "You can just write down a bunch of numbers and away you go."
  • "Self assessment has been farcical from day one, and I've witnessed that firsthand."

The brake test lapses also extend to trucks and buses, and their certificates of fitness [COFs].

On Waiheke Island, the major vehicle inspection company VTNZ used the old Tapley meter brake test for 18 months, when the rules limit its use at a Grade Three site, which VTNZ Waiheke is, to just two days.

Newly released emails show VTNZ told the Transport Agency in March 2017 it would use the meter for just "three days" while it got its roller brake machine fixed.

Internally, VTNZ said the roller machine was beyond repair and maybe they could get away with not replacing it.

The agency emailed that it had a "preference" for a roller machine on the island; in fact, the rules make it mandatory.

In September 2017, an agency manager sent this email to the company.

"As I understand things, the current concerns with Tapley testing are that some large vehicles are being tested at minimal speed, thereby weakening the accuracy of the test and not meeting the full requirements."

VTNZ denied this.

Emails show a VTNZ manager, unhappy the roller machine was out of action for so long, sent the agency figures showing a dramatic drop-off in brake test fails using the less effective Tapley test.

In November 2017 the company told the agency it had made progress on getting a new roller brake machine.

However by June this year a NZTA manager outlined their concern at the lack of progress at Waiheke Island-based company.

"Now six months later we don't seem to have progressed at all? I can only assume that is because we haven't been 'pushing' you," the manager said.

VTNZ finally put in the new machine in August this year.

VTNZ told RNZ it did not break any rules because the agency knew what it was doing, and safety was never compromised.

However, the Transport Agency said VTNZ had not complied with the requirements of the site after visiting Waiheke in October to check the site.

WOF inspectors suspended this year:

  • August - Dargaville Diesel Specialists suspended, as well as inspectors Rodney Wilson and Brent Nurse - 1956 vehicle owners urged to get WOFs rechecked.
  • October - Orient Motors, and Dong Xiao Lin and Yong Xiang Feng - 3494 vehicle owners.
  • October - Aaron Grand, Te Aroha Automotive - 613 vehicle owners.
  • November - Westland Mechanical and Tyres, and Akram Zakeri, in Henderson - 3721 vehicle owners.
  • November - Susantha Ranatunga (who works at Church Street Motors and Tyres), in Onehunga - 4053 vehicle owners.
  • November - Jet Tyres and Wheel Alignment, and Anderson Lee - 850 vehicle owners.
  • December - El's Auto Services, and Elia Sipaia, in East Tamaki - 2754 vehicle owners.
  • December - Super Cheap Tyres & Auto Services, and Patrick Ah Wong, in St Johns, Auckland - 2443 vehicle owners

The total number of vehicle owners urged to get WOFs rechecked (using TA vouchers) is now 19.915.

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