Over the last couple of years, the used car market in Australia (and all over the world) has done some crazy things. Cars that were once $500 budget bangers are suddenly worth $5,000 and are being billed as reliable ways to transport the whole family.
While this sucks, it isn't really a big problem; Obviously markets ebb and move with supply and demand and prices are going to reflect that. Over the last couple of years, the demand and supply channels were both in massive upheaval which caused an understandable change in the prices.
What is a problem is the significant number of cars being sold in 'good condition' that would be better classified as rust buckets if not death traps.
I can already hear people refuting; "It's simple. Buy a car with a RWC (roadworthy) and you won't have problems".
Well yes and no.
There's actually a lot to unpack with this so let's start with what a RWC is.
Put simply, a RWC is an inspection done by a mechanic and registered with the government that certifies a vehicle is at a certain safety level that is deemed 'OK' for our road network. It covers things like tyre condition and age, brakes, seatbelts and the windscreen.
Obviously, there are a lot more items that should legally be checked as a part of the RWC process. But this gives you a little outline.
So where do the RWC problems start?
First off, there's a little problem with how the system works on the legislative side of things. Way back in the day, the government decided that a RWC should be a standardised item with a standardised cost for all vehicle owners. Then, instead of providing government facilities to carry out these fixed price inspections, they instead passed it on to independent mechanics and legislated the price.
This might not seem like a big issue however, the (roughly) $93 in the legislature covers about 30 minutes for most mechanics and is meant to cover a road-test, an inspection, a calibrated brake test, a confirmation of engine numbers and VIN and filing the paperwork.
This time limit is a bit of a stretch for most mechanics on a good day and has incentivised a slap-dash attitude towards the inspection and consistent faking of the brake test results.
On top of this, much of the legislature is incredibly confusing and only offers guidelines as to what is passable and what fails.
Oil leaks are a common fault in vehicles and most mechanics have come to the understanding that a small leak can be passed but anything that forms a drip should fail. However, the legislature states that a failure is, "An engine, transmission, differential and associated piping (that sic.) leaks oil on to the roadway or on to any exhaust system or brake component".
This is much more broad and doesn't really cover newer cars that might just be draining their own oil onto a fibrous undertray instead of dripping directly onto the road.
So it's really simple. Our government decided that mechanics had to charge a fixed price for a service that they couldn't routinely provide in the allotted time and made the guidelines so vague that it's easier to find Waldo.
The consolation prize for mechanics from the government? Apparently, if there's a fallible item, you can charge the owner for repairs to recoup the lost time.
We'll add something else to the argument. Though the RWC system is meant to ensure a car is of a minimum safety standard, the items it fails to cover are much more important to the longevity of your ownership.
In fact, the RWC guidelines don't mention service items like timing belts, filters or engine oil condition even once. So while a vehicle might be at some level of safety in regards to the tyres and brakes, there's no sign of how reliable that vehicle is going to be into the future.
Now, here is where we get into the nitty-gritty. Up until this point, we've covered the reasons why RWCs can fail in a normal, well-intentioned environment. However, the reason this blog post has come to mind is a lot more erroneous.
Over the last few years, many mechanics have noticed a significant uptake in 'dodgy' RWCs. In fact, bad RWCs are such a plague that it's sometimes surprising to see a legitimate one.
Why do these dubious RWCs exist though? There's one really big reason, money.
A lot of people selling these vehicles are looking to make as much money as possible with as little capital investment as possible. It's how business works.
Another reason is that some people just cannot afford to maintain their vehicles or choose to allocate money to other expenses. When they're finally ready to sell, they have a massive list of things that need fixing and they may opt to go for the more sly route.
A route that is now available through a simple search on Facebook groups.
Up until now, you might think that this is all a bit of a convoluted rant about how the system is failing. We've gotten to a point where we've addressed the problems and now we'll gift you the solution on a silver plate. I imagine that a lot of you have already got some ideas as to how to fix it, report the dodgy RWCs to TMR, ask industry bodies to lobby for clearer guidelines and charges and get a pre-purchase inspection.
Unfortunately, a couple of these bases have already been covered. We recently attempted to report a RWC on a vehicle that had brake fluid leaks from the rear and obvious crash damage to the chassis. We tried to contact TMR, spent 20 minutes on hold and then were sent a link via email that sent us to a generic complaint form asking for information that we couldn't have reasonably obtained.
Even if you're successful in lodging a complaint, many of these backyard bodge jobs seem to close up shop and reopen under a different business name as soon as there is any sign of trouble.
The obvious solution is pre-purchase inspections, and they are a good idea in any situation.
A good pre-purchase inspection can save you $$$ in unwanted repairs down the line. A good inspection will (hopefully) check the service history, the condition of the vehicle and the service items (such as filters, spark plugs and the timing belt) and only costs a little bit in comparison to a new car.
With that said, we will leave you with one piece of information regarding pre-purchase inspections, a screenshot of what is not included with an RACQ approved pre-purchase inspection.
Where are we going with all of this?
Well, it's simple. By continuing to allow these shady operators to fly under the radar, we're increasing the number of dangerous vehicles on the road. By continuing to ask honest mechanics to push through RWC's in an unreasonable timeframe, we're increasing the number of dangerous vehicles on the road. Finally, by not providing an easy portal to verify and report blatantly dodgy RWC's we are encouraging people to put dangerous vehicles on the road.
That is bad for all of us.
P.S. Please note, that our Kashy mechanics aren't currently available for RWCs or pre-purchase inspections.
If you have any questions about this blog post, would like a second opinion from a mechanic or would like to find an honest mechanic in Brisbane, check out Kashy here.