Inspections – A Necessary Evil
When it comes down to ways I’d choose to spend my time, taking my car in for its annual state inspection ranks right up there with going to the dentist and going in for jury duty. But, where I live, it’s a requirement. My last inspection was over a year ago, and my current sticker runs out at the end of the month. So, this past weekend I took my car down to the local service station to get the inspection over with.
Normally, I don’t have a problem with inspections. Over the years, my cars have passed more often than failed. In fact, I can remember only four failures. My first was for a chipped windshield, which I had to have replaced to pass. A few years later, my weekend car failed inspection due to higher-than-normal emissions. As the car had been garaged all winter, the inspector advised me just drive it for a week or so and then come back for a re-test. I did, and I passed, without any additional parts expense. The third time, I failed for worn-out tires. Some new tires and an alignment helped me pass the re-test. This weekend, I failed due to excessive play in the front end of my car.
Inspections exist for a reason – to keep the cars on the road in safe, environmentally-friendly operating condition. Every single time I’ve had a rejection, I’ve repaired my car, and been better off for it. This case is no exception. Today, the inspector advised me to check my front wheel bearings, and gave me the business card of some unfamiliar repair shop. I took that advice with a grain of salt, and drove away with an inspection sticker.
Once I got home, I put my car up on jackstands to inspect it myself. I’m a DIY guy, after all. The first thing I checked was the wheel bearings. I grabbed each front wheel at the top and bottom and rocked it. To my surprise, there was no movement. Next, I grabbed the wheel at the sides, as the inspector had, and rocked it again. There was a noticeable clunk and movement on both sides of the car. So, the plot thickened.
I got underneath the car with my creeper and started checking suspension components. I grabbed each front wheel and rocked it again. The outer tie rod ends checked out OK, as did the sway bar links and bushings, as well as the ball joints. Unfortunately, the play seemed to be coming from the steering rack, where I could see and hear the play. As one last check, I pulled off the steering rack boots, and got a pleasant surprise, of sorts. It turned out that a