BRAMPTON, Ont. — Heavy equipment mechanic Mark Waschke has become alarmed, after noticing trucks wearing recently-issued safety stickers with defects that should have disqualified them from being on the road.
“I’ve seen fresh stickers on trucks with holes in cab floors, brakes way out of adjustment, exhaust leaks, doors that wouldn’t open and air lines rubbed through to the core,” he said. Waschke suspected that at least one operator was getting his vehicles falsely certified and using a fly-by-night garage to do so.
After doing a little bit of research at a popular online buy and sell forum, Waschke found a mobile repair shop that was offering stickers for a $525 flat rate in Brampton, Ont.
“Flat rate” in this case has nothing to do with a shop rate. For $525 (cash only) your truck will be street legal and there’s no reason to bother with any awkward inspection protocol.
According to Jeff Sandifer, a commercial vehicle inspection officer with Halton Regional Police, “This practice is less uncommon than you would think. We call them lick-and-sticks.”
And it appears to be an issue beyond Ontario.
New Brunswick RCMP warned the public about falsified inspection stickers in a press release last April.
“Falsified inspection stickers are even more troubling…because it shows an active will to deceive police. People are using falsified stickers because they know their vehicles won’t pass inspection. We have stopped vehicles with fake inspection stickers that have had brakes in deplorable condition, or vehicles that are so rusted or damaged that it’s hard to believe they’re drivable, let alone capable of passing inspection.”
We decided to reach out to the person offering phony inspections in Brampton; let’s call him Raphael. Raphael replied immediately when I posed as a lease-operator with a sticker coming due: “What is your company’s name and how many annual stickers do you need?”
The next day there were more messages from Raphael. Apparently, he didn’t even need to see the truck.
“If you want you can just take picture and show it when we meet its (sic) save your time. When you want to come to get the safety you can anytime any day come anywhere near Brampton, pick your spot and we can give you the annual safety.”
The following day’s missive was more impatient. Raphael offered me a 10-minute turnaround and a bit of a discount.
“When your sticker is about to expire bring your ownership and we can make your annual safety no problem. It’s hardy (sic) takes 10 minutes to make it and you good to go. I can lower the price for you to $500.”
Mike Marinovic, owner of Michael’s Mobile Truck and Trailer Repairs of Aberfoyle, Ont., takes a very dim view of this practice.
“It takes me about 30 minutes to fill out the paperwork. Because I have to fill out a work order, and fill out the certificate and record all the measurements. I even have to record how much fuel is in the tanks. Come on, there’s nothing that can be done in 10 minutes. I can’t even get a truck in the door in 10 minutes,” he said.
A proper safety inspection in Ontario on a tandem highway tractor should take about seven to eight hours, according to Marinovic. The wheels have to be pulled and about 200 items have to be checked.
“You can expect to spend at least $700 to $800 on a proper inspection. Even with that, you never find a perfect truck, there’s always something that needs attention,” said Marinovic.
“We started out as a mobile garage and guys like that bother me. We always did things by the book and I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars on equipment. I’ve been informed by the MTO (Ministry of Transportation) to keep our safety books locked up. Apparently, a book of 10 stickers is selling on the street for $400 to $500. A guy like that is ruining the industry for the rest of us and in the end will cost us money, not including what it costs the MTO and the rest of the taxpayers,” added Marinovic.
A rogue mechanic issuing phony safeties using a pilfered or “borrowed” book of stickers might not be entirely unusual – the chances of getting caught are probably quite low. But the individual advertising these illicit services on social media is blatantly flaunting public safety. A decades-old study from Washington State showed that tractor-trailers with defects were nearly twice as likely to be involved in a serious accident as trucks without defects.
Besides endangering lives, there can be serious consequences for guys like Raphael. The most notorious example concerns mechanic Joseph Romano of Stouffville, Ont., who was sentenced to five months of jail time in 2017 for uttering a forged document. The document was a safety certificate that had been issued to a 1995 Dodge Ram owned by William Towns of Lakefield, Ont. The truck had a steering defect and in 2012 was involved in a head-on collision that killed 27-year-old Abigail MacNaughton.
Romano had been the owner of Pro Street Auto Sales and had a long list of uttering convictions for issuing bogus safeties that go back to 2003, according to a September 2017 report by Canadian Auto Repair & Service Magazine (CARS). It was further disclosed that Romano’s shop didn’t even have the proper equipment to conduct safety inspections. In 2016, after the OPP and MTO delved further into Romano’s checkered past, he was charged with six more counts of uttering false documents and 63 records-keeping offences.
Raphael probably has a way to go before he can match Romano’s record for falsifying safeties. To answer an obvious question, of course we reported Raphael to the MTO and we got right to the top. Here’s what Bob Nichols, senior media liaison officer, had to say on Nov. 30 when I sent him a copy of my emails: “Thanks for bringing this to our attention. Road safety is our top priority. We’re troubled by what you’ve uncovered and will be investigating.”
But as we went to press, Raphael is still posting his services and they’ve gotten cheaper. He’ll provide a sticker now for $400.
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