Safeties for sale

by Harry Rudolfs

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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  • Over the past few years, we have seen fake everything. Fake licenses, fake training and as outlined in the article, fake safety certificates. Last year we had a Brampton Ontario Carrier allow a tractor with a fake safety to go out on our highways. Our company had completed an inspection on the tractor, we found multiple major defects including a cracked rim on a drive axle. We notified the company owner and the insurance provider and at the time we were satisfied that the owner of the company would remove the plates and terminate the owner-operator as requested. Well, the next morning we received a call from the companies unqualified and fake safety person. She stated, ” we have had a rollover ” she also stated ” the driver is O.K.! ” She began to give me the details of the crash and mentioned the tractor right-hand side drive tires came off causing the tractor to lose control, I said “let me guess, the tractor number was 185?” She stated, ” how did you know”. In the past few years, we have seen fake just about everything. Hopefully, the recent pressure on our industry will help in eliminating the word fake from our industry.

  • I am a certified Heavy Truck Repair Technician and am angry that my colleges would be this dishonest. Technicians who write false safety certificate should go to jail and not short term. These guys are criminals and can cause the death of inocent people by their actions.People who ask for false safetys because they are too cheap and too stupid to realize the consequences of their action. William Towns should have been sentenced to a longer jail term. This man was not impaired by alcohol or drugs when driving an unsafe vehicle but was impaired by poor thinking, Had he been impaired by alcohol or drugs he would to to jail for a long time. A sober person should not be let off lightly because he was sober.

  • Bought a used car from a second rate dealer. Not a major brand dealer like a new car dealer. Drove it and reported my findings. He said the car had not been looked at yet but any defects would be corrected. Called a few days later saying it had been looked at and safetied/e-tested and was ready for delivery.

    Drove it home, only 20 km, and it still didn’t feel right so I called him and he said it was safetied and had passed therefore fit for the road. For peace of mind, I had it safetied at a brand name dealer who inspected the car and failed it for faulty rear brakes and steering (leaking cylinders, no self adjusting cables and contaminated shoes and badly worn drag link.) Their mechanic said he wouldn’t go around the block in it let alone on the highway!

    Contacted the Used Car Dealers Association or the like which he belonged to and sent them copies of the safeties as well as the MOT who requested the originals. Never ever heard a word from either of them and he is still selling cars stating all vehicles come with a safety standards certificate. Maybe so, but that piece of paper is worthless. How many unsafe cars has he put back on the road? How many lives is he risking? Why no action? Doesn’t the MOT care? Guess not.

    I could have been killed in that car or killed someone else if I had believed him. The point is that no one who should care seemed to care as no action, even with definative proof of a false inspection, was ever taken.

    Car or big truck makes no difference. An unsafe vehicle does not belong on the public roads and strong deterrents need to be exercised. Longer jail times, big fines and permanent loss of licence upon conviction is a good start.

  • It’s all fake. Wheels not being pulled during safeties cause mechanic knows the guy and says his equipment is always clean. Other shops lending other repair shops their safety book to conduct safeties under their name. Stickers being slapped on before safety is actually done. Let’s not forget to mention the baffling conflict of interest allowing a trucking company to do safeties on their own trucks. The company has their dollar in mind not safety. This is all quite common in the industry and not right at all.

  • I am a licensed truck and trailer inspector in Alberta and I to have seen equipment with fresh stickers and found parts that probably were worn out for several years. Most of the wheels or hubs falling repairs that I have done were on large fleet units that do their own inspections. One good thing in Alberta is that mobile inspections are not allowed. You must have a shop. DOT inspects your shop, tools and paper work every 2 years.