Dr. Jeff Komisarof just dreads opening his garage door these days.
“We’ve put it in retirement,” he said as he pointed to his 2006 Honda Odyssey parked inside. He said it’s been sitting there for about eleven months because he thinks “it’s literally unsafe to drive.”
Komisarof said he bought the vehicle from the DARCARS Ford Kia Lanham dealership in Prince George’s County, which did the required government safety inspection after he signed the check.
Documents he gave to the News4 I-Team show the dealership’s licensed inspector found some problems that DARCARS fixed before passing the vehicle and delivering it to Komisarof.
But Komisarof said, “The first time we started the vehicle, it didn't actually start."
He took it to his local mechanic, who is not a licensed inspector, but told him the minivan shouldn't have passed its inspection. "They found a laundry list of problems that they felt absolutely had to be addressed before it could pass inspection," Komisarof said.
So who was right? No one can give the News 4 I-Team a definitive answer.
Maryland State Police is in charge of the vehicle inspection program and only posts a vague list on its website telling consumers what needs to be inspected.
Corporal Brian Clinton inspects the inspectors in this region and told the I-Team there’s actually “180 different components that are checked throughout your vehicle as it is becomes inspected."
He said Maryland State Police wants to improve its website and is currently moving away from a paper-based process towards an electronic tracking system in an effort to improve its complaint investigations.
He explained even though they work for private businesses, all vehicle safety inspectors are licensed by the state. "We do compliance checks regularly throughout the year on each station,” he said. “We also do investigative inspections on the vehicles when we receive complaints."
Using a public records request, the News4 I-Team found there are more than 1,500 licensed inspectors in Maryland. Complaints popped about 140 percent between 2013 and 2014, resulting in at least 55 suspensions and 23 permanent revocations, according to data analysis of that two year period.
Komisarof said he spent so much time trying to get DARCARS to replace his vehicle that he missed the state's one month statute of limitations to file a complaint.
Clinton said that one month limit isn’t a hard rule, but it does become increasingly difficult to separate an offense from typical road damage. “The more miles and the more days you put on the car, obviously things can happen,” he said. “The quicker you get the complaint to us, the easier it is for us to investigate."
Komisarof said he also didn’t realize that by having another mechanic fix some of the problems, the state could no longer investigate his case. "It's been a lot of stress."
He said after getting the run around for nearly 10 months, he called the News 4 I-Team, which found vehicle safety inspections vary depending on where you live.
In Virginia, you're required to get your car inspected every year. It's different in D.C., with only commercial vehicles and some new residents required to get a safety inspection.
Maryland falls in the middle. Residents there only need a safety inspection when you buy or sell a used car.
The News 4 I-Team found Maryland State Police have received five complaints about inspectors at DARCARS locations in the last two years. Records show the company resolved four of the cases before the state launched an investigation.
State police did suspend one licensed inspector, unrelated to Komisarof’s case, at the DARCARS Toyota Frederick location in July for passing a “vehicle that does not meet standards.”
Jennifer Darvish Parsons is a vice president for DARCARS and said, “We have 71 licensed inspectors across 15 locations. Unfortunately, we did have one inspector that made a mistake. They came in and suspended his license for 30 days. We fully supported the decision and didn't appeal it. He'd been with us for seven years with no complaints. We made sure that we also disciplined him in-house and put him through our in-house training just to make sure that everything was satisfactory."
When we asked Parsons if DARCARS vehicles are safe when the company has an incentive to sell a car it also inspects, she said, “Absolutely.”
But Parsons said she's created the new email firstname.lastname@example.org for customers to email her directly if they have problems.
She wouldn't speak specifically to Komisarof's complaints, but did offer to get him a new vehicle. “We wanted him to be satisfied with his purchase,” she said. “We’re in the process now of buying the vehicle back and covering every expense that they’ve incurred since they took possession of it."
Komisaroff is thrilled this bumpy ride is finally coming to an end. “They've also offered to give us a new car of our choice basically at cost, with no profit to them,” he said.
And they’ve agreed to let him bring his own mechanic to do his own independent inspection this time.