STATE INSPECTION STATION OPERATIONS & LIABILITY ISSUES:

Dealer Compliance Alert: March 14, 2019

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Over the last few weeks, we’ve received several inquiries from dealer principals who have had issues with their employees who may seem a little too diligent in the execution of their duties as Official State Inspection Operators or Inspectors. Dealers have asked TRVA “… what does the Texas Department of Public Safety, TxDPS, dictate regarding state inspection station operations…?”

WHO is CERTIFIED to CONDUCT INSPECTIONS?

Dealerships submit applications to become an Official State Inspection Stations and receive Certifications to proceed. However, it is the employee of the dealership who receives the Certification to become an Inspector of motor vehicles, not the dealership.

This means the dealership’s employee, who is also the Certified Inspector serves two masters in the performance of his duties, his dealer employer and the Texas Department of Public Safety who certifies him to conduct inspections.

We won’t attempt to get between dealers and their employees, but we will provide some guidance as to what the TxDPS rules and regulations stipulate in the performance of inspectors and the operation of Official State Inspection Stations. But first, let’s review some issues which have been brought to TRVA’s attention.

EXAMPLES OF INSPECTOR ISSUES

• A consumer brings in an RV for inspection and the dealership’s state inspector refuses to inspect the vehicle due to one or more of the following:

▪ The towing vehicle is rated a half-ton and the trailer being towed exceeds the

approved Gross Vehicle Weight Rating, GVWR, of the towing vehicle

▪ The towing vehicle’s trailer hitch has a lower GVWR than the trailer being

towed

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▪ The towing vehicle’s bumper is not rated to tow a trailer with the GVWR of the trailer

▪ The towed trailer is not equipped with an electric or inertia brake actuator

▪ The towing vehicle’s inspection sticker has expired

▪ A consumer purchases a travel trailer and the inspector refuses to hookup the towing vehicle for one of the reasons listed above

For answers, TRVA consulted and reviewed the complete Texas Department of Public Safety Official Vehicle Training Manual for Inspection Stations and visited with its sources at TxDPS since the agency regulates Texas inspection stations and inspectors. TxDPS will not provide advice on the proper method to handle issues as identified above, but it did provide the following guidelines which were taken directly from the Official Vehicle Training Manual for Inspection Stations.

3.5.1 INSPECTION REFUSALS

a. No Official Vehicle Inspection Station, during posted business hours, shall refuse to inspect a vehicle that is presented for inspection without an objective justifiable cause related to safety.

4.15.08 UNSAFE VEHICLES

It is a violation of Transportation Code, Section 547.004 (a) for any person to operate or move on any highway any vehicle unless the equipment upon any and every said vehicle is in good working order and adjustment as required in this Act and said vehicle is in such safe mechanical condition as not to endanger the driver or other occupant or any person upon the highway. It is also a violation for any person to operate or move or for the owner to cause or to permit to be moved on the highway any vehicle which is in unsafe condition as to endanger any person, or which does not contain those parts or is not at all time equipped with such lamps and other equipment in proper condition and adjustment as required by law, or which is equipped in any manner in violation of the law, or for any person to do any act forbidden or fail to perform any act required by law.

From the information presented above, it may be concluded any Safety Inspector who observes a deficient safety issue on either a towing vehicle or the towed travel trailer should refuse to provide or conduct the state inspection.

Simply stated, if there is a safety issue suspected the inspection should be declined.

That’s straight forward when it comes to an inspection, but what about when your inspector refuses to hookup a trailer if he suspects there is a safety issue?

STANDARDS and LIABILITY

RV dealers must meet certain standards to establish and continue to receive recertification of their dealership as a state inspection station. However, the dealership is not authorized to

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conduct state safety inspections for the dealership’s employees are the individuals who are certified to conduct inspections. This may produce what appears to be a conflict from time to time between the employer and the employee who is authorized to perform safety inspections.

Obviously, your employee, who is also the state inspection inspector, is being held accountable, as has been stated previously, to two higher authorities, his employer and the TxDPS. So, where does his loyalty belong when a conflict arises, to his employer or to the TxDPS? TxDPS does not sign the employee’s paycheck, but then again, the inspector must adhere to the standards established by the TxDPS.

Dealers are not required to police the towing or consuming public, however, there is a level of liability the dealership may avoid due to this sometimes-overstated expression of authority being made by the inspector employee.

Although there is no statutory requirement for a dealer to inform consumers of certain risks, exposures or even certain regulations, there may be a greater need to do so than first meets the eye. Let’s review the most common observation being reported to TRVA, the vehicles used here are mentioned for illustrative purposes.

▪ A consumer comes to the RV dealer to purchase a new towable unit, makes a decision and completes the purchase. Upon returning to the dealership the consumer arrives with a Dodge Lone Star half-ton pickup which has a maximum towing weight of 7,730 lbs. However, the Forest River Cherokee Toy Hauler travel trailer just purchased has a GVWR of 11,380 lbs. and is a bumper pull unit.

– Is there a statutory requirement to inform the consumer the towing pickup, the Dodge Lone Star, is not rated to tow this Cherokee trailer? No. There is not.

However, what if the consumer hooks up the new trailer and drives off the lot only to be involved in a traffic accident which causes serious bodily harm to the consumer or other consumers and the accident is deemed to be caused due to the weight of the trailer being towed. Sound extreme? Just let a plaintiff’s attorney, through discovery, determine the dealer allowed the actions described above to take place. When that information is shared with the jury how will the dealership look in the eyes of those empowered to determine the outcome of the lawsuit?

Perhaps the inspector employee does have a role in not only conducting or refusing state inspections but may also assist in the avoidance of potential lawsuits.

TRVA has developed a new form to use when a consumer elects to purchase a unit

which does not conform to the maximum towing weight of the towing vehicle. Look for

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the attached form entitled “Maximum Towing Weight vs. Gross Vehicle Weight Rating.” Use this form whenever necessary, but especially when the towed travel trailer has a GVWR greater than the towing vehicle’s maximum towing weight rating.

Here’s another and related issue to consider.

– Is there a statutory requirement to inform a consumer that towing a trailer with a GVWR of 10,000 lbs. or more requires a higher class of Texas driver license, a (non-CDL) Class A TX Driver License? No. There is not.

Years ago, TRVA developed a form to use when this arises, and it has also been attached to this Dealer Compliance Alert as a reminder and it is entitled “What Driver License is Required to Operate Your RV.”

Some dealers have commented that the use of forms like these may persuade a consumer to not consummate a purchase. However, TRVA believes today’s consumers demand to know more than ever before when formulating a purchasing decision. The dealer who provides more and vital information should be viewed as trustworthy and dependable for looking after the safety of its customers.

Using a little common sense to convey information, which may be vital to the consuming public, may also provide a defensible position for a dealer in the event of a lawsuit.

In conclusion, the dealership’s employees, salespeople, finance and insurance, make ready and state inspection personnel all play an important role in communicating with the business’ customers and maintaining their safety should be one of the dealership’s primary concerns.

Questions or suggestions? Please contact the TRVA state office.