Canadian Tire told student her used SUV was safe, but missed a dangerous flaw during required inspection

Last winter, Tara Harper had good reason to think she was buying a safe vehicle. The used SUV had recently passed a safety inspection at a Winnipeg Canadian Tire.

But when it broke down just 20 minutes after she handed over $5,000 to the private seller in early February — the 20-year-old college student found herself with a vehicle too dangerous to drive and no recourse.

“My car just suddenly broke down in the middle of a turning lane,” said Harper, who worked minimum wage jobs for more than a year to afford the 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe. “I was really, really furious. It was my first car.”

Automobile consumer protection expert George Iny says provincially mandated vehicle safety inspection systems can leave consumers with a false sense of security, and drivers are being “lulled” into thinking that those inspections guarantee the vehicles being purchased are safe.

“If you knew you’re buying at your own risk, then you wouldn’t have the illusion that the government is covering your back … buying the illusion of protection can be worse than no protection,” said Iny, who heads the Automobile Protection Association (APA), a non-profit that advocates for vehicle safety.

According to Iny, some provincial safety standards inspection systems lack oversight and don’t include key parts of the vehicle. Most complaints to the APA come from Ontario, he says.

Engine, transmission not ‘safety components’: province

Iny says the vehicle’s frame — the main issue with Harper’s SUV — should have been covered in any safety inspection, but other important parts of the vehicle are not.

He said engines are generally not inspected unless a warning light is on — but they’re easy to turn off if you have a shady seller.

Another example: he says that often the transmission is not inspected unless there are obvious leaks.

“You’re just protecting businesses when you have a bad inspection system,” he said. “You’re not actually protecting the customer.”

Iny says car buyers shouldn’t rely on provincially required safety inspections. Instead, they should have vehicles assessed by an independent mechanic to ensure they’re safe.

“Spend a little extra money and have a vehicle checked before you buy it,” he said.

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