times for garage owners
The Vehicle Roadworthiness Test was brought
in amid much publicity a couple of years ago. But some time on, most
garage owners are unhappy with the system, saying it needs far more
control. Ray Cutajar tells MIRIAM DUNN about his own experiences
Many garage owners are unhappy with the current VRT set-up. What
Our biggest problem relates to the fact that there are so many VRT-licensed
When the white paper was first put forward, the authorities worked on
an estimated figure of 20 garages that would be needed to carry out
the work in Malta and Gozo.
But there are in fact almost double that number of operators working
in the sector and there simply isnt enough work to go round. Many
are doing disastrously and losing a lot of money.
Couldnt the authorities argue that this is what happens in
a free market economy?
This is what they say. We disagree with the principle of monopolies,
but in this case, there isnt a monopoly, since that would only
be the case if one operator had all the VRT testing stations.
We are arguing that the system needs much better control. It is out
of hand and the consequences of this struggling sector are there for
all to see.
We are unhappy that the authorities allowed so many garages to be granted
a licence to operate in such a restricted market. We thought the number
would be limited to keep business viable.
When the VRT was first mentioned, it was very much an unknown quantity.
About eight operators decided to make the initial investment, which
is in the region of Lm25,000, but because there was an artificially
high demand at the beginning, since the test was new, more operators
moved into the line of business.
Now we have a situation where there isnt enough work to go round
and that has led to many problems and in some cases abuse.
What have been the consequences of the current situation?
The initial result is that many garages have suffered severe losses.
From reports that we had commissioned by independent auditors, we found
that VRT operators were posting a loss in excess of Lm5,000 annually.
We also calculated that simply to break even, we needed to carry out
eight VRT tests daily. Many of us are averaging considerably less than
that perhaps two or three. And this is simply not viable over
a number of years. At this rate, some businesses will have no option
but to close down.
Of course, one spin-off of this situation is that operators have been
tempted to bend the rules when undertaking the VRT test. They fear reprisal
or loss of repeat business from clients who go to have their car tested,
so they are passing cars without doing a thorough test.
This is very frustrating for those of us who have a reputation for being
"strict" since we are probably losing business, especially
when word gets around that another operator is a better bet for an easy
certificate! But, at the same time, it is easy to understand that an
operator on the verge of bankruptcy will abuse.
But surely there is a structure for monitoring and controlling the
garages carrying out the testing?
The Licensing and Testing Department is responsible for carrying out
inspections of garages. But while they are very understanding of the
situation and have listened to our concerns, they are also undermanned
when it comes to monitoring abuses.
For example, there is only one person undertaking inspections for the
whole island, and it is well known among operators that his working
hours are 8am 5pm, Monday - Friday. Many garage owners work all
hours under the sun we all work late if needed and I have lost
count of the times Ive given out a VRT at 10pm or at the weekend.
If you think about it, it is evident that the current inspection system
is not sufficient simply from the number of vehicles we see on the road
that are evidently not roadworthy. According to what we have been told,
all vehicles should now have a VRT.
This means that someone somewhere has been giving out certificates to
the owners of these vehicles.
Data that has come our way from the reports we commissioned is also
quite telling. For example, if certain establishments have very high
numbers of certificates issued, it needs to be ascertained that the
tests being done are thorough.
The department is aware of the problem, and so far, one garage has been
fined for abusive practice. But we need the levels of inspection stepped
up if the matter is to be treated seriously and abuse is really going
to be curbed.
You mentioned the heavy investment VRT operators have had to make.
What does the work entail?
Apart from the considerable outlay that we have had to make on the equipment
needed to carry out the tests, the work needed on each car is very time
In fact, we estimate an average of 30 minutes for each VRT test, with
two people needed to work on a vehicle.
The work has to be done thoroughly. We need to carry out a visual inspection
of the external bodywork, glasswork and look at the physical condition
of the tyres, wheels, seatbelts, steering wheel, brake pedals and so
on, as well as jacking up the car and looking at the exhaust system,
brake pipes and checking for oil leaks.
What is worse is that when we are testing a car and find a minor problem,
such as a defective bulb, we are under pressure to put things right
and still charge the same, since otherwise clients grumble and threaten
to go elsewhere where operators will simply turn a blind eye to whats
wrong and pass the vehicle.
Unless a move is made to ensure the testing procedure is taken seriously,
none of our problems will go away.
What changes do you hope to see implemented?
As an immediate measure, we would like to see the authorities raise
the price of a VRT. At Lm8.50, it is really not viable for the amount
of work it takes. Most of us are running the VRT section of our business
at a loss and compensating with our repair jobs.
In the longer term, we would like to see the authorities take better
control of the garages offering VRT and restrict the number operating
for each area of the island even directing vehicle owners to
use a garage in their area. This might sound like interfering in the
free market, but we argue that there are already restrictions on our
work, since we are not supposed to carry out repair work on vehicles
which we are examining for VRT purposes as this would be deemed a conflict
We are also unhappy with the Lm500 fee we are asked to pay each year
to renew our licence, since we view this as excessive.
Since we joined the Association of General Retailers and Traders and
made our voice stronger, there is an indication that the department
is listening to us.
In fact, we have been asked to give them some data, such as the average
time it takes to do a VRT properly. My intuition is that these figures
will be used, among other things, to examine certain cases where operators
seem to be doing a suspiciously large number of tests in one day!
Of course, although the authorities intentions are good, we cannot
expect them to be business-minded and sympathise with all our problems.
But my own feeling is that at least if inspections and monitoring is
stepped up sufficiently, there will be a level playing field for all