EXCLUSIVE: New safety check stickers easily erased, altered
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii News Now has discovered a potential problem with the state's new vehicle safety sticker program. A Kalihi mechanic worried that if he can easily wipe numbers off the sticker decals, crooks can as well.
Last November, the state began a new vehicle safety inspection program, with mechanics and gas stations using iPads and computer technology to replace the old, paper-based system.
The safety check decals changed, too.
They are now printed in black ink onto a white label at each gas station. The state is no longer using pre-printed decals that had different colors for each year.
The new safety check decals show the vehicle identification number, known as the VIN. That concerns longtime Oahu mechanic George Nitta, owner of Nitta's Auto Repair in Kalihi.
Nitta is worried car thieves can use the VIN to have a locksmith make a second set of keys.
"That is the modern way to steal cars. Get the VIN number, go to a key guy, he makes a key. Come back. You got your car," Nitta said.
So he said he easily erases the VIN numbers from the new safety check stickers of his customers by wiping them with rubbing alcohol.
At Hawaii News Now's video camera rolled, it took him just about seven seconds to wipe off the VIN number from another sticker using nail polish remover, a product that's easily bought at your corner drug store or market.
"Just a couple of rubs and it's gone," Nitta said. "The problem is you can make illegal stickers."
Nitta said people can easily alter the dates of their safety check decals by erasing a number and using a black permanent marker.
In just a few seconds, a sample sticker wipes clean with a cotton ball soaked in nail polish remover.
"Because you can erase it and change the date, change everything. So what good is it?" Nitta asked.
The winning bidder for the safety check contract, a company called Parsons Environment and Infrastructure group, submitted test results to the state that showed the decals did not change when washed with a cotton swab and 12 compounds including "mild detergents" such as Windex window cleaning solution or 409 spray cleaner.
But the tests did not include acetone-based cleaners such as nail polish remover.
Hawaii News Now tried its own cotton-swab test and as soon as we started rubbing the decal with nail polish remover on a cotton swab, the black printing blurred and starting washing away. Within 20 seconds, the decal wiped clean.
State Department of Transportation spokeswoman Caroline Sluyter released a statement that said the wanted a safety check sticker that would "... stand up to the elements and normal wear and tear of vehicle use and washing for three years. It has good durability under these conditions."
Sluyter said the state is always concerned about fraud and that's why the new stickers now have both the vehicle's license plate number and VIN printed on them to help deter theft and make it difficult for car thieves to use the stickers on a different vehicle.
"At the same time, the cost of the sticker was taken into consideration to keep the safety check program at a reasonable price," Sluyter said.
Parsons was the low bidder, getting paid $1.69 for each safety check inspection. The next lowest bidder, Worldwide Environmental, bid $1.85 for each safety check.
Under Parson's contract, the state DOT is paid $1.70 for each inspection and the mechanic or auto shop is paid approximately $15.80.
Sluyter said besides Hawaii News Now's call, the state received one other complaint from someone who said they used brake fluid on their sticker and it removed some of the number.
"It was designed to hold up under normal vehicle washing and wear and tear," Sluyter said.
About 900,000 inspections are conducted at about 566 gas stations and auto shops across the state. That's roughly 27 fewer mechanics performing safety checks this year compared to last year, state officials said.
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