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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > A Good Idea from Sweden

GOTHENBURG, Sweden — How would you like to know the operating weak points of cars, by make and model, on a regular and reliable basis?

Here in Sweden, motor­ists can find out. Using data from the annual compulsory inspection of motor vehi­cles, the Swedish Motor Vehicle Inspection Compa­ny tabulates the compara­tive results for dozens of car types in an annual book­let titled “Weak Points of Cars.”

The 1975 edition, 168 pages of facts, has recently been published to serve three purposes.

First, the information is useful to motorists as an alert system for their present cars and any future purchases they may make. The report states, for exam­ple, that the 1973 Simca 1100 has a higher frequency of excessive play in the steer­ing system while the 1971­1973 Fiat 128 models have a higher frequency of service brake weakness.

Inspections reported de­fects in seat belts for many car models.

Secondly, such informa­tion is helpful to accident investigation teams, repair stations ‘and auto insurance firms. Finally, such specific car weaknesses provide a feedback to the manufac­turer who wishes to correct such deficiencies in forth­coming models, if only to avoid adverse publicity. Companies may find such improvements a good way to improve sales.

Unfortunately, the report does not say what the past experience of such correc­tive action has been. In some highly publicized cases, changes were made; but the inspection company would do well to make a systematic survey of the manufacturers in order to gauge the impact of its annual effort.

In the forward to the report, Alexej Pellijeff, the inspection firm’s managing director, cautions the read­er that the data “can nei­ther give a complete assess­ment of the quality and durability of different cars, nor give an analysis of all their advantages and disadvantages.”

The study, he says; “draws the attention to components that should be watched where such faults that have an influence on traffic safety are concern­ed.”

General observations are made where supportable. For example, the report noted that “excessive play in different joints in the front suspension or the steering system is one of the most frequent reasons for observations at the peri­odic inspection.”

In the United States, de­spite compulsory vehicle in­spection laws in most states, there is no similar report available for motor­ists. One reason is that in most states the inspection system is much weaker than the one in Sweden so the information is not as complete.

Clearly, however, both federal and some state laws are sufficient to have such an inspection system estab­lished so that comparative strengths and deficiencies could be reported. Some of our states are as large or larger than Sweden; so that reliable information could be collected without a na­tionwide system.

The Department of Tran­sportation is not even close to establishing such a sys­tem. In late 1968 when the department started a pro­gram of testing the crashworthiness of specific model cars, the uproar from the auto companies quickly persuaded the Nixon admin­istration a few weeks later to drop it like a hot potato.

Naming makes and models of cars could give consumers a more meaning­ful choice. That was enough to discourage any specific and comparative car infor­mation.

This aversion to specific data about cars is reflected in the disgraceful­ly slow and unimaginative administration of the Motor Vehicle Information and Cost Savings Act by Secre­tary of Transportation Wil­liam Coleman and his auto safety chief, dames Grego­ry

If the Swedish example is not enough, Messrs. Cole­man and Gregory can look at the forthcoming April issue of Consumer Reports which records the repair experience of cars in 17 categories as reported by over 200,000 motorists.

That is just a glimmer of what the Department of Transportation could do for millions of American motor­ists.

For further information on how to obtain the Swed­ish reports, write to the Swedish Embassy, 600 New Hampshire Ave. NW, Wash­ington, D.C. 20037.