"Fixing" Cars

Who's fooling who when it comes to our automobiles?


No division of local government, save possibly the police department, is more ripe for corruption than the agencies that deal with our cars.

This week, eight employees of the Shelby County Clerk's office were indicted for bribery involving motor vehicle registrations.

I wasn't able to muster one-tenth as much outrage over this betrayal of the public trust as I did the last time I couldn’t get one of my clunker cars through the inspection station. Now that was an outrage. Cost me several hours and a couple hundred bucks, more than once.

I confess that I would gladly have paid an inspector $20 to overlook the balky wipers ("please, please, work just this once"), faulty emergency brake (covered up, I think, by holding my right foot on the brake and the accelerator at the same time), broken tail light (a red plastic reflector and some duct tape did the job and won the grudging admiration of the inspector), and the dreaded rod-up-the-tailpipe emissions test (introducing thousands of Memphis car owners to the term "O-2 sensor").

No, I didn't bribe an inspector, but I sure tried to fool them. And I suspect I may have enriched an inspector or two who got a cut from the garage conveniently located right across the street from the downtown inspection station on Washington, where I got that emissions problem fixed for about $230.

What's worse, only Memphis residents have to go through inspection. Those living in the county or in Mississippi are exempt even though they use the same roads and pollute the same air. And, of course, scofflaws drive some of the most smoke-belching clunkers around and don't bother registering them at all. One of those emits more pollutants than a dozen "failed-O-2-inspection" cars.

Selling a used car is another opportunity for petty crime. Say, hypothetically of course, I sell my neighbor my old car for $5,000. On the back of the title, he records the sale price as $3,000, which is close enough to the Edmonds or Kelley blue book value to ward off suspicion in the clerk's office. It's no skin off my nose, and the buyer saves a few hundred bucks in taxes. Let's assume that employees in the clerk's office see this stuff go on every day.

Finally, there's the issue of inflating a misdemeanor charge to a felony in order to squeeze someone to squeal on someone else. I suspect that is what is going to happen to City Councilwoman Barbara Swearengen Ware, named but not indicted last week. Better that the charge should fit the crime.

Someone said "I wouldn't want to live in a town where you couldn't get a parking ticket fixed." Sometimes I feel that way myself, especially when I get a ticket. But I guess we don't live in such a town. I’m not losing any sleep over it.

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