It goes to figure: Even though Costa Rica seems to lack things like good traffic control, traffic laws that people take seriously (though that’s beginning to change with some of the new laws that have been introduced recently), or even decent roads, Costa Rica happens to have one of the most advanced vehicle inspection systems I’ve ever seen.
It’s so advanced that I’m willing to bet most of the junkers you see on the road up north wouldn’t even pass inspection down here. You wouldn’t be allowed to drive ’em. It amazes me to no end that the standards here are so high given the comparison to everything else.
And it goes to figure that our car failed. Damn you, Murphy, will you kindly leave me the hell alone, now?!
Lemme explain. First off, RTV stands for Revisión Téchnica de Vehículos, which is a government agency that inspects the cars. (This is in addition to the registration, called the marchamo, and the government-required insurance.) You have to get your car inspected once a year to make sure that it’s running up to standards. (Which, of course, the government sets.)
Now I’m not saying the standards are too high — they’re probably low, given some of the things they could have called us out on. But even I couldn’t argue the reason we failed...
I arrived at the RTV office (near The Hangar) at about 6:50 this morning (you go early, before lines get long), and began a lot of waiting. First, you stand in a line to prove that you own the vehicle. I’m not sure why this is a required step, since it stands to reason that anyone could take your car in to get it tested, since it’s the car being tested, and not yourself.
Next, it’s a window to ... well, I’m not sure what to do exactly. Get your documentation for the test, I think. Then it’s a third window to pay your fee (9,930 colones for our car). Then it’s back to your car, and you drive around to the lines to get your car tested.
This is where I started to get nervous, ‘cuz I knew there were a couple of things wrong. First, the rear driver-side window won’t roll down. There’s an electrical problem of some kind. Also, the passenger side mirror is loose due to an altercation with the security gate at the complex (it still works perfectly well, but it does lift if you pull up on it). I honestly didn’t think any of that would flunk us, though.
The building all of this sits in is huge. There are six lanes, some of which are dedicated to large vehicles (e.g. trucks, busses), some for diesel-only vehicles, some for permanent 4x4s. Most can handle regular gasoline cars, though. (You’ll understand why in a moment.)
First, an inspector (one of many) comes out to do a visual inspection of your car. Moulding, whether your windows roll down or not (insert first small heart-attack here), your window wipers work, lights come on and off, turn signals work, doors open and close properly, seatbelts click and unclick (you’d be surprised...), and that your brake lights work.
Then you drive up a short ramp into the building, where they dig around in your engine compartment, looking for leaks. (They even check your oil — hadn’t expected that one, even after I saw them getting picky.) Once that’s done, you drive a bit forward, and they test your emissions.
Yes, despite the fact that pollution seems to be a continuing problem here, and that I’ve seen trucks BELCH out the blackest exhaust you can imagine, they test for emissions. Thankfully, I think we passed that one.
Next is a shock absorber test. If you’ve ever driven on a Costa Rican road for any length, you know why this is important. Front and rear, each side tested independently. All of it automated, with big televisions spitting out the results as they happen. It’s almost like a video game, but you really do not want to lose.
After that is the brake test. Both sets of wheels are tests, front and rear, by driving into a set of rollers. The idea is for you to be able to have your brakes kick you out of the machine (e.g. your wheels lock up, and the rollers push your car out). Front, fine. Emergency, fine. Rear ... rear? Hello, rear? FAILED.
This was when I expected that I’d be told to come back. But the tests weren’t done yet.
Next was to a pit, where someone looked at the car from underneath. Unlike all the other tests, where a person was right beside me and could guesture with their hands, the guy was talking to me over a speaker from underneath. I got most of it, but some of the instructions went right over my head.
Finally done, I parked the car and went to the booth to get my results. With no surprise (but considerable frustration, considering the car was supposed to be in good condition when we bought it), the car had failed. The brakes have to be replaced so we can continue to drive. It also means that without the RTV approval, we can’t really go very far, lest we get pulled over for an expired RTV (eeek) and lose the plates.
So I’m going to have to find out where to get the brakes replaced, get myself rescheduled for another test, and go back to do it again. At least next time I’ll have a better idea of what to do.