MCTCNET2: Go-ahead for the PC Station and PC Booking software
As we all know, in the end, after about two years of delays and hesitations, the upgrading process of the MCTCnet2 for the Inspection of vehicles under 3.5 tons received the go-ahead.
On July 1st last year, the Ministry of Transport activated the installation keys for the PC station and PC Booking, giving the green light to the installation of software which, in the meantime, has received the necessary approval, as we know, to be used for general inspections.
But this is only the beginning; the MOT Centers complete process of adaptation to the MCTCnet2 protocol includes two phases: the first is the installation of new software, to be completed in six months, the second is the updating of equipment (brake meter, gas analyzer, smoke meter, headlight aiming system, etc. .) to be made within a year to coincide with the periodic review of the same. The total time window is therefore 18 months.
Without going into details, this system has been designed with the intent of avoiding a number of potential problems; PC Station and PC Booking software, in fact, are able to work with existing equipment, of the MCTCnet1 kind as well as with new equipment or upgraded to MCTCnet2. The MOT Centre is fully operational in both cases; the only differences, besides the protocol of data exchange, is the inspection process that, no longer subjected to changes or extensions, becomes more "rigid" with MCTCnet2, not allowing shortcuts for, shall we say, "lazy" operators. The only new device that is introduced with MCTCnet2 to deserve special mention is the automatic number plate recognition. This device captures automatically, without the intervention of an operator, the image of the license plate of the vehicle during the brake test and performs automatic recognition and verification following acceptance. The automatic number plate recognition, which is also subject to approval as other equipment, must also be installed along with other updated MCTCnet2 equipment.
The reasoning behind this system in two phases is: with MCTCnet2, testing equipment cannot work without a PC Station and PC Booking programs; therefore, the software must be installed and operational prior to the upgrading of MCTCnet2 equipment. If for the installation of the software there are no specific time constraints, for the equipment the intention is to synchronize the updating of the equipment with periodic checks. With two advantages: The first is the reduction of costs: the MOT centre upgrading its equipment on the periodic check date replaces it with the inspection of the equipment, therefore avoiding an unnecessary additional expense. The second advantage is a scheduling of the process that prevents the final rush seen in the past.
On paper it all looks good, but we can already see a potential problem: the latest circular letter stated that the expected time for the installation of the software was from June 1 to October 31, 2014; but unfortunately, as we have said, the activation of the installation keys has been postponed to July 1. Adding to this, between June 1 and October 31 is the month of August, Italy’s traditional month dedicated to the well-deserved vacation. Last, but not least, not all suppliers have as yet completed the approval requirements, and therefore have not yet started the installations.
Will the first phase be completed by 31 October as planned? A jam seems possible, but could still be overcome. The Ministry of Transport has recently asked software suppliers to produce every Friday, from September onwards, a list of MOT centers that have installed the new software; This will ensure adequate monitoring of the work and manage the situation, so as to avoid further delays that would reward only "lazy" operators.
A final consideration for the benefit of Inspection Centers: the MCTCnet2 system on paper seemed complex and sophisticated; approval procedures and tests carried out have confirmed it: in fact, it took much longer than originally planned to bring the entire project to completion. On the other hand, however, the Ministry, due to the complexity of the whole project, has decided not to compromise on quality and carry out the necessary checks for approval very thoroughly and objectively. If, on the one hand, this has caused long delays, on the other hand, it guaranteed the quality with which inspections and tests were made. Today, it is reasonable to argue that those who have received the approval will provide the market with something that has been tested thoroughly and in depth.
When, at last, the goal of giving a fatal blow to bogus inspections, the reason behind the MCTCnet2 system, is reached, it will be said that all that work has been helpful to put an end to the scams that have so far afflicted Italian citizens.
New European tests: who will guarantee the technical specifications?
Accessing technical data of vehicles for repair workshops, a long debated issue and subjected to repeated measures, besides remaining largely unresolved, could present a further complication following the EU Directive 2014/45 on new revisions in Europe.
A quick "rewind" to review the situation: after lengthy discussions, Brussels in 2007, with Regulation 715/2007, the famous Euro 5, laid the foundation stone on "timely and non-discriminatory" access to technical data. Soon to be followed by other measures needed to better define it. The same Regulation 461/2010, the so-called New BER, has contributed greatly to the solution of the problem sanctioning free access to the technical data for healthy and effective competition.
Was it enough? Apparently not in the light of the investigation conducted by the same European Commission on the implementation of the Euro 5 protocol. The survey, commissioned by the Ricardo study center and of which we are awaiting the final results for the fourth quarter of this year, would seem to show many obscure areas, including access to technical data.
The European Directive on new tests, issued this April, could further complicate the issue. Let's understand the problem; inspection tests, to be conducted in an effective and objective manner, require instruments capable of issuing automatically the result of the test without the intervention of an operator. A couple of examples: pollution limits depend on the type of vehicle and the year of registration; it is obvious that after entering the model or number plate, the testing equipment should automatically compare the values detected to the model or plate and automatically pass or reject the vehicle. The same goes for all the instrumental tests: lights, brakes, etc. For this to happen the equipment must have an in-built record of the limit value relating to that vehicle.
The problem is: where do they take it? Who Provides It? Who is finally responsible for the accuracy of the data and therefore the outcome of the review? Please note we are not talking about a few details, but a whole class of technical information, which are neither few nor homogeneous nor much less easy to manage.
EU Directive 2014/45 requires that such information must be provided by the manufacturers of motor vehicles to the various MOT centers and national authorities that oversee such activities. Formally correct; they are the entities responsible for the outcome of the inspections. But we wondered how will these entities manage all this data? The experience unfortunately teaches us that this type of information is regularly affected by two problems: lack of timely updating and dishomogeneity.
In Italy, as in other countries in which small town private MOT test centers prevail, the problem is amplified though perhaps not immediately. As long as the specs are laid down by law, such as the brightness of the headlights or the minimum braking performance, the information is easily accessible and only the correct use remains to be evaluated. But when you start talking about OBD test or electronic safety devices such as ABS, things become more complicated. Who will take the responsibility to ensure that the communication protocol is the right one and the limit is correct? A French study conducted in 2013 on a sample of more than 427,000 vehicles found that almost 20% of the vehicles had unsatisfactory or completely wrong OBD test results, especially lack of adequate connection. Why weren’t these vehicles able to connect? Can we accept that one vehicle out of five practically doesn’t get checked?
Add to this the fact that, considering the technological and regulatory developments, it is difficult to think that the situation will be simplified, on the contrary. The further the progressive sophistication of on board electronics suggests new protocols and families of data and nothing suggests that all this will take place in a context of standardization of information.
How will the various EU States, national authorities and organizations responsible for inspection tests get updated and homogeneous data to ensure the proper management of the tests for the vast majority of cars? Let's not forget that the purpose of this inspections is street safety and protecting the environment for the benefit of the citizens; why limit these benefits due to the sheer inefficiency of the system? It would be a shame to waste such an opportunity especially now that Italy will be installing the MCTCnet2 system to address the plight of inspection scams.
Suspensions: a check during inspection is necessary
Suspensions are a component of primary importance for driving comfort and safety: in addition to influencing performance, they influence stability, braking and overall driving performance. Nevertheless, their maintenance and their control is consistently underestimated; unfortunately, a lack of responsibility both on the part of the drivers and repair workshops, not to mention the authorities in charge of ensuring road safety.
In this regard, Tenneco, a major supplier of spare parts worldwide and leader in Monroe shock absorbers, provides extremely interesting data and information. In a recent article "Shock absorbers: when inspection is not an option," written by Antonio Fracas, it was effectively explained why keeping dampers under control is essential for the safety of the vehicle. In summary, the suspension system, of which the damper is a fundamental part, is the mechanical unit responsible for maintaining contact with the ground in all driving conditions: during acceleration, handling corners and, above all, guaranteeing adequate grip while braking even on bumpy roads. The braking system cannot do the job properly if the wheels are not in contact with the road, especially when a vehicle is equipped with modern electronic braking control systems like ABS, which, in case of non-adequate grip, can produce the opposite effects. Consequently, there is the need for maintenance and control of shock absorbers, including the possible replacement of fluid systems or gas in the case of last generation dampers with electronic control. The article correctly points out finally that, to date, not a single vehicle is equipped with a led warning on the state of the shock absorbers.
Very few disagree on the need to include suspension tests in the periodic inspection; the 6th Working Group of EGEA (European Garage Equipment Association) produced in 2010 a report on periodic inspections conducted on more than 30 million vehicles in a period of three years. On all vehicles tested, as many as 6 million, or one-fifth of the total, revealed technical problems right in the suspension system. If we consider the data of vehicles inspected after traffic accidents, 26.4% of these reported serious technical problems. Suspensions, among the main components with direct influence on accidents, are second only to the braking system.
Figures in hand, it is clear how important suspensions tests are; thanks to the information provided by experts such as EGEA, the European Commission has included these tests in the Directive 2014/45 on new European inspections; studies are in progress at a European level aimed at defining an effective instrumental test mode. Unfortunately, at national level, the vast majority of states, including Italy, does not yet provide for suspensions tests during regular inspections. We hope that the results of ongoing studies, expected by the end of this year, will accomplish the desired results; it would be a pity if Italy, one of the leading countries in MOT tests thanks to the new MCTCnet2 inspection system, did not seize the opportunity.
In short, Tenneco proposes a test to be carried out in two phases: complete visual inspection of the suspension system and a dynamic test on a test bench to verify the efficiency of the dampers that, in addition to being the most influential element, are also subject to wear and tear.
We hope that the suggestions from Tenneco and European studies currently under way will provide the authorities, responsible for road safety, with the needed incentives. If safety is not optional, as many point out in words, actions are needed if citizens are to effectively spend their money on efficient MOT tests.