French side offers better car testing than Dutch side

POSTED: 08/20/13 12:23 PM

St. Maarten / By Jason Lista – The vehicle control standards on St. Maarten pale in comparison to the stringent tests and controls vehicles must undergo on St. Martin. Today took a trip to the SARL Auto Controle Saint Martin in Hope Estate near the Grand Case airport to take a look at the difference in approach.

The center is privately owned and operated by Bernard Richardson and his girlfriend Juliette Pillah-Neipal. Yet despite being private, it conforms to stringent European Union (EU) regulations, including emission control, and is visited annually by experts from France. “Every year someone from a company in France visits to check me,” Richardson said, in order to ensure that certain national and EU requirements are constantly met. “And every year I have to take a 2 week course in Guadeloupe,” Richardson explained, in order to keep his skills and knowledge up to date.

The testing equipment itself is checked every 6 months, also in Guadeloupe, to ensure compliance with expected French and EU norms. If Richardson does not comply with these tests, or fails them, he can have his business license revoked or suffer fines.

Under French law, for example, even used cars that are to be privately sold to a new owner have to first undergo testing at a facility like Richardson’s. The purchaser then receives a detailed printout of the test, which provides a breakdown of the level of the vehicle’s quality. This provides a degree of consumer protection, too, guaranteeing that the purchaser is in fact buying a road worthy car or truck. All factory new cars have to undergo a mandatory inspection after 4 years on the road, it’s then every 2 years from then on, Richardson explained.

The tests on St. Martin are more comprehensive and give the vehicle owner a detailed picture of the vehicle’s status. In contrast, the tests on St. Maarten are minimal and give no indication of the true reliability and safety of the vehicle, but rather a superficial overview of some of its basic functions.

A short series of inspections are done, for instance, on St. Maarten. A vehicle’s lights are checked; its wipers looked at to see if they are working; battery terminals inspected for good and clean contacts; as well as brakes and exhaust fumes, etc. These inspections, however, do not go in depth.

The emissions or pollution control standards are also not up to par with those of the EU, nor is there equipment that can detect unacceptable by-products. An owner therefore leaves these checks with little knowledge of the overall health of their car or truck.

Asked whether people from the Dutch side go to his shop for inspections, Richardson replied that he gets some “about once a month. Some come for shocks, steering, and emissions.” The Dutch side visit is mostly, he said, for people who want to find out what the exact status of their car is so they are better informed when they take it to a mechanic, or to know the safety of their vehicle.

Because St. Maarten is an autonomous country within the Dutch kingdom, it does not fall directly under EU laws and standards the way St. Martin does, which is an integrated part of the French Republic. The result is that French side road users get a better diagnosis of their vehicle than do the majority of their Dutch side counterparts.

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