If you've been to a National Street Rod Association event, you've seen these guys. They're the ones in the snappy red-and-white shirts inspecting every crevice of various street rods like they were looking for loose change. But they're not. And they're not judges either. They're members of the NSRA Safety Division, and what they're looking for are ways to improve the safety of the cars rolling through their national events. Every rod that passes the 16-point inspection-which is completely voluntary and completely free-is rewarded with a little windshield sticker (called the NSRA Vehicle Safety Inspection Certification Sticker). Rods that pass the recommended 23-point inspection earn a "Safety 23" pin, too.
According to Frank Salerno, NSRA's National Safety Director, the program was started by Loctite back in 1972. Three years later, the first National Safety Director was appointed, along with seven Chief Inspectors. Today there are an additional 64 State Inspectors. These guys look at more than 15,000 street rods every year.
We went over to the vehicle safety inspection area at the NSRA Northeast Nats in Burlington, Vermont, to find out exactly what these guys do when they inspect somebody's rod. The first person we met was Dennis O'Brien, Chief Safety Inspector of the Northeast Division, who gave us the lowdown on each of the 23 inspection items, what the inspectors look for, and some of the builder blunders they've uncovered over the years.
Sixteen Required ItemsVehicles must satisfy the following 16 items to pass the inspection:
Horn-An electric horn with an easily accessible switch or button is required to pass. Inspectors check that the horn can be heard at a distance of 200 feet in front of the car.
Speed Indicator-Inspectors are looking for either a speedometer or a tachometer. If only a tach is used, the face must be marked to indicate 65 mph. Accuracy is verified by the good old "honor system."
Rearview Mirror-This one's simple. A securely mounted interior or exterior mirror-with no cracks-is required.
Glass-Inspectors require safety plate, Lexan, or tempered glass, with no cracks. Dennis says they will sometimes run across a barn-fresh rod running the original plate glass, which breaks easily and can be extremely dangerous when it does.
Lighting-NSRA guys check for two headlights with functioning high-beams and low-beams, at least one taillight and brake light, and a license plate light. Turn indicator lights are not required but are checked if the car has them.
Windshield Wipers-Many rods don't have wipers, and this is one of the most common reasons people don't pass, according to Dennis. An electric or vacuum-operated wiper is required, no hand-operated wipers. A removable clip-on electric wiper with an accessory wire is allowed on roadsters but must be in place during the inspection.
Auto Transmission Lockout-A Neutral safety switch, allowing the car to start in Park or Neutral only, can be a hassle to install after an engine swap and is the other big cause for failing the inspection. Even so, Dennis and the other inspectors consider this an important item. Sometimes the fix is just an adjustment.
Tires-Radial or bias-ply tires must be DOT-approved with a minimum 3/32-inch tread. No slicks or Indy-style tires allowed. Inspectors check for rubbing and tire condition.
Steering-Inspectors look for excessive play, binding, or rubbing. They check the mounting of the steering box and linkages, tie rod ends, or steering arms. They inspect the column and U-joints by turning the wheel back and forth or holding the wheel while they feel for excess play. Worn joints, or joints not securely attached, are a common culprit.
Throttle Linkage-This is important. The throttle linkage must not travel past center of the carburetor at full throttle and must return to idle when the throttle is released. Throttle return springs are checked.