A sting operation prompted by complaints about unnecessarily vigilant motor vehicle inspectors instead found 15 stations guilty of the reverse: pushing cars through with too cursory a check.
Police covertly sent cars and trucks with defects -- ranging from headlights out of alignment to worn brakes -- to 23 inspection stations and found that only eight performed adequate checks.
"It's a 65 percent noncompliance rate. We were honestly surprised at such a high number," said Mike McKelvin, a state police spokesman.
Eight of 11 stations targeted in Baltimore and the neighboring counties were identified as violators. In Prince George's County, seven of 12 stations didn't properly perform the inspections.
Violators will be either given a citation or a fine of up to $500 per violation. Flagrant violators will be summoned to administrative hearings in which a judge could fine them, or suspend or revoke their state inspections licenses.
The cars and trucks used in the operation were mainly undercover police vehicles and those seized in drug cases. In most cases, inspectors were giving the vehicles the OK even though they had such problems as worn tires or poor wheel alignment, Mr. McKelvin said.
"In a few cases, the station was supposed to have done a full inspection. But they did it in 20 minutes, and there's no way they could possibly have finished it that fast," Mr. McKelvin said.
State police launched the undercover investigation after receiving numerous complaints from citizens who claimed inspectors were identifying too many problems, apparently to drum up business.