Lemon Law

R. Scott King, BSME, CFEI, Principal Automotive/Mechanical Engineer
At both the state and federal levels, consumer protection laws generally provide opportunities for relief to vehicle owners adversely impacted by manufacturing defects or “non-conformities” that cannot be resolved within a predetermined time, vehicle mileage or number of repair attempts. Like many litigated cases, matters arising within the so-called “lemon law” framework can be aided by expert analysis, reporting, and testimony; however, an expert can also be used in an advisory role to objectively evaluate a case’s strengths and weaknesses, and equip the retaining party with information to facilitate an efficient resolution. So it was in a recent case. Continue reading “Lemon Law”

Towing Fire Investigation

R. Scott King, BSME, CFEI, Principal Automotive / Mechanical Engineer
Courts have long established that a person can be qualified to provide expert testimony to a judge or jury if that person possesses the knowledge, training, or experience in a specific subject matter. Experts typically apply those qualifications to physical evidence or other data, testimony, and discovery production to formulate their opinions. When possible, experts may rely on relevant industry guidelines, recommended procedures, and investigative strategies to serve as a foundation for their opinions. A recent commercial vehicle fire investigation drew from a multitude of these sources to establish the fire’s origin and root cause.
A commercial motor coach suffered a mechanical malfunction resulting in its roadside disablement. A regional commercial towing operator was dispatched to tow the coach back to its terminal for diagnosis and repairs. During the towing, the tow operator was alerted by passing motorists to a potential emergency. Upon stopping his vehicle, the tow operator discovered thick smoke emerging from the rear wheels of the motor coach. Realizing he could not extinguish the fire; the tow operator summoned fire personnel and disconnected his tow truck from the coach. While not completely burned, the coach suffered catastrophic fire damage. Continue reading “Towing Fire Investigation”

Trailer Hitching Significance

R. Scott King, BSME, CFEI, Principal Automotive/Mechanical Engineer
Trailering a boat or camper is often associated with fun and adventure. Making the connection between the towing vehicle and trailer is usually the last step before departure; however, experience routinely shows that there are several important steps to undertake before it is “wheels up.” There are several resources available to the recreational tower. One such resource provided here by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) includes several pre-trip checks and considerations relating to towing safety. Among them are properly matched equipment, weight and weight distribution, and equipment condition. A recent case demonstrated how important these checks can be. Continue reading “Trailer Hitching Significance”

“Standards-of-Care” Regulations in Auto Repairs

R. Scott King, BSME, CFEI, Principal Automotive / Mechanical Engineer
Like most industries and professions, the automotive repair industry is subject to a variety of guidelines, standards, and regulations that form the basis for many of the processes and procedures utilized during vehicle repair. Some of these are well-established and clearly defined, while others are not. Periodically, questions of liability arise that relate directly back to these “standards-of-care” concepts that require specialized expertise.
In a recent case, the owner of a vintage automobile took his vehicle to an automotive body shop to diagnose and repair concerns related to a door latch. Technicians at the shop diagnosed the concern, communicated the remedy along with related costs to the owner, and with the owner’s approval, performed the needed repairs. Shortly thereafter, the owner was involved in a collision wherein it was alleged that a steering defect contributed to the collision. The owner subsequently sued the body shop – which was also a registered safety inspection station – alleging the shop should have test-driven the vehicle upon completing the door repairs, and had they done so, would have identified the alleged steering defect.
In another case, the operator of a commercial tractor-trailer was involved in a single-vehicle collision wherein he lost control on a rain-slicked roadway. There, the allegation was that the tires on his tractor were sufficiently worn such that they required replacement by the service facility responsible for that truck’s maintenance. Even though the documented tread depth, recorded both before and after the incident, exceeded federal standards, as well as the truck owner’s own more stringent standards, the claim remained that the shop should have replaced the tires because they were approaching the end of their useful life, and had they been replaced, the incident would not have occurred. Continue reading ““Standards-of-Care” Regulations in Auto Repairs”

Vice Grip Slip

R. Scott King, BSME, CFEI, Principal Automotive/Mechanical Engineer
A homeowner was sued after a neighbor, who borrowed a mid-sized farm tractor, was fatally injured while using the tractor on his personal property. The neighbors had a years-long friendly agreement to share the tractor at will; however, its owner assumed responsibility for maintaining it. On the day of the incident, the neighbor was operating the tractor to mow a parcel of ground. Later that day, family members grew concerned of their loved one’s absence, and walked the fields to search for him. There they found the tractor, still running and wheels turning, but wedged against a stand of trees. Nearby, they found the neighbor’s body. Preliminary investigation revealed that the tractor’s seat had detached from the tractor and that the neighbor had fallen off and into the towed mowing attachment. Continue reading “Vice Grip Slip”

Assessing Airbag Anomalies

Airbag Deploy

R. Scott King, BSME, Principal Automotive / Mechanical Engineer
It is probably a good thing that most people could not name the manufacturer of the airbag installed in their vehicle’s steering wheel or dash panel. Airbags should be anonymous, as their brand is irrelevant to the occupants they protect; however, there is one airbag manufacturer that has pierced the veil of airbag anonymity, but for all the wrong reasons: Takata. With tens of millions of airbags recalled world-wide due to numerous serious injuries resulting from exploding metallic canisters, Takata – now in bankruptcy – as well as dozens of its corporate customers, are increasingly becoming the focus of liability investigations when improper airbag performance is suspected.
The “typical” Takata airbag malfunction is manifested during airbag deployment events. Over time, the metallic canister that contains the airbag pyrotechnic charge can weaken. As a result, the deployment detonation that normally ejects the airbag can cause the canister to explode, which produces metallic shards. Albeit rare, a tell-tale sign of canister explosion – apart from finding metallic fragments throughout the occupant compartment, or worse – is finding tears, rips, and holes in the airbag fabric. Although not an exhaustive evaluation, a routine, non-destructive airbag examination can quickly identify this kind of evidence. However, there can be times when unfurling an airbag during a preliminary, post-crash examination is ill-advised. Such was the case in a recent vehicle examination. Continue reading “Assessing Airbag Anomalies”

Vehicle Safety Recalls Week, March 2-6

NTSA Recall

R. Scott King, BSME, Principal Automotive / Mechanical Engineer
In 2019 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) administered the recalls of more than 38 million vehicles. Of those recalled vehicles, however, NHTSA estimates that only about 75% were ever fixed. Noticing similar historic uncompleted recall rates, NHTSA has initiated Vehicle Safety Recalls Week. Planned as a twice-yearly event coinciding with spring and fall clock changes, NHTSA hopes that car owners will visit their site and check for vehicle recalls after replacing the batteries in their smoke detectors.
The NHTSA website has a user-friendly search tool that allows owners to enter a vehicle’s 17-digit identification number, often found on a label affixed to the driver’s door jam, and find out whether the vehicle is subject to any uncompleted recall. If it is, the website provides details about the recall and how to get repairs. Moreover, the website database is updated regularly; so, it can be helpful to check regularly. In addition to its primary goal of improving highway safety, this search tool is proven to be a valuable tool in automotive claims and related investigations. Continue reading “Vehicle Safety Recalls Week, March 2-6”

Event Data Recording Developments in Recreation Vehicles

Event Data Recorder

R. Scott King, BSME, Principal Automotive/Mechanical Engineer
Event data recorders (EDRs) in passenger vehicles and commercial trucks have been in use for nearly 20 years. During that time, they have helped answer many questions regarding how those vehicles have been operated, and performed, in the moments preceding crashes and other recordable events. Indeed, passenger vehicle EDRs have become so prevalent they have even become subject to federal regulations. And now, implantation of that technology has begun to spread to the recreational vehicle segment.
A recent investigation involving a popular inverted, three-wheeled motorcycle revealed it was equipped with a data recorder capable of recording parameters such as speed, brake, and accelerator control for approximately 60 seconds preceding engine shutdown. In that case, the engine stopped running as a result of the crash, thus relevant data was recorded. The data was retrieved using the manufacturer’s proprietary software and the analysis thereof provided important information regarding the circumstances of the incident. Using what was learned in that investigation, researchers looked beyond the subject vehicle to determine whether its manufacturer had deployed this or similar technology in other vehicles. The findings were surprising. Continue reading “Event Data Recording Developments in Recreation Vehicles”

Brake Safety Week is Here!

Brake Safety

R. Scott King, BSME, Principal Automotive/Mechanical Engineer
A recent Federal DOT report on commercial vehicle crash statistics has shown that of the commercial trucks found to possess pre-crash mechanical deficiencies of any kind, nearly one in three had deficiencies relating to braking. Given the close relationship between braking performance and stopping distance, proper brake system operation should be among the most closely monitored of all vehicle systems. However, brake system defects have comprised the majority of out-of-service violations issued during post-crash and road-side inspections for as long as records have been kept. Thus, safety-minded organizations recognize the need for continual efforts to reduce brake-related defects throughout the commercial vehicle fleet. The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) is one such organization.
Throughout each year, the CVSA sponsors various events to promote brake safety and reduce the number, and severity, of commercial truck crashes. Some events are announced in advance and others are not; however, all are a comprehensive visual and functional evaluation of a truck’s braking system. This year, the CVSA has selected September 15-23 as its Brake Safety Week. If this year’s event is similar to past events, the CVSA will inspect well over 10,000 commercial vehicles throughout North America; and, if past patterns hold, here is, approximately, what they will find: Continue reading “Brake Safety Week is Here!”