Car repair business blamed young woman's driving for engine failure

The car repair business took the young driver to the Disputes Tribunal. Photo: File / Getty Images
The car repair business took the young driver to the Disputes Tribunal. Photo: File / Getty Images
A vehicle sales and repair business that blamed a young woman’s driving for the engine “blowing up” on a courtesy car she was using has failed to get traction on its claim for compensation.

The business turned to the Disputes Tribunal seeking an order for her to pay $3612 for a replacement engine in the car, which had suffered “catastrophic engine failure”.

The tribunal’s recently released decision stated that last June, the woman was provided with a courtesy car while her vehicle was being repaired at the business where she had bought it.

She claimed to have been driving downhill on a motorway when she felt the vehicle losing power.

About the same time, her friend, who was travelling in a car behind her, saw smoke coming from the rear of the vehicle.

The woman in the courtesy car noted the brakes suddenly “did not work” and that at no time did a warning light show on the dashboard.

She pulled off at the nearest off-ramp, phoned the garage and the courtesy car was towed back to the business.

The business claimed the car had suffered “catastrophic engine failure” and sought $3612 to replace the engine.

When determining the matter, the tribunal had to consider whether any contract had been breached and whether the driver had failed to return the courtesy car in its original condition.

Despite there being no signed paperwork the tribunal was satisfied there was a contract between the business and the young woman’s father who had arranged for the repairs and the replacement car.

It followed that the tribunal then had to determine if the engine failure was due to the young woman’s driving or an inherent defect of the vehicle.

A mechanic called as a witness by the woman’s father confirmed the car suffered a catastrophic engine failure, stating the engine had overheated, causing the head gasket to blow.

He said this could have happened for several reasons, including a cooling system fault or a stone in the gasket.

In terms of how long the car would take to overheat would depend on the circumstances, but it could take between 10 minutes and half an hour.

The mechanic added that the warning lights would have come on but he wasn’t able to check because of the state of the car, and that it would be “very rare” for the head gasket to blow because of the way someone drove the car.

Tribunal referee Parminder Morgan dismissed the claim, stating that without knowing for certain how the gasket was blown, on the balance of probabilities, he did not consider that how the car was driven caused the damage.

By Tracy Neal
Open Justice multimedia journalist