If you rely on your car every day to get to work and take your kids to school, or you enjoy going for a drive to unwind, finding the time to get your car serviced can be tricky. You might tell yourself you’ll book an inspection soon — your car hasn’t been making strange noises and the lights on your dash haven’t started blinking, so another few trips surely won’t hurt.
Vehicle maintenance is easy to put off, but it can prove costly in more ways than one. A car failure caused by poor vehicle maintenance can result in a hefty and avoidable repair bill. More dangerous, though, is the increased risk of a crash. A car in desperate need of inspection is a ticking time bomb — a mechanical failure can occur at any time and cause a devastating accident. A crash can lead you to sustain severe, life-threatening injuries requiring expensive treatment, and injure other motorists.
Our personal injury lawyer in McAllen and San Antonio highlights the dangers of poor car maintenance, warning signs to look out for, and your options for compensation if you’re injured in an accident caused by poor car maintenance.
How Can Poor Vehicle Maintenance Cause Accidents?
Maintaining your vehicle may seem like a time-consuming, costly chore, but it’s not voluntary. Vehicles comprise multiple components, and failing to maintain any of these can have a severe impact. Below, we explore the danger posed by these crucial parts.
Tire Wear or Incorrect Tire Pressures
Tires are under constant stress, as they’re the only part of your car that makes direct contact with the road. Tires with low pressure can blow out at high speed, after hitting a curb or pothole, or if a driver overloads their vehicle, which pushes the tires closer to the ground and creates greater friction.
Worn tires can become brittle and crack or struggle to grip the road effectively, causing drivers to skid and lose control of their vehicles, especially in wet weather.
An engine failure can result in vehicles stalling on the street, potentially causing severe injuries to drivers in devastating multi-vehicle crashes at high speeds or on congested roads and highways. Oil leaks can cause engine failure if the engine isn’t sufficiently lubricated and overheats, and also pose a fire hazard, as oil can drop onto parts of the engine.
Faulty brakes can fail to respond, potentially resulting in a full-speed collision. Rear-end shunts are a common consequence of brake failure, but any type of car accident can happen, including side-impact collisions or head-on crashes at intersections.
A loose connection or faulty bulb can cause headlights to blink or go out completely, creating a major hazard when driving at night or in inclement weather. Burned-out headlights compromise your sight, affecting your ability to see hazards and react to prevent a crash. Driving with faulty headlights also threatens pedestrians, who may not see you approaching.
Filters trap dirt and pollutants, preventing dust from contaminating the engine and debris from clogging the fuel line. Poor car maintenance restricts the flow of air, fuel, and oil, decreasing fuel efficiency and putting an overall strain on your vehicle. The result is often a critical failure, where your car slows or stops completely at the worst time.
There are two main types of belts in vehicles: the timing belt and the serpentine belt. Poor car maintenance can leave you driving with a worn or broken belt, stopping a timing belt from opening and closing the engine valves at proper intervals and causing an engine failure. The serpentine belt controls multiple systems, including your power steering. Broken power steering can make it difficult for you to steer at low speeds or during turns and affect the vacuum pump or hydraulic system responsible for brake assist.
Airbags save lives by absorbing the impact of a crash, but poor maintenance can leave you unprotected. If you’ve purchased a vehicle and the airbag previously deployed and wasn’t replaced, an accident could prove fatal. Airbags are also vulnerable to defects and may not work when they should or trigger at the wrong time and injure drivers and passengers.
Warning Signs to Look For
The purpose of routine vehicle maintenance is preventive. Keeping your car in top shape prevents costly repair bills and the risk of a dangerous accident. But it’s critical to know what warning signs to look out for — especially if you haven’t had your vehicle inspected in some time — as they could indicate a problem with your vehicle.
- Unusual noises: Do you hear a strange knock or grinding sound when your engine is running? Do your tires squeal when you accelerate, or is there a squeaking sound when you engage your brakes? Unusual noises can indicate several issues, from a minor leak to a major transmission problem.
- Dashboard error lights: If your dashboard is lit like a Christmas tree, your vehicle is sending you a critical message that something is wrong. Don’t ignore these warning signs. It may be inconvenient to drop your car off for a maintenance check, but putting it off could cause further deterioration and more damage, not least increase the risk of an accident due to failure.
- Decreased performance: Have you noticed a downturn in performance recently? If you’re struggling to reach full power, you’re filling up the gas tank more often despite not driving more, or your car otherwise feels “off”, it could be a sign of a problem.
What If You’re in an Accident?
It’s especially devastating when an accident occurs due to poor vehicle maintenance, as it could have been avoided.
Car accidents can cause injuries ranging from cuts and scrapes to life-changing head trauma, burns, and spinal cord injuries. These injuries often require extensive medical treatment — potentially for years or for the rest of your life — leave you unable to work, and cause significant emotional distress and physical pain. Many car accidents are also fatal, robbing families of the support and companionship of their loved ones.
If you or a loved one was injured in an accident caused by someone else’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation to relieve the financial burden of your injuries.
But where does that leave you if your accident was caused by poor vehicle maintenance? Common scenarios include:
- Your accident happened because another driver failed to maintain their vehicle.
- Your accident happened because you failed to maintain your vehicle.
- Your accident happened despite you or another driver maintaining their car, but a mechanic failed to fix a critical issue.
In any of these situations, you might be able to claim.
Claiming Compensation for an Accident Caused by Poor Car Maintenance
Motorists owe a duty of care to one another. Heading out on the road when your engine is sputtering or clunking because you think you can get one more trip out of it — but knowing it could fail at any moment — puts yourself and others at risk.
To claim compensation, you must:
- Identify the negligent party.
- Show they owed you a duty of care.
- Prove they breached that duty through negligent action or inaction.
- Show that the negligence caused you damages.
Who Is Liable for an Accident Caused by Poor Maintenance?
Liability for an accident caused by poor vehicle maintenance in Texas can fall on different parties depending on the circumstances. Here’s a breakdown of potential liability with examples:
If poor vehicle maintenance causes an accident due to a tire blowout, brake failure, or any other issue, the owner of the vehicle is typically at fault. The accident could have been avoided if the owner fulfilled their obligation to maintain their car.
If a driver spots a warning light signaling a brake problem and does not get it checked, they act negligently every time they get behind the wheel.
Dealership or Rental Car Services
If a driver has a rental, liability usually lies with the dealership or rental car service. However, the driver may hold some responsibility. Take this example: a car was recently serviced and the driver hears strange noises coming from the engine a week later. They do not notify the rental company and the engine fails a few weeks later, resulting in a crash.
Commercial Vehicle Companies
Drivers of commercial vehicles are not usually liable when poor vehicle maintenance causes an accident. However, the truck company employing them can be held accountable.
Mechanics must conduct routine maintenance to a high standard. If they skip checks, notice a fault but fail to fix it, do not diagnose an issue that clearly exists, or fail to install parts correctly, and the issue is a contributing factor to your accident, you can hold them liable for your injuries.
Sometimes, poor car maintenance is not the primary cause of an accident. Vehicle parts can be defective, including tires, brakes, and airbags. You stand a much better chance of succeeding in filing a product liability claim if you routinely maintain your vehicle. You may still be able to claim if you did not regularly get your car serviced, but you must show that the defect would still have existed and that a mechanic would not have diagnosed it during an inspection. This can be tricky enough, but you also must show your inaction — failing to get your vehicle checked — did not make the defect worse and more likely to cause a crash.
Evidence Is Key to a Successful Case
Establishing liability can be challenging, especially in accidents resulting from poor maintenance. If a motorist crashes into you because their tires blow, they may plead ignorance, claiming they regularly get their car checked and were not aware of any problem. They may even argue a defect must have caused the crash.
However, if you can gather documentation showing the driver has not had their car serviced for several years, photographs of the accident scene showing significant tire wear, and a copy of the accident report indicating that the tires were in poor condition, you will strengthen your claim and have a better chance of disputing their story.
What If Poor Vehicle Maintenance Is Your Fault?
Every state has specific negligence laws that impact your entitlement to compensation. Some states prohibit injury victims from recovering compensation if they are even 1% at fault. Fortunately, Texas is not one of them.
Texas has modified comparative fault negligence laws, allowing you to claim if you are less than 51% liable for your accident. Under the 51% rule, your compensation is reduced according to your level of fault. For example, if you are awarded $200,000 for your injuries but you were 40% responsible for the accident that caused them, you will receive 60% of that amount, leaving you with $120,000.
However, you must still identify a majorly liable party to successfully recover compensation. Let’s look at a couple of scenarios:
- A driver’s brake light has been blinking and they haven’t had their car inspected. Their brakes malfunction, causing them to stall in the middle of a highway. The driver of the car behind was tailgating, and they rear-end the vehicle ahead.
- Two cars are traveling along the road during inclement weather. The first car is suffering a headlight malfunction due to poor vehicle maintenance. The second driver sees the headlights not working and urges the first driver to pull over. They get frustrated and start cursing, and eventually sideswipe the first car to get them off the road.
In both cases, poor car maintenance plays a role in causing the accident. However, the drivers of the other vehicles are also negligent. In the first scenario, the second driver was following too closely. If they had maintained a safe distance from the car ahead, they might have avoided the accident. In the second scenario, the driver’s road rage was a key contributor to the accident.
If a jury determines that the other driver’s negligent conduct outweighs the role of poor vehicle maintenance in causing the accident, the first driver would be entitled to compensation in both scenarios.
Contact Our Texas Personal Injury Lawyers Today
A roadworthy car is a safe one. Sadly, Texas motorists frequently get behind the wheel of poorly maintained vehicles — perhaps you’re one of them. If you’re in an accident caused by poor vehicle maintenance, you may be able to claim, even if you are partly responsible for your crash. It’s vital to consult a car accident lawyer in McAllen and San Antonio to see where you stand.
Book a free, no-obligation case review with our Texas car accident lawyer, call 855-LAW-NINJA, submit a contact form, or visit our office. We serve Rio Grande Valley, from Mission to Edinburg and Hidalgo, and the Greater San Antonio Area, including Schertz and Uvalde. You can reach us 24/7 and you won’t pay until we win.