Whose fault is damage caused by a speed bump?

Friday, July 15, 2005

Dear Tom and Ray: Please respond ASAP! A late-'90s special edition Porsche was driven down a ramp. At the end of the ramp are two speed bumps, 2 feet apart. The first bump is made of concrete and the second one is hard rubber. Neither is more than 2.5 inches high at the center. The concrete bump is about 8 inches wide, and the rubber one is about 12 inches wide. After the bumps is the sidewalk, then the street. The owner of the car is claiming that the valet parkers drove his Porsche too fast over the speed bumps, causing $10,000 in damage to his engine. He claims the bottom of the Porsche hit the bumps, causing the oil pan to separate or loosen from the engine, which led to an oil leak. Please tell me if this is possible, and if the cost of repair is reasonable.

Hadi

Tom: Oh, you're in deep doo-doo, Hadi. Yes, it IS possible to drive a Porsche down a circular garage ramp at 60 mph and then scrape the oil pan on a couple of speed bumps. But I bet it was fun, wasn't it?

Ray: Actually, it can happen at a lot less than 60 mph. The Porsche has such low ground clearance that the problem might have been the angle of descent, and the fact that there were two speed bumps.

Tom: Right. When it hit the first, it bounced up, and the springs compressed. But then it came down just as you were driving over the second bump, and that's when the oil pan took a hit.

If you drove it over the bumps at a reasonable speed -- say, less than 5 mph -- and damage was still done, then I'd say it's not your fault. Then it would be the fault of the manufacturer, who made a car that can't be driven in normal public facilities. Or it would be the fault of the guy who bought it, who should've warned you that it can't be driven over bumps.

Ray: And is it a reasonable price for the repairs? Well, let's see. An oil pan for a normal car costs about $400. So ... $10,000 for a Porsche sounds about right!

Tom: My guess is that the guy is claiming that he drove away with the oil leaking and then ran out of oil, croaking the whole engine.

Ray: We should add that while it's possible that the engine was ruined by the method you describe, it's by no means the only explanation. It's certainly possible that the owner of the car scraped up the bottom of the car himself, and is trying to blame it on you guys. Or that no one's at fault, and the pan failed over time, and he's just looking for someone to blame.

Tom: But if you know that you, or one of your guys, drove it too fast, felt an impact and heard a thunk or a metallic scraping sound when you hit the speed bumps, then you guys probably toasted it.

Ray: So call your insurance company, Hadi. Good luck.

They're better equipped to investigate the alleged accident and determine if you guys are responsible or not. Of course, they'll cancel your policy after that, but we're talking about 10 grand here, so I don't think you have much choice but to let them fight it out with the guy. Good luck.


Listen to "Car Talk" at 9 a.m. Saturdays and 5 p.m. Sundays on KRCU 90.9 FM -- Southeast Public Radio. Write to Tom and Ray at Car Talk Plaza, Box 3500 Harvard Square, Cambridge, Mass., 02238. Or e-mail them at the Car Talk section of cars.com.

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