What is the Duty to Maintain Your Vehicle?
In the same way that all drivers have a duty to operate their vehicle with care, all drivers have a duty to maintain their vehicle in a safe condition.
If your car has bald tires, malfunctioning headlights, or worn breaks, you have a duty to not drive the car—or have it repaired— because you could injure someone.
On the other hand, drivers do not have a duty to know about maintenance issues that are not readily apparent. For example, if a catastrophic internal mechanical failure without any warning symptoms causes an accident, it is highly unlikely you could be held responsible for negligent vehicle maintenance.
Don’t Drive a Car With Visible Maintenance Issues
Let’s imagine it’s raining and you have bald tires. Although you are aware of the issue, you decide to drive your car anyways. As you’re driving, a pedestrian steps into a crosswalk in front of you, and you brake. But since your tires don’t have grip, you can’t stop in time and end up bumping the pedestrian, injuring her lightly.
In this scenario, the pedestrian can sue you for negligence—not because you were driving dangerously, but because you breached your duty to maintain your vehicle. To prevail in court, the pedestrian would need to show that:
- You knew or should have known the tires were bald, but did not correct the issue and drove anyways
- The bald tires were the reason you were unable to stop in time
If You Notice Something Odd About Your Car, Get it Checked!
Even if you service your vehicle regularly, a mechanical issue can arise at any moment. Be mindful of how your car feels when you’re driving because you can be held responsible for failing to correct any mechanical issues that you knew about, or should have known about, that result in injury or property damage to others.
As soon as you feel your brakes get squishy, or an odd vibration, your duty to maintain the vehicle has been activated. Even if you can’t see that your brake pads are worn, for example, the change in braking performance has put you on notice of the issue, so you could be liable for any damages that occur as a result.
Keep Your Car Serviced, Just in Case
The duty to maintain your vehicle means that no matter how carefully you drive, you can still be liable if you get in an accident. If you injure someone, and it’s clear that you were driving responsibly, the victim’s lawyers will investigate whether you maintained your vehicle adequately. Don’t expose yourself to liability through negligent vehicle maintenance—keep you car in a well-maintained condition and don’t drive it if you have any doubts about its safety!