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Car caught on fire!


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I get a text from one of my customers. It's a 1997 Kia Sportage with 160k miles on it. We fixed a severe oil leak exactly 6 days ago (they've been driving it for 6 days).

 

We replaced the oil cooler that attaches to the oil filter adaptor and hoses that run from the cooler to the head. We had to remove the intake manifold to do it. We didn't undo any fuel lines. There were no leaks from what we could see after we finished other than a severe exhaust leak.

 

She texted me that the oil light came on and the car shut off and that when they tried to crank it, fire started from underneath the vehicle. Fire was really bad and burned up pretty much everything in the engine compartment. Fire man said fire was too intense to know where it originated.

 

They are really nice people and feel really bad for them. They were texting me just to let me know what happened.

 

I am a really fair person and if this was our doing, then I would definitely take care of the situation in whatever way I can. Is this something my insurance should handle? Do you guys think it could have come from the repair we just did? We spent 2 weeks on this car because parts were special order for everything and it was a pain to work on as well. This job was already a loss to our shop but something like this just makes it worse. Also we are having one of the slowest weeks. Tough time financially, tough time for the customer, just overall a really bad situation.

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I think there's two questions - are you at fault, who knows and you may never know. It very well could've been a workmanship issue considering the job was frustrating (we tend to make more mistakes in these situations) and the oil light came on directly before the issue. But who knows maybe it was the wiring harness insulation melting resulting in circuit issues causing the the light.

Question 2: Are you liable? In my opinion, absolutely. As a shop owner you should be calling the insurance company and doing whatever it takes to take care of these people. I've in the past had situations where I didn't address an issue as I should have. I regret things like that so, in situations like this we work extremely hard to make it right. Replacement car, full of gas and detailed maybe a gift card and hand written apology.

Your business reputation depends on it.

I've only had one similar situation but it turned out ok and minimal damage was sustained. We handled it in house as the repairs were less than the deductible.

 

 

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Edited by ncautoshop
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I think there's two questions - are you at fault, who knows and you may never know. It very well could've been a workmanship issue considering the job was frustrating (we tend to make more mistakes in these situations) and the oil light came on directly before the issue. But who knows maybe it was the wiring harness insulation melting resulting in circuit issues causing the the light.

Question 2: Are you liable? In my opinion, absolutely. As a shop owner you should be calling the insurance company and doing whatever it takes to take care of these people. I've in the past had situations where I didn't address an issue as I should have. I regret things like that so, in situations like this we work extremely hard to make it right. Replacement car, full of gas and detailed maybe a gift card and hand written apology.

Your business reputation depends on it.

I've only had one similar situation but it turned out ok and minimal damage was sustained. We handled it in house as the repairs were less than the deductible.

 

 

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Thanks, yea I just got off the phone with my insurance and started a claim. An adjuster will be calling me within 1 business day and I texted the customer and let them know. Man, it's times like these where I want to close up shop and work at Carmax again

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Thanks, yea I just got off the phone with my insurance and started a claim. An adjuster will be calling me within 1 business day and I texted the customer and let them know. Man, it's times like these where I want to close up shop and work at Carmax again

I understand that! It's part of being in business though!

 

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Sorry you have to go through stuff like this. We had a similar situation recently but it was more that the dealership was trying to throw us under the bus. We were totally not at fault but of course the dealership has the most ethical people working there.

 

When I have been in situations like this in the past it really does help to be profitable so when you take hits it doesnt hurt as much. I know you had an issue with your labor rate and charging the appropriate amount. Something to keep in mind.

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Should be a claim. Thank God no one was hurt. Was the car road tested and quality checked before it was released? Over the many years i found issues related and unrelated to my shops work before i released it to the customer.

Amen! 10 mile test drive everytime here!

 

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From the limited information we have it is hard to tell but one has to suspect that it is likely. This is a situation where the rubber meets the road as far as what we do as owners. You could probably wash your hands of any liability and not do anything or you man up and assume liability that you may or may not have been responsible for.

 

I agree with xrac.

 

1997 Kia Sportage? Don't get me started on such low value vehicles. Anyways, look here http://newyork.craigslist.org/stn/cto/5880556318.html

 

Like mspecperformance says "When I have been in situations like this in the past it really does help to be profitable so when you take hits it doesnt hurt as much."

 

Keen in mind you are in business to make a profit, and this is why you must charge the right amount that will allow you to prosper.

 

Regarding liability, there is not enough information to know what happened.

 

The suv could have had trouble starting and the customer kept cracking the engine until starter shorted out, with an exhaust leak it could have been running too rich, whatever. How far was the exhaust leak from the front oxygen sensor?

Edited by HarrytheCarGeek
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Similar to what mspec said, it helps sooooo much to have a small savings built up for situations like this. About October of last year, I set up an automatic transfer to a business savings account. Every Friday, I have a set amount set to transfer to the savings account and I do my best not to touch it unless ABSOLUTELY necessary. I make the business work out of what's left in the checking account.

 

As for the fire situation, I wouldn't ever admit that it was your fault. However, I would tell the customer that since you worked on it so recently, you are going to take care of the situation. I had a similar situation recently, not near as serious though. I didn't admit fault, but I admitted how the situation APPEARED and told the customer I was going to make it right.

 

Again, can't stress how helpful the savings account has been. If nothing else, just the peace of mind knowing it's there. Set up the automatic transfer and forget about it.

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Dude, I can't even imagine the anxiety you have right now. Just keep your head up, and remember anything could have happend to cause this, and no one knows if you are actually at fault or not. So don't just assume you are at fault. The facts are - they had the vehicle at your shop, and 6 days later the vehicle caught fire. I agree with Premier that it is important to express concern with how the situation looks, and offer to make it right just based on that alone.

 

Plus, one less leaky KIA on the road isn't necessarily a bad thing anyway.

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Seen the Heading so had to share

Were a 5 bay 4 employee shop in a small rural town. We had a really strange fire situation about a year ago. I was at the airport coming back from the SEMA show in Vegas sunday afternoon. Got this picture text from a buddy of mine with an 04 Chevy 2500hd diesel with the front end totally engulfed in flames outside of my shop. My first phone call was to him because it looked fake like that fire app you can have on your phone.....well It wasn't a joke. O-shit and anxiety you bet! Next called my shop foreman, he said that truck has been sitting there untouched since weds afternoon 4 days, waiting for additional authorization of labor to narrow down a battery drain issue and clean up his wiring mess. My next call was to my insurance agent so she had the heads up. Fire department put out the fire. This vehicle was a company truck for a young landscaping company. It had everybody and there brother put electrical add-ons all over this thing over the years, plow,lights,converter,performance add-ons etc.etc. His insurance company sent a fire investigator to check it out and found 3 definite wire chafing in add on circuits that were not fused or protected. His determination was a electrical fire from improper wiring. We were cleared and our insurance was never involved. Customer was not happy with me or his insurance company. Was a total loss. I was glad that it was not in the shop over the weekend.

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Jay

 

My name is Mike. I own a shop in San Bruno , California. I do believe this is my first post /reply on here. I appreciate and agree with your ethics here, so, I had to say something to get you to look from the outside in. There certainly is the such thing as being too honest.

 

Like has already been said, its probably too late. But, the only thing I've heard that your shop may be at fault is that you worked on it 6 days before. All the dash lights came on when the vehicle stalled out including the oil light ( of course) .

Your customer said "oil light came on and the car shut off” maybe the car shut off and the oil light came on. I'm not implying the customer is lying at all, but , we all have customers calling for an alignment because of a vibration or calling for ....actually , we had a customer call a few days ago for a serpentine belt because the car wouldn't move ( the clutch failed).

 

Don't get me wrong, if you knew you were responsible by all means, do the right thing. But at the same time, give yourself a chance...If no one knows work it out with the customer best you can.

 

Its been said but, paying for the car or at least partially, would probably make you a hero to the customer ( if you really feel the need ) and not get cancelled or higher premiums from your insurance.

Might you be able to cancel the claim? ( sometimes it doesn't matter once you've file the claim, maybe your customer found out something else happened? brother changed the fuel filter? what have you .

 

Where's the cat on that? Looking at it yourself you should be able to size up the probability of an oil leak causing the fire, one way or the other.

 

If I missed something obvious here in the posts, that makes my post useless I apologize I did not have time to absorb everything said, just the basics.

 

I've been in business for 23 years and have never had to file a claim with my insurance nor settle a problem ( dent, scratch, repair etc...) for more than a couple of hundred bucks. I'm sure that will change tomorrow now that I've said that , but for now ....

 

Good Luck

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Thank you guys so much for all your thoughtful responses. It's nice to know that I'm not alone in something like this.

 

I do have an update. Like everyone has said, there's no way of knowing what really happened. We made sure nothing was leaking and test drove after (not 10 miles though).

 

I found out that they bought the car for $1000 a week before we started working on it. The oil leak was so bad that they thought it was the rear main seal when they brought it in. I honestly cant think of anything we could've done to have caused the fire. Oil leak couldn't have been worse than what it was, even if the part we put on failed (oil cooler from the dealer BTW).

 

Anyway... the customer never pointed the finger at us and she just texted me with pics just for FYI. These customers couldn't be nicer and I took initiative in starting the claim... they never demanded anything.

 

I am pretty certain our insurance won't do anything but came up with a solution. I had a 07 Dodge Caliber I bought from a customer for $400 a while back and just sitting on my lot. (Misfire cyl #4, she bought a new car and didn't want to mess with it, replaced crankshaft position sensor to fix)

 

I sold her the caliber for $500 today (what I had in it.). KBB value for very good was well over $2000 and much much more reliable than the Kia.

 

It had that notorious throttle body issue but I reprogrammed the throttle body yesterday. I told her about it and if it happened again, I offered to replace it for her if she provided parts.

 

All in all as long as the Caliber holds up, it worked out well for the customer. She ended up spending overall what the Caliber was worth so technically wasn't a loss for either one of us. Also offered to buy back the Caliber anytime for $500 if she decided she didn't want it anymore. Hopefully this post doesn't jinx it but they took the caliber and haven't gotten a call or text from them..... so Caliber must be holding up. It wasn't registered and no tags so I couldn't test drive it, just drove it around the parking lot a bunch and made sure no codes came up. It's been sitting for months

Edited by Jay Huh
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Hi Jay, If you're going to bend over backward's for a customer this sounds like the kind of customer to do it for. Don't you just love the customer that is so reasonable, you're willing to do anything for them? I don't mean that sarcastically at all. In this world were so many people to try to get something for nothing, it's just really nice to deal with really reasonable people.

 

Next time though, don't be so fast to accept responsibility. Sleep on it and give yourself time to think. Most of the time, people are going to be pointing fingers at you deservedly or not anyhow and you pointing fingers at yourself gives you little chance to do whats right. What happened with the insurance claim? Make sure it is taken off your record with them if you can, follow up on that issue.

Whenever something happens I try to first handle it in house and so far! knock on wood , it's worked out every time.

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      It always amazes me when I hear about a technician who quits one repair shop to go work at another shop for less money. I know you have heard of this too, and you’ve probably asked yourself, “Can this be true? And Why?” The answer rests within the culture of the company. More specifically, the boss, manager, or a toxic work environment literally pushed the technician out the door.
      While money and benefits tend to attract people to a company, it won’t keep them there. When a technician begins to look over the fence for greener grass, that is usually a sign that something is wrong within the workplace. It also means that his or her heart is probably already gone. If the issue is not resolved, no amount of money will keep that technician for the long term. The heart is always the first to leave. The last thing that leaves is the technician’s toolbox.
      Shop owners: Focus more on employee retention than acquisition. This is not to say that you should not be constantly recruiting. You should. What it does means is that once you hire someone, your job isn’t over, that’s when it begins. Get to know your technicians. Build strong relationships. Have frequent one-on-ones. Engage in meaningful conversation. Find what truly motivates your technicians. You may be surprised that while money is a motivator, it’s usually not the prime motivator.
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