Tread with Care: The Legal Side of Tire Services
While the thought of adding tire services to your repertoire may have you seeing dollar signs, there is more to consider than the boost to your bottom line.
Servicing tires goes beyond the simple act of rotation, balancing or replacement. It’s directly related to occupant safety. If tire failure contributes to an accident, the last place the tire was serviced can be held liable. Therefore, it is important to take steps to ensure the safety of your customers, their vehicles and your business.
“In any service industry, from fast lubes to hospitals, the threat of liability of negligence exists,” said Joanna Johnson, policy advisor for the Automotive Oil Change Association (AOCA). “In a nutshell, avoiding negligence is about doing one’s duty. If a service provider’s written service contract says a tire inspection is automatic, then there is duty to conduct it. Likewise, if state law requires all automotive service providers to conduct full tire inspections with every service ordered, then there would be a duty created when any service was ordered.”
As an operator who is considering implementing tire services, your primary duty is to proficiently execute the services you offer, and perform them to the industry standards government that entities, like the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA), have put forth.
“One common concern related to tires is knowing the ins and outs of tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) components, as well as NHTSA’s expectations regarding the duties of a service provider versus a consumer,” Johnson said. “For example, a consumer may be able to disable his or her own TPMS, but a service provider can’t. Not even at the consumer’s specific request.”
While the words “liability” and “potential lawsuit” may have discouraged many a lion-hearted operator from performing tire services, there are ways to minimize the various liabilities.
“Service providers who want to avoid costly misunderstandings need to be crystal clear about the extent of the services they are offering,” Johnson said. “For example, checking tire pressure as part of an oil change service is very different from performing a tire inspection, but how does the average customer know that?”
Johnson has a list of questions to consider in regard to your service offerings:
- Is there a separate listing and charge for tire inspection service?
- Is there anything in writing on the board, intake checklist, service sheet and/or receipt stating that if customers want additional services, like a formal tire inspection, they need to specifically request it?
- Is there a form for customers to initial regarding TPMS issues, such as the indicator light being illuminated upon arrival?
Taking the time to clarify the exact terms of your service contract can make a huge difference in the event a lawsuit is brought against your shop. You may also want to add products and completed operations coverage to your general liability insurance.
In the case of Diaz v. Phoenix Lubrication Service, Inc. d/b/a Jiffy Lube in 2010, the court found that the terms of the service contract for a routine tire pressure check did not include a full tire inspection. Therefore, there was no service provider liability for failure to notify or warn about the low-tread condition that may have contributed to a customer’s accident.