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'French' brake fault costs car manufacturer €200,000 Euros

04-02-2008 / Cairo-Paris-Berlin /
It's known that car manufacturer do not like to admit that their cars have faulty brakes. Nevertheless we find the recall policies in Europe very much different than the recall policies in Middle Eastern countries, and especially in Egypt.

Not only do some car manufacturers totally ignore the recalls of mother-companies, in other cases they even 'claim' to have repaired the faulty part if discovered by the car owner. In some cases which involve experienced motoring journalist or professional car magazines, covering-up such faulty 'not-repaired' parts might be a very dangerous and business-harming behavior for the car company, especially when the car involved is a long-term test-drive.

In our case it was our Renault Megane long-term test-car. So, will Renault face in Egypt the same problems, public embarrassment and reputation-loss Volvo faced in France last week?

The Swedish car-maker Volvo – like Renault famed for the reliability and safety of its cars – was convicted of manslaughter last week (31.1.2008) for failing to warn Volvo owner that one of its models, the Volvo 850 TDI, had faulty brakes.

The conviction and fine of €200,000 (LE 1.600.000 Egyptian Pounds) was imposed by a court in Alsace. This trial and conviction – which happens to be the first of its kind in France – follows a fatal car accident back in 1999 in which two young children (9 and 10 years old) were crushed to death when the driver of a Volvo 850 TDI lost control over the car.

The French court ruled that the indirect cause of the crash was the "negligence" of Volvo in failing to warn drivers and owners of known brake faults in its 850 TDI model. The 57 year-old driver, Catherine Kohtz, fought a lengthy legal battle to prove that her car's brakes had jammed, and consequently were the reason behind this accident.

Her claims were disputed by the Swedish car manufacturer Volvo but the court said Volvo was "entirely aware the braking system in this model was not perfect because it had ordered minor modifications on several occasions". Since Volvo therefore failed to warn drivers and car owners about the potential fault, it was guilty of "furnishing a vehicle whose brake system might be defective", the French judge added.

Documents seized later on from Volvo by the French police show that the company was pretty much aware of a brake defect in several Volvo 850 models. A rubber connecting pipe in the hydraulic brake system was capable of tearing or detaching itself.

Instead of recalling the effected Volvo cars, it was alleged, Volvo asked dealers only to correct the fault during routine services. But a Strasbourg garage which carried out the work in 1998 on the Volvo 850 of Catherine Kohtz claimed that the instructions from came from Volvo were not clear.
Catherine Kohtz commented that when she tried to brake as she drove slowly through Wasselonne on the day of June 17th, 1999, the brake pedal failed to respond. The more she pumped the pedal, the stiffer and more unresponsive it became. Her car hit a Renault Megane and half turned over and then crushed into three children. Two of them suffered deadly injuries and the third child was seriously hurt.

The French court also said Volvo's negligence was the "first and indirect" cause of the crash and imposed a fine far larger than the "symbolic" punishment sought by state prosecutors. A Volvo spokesman said the company was still looking at the details of the verdict but insisted faulty brakes were not to blame. "This is a tragic incident for everyone involved. There was no problem with the brakes," he said, adding that the company expected to appeal against the ruling. Volvo also stated:

"Following the analysis of the court's decision by our team of experts, we
decided to make an appeal and contest the verdict in the Wasselonne case.
We are still convinced that there was not any technical failure of the car
that could have caused the accident.
Volvo Cars and its teams express once again their deep regret to the
families of those killed and injured in this tragic car accident that
occurred in June '99 in Wasselonne, and wishes to stress that our decision
to pursue this case does not aim at prolonging their pain."

In Egypt another European car manufacturer, also famed for the reliability and 5-stars EuroNCAP safety of its cars, might also face similar legal problems soon. After several complaints of Renault owners about technical problems and failures, which in some cases even resulted in serious accidents, some are now considering pressing charges against Renault in Egypt. One of those Renault-owners seriously considering a law-suit against Renault in Egypt is - one of the leading motoring magazines in Egypt and the Middle East region - Auto Arabia Magazine, well-known for its professional and tough test-drives. After we experienced serious and safety-related problems with our Renault test-car at the Renault service, it seems that Renault Egypt (EIM) badly needs a wake-up call.

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Readers Comments:

Amit from Kalyan - India wrote:
I Jus survived an accident which caused due to brake failure. The car was Suzuki Swift Dzire and was jus six months old. Luckily no one was hurt even in the car into which I rammed as all the three occupants of that Omni were belted. I was the only person in my car. I have contacted several time to Maruti Suzuki(manufacturer of the car) but they just said that they will check the car when it gets reparied and becomes roadworthy. and after that reply they did not even bother to reply.
Please let me know if anybody can advice me in this regards.


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