top 5 mechanical failures that cause car accidents

Being aware of the top five mechanical failures that cause road accidents may prompt drivers to take preventative measures, such as replacing worn tyres.

According to the Road Traffic Management Corporation, 14.1 % of road crashes in South Africa are caused by factors “associated with the mechanics of the cars involved”.

The State of Road Safety Report revealed that 420 fatal road accidents in a single year were the result of mechanical failures.

Top mechanical failures causing crashes

Mechanical failures can be caused by normal wear and tear, a manufacturer’s defect, or inadequate vehicle maintenance and repairs.

There are dozens of vehicle components and systems that can malfunction. These are the five mechanical failures that most commonly cause accidents.

1. Tyre issues

Over- or under-inflated tyres, and tyres without sufficient tread, account for 73% of accidents caused by mechanical failures in South Africa. Blowouts are particularly prevalent, and can be avoided by inflating tyres to manufacturers’ recommendations.

When tyres are smooth or burst, the driver might lose control of the car, leaving the road or swerving into oncoming traffic.

2. Faulty brakes

Failing brakes are responsible for almost 12% of accidents. Malfunctions occur when there’s insufficient brake fluid in the system, the brake pads are worn or irregular, or the ABS system fails.

When the brakes malfunction, there’s a high risk of rear-ending the car in front.

3. Steering defects

Steering and suspension issues can cause a car to list to one side or float over the road, especially when cornering. The loss of handling and control can result in a head-on collision or vehicle rollover.

4. Defective headlights and tail lights

When one or more headlights or tail lights aren’t working, the vehicle is almost impossible to see, especially by road users travelling in dark conditions. Collisions are inevitable, often leading to fatalities.

5. Worn windscreen wipers

Worn windscreen wipers are the fifth highest cause of mechanical failure-related accidents in South Africa. In rainy conditions, windscreen wipers improve visibility.

When there’s no clear view of the road, it’s a matter of time before an accident occurs.

Other common mechanical failures that can lead to road accidents

Car engines are complex machines consisting of multiple mechanical and electrical components.

When any part fails, engine performance is compromised and the engine can stall. Engine failure of any kind heightens the risk of a road accident.

Liability for road accidents involving mechanical failures

Where mechanical failure results in a road accident, one or more of the following parties could be held liable for providing compensation:

  • the Road Accident Fund (RAF)
  • a mechanic or garage responsible for repairing or maintaining the vehicle
  • the vehicle manufacturer.

When the RAF may be liable

The Road Accident Fund (RAF) is responsible for compensating any person injured in a road accident in South Africa, provided that individual was not solely responsible for causing the accident.

This applies for all road accidents, including in some instances those caused by mechanical failures.

However, drivers (and owners) are generally responsible for ensuring that their vehicles are properly maintained and in roadworthy condition.

In some cases, mechanical failures may be attributed to negligence by vehicle owners. For example, say a car owner fails to replace badly worn tyres or to have a vital repair done, despite being aware  that neglecting to do so makes the vehicle unsafe.

If there’s an accident as a result, and somebody other than the one responsible for the vehicle’s maintenance is injured, that injured person may have a claim against the RAFIf, however, the owner or responsible person/driver was themselves injured, there would be no such claim, as the accident would be due to their own negligence.

When a negligent mechanic or garage could be liable

Say a vehicle malfunctions, resulting in a road accident, because a mechanic has left a part unattached or made some other vital error.

That mechanic (or the mechanic’s employer) might be considered liable.

When a vehicle manufacturer is liable for mechanical failure

Where a specific car model has a known fault and this leads directly to a road accident, the manufacturer (or even a specific component manufacturer) could be held responsible.

This applies regardless of whether or not a recall has been issued for that vehicle model.

Claiming compensation if mechanical failure caused a car accident

Depending on the facts of a case, road accident victims in South Africa may be able to claim compensation for personal injury from:

  • the Road Accident Fund (RAF) and/or
  • a third party, such as the vehicle manufacturer.

Cases where mechanical failures cause car accidents are complex, typically requiring legal expertise and input from both medical specialists and experts in mechanics.


How DSC Attorneys can help

At DSC Attorneys, we specialise in road accident claims, including claims involving mechanical failures. Our personal injury attorneys and medico-legal team can assess your claim, help prepare supporting evidence and represent you in legal proceedings, giving you the best chance of receiving the compensation you deserve. We work on a no win, no fee basis.

See if you have a claim

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