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Almost killed by negligent garage work

in Motoring
43 replies 6.5K views
Sorry in advance for the long post! Some advice needed urgently. Helpful if some experienced mechanics could also comment.

On my car, a Citroen XM which is also my disabled vehicle I noticed that there was some slight wear on the inside of both front tyres so as a precaution I took it into a major tyre chain (they are a large well know UK & European tyres & exchaust chain) to have the tracking checked. The 'technician' put the car on the lift and checked the alignment and advised that it was 3mm out. I asked if this would correct the issue of the tyre wear & he replied "it may it may not". I advised him to go ahead and align the wheels. He seemed to struggle for quite some time using a large bar to undo whatever he needed to to align the wheels, eventually he brought out a welder to apply heat to loosen it up. He completed the work & I paid.

This was in North Wales & I started on my journey home to Brighton, via Leicester, dropping my brother home along the way. My brother commented that there was a noise coming from the front (I'm deaf so didn't hear it myself) that wasn't there before I took the car into the tyre place. I dropped him off and continued my journey, I noticed I could feel an increasing rattling 'noise' on my journey down the motorway, pulled into services a couple of times expecting a loose wheel arch covering or piece of plastic but there was nothing I could see. Almost home in Brighton, going at speed on a busy dual carriageway I tried to steer round a curve in the road and the steering didn't response causing me to almost crash in the central reservation! I oversteered and managed to pull over without causing an accident and called the RAC. When they arrived they said there was a problem with the steering and declared it unsafe to drive. The comments on the advisory sheet says 'steering broken knocking from steering box do not drive' It had to be recovered home. It now sits in my driveway and hasn't been used since, as I am physically disabled I cannot go anywhere without my car.

Now there were absolutely nothing wrong with the steering before I took it in. The car had been serviced at regular intervals. It had recently been to a Citroen specialist for new spheres & the steering was checked over at the same time when new hydraulic fluid was put in and no problems were found. I have sought advice on the XM members forum and they believe the damage is a result of stress put on the steering rack before heat was applied.

I was advised to contact the tyre chain in the first instance, I telephoned their head office & spoke to their to customer services who said they would contact the area manager in North Wales and email me. They emailed me and their response was "When you attended the centre for the Alignment work to be carried out the Technician made you aware that when carrying out the Alignment work, this might not resolve the issues you were experiencing with your vehicle. In these circumstances we can can only suggest that you take your vehicle for an independent report and if it is found that the problem is related to the work carried out by **** we will then investigate the issue further." The only 'issues' I was having was some slight tyre wear, there were no steering issues nor were they mentioned! I certainly didn't expect a standard wheel alignment to cause total steering failure!
Taking my car for an independent report costs at least £125 I believe and I don't see why the onus should be on me to pay this. I replied saying that I believe that work carried out by their technician is responsible for these issues with the steering and that I am giving them the opportunity to inspect and rectify the problem themselves and that if I did take the car for an independent inspection and it transpired that they were at fault I would be taking further action against them for losses and damages. I added that at this point I just want the fault that I believe they caused to be rectified and that would be the end of it.

They replied by email today asking me for details about what happened on the dual carriageway and whether I was able to drive the car home or if it was recovered by the RAC. I responded and am awaiting a reply. I presume this means they are now taking it seriously?

Hopefully I haven't bored the pants off you & you're still reading this! Can anyone advise where I stand here.

IF they do decide to take the car away for an inspection can they be trusted to be honest about it, my worry is if they take it away find it may have been caused by something they did but decide not to admit to this, what can I do. I'm not very mechanically minded and due to my disability I can't exactly get under the car to inspect anything. Would my then taking it for an independent inspection then be pointless if they have already interfered with it? Or would I just be better off taking it for an inspection myself now and taking it from there on their findings?

I'm just very glad that a crash was averted and no one was hurt but I'm cross that I've been left without a car simply because I took it in to get a standard wheel alignment.

I'll shut up now & hopefully get some useful advice.


  • edited 2 June 2011 at 10:40PM
    6.5K Posts
    edited 2 June 2011 at 10:40PM
    I suspect here was probably a fault with the steering before as there was unusual tyre wear.

    Having to exert force to undo a track rod end isn't an unusual thing to have to do, either is having to use heat to get things moving. Much greater forces can be exerted during cornering.

    However that car did drive fine for a while after the work was done which means that nothing was loose or broken after the initial work.

    I haven't owned or really paid much attention to the Citreon XM, but I thought it has a steering rack rather than a steering box, though I may be wrong on that.

    There is nothing that anybody can really add other than opinion as we have not seen the car.

    But I think it a bit premature to blame the garage just yet, rather than the 20 yrs of wear and tear.

    Best option would be to get a proper RAC/AA Inspection, if the garage did break something the only way to get any money towards repairs would be to get the exact problem in writing, not just the report from the patrolman, which would have been brief and as soon as the steering was found faulty the RAC procedure is to tow it back and not try any repairs.

    Hope you get some help on this, but to be honest it may be a good time to try and get a newer car, I doubt it will be as smooth and comfy as your XM, but what about one of the last of the old shape C5, I think you could get them with an autobox and diesel engine.

    Initially get a relative to look underneath and take some good quality digital pictures, it is possible that the track control arm has snapped, or perhaps a ball joint, the roadside inspections by the AA/RAC are just that, basic checks to see if the car needs recovered or can be repaired to get you going again, but anything concerning brakes or steering is normally a recovery, to many issues with liability these days.
  • edited 2 June 2011 at 10:54PM
    endorfinendorfin Forumite
    18 Posts
    edited 2 June 2011 at 10:54PM
    The car isn't as old as 20 years, its a late model series 2 which were made up to 2000. As I say, the steering was checked over by a Citroen specialist with a good reputation, not a main dealer.

    The steering was fine before I took it in and immediately afterwards there was a rattling noise, my brother had been in the car for 300 miles prior to taking it in and noticed the rattling afterwards. I did feel that there was something different with the steering immediately afterwards but I was preoccupied with other things and in an hurry to get to my destination. I think that if they didn't break something they may have left something loose.

    I've also been advised that they have a duty to inspect the condition of the steering or other parts before working on it and if its found to have a pre existing problem then to refuse to work on it. I don't know if this is true?

    I've had the car very well maintained, my brother runs a garage in North Wales and he did a service on it the same day I took it to have the alignment done as he doesn't do wheel alignment at his garage. He said there were no issues with the steering. I find it too much of a coincidence that just after having work done on steering components it would fail.
  • Why not ask your brother for advice, and then get him to inspect it.

    Also, a suspension component can break even if it looked fine a few weeks previously.

    Your brother did a service on it and said there was no issue with the steering?

    So he didn't think weird tyre wear was an issue then?

    Far too many ifs and buts to be of help.
  • s_bs_b Forumite
    4.5K Posts
    Tenth Anniversary 1,000 Posts Combo Breaker
    if you were after me and all this detail you say and your brother done the other work i would just say see you in court because it dont sound right it just dont
  • endorfinendorfin Forumite
    18 Posts
    He'd be more than happy to inspect it but I'm in Brighton & he's in north wales and the car is undrivable.

    Slight tyre wear is common in a lot of cars, this is the first time I've taken this car in for a wheel alignment. The wear was only slight and over many thousand miles so there wasn't anything seriously wrong.

    Immediately after having a wheel alignment there is a serious steering problem.

    I'm not on this forum asking if anyone thinks the 2 are linked, I believe they are. I'm asking where I stand legally. According to the AA website it states that if you took a car to a garage and work carried out was substandard then the garage is in breach of contract or even neglilent and that I am entitled to have the problem put right at another garage and claim the costs back but it is reasonable to give the original garage the opportunity to rectify the problem.
  • Well legally its up to you to prove they were at fault and not for them to prove they weren't. If you are sure the fault was caused by them then your only option is to get an independent inspection and report which you will have to pay for. If it proves they were at fault then you will be able to claim that back along with other costs. Of course if the report comes back with something like general wear and tear/age related or anything else like that you won't get the cost of that inspection back or any further costs as your evidence has gone.
    I certainly wouldn't get your brother to provide the independent inspection as he is family so could show a favoured report, he could of course add a report stating the condition of the car and his findings when he last serviced and he could act as witness to the before and after effects. Whether or not it would be accepted in a court I don't know.
    Everyones opinion is the most wonder nothing is ever agreed on.
  • s_bs_b Forumite
    4.5K Posts
    Tenth Anniversary 1,000 Posts Combo Breaker
    what kind of garage cant do basic tracking is my question?
    what happens if they fit a rack an arm a track rod end and they cant even do a static tracking?
    why your brother no do this?
    has he got a preferred garage he recommends if he cannot afford unipart £400 basic gauges?
    did you go there?
  • s_b wrote: »
    what kind of garage cant do basic tracking is my question?
    what happens if they fit a rack an arm a track rod end and they cant even do a static tracking?
    why your brother no do this?
    has he got a preferred garage he recommends if he cannot afford unipart £400 basic gauges?
    did you go there?

    Surely you only need that if your doing tyre fitting?? Not every garage offers tyre fitting, a lot round here don't as there is no need with the amount of places that only offer that service, they can concentrate on the mechanical side of things.
    Everyones opinion is the most wonder nothing is ever agreed on.
  • Ok your first problem and it nationwide is the men (And women) in tyre fitting places dont have to be qualified mechanics and usually are anything but, They know how to do their line of work and often not much else on a car, That doesnt go for all of them but the majority, Infact I would go as far as to say they are almost as bad as the halfords staff (Which also have NO mechanical qualifications), Your first step is to find out EXACTLY what is damaged and caused your steering failure then you can start looking at suspects!

    It is indeed highly possible whilst fiddling with your car the tyre place has broken a major part of your steering equipment but without knowing exactly what we can say if it was them, Also what exactly went wrong with the steering did it go too stiff? Did it not respond at all? Did it only slightly respond? what EXACTLY happened?

    As I hunch I think it sounds like tyre place but until I know all the facts I cant really help for certain and it wouldnt be right for anyone else to make judgement either way!

    Let me know and hopefully I can help (I have been a mechanic for more years than I care to remember, And Im qualified lol)
    I dont have to show riches, To pull up, Pull of with some bad b*tches, It's about my persona, Aint nothing like a man that can do what he wanna
  • s_bs_b Forumite
    4.5K Posts
    Tenth Anniversary 1,000 Posts Combo Breaker
    Rereading your post again and i realise you said tracking place used heat to undo, i presume the track rod end lock nuts,now unfortunately heat and steering are a big no no because the heat weakens the parts and i believe but im not a metallurgist that the steering arms are cold cast for this very reason and the cast track rod ends on most cars can split with the heat or due to heat transfer ruin the grease in the ball end
    I still find it hard to believe that your brother that runs a garage doesnt have a preferred recommended tracker he recommends or has his own simple gauges because i still cant understand how he changes steering components himself without alignment afterwards
    To finish never use heat on steering components unless you really have to and then you must change them due to the fact the heat changes the makeup of this component just like you would automatically renew pinch bolts in lower ball joints
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