A forum member writes:
"We had a customer come in with a 'squishy' brake pedal, along with some other concerns. Upon inspection, we found a leaking brake line. The customer was determined to take her vehicle home that night and bring it back when she could afford the repairs.
"After much discussion about her safety and that of others on the road—and explaining if the brake line blows out, she will lose her brakes and could be injured, cause injury to others or possibly death—she insisted on picking up the vehicle. Luckily for all involved, the brake line let loose as we were backing the car out of the shop, so she had no choice but to leave the vehicle here for repairs.
"If she would have taken the vehicle and would have been involved in an accident, would we be responsible for injury or death because we allowed the vehicle to leave the lot without safety-related repairs? How would you approach this issue?"
Tom Ham responds:
"We make it very clear that the car is not safe to drive. We have a disclaimer that goes on the invoice, we highlight it in red and point it out. We do not make too big of a deal of it; we just make sure they understand and that they SIGN indicating that they do.
"If they still want to drive it, it is their car, and if the state deemed them bright enough to drive then they can take the responsibility for the brakes.
"In some states you would likely be liable. In others, the judge would throw it out. Know the political flavor in your jurisdiction. That has more to do with these scenarios than facts."
Another forum member replies:
"We do pretty much the same as Tom. We notate the safety concern on the invoice, highlight it and explain it to the customer like this: 'We are recommending that this vehicle not be driven due to the brakes not functioning properly, and they will not stop the vehicle. We suggest that you have the vehicle towed to move it and not drive it.'
"In the end, it's their vehicle and their right to drive it. We can only advise them. We have had a few vehicles leave with no brakes due to blown brake lines or caliper pistons ground into the rotors. It's scary, but we can't force them to fix it."
The questions and responses are posted on the Automotive Management Network website, which is operated by Deb and Tom Ham, owners of Auto Centric (formerly Ham's Automotive) in Grand Rapids, Mich. The comments have been edited for clarity and brevity.