Tracy urges repairers to become ‘vehicle safety experts’
Kansas City, Kan.—Attorney Todd Tracy made national headlines in the trade press last fall following his victory in a $42 million lawsuit over improper collision repairs. In that lawsuit, a Honda Fit previously repaired by John Eagle Collision Center in Dallas was damaged in a subsequent collision caused by another driver. The shop replaced the Fit’s hail-damaged roof panel using panel adhesive instead of the Honda-prescribed 108 spot welds. Engineer witnesses testified that deviation from OEM procedures caused a domino effect of structural failures that allowed the frame rail to rupture the fuel tank, causing severe burns to the occupants.
Tracy, and his Tracy Law Firm in Dallas, specializes in litigation against manufacturers for vehicle defects. As such, he initially pursued Honda for damages until he dug deeper and found the cause for that Fit’s crash deficiencies.
Since then, Tracy — the self-described “shark” — has traveled the country, beginning at the 2017 SEMA Show, discussing how collision repairers, whom he calls “vehicle safety professionals” operating “vehicle safety labs,” need to adhere to OEM procedures, demand OEM parts, and can help protect themselves against lawsuits. In his May 9, presentation at the Kansas City Kansas Community College’s Thomas R. Burke Technical Education Center, hosted by the newly formed Kansas Auto Body Association, he urged the more than 200 attendees to start thinking as engineers in considering new factors in damage estimates and repairs.
“As vehicle safety professionals, you’ve got to be willing to embrace this new philosophy that focuses on educating about crash science,” he said. “This ain’t 30 years ago. What you learned in high school, if you’re a 45-year-old man, is not applicable any longer. What you learned five years ago is not applicable any longer. You’ve got to educate yourself. I don’t care if you have every certification known to mankind.”
Survey the customer about the collision
Before writing the estimate, repairers need to ask who was seated in the vehicle and who was wearing their seat belts.
The spring inside the buckle fails after the first impact, he said. Seat belt webbing can excessively elongate, which will not keep the occupant in the proper position for protection, and the d-rings also fracture in a subsequent collision, as the plastic has degraded from polymer transfer from the webbing in the first collision.
Safety features designed to reduce the incidence of occupant “submarining,” or slipping through the lap belt in a collision, are largely hidden and require intense scrutiny, Tracy said. Seats have a base that is either a ramped sheet metal pan or tubing with springs that are designed to keep the occupants buttocks from sliding forward. The sheet metal can deform and the springs can stretch out.
The latest update to this technology, Tracy recently discovered, is a seat cushion airbag that resembles a camel hump when it is inflated. It is a serviceable part under the seat cushion that does not rip the seat cover, so there is no outward appearance that it has deployed, and the airbag dash light is not a reliable indicator. He said his firm is working to identify which vehicles include the device, although he so far has seen them in 2012-and-newer Toyotas.
Tracy calls for ‘vehicle safety revolution’
In December, Tracy had three similar Honda Fits crash-tested at NHTSA-approved crash-test facility Karco: one as the control, unaltered-as-built; one repaired using aftermarket parts; and one with a glued-on roof. The tests, which met the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s 40-MPH moderate-overlap crash test, showed how deviating from OEM procedures and parts caused significantly more injuries to test dummies because of differences in airbag timing and failure to keep the dummies in the proper seating position.
In the case of the crash-tested car with the glued-on roof, “that dummy missed the head restraint completely,” Tracy said. “Seat belts are designed to put you into the optimal seating position so that as you go forward, the seat belt and the pretensioner and load limiter allow you to come back to the center part of the head restraint. When you have inadequate repairs and the improper material used, you double the energy to the neck.”
Tracy urged repairers to use the crash test data he released to the Society of Collision Repair Specialists.
“I know that for decades, the insurance companies have been telling you their way was safe,” Tracy said, pointing to their practice of encouraging the use of aftermarket parts and untested alternative repair methods. “Now science, engineering, and physics have emboldened your vehicle repair labs to stand up to these insurance bullies, because you have a new friend: this crash test data that I ran and I gave to you — and we are running some more — because you guys needed some ammo.”