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The Independent Automotive Aftermarket Federation

Failed Claimant was “Clutch”ing at Straws

Date: Tuesday 24 January 2023

Lawgistics have recently featured a story on a court victory for the motor trade, and a claimant left significantly out of pocket.

In a nutshell, an 11-year-old car was sold with 109,000 miles on the clock. After two months, the claimant alleged there was clutch slippage and it needed to be replaced, along with the flywheel. A repair bill of over £1000 was incurred, and the claimant asked the court to make the defendant (Lawgistics' client) pay for it.

The defendant’s position was they had previously provided some free repairs to the car for other matters post sale, which showed them to be reasonable traders. They rejected the clutch complaint on the basis that when they undertook the other repairs, they had driven the car and found no problem with the clutch or with changing gears. It was also two months later when the Claimant first mentioned the clutch issue. It must be remembered that the defendant had the burden of proof to show that it was not defective at the point of sale because the alleged fault had shown itself after the first 30 days but within six months.

The court was asked to consider a document from the claimant’s repairing garage that referred to “slipping clutch, to replace with flywheel” or words to that effect. The court advocate for the defendant persuaded the judge this was not a finding by the garage, but simply a note detailing what the Claimant was experiencing, and what the garage had to do for her.

The judge wanted an explanation as to why the defendant felt that even if there was clutch slippage two months after purchase, was this wear and tear and not a defect. The defendant talked it through and again the judge seemed to be positively influenced by their account.

The judge went away to contemplate and when she returned stated that although there was a presumption the clutch was a defect at the point of sale, it was not a presumption that was absolute, and on the balance of probabilities, she ruled the defendant was not liable at all.

The claimant had to cover all her court fees and pay the defendant’s £30 travel expenses. She had previously declined a £500 Without Prejudice offer to settle.

Lawgistics' view is that this was the correct decision in the circumstances. Regrettably, Lawgistics see too many instances where their clients lose in court because the judge concludes the seller is automatically liable for anything that goes wrong in the first six months of purchase.