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Knowledge is Power

by Richard Schroeder

Like any motorized vehicle, a motorcycle’s performance is based on the integration of thousands of parts, large and small. Malfunctioning or broken parts on a car or motor home are frequently nuisances that prevent the owner from enjoying full use of the vehicle. Malfunctioning or broken parts on a motorcycle can spell tragedy for its driver and extensive damage to the machine. The security of four wheels and a heavy chassis doesn’t exist when a motorcycle’s rear wheel locks up at 60 mph, skids out of control and throws its rider.

As the owner, rider and insured party of your motorcycle, it pays to be a smart consumer on purchases and repairs. Make these three points a regular part of your routine:

  • Know as much as possible about the history of the model you’re considering.
  • Obtain and save all sales receipts, warranty information and service manuals.
  • Document every worn, broken or non-functional part on your own bike, prior to and after repairs are made.

Knowledge is power. How do you find out about manufacturer recall actions that can prevent you from repeating another’s mishap? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has a toll-free hotline (1-800-424-9393, M-F, 8am to 10pm ET) and a website (www.nhtsa.dot.gov) to help you find important information about a specific year, make and model of motorcycle, car, truck or motor home.

The NHTSA works with vehicle manufacturers to implement recall campaigns and serves as an excellent clearinghouse for information for prospective buyers as well. Prospective buyers can also contact the service department of a local dealership to inquire about recalls, service bulletins or known problems for any model they sell or service.

The following are three recent examples of problems encountered by motorcycle owners:

  • The NHTSA has notified 505 owners of 1997 Buell M-2 Cyclones that “the front brake line may kink during braking action, impeding the return of brake fluid flow and the release of front brake caliper pistons. This may cause reduced brake performance and increase the chance of an accident.”
  • On the 1996-97 Kawasaki VN1500 and Vulcan Classic, a recall of more than 5,000 bikes is underway due to pressure on the battery ground leads from the base of the operator’s seat. Terminals have been found to short out, disabling the bike’s electrical system and increasing the risk of crash.
  • More than 12,000 owners of the 1995 Kawasaki Ninja have been notified that their drive chains have been improperly heat-treated during the manufacturing process. Exposure to corrosive conditions can cause the chain side plates to crack, fail and result in loss of control of the bike.

If you’re eyeing a 1995 Ninja or any other used bike, it makes a world of sense to find out if a recall or other known problem was taken care of by the current owner. Take the time to call the NHTSA or surf its website.

How does a manufacturer find out that a drive chain causes a side plate to crack? Or that a poorly designed and sized plug in a secondary drive gear bearing causes rear wheel lock up?

Many times it is when the owner notifies the dealer or manufacturer directly about the problem.

Other times, it is when an attorney representing an injured biker has hired a mechanical engineer to inspect the worn or failed parts. That evidence, along with knowledge of road conditions and the movements heading into the accident, can lead an engineer to isolate bike parts that might have caused or contributed to the accident. Information may then get passed on to the manufacturer or dealer

Never take the obvious for granted when it comes to accidents and worn or faulty parts. One of my earlier columns addressed the importance of generating a detailed account of an accident and its causes. Given the number of product liability cases and warranty claims filed against vehicle manufacturers today, documenting repairs by saving repair receipts, as well as the worn or broken parts is vital. Jot the date, part and method of repair in a notebook, your pocket calendar or your owners’ manual as back up.

Should it be necessary to file a claim against a bike manufacturer, everything you know about your bike or can recall from your accident will be essential to succeed with your claim.

In Minnesota, there are strict deadlines and requirements that must be met before an owner or user is eligible to bring a products liability, warranty or negligence claim against a manufacturer or dealer. So retain the old parts, gather the necessary documents and seek competent legal advice from an attorney who practices in this area of law.

Accidents happen, so do what you can to reduce the likelihood that one will happen to you. Moreover, fully insure yourself and your bike. Considering the number of claims that are brought against manufacturers annually, very few result in multi-million dollar jury awards.

M.M.M.

Richard Schroeder is an attorney with Michaelson, Schroeder & Mandel. Mr. Schroeder handles cases involving motorcycle and auto accidents, personal injury, insurance disputes, and product liability.

This column is intended to provide general information and is not to be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on any certain facts or circumstances. Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly encourages readers to consult legal counsel on any specific legal questions or matters.

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