The California Court of Appeal has rejected a breach-of-warranty suit by a Mercury Cougar owner who attempted to replicate an unexplained under-the-hood fire by driving with the transmission fill tube dipstick ajar and slamming on the brakes at 40 to 45 mph.
In a unanimous decision, the three-judge panel found insufficient evidence that either the fire condition or alleged transmission problems stemmed from any breach of warranty.
The plaintiff has not asked the California Supreme Court for review, according to Ronald Labriola of Irvine, Calif., an attorney for Ford Motor Co.
Gloria Ody-Costello bought her 1993 Cougar from Cerritos Lincoln-Mercury-Isuzu in Cerritos, Calif. The car had Ford's standard three-year/36,000-mile warranty.
A month after she bought the car, smoke and flames erupted briefly from the engine compartment as she braked at a red light. She complained to the dealership about the fire and also that the transmission downshifted when she removed her foot from the accelerator.
No defects relating to the fire and no transmission leaks were found. During the next few months, she took the car to two other Ford dealerships and met with the service manager of the original dealership. She asked for a refund or a replacement vehicle, but her request was refused.
In an effort to determine the cause of the fire, her husband tried leaving the transmission dipstick ajar and stopping suddenly. Doing that experiment in a parking lot, he caused three flash fires.
Ody-Costello sued Ford and Cerritos Lincoln-Mercury-Isuzu in Los Angeles County Superior Court, alleging breach of the state warranty, and asked the court to rescind the sale. Judge Robert Higa dismissed the suit while the trial was in progress. He said he found insufficient evidence to submit the case to the jury.
The Court of Appeal in Los Angeles affirmed the decision in an opinion by Judge Ramona Godoy Perez. She found no evidence that the engine compartment fire and downshifting in the transmission were caused by defects in factory-supplied materials and workmanship under the warranty.
The court said, 'As for the original fire, Ody-Costello failed to show that brief smoke and flames caused on one occasion by sudden braking, which quickly extinguished itself and which she could not recreate - except by misusing the transmission fluid dipstick - substantially impaired the use, value or safety of her car.'
As for the transmission, 'There was no evidence this was a defect as opposed to the normal operation of any car.'
Labriola said Ody-Costello sought restitution of the purchase price, plus double that amount for alleged willful violation of the state warranty law. She also sought attorney fees.