Canadian Sues Mercedes Over Oil Guidance

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After observing the success of a similar case in the United States, a Canadian man has filed a lawsuit claiming Mercedes-Benz set motorists up for engine damage by failing to advise them to use synthetic motor oil.

Toronto resident Michael Malc asked the Ontario Superior Court of Justice last month to certify the case as a class action suit in Canada. Mercedes-Benz settled the U.S. case earlier this year but has vowed to fight the action north of the border.

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Like the case in the United States, the Canadian suit complains about the manufacturer’s oil use recommendationsfor new vehicles sold between 1998 and mid-2001. According to the suit, filed earlier this year, Mercedes-Benz Canada sold 40,000 vehicles during that period equipped with flexible service systems designed to alert motorists when the engines oil needed to be changed.

Rather than analyze the oil, the system makes such recommendations based on factors such as passage of time and driving speed. Mercedes-Benz said previously that the system begins with a minimum interval of 10,000 miles and adjusts upwards as it detects favorable conditions, such as highway travel.

But Malc, who drives a 1998 Mercedes C230, alleges that the system was programmed based on the assumption that crankcases would be filled with synthetic motor oil. It was not until July 2001 that the carmaker advised specifically that synthetic oils should be used.

The suit claims that vehicles subjected to long intervals with conventional motor oil suffered extensive wear and damage and that operators run risk of injury if, for example, their engines seize during travel.

Malcs lawyer, Harvin Pitch, said his clients car hasnt shown signs of engine damage yet, but that he fears it will in the future.

You just dont know how much it may have been damaged and what kinds of problems he could have in the future, Pitch said.

Malcs suit seeks Canadian $500 million (U.S. $385 million) in damages, but Pitch said he would be satisfied with a settlement like the one reached in the United States, where Mercedes-Benz agreed to extend warranties and mail owners coupons for a free oil change. When it entered the settlement, Mercedes-Benz denied wrongdoing and contended that conventional motor oils should withstand intervals of 10,000 to 20,000 miles.

The estimated cost of the U.S. settlement – which covered more than 350,000 vehicles – was U.S. $32 million. Malcs suit says there are 40,000 at-risk vehicles in Canada.

We think the settlement in the U.S. was fair and we would be satisfied with that, Pitch said.

Mercedes-Benz Canada Director of Marketing and Public Relations JoAnne Caza described Malcs filing as a copycat suit, but said the company has no intention of settling again.

The conditions here in Canada are different and we intend to fight this suit in court, she said. Caza declined to discuss how circumstances in Canada differ from those in the United States, and Pitch said the company has not disclosed its position to him. Pitch noted one difference, saying that the 2001 recommendation to use synthetic oil went directly to customers in the United States but was distributed to dealers in Canada.

Pitch said he expects a ruling in February on the request to certify the case as a class action suit. He added that the case will probably be tried in 2004.

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