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Mud + snow tires count as winter tires: Tribunal

September 28, 2020   by Greg Meckbach

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British Columbia’s civil resolution tribunal has ruled against a motorist who claims the car he rented did not have proper winter tires because they were marked “mud + snow,” but the motorist is not liable for alleged damage to the rental car.

After Stuart Finnegan rented a car from Terrace Motors Ltd. on Jan. 20, 2019, he found it was slipping and sliding in the snow. So he returned the car the following day. But on his way to return the car he reported having sideswiped another vehicle while approaching a red light.

Both Finnegan and Terrace Motors made claims against each other before the CRT.

Terrace Motors alleged Finnegan owes $2,516.01 for collision repairs, an unpaid rental fee and 14 days of lost rental income. For his part, Finnegan claimed Terrace Motors owed him $4,078 in damages for inconvenience, lost work and income, missed appointments and lost contracts.

In Terrace Motors Ltd dba Budget Rent A Car dba Terrace Chrysler, Terrace Motors Toyota v. Finnegan, released Aug. 20, CRT member Chad McCarthy dismissed both the claim and counter-claim.

The dispute is not over who — Finnegan or the other driver — is at fault in the actual collision.

In his counter-claim, Finnegan alleged that Terrace Motors failed to provide adequate winter tires. The tires on the vehicle did not have the pictograph of a peaked mountain with a snowflake. Instead, they were marked M+S meaning “mud and snow.”

But Section 7.162 of British Columbia’s Motor Vehicle Act Regulations says in order to be considered winter tires, they can have either the letters M and S or the mountain/snowflake symbol, wrote McCarthy.

In any case, there was no evidence showing the CRT that winter tires were required on the roads on which Finnegan drove at the time, McCarthy wrote in his decision. [In 2016, the province brought in new rules requiring winter tires if the motorists plan to travel on highways in certain areas within B.C.]

Section 208 of B.C.’s Motor Vehicle Act stipulates winter tire requirements. But if those requirements are not met, it is the “person who drives or operates a vehicle” who commits an offence, not the person who owns or rents out the vehicle, McCarthy noted.

The CRT decision does not cite federal government guidance. But separately, on its website, Transport Canada warns that M+S (mud and snow) tires are not the same thing as winter tires, which have a pictograph of a peaked mountain with a snowflake and are designed for use in severe snow conditions. Mud and snow tires are also known as “all-season” and may not always be suitable for severe snow conditions, says Transport Canada.

In the B.C. case involving Terrace Motors, Finnegan alleged the tires were “bald” and were required by law to have at least 3.5 mm of tread depth. Although the 3.5-millimetre minimum is specified in provincial regulation, McCarthy found there was no evidence — such as photos or witness statements — as to the tread depth of the tires on the car Finnegan rented.

McCarthy was also not convinced that Finnegan was unable to check the markings and tread of the rental car tires before departing Terrace Motors.

So there is no evidence that Terrace Motors failed to provide proper winter tires or breached a duty of care towards the customer, McCarthy added.

“Mr. Finnegan accepted responsibility for rental car damage and his collision-related losses by continuing to operate a car he considered to be unsafe.”

Nonetheless, Finnegan does not owe Terrace Motors money because the auto firm did not convince McCarthy that the collision during Finnegan’s rental actually damaged the rental car.

When Finnegan initially rented the car, there was pre-existing damage and that is noted on an inspection slip. No additional damage was noted on the slip when Finnegan returned the car.

Evidence included an invoice months later to Terrace for $1,256.61 for repairs to the front bumper and right door. But the invoice does not state the nature or cause of the damage.

It was not until “weeks” after the rental that the Insurance Corporation of B.C. contacted Terrace.

An email from an ICBC employee described damage but did not say whether the rental car was damaged in the accident. Police attended the scene because traffic was blocked, but there are no police reports or other supporting evidence describing whether any vehicle damage occurred, wrote McCarthy.


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