Importance of Leveling

Approximately four years ago, we conducted an examination of a reach-in cooler to determine why the door came off its upper hinge and struck the customer on the head who opened the door.  The injury to the customer’s head wasn’t serious but, a lawsuit did follow and was later settled out of court.  The cooler was typical of those found in grocery and convenience stores where shoppers can get milk, juice, or other cold beverages (see photo below). 

Reach-in cooler where the center door separated from upper hinge and hit custome

In order to understand how the accident occurred, the importance of leveling the cooler must be understood.  Leveling the cooler means that all of the horizontal surfaces are parallel and all of the vertical surfaces are parallel,  More specifically, the cooler door must be at right angles to the to the hinge brackets.  In this case, the cooler was not leveled during installation.  For whatever reason, the center leveling leg was found to have been lost when the cooler was installed.  When a leveling leg was finally installed on the cooler, it was never adjusted to make the cooler level.  As a result, the weight of the contents inside the cooler caused two horizontal structural members to bend (see photos below). The resulting bends caused the door to drop downward and at a small angle to the hinge brackets.  More importantly, the upper hinge pin dropped low enough in the hinge bracket so that when the door was opened, the hinge pin spun out of the hinge bracket causing the door to separate.  When the separation occurred, the tendency of the door was to rotate about the lower hinge and strike the customer.  

Upper and lower structural members bent in approximate center of cooler, leveling legs on ends adjusted for leveling
Center leveling leg found in fully inserted position, cooler not leveled

Hyundai and Kia Latest Engine Fire Updates

Hyundai and Kia are still having problems with engine fires.  The manufacturers are now telling owners to park their vehicles outside of their garages and carports because their vehicles can suddenly ignite even if the vehicles have not been driven.  The warning applies to approximately 485,000 vehicles in the U.S.  The problem is with the antilock braking system module which can leak fluid and cause an internal short circuit that leads to a fire.  This recall now includes 2014 – 2016 Kia Sportage, 2016 – 2019 K900 Sedans, 2016 – 2018 Santa Fe SUVs, 2017 – 2018 Santa Fe Sports, 2019 Santa Fe XL, and 2014 – 2015 Tucson SUVs.  Dealers are supposed to replace a fuse and if necessary the anti-lock brake control module.  Kia is expected to begin notifying owners beginning on March 31st and Hyundai owners will be notified beginning on April 5th.  We have previously reported on this issue and the articles are still available for review.  The articles are in the following posting sates: Feb 2020, Sept 2020, Jan 2021, May 2021, and Dec 2021.  The articles can be accessed by clicking on the month and year located on the right side margin and scrolling through the page after it loads.  For additional information, about the recalls, owners can contact Hyundai or Kia by phone or email as listed in the articles.   

Ford Recalls Vehicles for Brakes and Driveshaft

The Ford Motor Company has recalled 2021-2022 Bronco Sport and Escape vehicles as a result of the faulty manufacture of the rear brake linings.  The linings do not meet the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 135 and as a result, vehicles require longer stopping distances.  The remedy for this particular recall is currently under development and Ford was expected to begin notifying owners on January 10, 2022.  The number of vehicles involved in this recall is approximately 114,996.  Ford’s identification number for this recall is 21C31.  For additional information, owners can contact Ford by calling 1-866-436-7332 and referring to Ford’ recall number. 

Ford has also announced the recall of 184,698 F 150 pickup trucks, year models 2021-2022.  The problem with these trucks is that heat and noise insulating shields can loosen and make contact with the driveshaft.  Contact with the driveshaft can cause damage to the driveshaft that could also lead to a fracture type failure.  Owners should take their vehicles to a Ford dealer for a free inspection.  If repair is necessary, then the dealer will repair the vehicle free of charge.  Owner notification letters are expected to be mailed on January 31, 2022.  For additional information, owners can contact Ford by calling 1-866-436-7332 and referencing recall number 21S56.     

More About Hyundai and Kia Engine Fires

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has announced that it is continuing its investigation of engine fires in Hyundai and Kia vehicles.  NHTSA has reportedly opened a new engineering analysis that covers in excess of 3 million vehicles.  It should be noted that some of the vehicles have already been recalled.  The vehicles in question are 2011 through 2016 Hyundai Elantra, Santa Fe and Sonata; and, Kia Optima, Rio, Sorento, and Soul.  These are the same engine problems that were reported in September of 2020 and again in January and May of 2021 on our blog.  All of the vehicles involved in the investigation are equipped with one of the following engines: Theta II GDI, Theta II MPI, Theta II MPI Hybrid, NU GDI, and Gamma GDI. For additional information, owners can visit NHTSA’s website at www.nhtsa.gov or contact their Hyundai/Kia dealer.       

Happy Holidays Everyone!

We have had a very successful year despite battling the pandemic, bad news around the country and the world, and people’s frustration with everything in general. We are also very thankful for the blessings that have been bestowed upon us. Our hope is for 2022 to be an even better year than 2021.

We would like to wish everyone a HAPPY HOLIDAY SEASON!

Cold Weather is Here Again!

            Once again, the weather has turned and cooler temperatures are starting to become the norm.  With the arrival of cold weather comes the use of heat producing appliances to keep our homes and businesses warm.  If you haven’t already done so, it is recommended that you engage a reputable heating and air conditioning company to service your furnace or heat pump and make sure that it is working properly before the really cold weather settles in.  For those of you that undertake that job personally, there are a few things that you should bear in mind.  When you take the service access panels off, be prepared to clean the motor and blower thoroughly.  Use a brush (a paint brush works fine) to clean inside the air openings of the motor and blower louvers.  Once you’ve dusted the air handling section, use the blower end of a shop vac (if available) to blow all of the dust out of the air handler.  If you don’t have a shop vac, use a standard vacuum cleaner and suck out as much dust as possible.  Lint and dirt buildup can burn and help to spread a fire, particularly if the furnace is started, allowed to operate, and service ignored for several seasons.  With heat pumps, air has to be able to flow freely through the inside and outside coils and therefore, has to be free of and any trash and debris that might have accumulated during the summer.  As with gas fired units, the air handler also has be cleaned and kept free of dust and lint.  Air filters should be replaced at the beginning of each heating (and cooling) season and inspected at least once per month.  Filters should be replaced when you can’t see through the media.  If you can’t see through the filter media, then air is being restricted enough to affect the heating (and cooling) capacity. 

            Aside from standard heating units, there are those that use kerosene or propane gas heaters.  In addition to a through cleaning, care must be taken to remember that small, fuel burning, space heaters and some gas log appliances are NOT VENTED.  As a result, they will produce CARBON MONOXIDE, a deadly, toxic gas.  Since these appliances are not vented, carbon monoxide is released into the space being heated.  DO NOT go to sleep with one of these types of appliances in operation.  Death from asphyxiation is a likely result.  Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, nausea, and vomiting.  Victims of carbon monoxide poisoning should be evacuated to the outdoors as quickly as possible while awaiting ambulance service.  Moreover, if you have to use a portable generator because of a power outage, remember, the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning is still present if the generator is operating inside the home or garage.  If using a small electric heater, a through cleaning is also required.  The main thing to remember when using space heaters, whether fuel burning or electric, is to keep them far enough away from combustible materials.  The heaters usually come with operating instructions that discuss how far from combustible material the heater can be placed.  However, the operating instructions are usually misplaced, discarded, or lost.  If you can’t remember how far away to place a heater, generally, a three foot distance is usually far enough away to keep most combustible material cool enough to keep it from igniting.  However, if the material feels too warm at a three foot distance, then move the heater back to increase the distance until the material feels cool.  USE COMMON SENSE! 

Water Pipe Damage Due to Arcing

Several years ago, it was permissible to “ground” an electrical system by attaching a wire from the grounding strip or terminal inside the fuse or breaker panel to a metallic pipe.  In many older homes and commercial buildings, this is still the case.  The intended purpose of doing so is to channel stray current directly to earth ground in order to prevent injury and damage to people and property.  Stray current can come from electrical problems with appliances, power surge and lightning.  In a recent investigation, a situation was discovered where electric utility wiring was faulty and caused their side of the power supply to a residence to energize the “ground” or neutral side of the supply.  The end result was the creation of several arcs between the ground wire strap and a copper water pipe.  The arcing that occurred was intense enough to burn holes in the piping.  Since the pipe was part of the hot water supply to the home, the home was flooded.  The damage to the pipe is shown in the photo below.   

Water Inside Your Crawlspace?

Recently, Tennessee and many parts of the southeast have been experiencing a large amount of rain.  Not everyone has been flooded but, what about homes that have been inundated with water in a crawlspace.  When you stop to think about it, water entering a space where it shouldn’t be is the result of groundwater where the water table level is higher than the ground inside the crawlspace.  If not acted upon to remove, the water will cause floor joists and subflooring to mold and rot.  The moisture will also ruin air duct insulation and given enough time, will cause cinder block and brick walls to crack.  The photo below shows an extreme case where water has accumulated inside a crawl space and the process of decay has already begun. 

Although a remedy should have been in place long ago, drainage and foundation companies will usually recommend installing their “patented drainage systems”.  These systems usually include a sump, sump pump, and drainage piping, all for a few thousand dollars.  While these systems will work in most cases, most people don’t realize that the system is actually treating a symptom.  Water will continue to enter the crawl space as long as the water table level is above ground level in the crawl space.  The solution to this problem is to lower the water table level to a few feet below the foundation level so that when it rains any water that seeps into the ground is pumped away before it can enter the crawl space.  Unfortunately, many municipalities and states have strict laws governing drilling wells and pumping water out of the ground, and it can be expensive.  But if you’re lucky enough to be able to use an auger and drill to a depth beneath the level of the foundation, about three to four feet, you might be able to use a submersible or pedestal pump to remove the water.  It will take some time but, each time the pump is energized, a certain amount of water is removed and creates a void in the space where the pump is located.  The tendency will be for the water to fill the void and in the process, the water level has to go down.  Just some food for thought…          

Water Damage and Attic Installed Air Handlers

Most people are aware that air conditioning units can come as a package, everything in one box; or as a combination of two pieces of equipment, an outdoor condensing unit and an indoor air handler.  Remote, or split systems as they are often called, are specifically designed so that the air handling unit has to be located in an interior area where it can be safely operated and maintained.  One of the areas commonly used for air handler installation is the attic space of a building or residential structure.  Regardless of the location, provision must be made during the installation to catch water should the unit begin to leak.  It should be noted that water is a product of the cooling process.  That is, as air passes over the cooling coil, water can condense out of the air.  A drain line is typically connected to the cooling coil housing and routed away from the unit to the outside.  But, if for some reason the water does not drain correctly, it can begin to accumulate inside the air handler and will find a way to escape.  In order to capture the leakage and prevent structural damage, drain pans are commonly placed beneath the unit for this purpose.  It is the responsibility of the installing contractor to make sure that the drain pan is sufficiently large to catch whatever water leakage might occur wherever it happens to flow out of the equipment.  The photograph below shows a typical installation.  The problem that occurred here was that the drain pipe filled with debris and caused the drain water to back-up into the cooling coil and plenum.  When the water exited the unit, it missed the drain pan entirely and damaged the ceilings over the dining room and garage.  In this case, the drain pan was not large enough to fit under the air handler and plenum and was therefore useless.  Because of the damage that occurred, the installing contractor was held responsible. 

Applications of Investigative Mechanical Engineering

Although we have been practicing forensic engineering for over 30 years, it has come to our attention that many adjusters in the commercial and personal property lines markets may not know the extent of our services.  So, a list of services has been attached below.  Most of the applications are self explanatory.  However, every once in a while, someone will ask if the loss they are handling is within the scope of our expertise.  While it would be impossible for an adjuster to recognize every scenario, we welcome questions about our services as they pertain to the loss.  Recently, we were asked if a water loss involving a skid steer was something we could evaluate.  The loss involved determining whether engine damage was part of the loss and should have been covered.  This application was definitely within our experience and service capability.  In general, if the loss involves something mechanical or electro-mechanical, we can usually accept the assignment.  Please feel free to make contact by calling the office or emailing directly,  Our contact information can be found on the “About” page of our website located at www.rjhill.com.

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