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Put on and Tear and Mechanical Breakdown Exclusions Underneath Auto Insurance policies



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In my September 2023 column, I wrote about put on and tear exclusions in property insurance policies and the way these exclusions are typically improperly cited to disclaim claims. Most property insurance policies have a sequence of exclusions that apply to put on and tear, rust, corrosion, decay, deterioration, settling, cracking, marring, scratching, and so on.

The premise for some of these exclusions is that they largely tackle injury that happens over a reasonably prolonged time frame and/or contain the traditional use of the property. Over time, property wears out or in any other case can endure injury that’s gradual by routine, frequent use. Such losses are anticipated and largely uninsurable, even on a depreciated foundation.


Auto insurance policies sometimes have comparable units of exclusions. For instance, the ISO Private Auto Coverage excludes:

Injury due and confined to:

  1. Put on and tear;
  2. Freezing;
  3. Mechanical or electrical breakdown or failure; or
  4. Highway injury to tires.

Though the wording is organized barely otherwise, the ISO Enterprise Auto Coverage primarily excludes the identical perils. And, as with property insurance policies, these auto bodily injury exclusions are typically misunderstood and wrongly utilized.

So, let’s contemplate the logic behind one thing like a mechanical breakdown exclusion and contemplate some precise declare examples the place arguably one of these exclusion was erroneously utilized.

For the previous consideration, there isn’t any higher useful resource than the Worldwide Danger Administration Institute (


That means of ‘Mechanical Breakdown’

What does “mechanical breakdown” imply within the context of most auto and property insurance policies? In accordance with IRMI, “Injury to gear from an exterior trigger shouldn’t be excluded by the mechanical breakdown exclusion. As a substitute, the mechanical breakdown exclusion applies solely to loss brought on by an inner defect within the gear.”


To assist this interpretation, IRMI cites Caldwell v. Transportation Ins. Co., 234 Va. 639, 364 S.E.second 1 (1988) which opined, “[E]xclusion of losses brought on by structural or mechanical breakdown or failure is restricted to losses arising from inner or inherent deficiency or defect, relatively than from any exterior trigger.”

One property type instance confirmed a coverage the place an outsized piece of wooden was fed right into a sander, inflicting it to brief out and break the curler enamel. This isn’t inner, “self-inflicted,” mechanical breakdown however relatively an exterior trigger lined by the open perils type in query.


An auto coverage instance was in depth engine injury that resulted from a truck touring down a bumpy, dusty street, ensuing within the engine air filter clips dislodging and dust getting into the engine. Once more, the reason for loss was not an inner mechanical breakdown, however relatively a non-excluded exterior reason for loss.

Some years in the past, I assisted a New Hampshire agent in reversing a declare denial. A tow truck drove onto a driveway of a enterprise insured below a enterprise house owners coverage (BOP). The truck’s hydraulic hose blew out, inflicting hydraulic fluid to spew onto the insured’s constructing, parking zone, and so on. The BOP adjuster denied the declare on two bases, put on and tear or mechanical breakdown and air pollution not brought on by a “specified reason for loss.”


The wear and tear and tear and mechanical breakdown exclusions weren’t relevant, because the injury resulted from an exterior trigger and never from any gear within the management of the insured. And, whereas not particularly related to our dialogue right here, the air pollution exclusion didn’t apply as a result of, arguably, “autos” and presumably “explosion” had been two “specified causes of loss” that triggered the exception to the air pollution exclusion. The BOP adjuster ended up paying the declare and, presumably, subrogating towards the tow truck proprietor.

To conclude this dialogue, some of the frequent auto coverage declare denials I’ve come throughout over time includes engine injury that happens following refueling. For instance, this would possibly embody water that has contaminated a gasoline storage tank, or the place gasoline has been pumped right into a car powered by diesel gasoline, or vice versa. These conditions would possibly embody some issues that aren’t supposed to have the ability to happen, although negligence appears to don’t have any artistic boundaries.


In a single declare submitted to the Impartial Insurance coverage Brokers of America (IIABA) “Ask an Skilled” service a number of years in the past, after refueling, the engine of an agent’s buyer’s Lincoln MKZ started to knock till the car stalled and needed to be towed to a restore store. It was decided {that a} important quantity of water within the gasoline tank had triggered engine injury. The auto coverage adjuster’s preliminary inclination was to disclaim the declare, citing the wear and tear and tear and the mechanical breakdown exclusions. The agent gave the identical argument made originally of this text to dismiss the wear and tear and tear exclusion, citing Black’s Legislation Dictionary which outlined “put on and tear” to imply “deterioration brought on by atypical use.”

Clearly, this was not atypical use.


Equally, for the explanations cited on the outset of this text, the agent argued that this was an exterior reason for loss and never mechanical breakdown as supposed by the coverage language. The agent additionally supplied proof of the fee by the provider of a declare for injury when an insured put gasoline into her new diesel-powered auto.

Lastly, lower than a yr after the aforementioned water injury declare, I used to be contacted on a consulting foundation by an impartial agent who was a pal of a direct author insured. Her husband had lately handed away and he or she had been driving his diesel pickup truck, a car she wasn’t acquainted with. She by accident put gasoline, as a substitute of diesel gasoline, into the tank, leading to $11,000 in injury.


The mechanical breakdown exclusion within the direct author’s auto coverage was completely different from that present in ISO and different more-familiar insurance policies in that it elaborated on the exclusion to incorporate “injury ensuing from negligent servicing or restore of your lined auto or its gear” if the injury concerned a “main element” of the car such because the engine.

On this case, we’re coping with an atypical broadened mechanical breakdown exclusion. My argument FOR protection was that refueling shouldn’t be, in frequent use, a type of “service or restore.” Merriam-Webster defines “servicing” as “supplying upkeep or restore” and consists of an instance of using the time period in a sentence within the type of, “I must get my automotive serviced.”


When you want gasoline in your car, would you say to somebody, “I’m going to get my automotive serviced,” or would you say one thing like, “I’m going to get some gasoline?”

Servicing, in frequent utilization, sometimes refers to issues like oil adjustments, tune-ups, maybe tire rotation, and so on. Refueling is simply a part of the traditional and mandatory operation of an auto, not some kind of periodic upkeep.


If there’s a ethical to the problems mentioned on this month’s column, it’s as soon as once more to RTFP!


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