Sandra and Justin Shmith of South Yarra spent about $45,000 buying the car stacker, which allows more cars to be parked, typically by raising or lowering one vehicle so other vehicles may be parked above or below it.
Their three-vehicle stacker was installed in their garage in June and Mrs Shmith was the first person to use it.
“I was in a stationary position and I was only in there for a matter of seconds and then the whole thing just gave way and dropped … like if a lift had dropped to the bottom,” she said.
“The car was hanging because it fell down in the front, and particularly on my driver’s side, but was raised at the rear.
“I didn’t want to move because the car was shaking, it wasn’t secure, and I thought the rest of it might fall down.
“The only way out was to squeeze through the front window, which was jammed against the second platform.
“[But] if the car had collapsed while I was squeezing through I would have been garrotted.”
Mr Shmith called the fire brigade, which arrived about 15 minutes later and removed Mrs Shmith through the window.
The car, a Range Rover that had to be removed with a tow truck, was a write-off. Mrs Shmith suffered whiplash and bruising and said she felt “freaked out” for weeks afterward.
“This was something we were going to be using on a daily basis and then I was confronted with a life-threatening accident in my own garage, which you’d never anticipate,” she said.
“The other thing that went through my mind when it happened was … it could have happened when I was on my own, when I didn’t have my mobile phone on me, it could have been at night, I could have been stuck there.”
Manufacturer says it is not at fault
Just how this happened and who is to blame has not been resolved. The Shmiths blame German manufacturer Wohr and its Australian subsidiary, Wohr Parking Systems Australia.
Wohr Parking Systems Australia managing director Mark Bini said although he sympathised with Mrs Shmith, his company was not at fault. He described the case as complex.
“It really is just is a series of unfortunate events, and scary for Sandra, I totally understand that,” he said.
“We are happy to help and we’re happy to be part of the investigation. But we don’t believe we have done anything wrong.”
Regulator Worksafe Victoria and Wohr Parking Systems Australia’s insurers are investigating.
Mr Bini said the car stacker had failed because the Shmiths had had installed faulty side rails made locally.
The side rails were not built to design specifications, he said, but instead were made to the wrong strength with the wrong steel.
“It’s collapsed because of some equipment that was installed that was not supplied by us. We are at no fault at all in this entire job. But we have been painted as being the culprits.
“If they were using the proper Wohr side rails, you and I wouldn’t be talking now.”
Mr Bini said the car stacker model had been installed in tens of thousands of locations around the world since 1998. “It’s never happened before and it’s only happened because some faulty local side rails … have got into it,” he said.
The couple plans to file legal action against Wohr.
Mr Bini said his company planned to pursue costs from other parties involved in the Shmiths sourcing the “sub-standard” side rails elsewhere.
Car stackers have become more common in Melbourne’s inner city over the past five years as land prices have soared, said parking expert Elizabeth Taylor from RMIT University.
Industry body Parking Australia said people ordering car stackers from overseas needed to ensure the product complied with recently updated Australian standards, which include installation procedures.