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1998 Audi A4 Timing Belt Issue

I had a repair shop do a timing belt replacement on this car. It had 141,000 miles and they told me that the belt had never been replaced. They also replaced the water pump. Less than two days after getting the car back the engine started sounding funny, I pulled over and the car stalled. Firestone told me the timing “slipped” and now there was engine damage. It was towed back to the original shop and after taking the engine apart, they said that the valves were bent, the timing did “slip”, but it was not “exactly their fault”. They said that the bolt on the hydraulic tensioner broke, causing the timing belt to slip and thus ruining the engine. They admitted to not replacing the hydraulic tensioner. They said that they “looked at it and thought it was fine” so they didn’t replace it. They claim that it must have been flawed to begin with. At this point I am not sure what to do. I feel that I have a case against them, and that they should be responsible for all the engine repairs. I just want suggestions and thoughts as to how I should proceed, and if I do in fact have a case against them. Thank you.

Were you given the option of replacing the tensioner, or was this issue never mentioned to you when an estimate was given to you? I ask because it was irresponsible for that shop to have not replaced a 13 year old tensioner.

Most mechanics would advise replacement of a timing belt tensioner at the usual 90-105k interval for timing belt replacement, along with the water pump and the serpentine belt. I have never heard of a mechanic who considered a 13 year old tensioner to be pristine enough to not warrant replacement.

I believe that this shop is on the hook for all of the expenses related to the rebuilding of your engine, but you may have to go to Small Claims Court in order to secure those funds. Be prepared to hire an expert witness to testify that that this shop was being irresponsible by not replacing the tensioner.

When a job goes bad after 2 days, it is on the shop. If they told you the tensioner should be replaced and you declined then it is on you. If they simply never mentioned it and make the decision on their own, then it is on the shop.

The bolt could have been overtorqued causing it to fail. Not sure how to get this resolved, that can depend on the state laws where you live. It is the shops fault, but not sure how you can get them to make the repairs if they are balking. Doesn’t the shop have any warranty on their repair work?

My humble opinion is that the shop screwed this up. Have you actually looked at the damage to see exactly what broke?
There is a hydraulic tensioner and several idler pulleys. The point could be made that the hydraulic tensioner does not have to be removed to replace it but the point could also be made there is some misinterpretation or fudging the truth about what actually broke.

Statements about the part being flawed to begin with are actually kind of common when something goes wrong. Most of the time those statements are nothing more than passing the buck to cover up a mistake.

Maybe someone overtightened the new belt and/or a tensioner or idler bolt and this is what caused the problem.
Does this stink? Yes, if only for the flawed part comment only.

At this point a used motor is the cure for your woes or check for the value of the vehicle.

Firestone carries insurance against their incompetent 4th tier “mechanics”. You may have to pursue them on this. They also are artists in upselling unneeded services especially high dollar ones they likely printed instructions on from the internet how to do.

You cannot tell if a belt was never replaced or not, that was pure BS. There is no visual check of a belt that is easy and identifiable.

They need to eat the cost…

My interpretation of the OP’s post is that Firestone was not the shop that did the flawed work, and was actually the “clean-up hitter”, after the fact. However, I could be wrong.

OP–please clarify whether Firestone was the shop that replaced the belt, or if it was a different shop that screwed up the timing belt job.

How did they know the timing belt had never been replaced?

Thank you very much for the comments. To clarify, it was not a Firestone that did the original work, it was Danielle Auto Inc, in North Miami (small individually owned shop). I towed it to Firestone after it failed and they are the ones that told me it was a result of the timing. Since the original post, I finally got the car away from Danielle Auto (which involved calling the police multiple times, going to the county court and posting a bond for ridiculous charges they said I owed). The engine was in pieces and they stuffed the parts in my trunk so that it could be towed away. I had it taken to an Audi dealership. They told me that the engine was probably beyond repair, that bolts were broken in the block itself, and that the car would need a new engine, but that it would cost at least 5K (about the value of the car). I am so disgusted by this whole situation, but mostly by the rude and unethical treatment I received from the original shop. This place claims that they guarantee their work…apparently not. At this point I feel my only option now is to take this to small claims court. Would the mechanics at Audi constitute “expert witnesses”?

“Would the mechanics at Audi constitute “expert witnesses”?”

A mechanic from an Audi dealership should impress the court as being more knowledgeable about the specifics of an Audi engine than a general mechanic would be. I wish you sincere luck with this quest for compensation, since it does appear from the evidence you provided that Danielle Auto screwed up royally.

Incidentally, you should check to see what Florida’s limit for compensation in a Small Claims Court actually is.
In most states, the limit is $5k, but in some states it is less. For your sake, I hope that the limit in Florida is at least $5k.

However, no matter what the cost of repairing your engine might be, the court is unlikely to award you more than the book value of the car. Be prepared to prove that the car would have a book value of ~$5k if it had not been damaged by this shop. To do this, do a lot of price research online with KBB, Edmunds, etc, and print out the most advantageous pricing information that you can find. Bring that info to court, as well as photographs of the car, in order to support your claim that the car is worth X amount of money.

I will agree with VDCdriver that a statement from the Audi dealer would help tremendously and I also think that you have a very winnable case here although nothing is ever set in stone. The odds of this car having a defective bolt from the day the car was built is about slim and none. That defective bolt excuse is also a fairly common one when someone reverts to CYA (cover your axx) mode and you’re not the first person on this board who has posted with this kind of problem.

What would help even more would be to send that bolt off to a lab for a metallurgical analysis. This may cost a few bucks (no idea how much) but if the analysis showed the bolt was stressed this means it was stressed because someone overtightened it.

It would be impossible for me to give you a statement about this because there is simply no way a visual inspection of some pics would be definitive.
However, a lady on this forum about 5 years ago got gigged by a shop that made a mistake when reassembling her Subaru manual transmission. She articulated the problem very clearly and based on the shop’s comments I could easily tell what went wrong in her case. The shop of course denied all responsibility.

At the time I had a Subaru trans apart and felt she was treated so badly that I told her to mail me. She asked if I would provide info about my qualifications, what happened, pics, etc. I then forwarded half a dozen pics showing what the shop did wrong and provided a page long technical statement explaining each picture. She thanked me and I never heard from her again.

Well here about a year or so ago and out of the blue she mailed me and apologized for not getting back to me quickly. She did thank me because she sued these guys (they were all in another state) and won based on my statement and pics.
The judge ordered the shop to reimburse the lady every single dime she had paid them (2500 dollars give or take), all towing fees, court costs, and some other incidental expenses.
Point being that yes a case can be won on written testimony in small claims cases as they do not require a witness to be present for cross-examination.

After making a complaint with the BBB I received this response back from these shady mechanics,

“After we checked the car we found out that the timming belt tenisoner is a sealed part that can not be tampered with.It was jammed shut which caused the timming belt to be tensioned improperly causing it to slip and bend the valves. When we did the timming belt we recommended to change the timming belt tensioner but she refused because “she did not have any more money to spend”. Even after that we found out that this problem is not related to the services we provided for her because we never changed the timming belt tensioner we only recommended to change that part.”

The last part is a total lie. I never heard about a “tensioner” until after the engine failed. I don’t understand what they mean about the tensioner being in a sealed part of the engine.

Since the last posting I had Audi mechanics look at the engine. They noted “abnormal feathering on the inner edge of the timing belt, possible incorrect installation of timing belt and/or components.” Does anyone have documentation (audi repair manual) that indicates proper timing belt replacement requires replacement of the tensioner as well?

You will probably not find info like that in any manuals and this especially includes any factory Audi manuals. Many manuals, both factory and aftermarket, or incomplete and in some cases flat out wrong.

There’s a lot of info on the net about this issue so you should be able to print off a number of things to use as ammunition. Here’s an example. (Scroll to bottom)

Many VW/Audi belts are manufactured by Gates which is one of the world’s largest belt suppliers to many car makers and aftermarket parts stores. Gates recommends changing idlers/tensioners at the same time to prevent just what happened to you.

Here’s what should have been done seeing as how these guys are now claiming you refused to authorize a tensioner.
A. They should have refuse to even do the job or…
B. Refusal to authorize a tensioner by the customer should have been notated on the repair order and you should have been required to sign off on it before even doing the job.

The BBB is nothing more than a file cabinet for complaints and they have no authority to do anything but at least in this case the shop has now gone on the record stating they did not do the obvious. This can be used as ammunition against them in a potential court case. I hope this helps and good luck.

“After making a complaint with the BBB.”

As ok4450 noted, and as I have advised in many posts, the BBB has no regulatory or punitive power whatsoever. The worst thing that they can do to a business is to refuse to accept dues for the following calendar year, and since the BBB thrives on those dues, they rarely do that.

All a business has to do in order for the BBB to classify a case as “closed” or “resolved” is to provide a response. The response can be filled with lies and denials, (and can, more or less tell you to “pound salt…”), but it still will be classified as “resolved” by the “old boys’ club” known as the BBB. Isn’t that comforting–to know that a problem is considered by the BBB to be resolved simply by a company denying that there is a problem?

Why people think that the BBB is a governmental entity is beyond my comprehension. If you want to take action against a company, you should either file a complaint with the real governmental entity for this type of situation, namely the Department of Consumer Affairs on the county or state level, or file a complaint in your local Small Claims Court yourself. If the folks at the Office of Consumer Affairs feel that your case is serious, and if the offending company does not satisfy your complaint, they will refer it to the state Attorney General’s Office for prosecution.