CarMax left my oil plug loose and engine oil has been drained. Need advice on how to proceed HELP!

My wife and I recently purchased a used 2011 Toyota RAV4 from our local CARMAX in Denver Colorado. We have purchased several cars in the past from them and have always been happy with the results. Yesterday I got a frantic call from my wife who explained to me that the the car was making a loud “drilling” noise. She started to notice the sound about 3 or 4 blocks from our home on her way back from the office. She immediately pulled into the garage and turned the car off. When she got out of the car to inspect she said an oil like substance was pouring onto the garage floor. I informed her not to start the car again until we had Carmax inspect it. When I arrived home I got underneath to take a closer look and saw that the oil drain plug was missing and there was about a half quart of oil that had pooled up underneath as well as a trail of oil behind the car on the driveway and street. Upon further inquiry my wife stated that she didn’t remember seeing smoke or any indicators on the dash in regard to engine problems.

The RAV4 was purchased from our CARMAX location about two weeks ago. I opted not to get the extended warranty as it is a Toyota with only 37k (these things run forever). CARMAX does warranty the vehicle for 30 days after purchase so we are definitely within that timeframe. I called the service department but they do not open up again until Monday morning.

My questions for my fellow car talk listeners is what should I be concerned about as far as damage? Should I demand an extended warranty or push to get another RAV4 with similar specs and mileage. I’m concerned that CARMAX is going to take it back to the service garage, have the same idiot that put the plug on incorrectly the first time replace it again, fill it up, start it, and if it runs fine call it good. What about the damage that has already been done?

Thanks for reading and your advice is much appreciated!!!

G. Johnson

You should be concerned about damage. I would not want to own this car now - even if they gave me a warranty. I would need a similar vehicle of equal value or a full refund.

My thought is if it was draining oil in the garage there was enough oil in the engine to prevent damage. The only quantifiable test at this point would be to see if you had any loss in compression, chances are slim you have before and after numbers. A lot of people here are not in favor of quick lube places, but my wife has not had a problem in 30 years. Stuff happens, and I think you will be ok. If car max did the oil change I would think the manager would swap out another car for you, and demand a compression test if you are concerned.

You demand they take it back and find you another 2011 RAV4, even if they have to transfer it from another CARMAX location

If they want to replace the oil drain plug, top it off and call it good, tell them “The hell you say! I’m contacting my lawyer.”

Those loud noises your wife heard were the engine’s bearings destroying themselves due to oil depletion. I’d bet on it.

The only way to determine the amount of damage done is to drop the oil pan, pull a cap or two, and inspect the bearings.

You no longer have a car problem. You have a legal problem. I’d recommend consulting a lawyer. You and especially your wife will probably have to provide affidavits upon which the lawyer may then proceed. He may also want the evaluation done that I alluded to, by a private garage (NOT CarMax) with documentation and photos. You’ll need to consider what you’ll accept as restitution. If it were me, I’d want a full refund of the purchase price plus the lawyer’s expenses, and I’d shop elsewhere.

+1 to mountainbike’s advice.
Once unusual noises were heard, damage was done.
Unless the OP wants to own damaged goods that resulted from negligence on the part of the maintenance staff at CarMax, he needs to take legal action.

However, he should be aware that this mega-corporation has a virtual army of lawyers, and they could tie-up his lawyer in red tape for an extended period of time before this case even goes to court. I am not saying this to dissuade the OP from legal action, but I do want him to have some sense of reality of what it is like to do battle with a huge corporate entity.

In the end, he should prevail, and–hopefully–his attorney will be smart enough to sue for legal fees, in addition to the value of the badly-damaged vehicle.

My hope is that an organization of this magnitude would rather simply refund the purchase price and pay the lawyer’s fees than get into a lawsuit that might impinge their name. Some states, in order to discourage nusience suits, don’t allow a civil suit to include lawyer’s fees, but I thought I’d plant the idea in the OP’s head any.

I will call the service department first thing tomorrow morning to have it towed. Just as a precaution I took many pictures of the oil trails on my driveway, street, and under the car. Hopefully they offer a service vehicle or a covered rental while it is away. Carmax has been an excellent customer service experience in the past so I hope they do the right thing here. I am of the same opinion as others here and am skeptical about keeping the car after this. I will keep everyone updated as I work with them through the process. You can really learn a lot about a company by how they respond to situations like this.

Thanks for all the responses and advice so far!

Yeah, see what they say. Likely engine damage depending on the noise. They will want to inspect it but you also need to have someone pull the pan and look see at the bearings and material in the pan, and a general inspection to determine damage. Might want to go back over the route and determine where the oil slick started and how far it was driven and take pics.

So if CM baulks, you can have it repaired (engine replacement) then proceed to small claims court. I don’t believe lawyers can bump it up to a higher court and no lawyers are allowed at small claims court. If the damage is over the small claims limit, then yeah you’ll have to have a lawyer to proceed.

Like you say, the measure of a company is not whether a drain plug falls out, but rather how they deal with it when it happens.

The loud drilling noise your wife heard was the timing chain and other engine internals beating themselves due to lack of oil. I understand that decision making is never at its best in emergency situations but the best thing would have been to pull over and shut it off right there. Chances are that the engine will be fine, but the fact remains that there is the possibility of engine damage and you’ve only had the car 2 weeks. If I were you I would want a similar car as a replacement.

When she first heard the noise she thought it might have been ice or snow in the wheel well grinding against the wheels. No lights came on and from my research and reading other stories of similar incidents the oil light rarely comes on until very late in the game…I’m guessing newer engine design is more efficient keeping oil pressure/compression at a normal level even during times like this. I read some posts about cars that will automatically stall if oil gets to low, kind of a dummy switch for times like this. To be honest I have never heard of such a thing.

The more I think about it the more concerned I get about the damage that is already done. I don’t want this car to die at 100k miles because of the wear and tear of just a few minutes. I bought a Toyota RAV4 and not a Range Rover for its reliability (not to assume that RRs are unreliable). I will see how this plays out the next few days. I hope not to have to go the legal route as that is another set of trouble all together.

I think most GMs have a fuel pump shut off if the oil pressure gets too low. My 89 Riviera had it and also had a low oil light that would come on when it was a quart low. Probably cost an extra $10 but could be handy to have.

The engine is damaged goods. Normally I might say that CM is responsible but there are a few caveats.

Did CM change the engine oil and filter before the sale and is there a paper record of that oil change or vehicle inspection?
Was the car sold “AS IS” with the warranty being considered an extra at your expense?
There’s also the possibility that a drain plug could have been loosened by someone; a vandal, a thuggish neighbor or fellow employee jealous of the new ride for a misguided reason, or whatever.

The thought of vandalism did cross my mind but my wife doesn’t have many enemies in her profession and I highly doubt anyone would be jealous of a used RAV4.

Carmax does a very thorough check before the car hits the lot and that’s part of the reason I continue to purchase vehicles from them. Part of the inspection is oil and oil filter replacement which is documented in the paperwork and on a sticker in the car itself. As far as the warranty goes they do sell an extended warranty but I opted not to go with it. However there is a 30 day warranty for every car they sell no matter what.

Since Carmax did an inspection along with an oil change that is documented then it seems to me they’re on the hook.

Just in case they try to come up with the statement that if the plug were left loose on their watch it would have fallen off long before the 2 weeks is up, you should keep in mind that statement does not hold water.
Damaged threads on a drain plug or leaving one improperly tightened does not have a set rule on how long it takes to fall out. It can be a few minutes, few weeks, or even months.

Also, do not buy into any statements that the oil was topped off, the filter replaced, and now everything is coming up roses. Damage always occurs when something like this happens. The only question is at what point does the engine give up and if it were me I’d want another car from them.

That’s why I never allow anyone to ever change my oil except myself. It really isn’t that hard to do. In the past I’ve notice also those EZ quick oil change places Crank the oil pan bolt so hard you have to use a hammer to break it loose.

UPDATE: I called Carmax and they are sending a tow truck to bring the car back to their garage. They are also providing a rental car from Enterprise while its being looked at.

My '72 Vega had an oil pressure sensor in the fuel pump circuit. If the pressure fell too low, the pump shut off.

Of course, the rear wheel & axle came out as I was moving, but at least the engine was protected…

My '72 Vega had an oil pressure sensor in the fuel pump circuit. If the pressure fell too low, the pump shut off.

And I replaced that sensor unit at least twice while I owned my Vega. But I do think it is a good idea.

Mike, I think that’s the Only piece of the car I never had to replace! :slight_smile:
I agree that it’s a good idea. It’s too bad GM loaded the car with so many BAD ideas.