Could the dealer have caused my problem?

I brought my 2002 Subaru Outback (~50,000 miles) in for routine service-- oil change, winterizing. On pickup, the car had a new high-pitched noise occurring with acceleration. Otherwise, it drove okay. Concerned, I brought it back 6 days later to have the noise investigated. The dealership service is now telling me I need a new transmission, estimated to cost $4000!! They state that nothing they did in the service caused the problem, that it is coincidental, but neither can they explain why this car with low mileage needs a new transmission. I’m suspicious-- could anything they did (or failed to do) have harmed my car? Thanks for suggestions.

A better list of services performed would be helpful. To me, you had an oil change and coolant replacement. Was any other service performed? For example, did they drain the transmission flud at the time of service? What is its level now?

It is possible to confuse the ATF drain plug with the oil change drain plug on these cars. However, if no service was performed on the transmission, I find it hard to believe the dealer did anything wrong at this point.

My best guess is that the trans fluid was drained, rather than the motor oil.
While someone at the Subaru dealership should certainly be able to distinguish the trans drain plug from the virtually identical oil drain plug, a “rookie” at the dealership could have screwed up.
That could certainly explain the sudden trans problem.

Did you check the level of both the motor oil and the trans fluid after getting the car back from its maintenance? If not, then this will be hard to prove, unfortunately.

I second VDCdriver on this. The final drive drain plug on the transaxle is located close to the engine oil drain plug and it is not a rare thing (especially for a relatively inexperienced tech or lube guy) to drain the final drive by mistake.

Once the hypoid oil is drained the ring and pinion gear will whine and at some point it will disentegrate; catastrophically in some cases.
The transxle may work fine (short of whining) for a hundred or so miles before blowing up.

While working for Subaru I saw this probably half a dozen times and in several cases the transaxle case actually split in half.

Have they done anything as far as removing the transaxle and disassembling it or is it still together?
If it has not been torn town, I suggest you get someone to go with you and check the final drive hypoid oil level; or lack of oil level.

Just offhand, I’d say someone screwed up and they owe you a new transaxle because once the ring/pinion goes it’s more cost effective to replace the transaxle rather than rebuild it. Subaru transaxle parts are not cheap.

And if this is an automatic transmission I would not settle for a used unit unless they were willing to give you a 50k miles warranty on it.

Yes they could have but did they, who knows. I would call Subaru of America and see where it goes.

Good luck.

The service invoice from the routine service lists the following as having been performed: changed oil and filter, lubricated chassis, adjusted tire pressure and topped off all fluids. There is no mention of any work on the transmission.
Today, I had the car towed to an independent mechanic for a “second opinion.” On picking up the car, the dealer stated that they had filled the transmission fluid (no mention if it was low) and confirmed their diagnosis that the car needs a new transmission. The independent mechanic, who was recommended by a friend, confirms that the car needs a new transmission and that the transmission fluid was full. He saw evidence of prior work on the transmission-- the oil pan had been cemented sometime in the past (pre-dates the recent work). I have no record of any transmission work having been performed.
I did not check the motor oil nor the transmission fluid when I picked up the car-- now wish that I had.
Will followup on advice to contact Subaru of America. I suspect I am heading for some negotiation for a trade in-- can’t see spending the estimated $4024 for a “remanufactured” transmission.
Thanks for all comments-- very helpful.

This dealer is definitely suspect.
As evidence:

“lubricated chassis” There are no chassis lube points on this car, just like on other modern cars.

“filled the transmission fluid” Likely this was done after they mistakenly drained it and drove it out of the shop.

The problem will be proving what happened and when it happened.

As to “the oil pan had been cemented sometime in the past”, the OP did not tell us if he/she is the original owner of the car. If it was purchased as a used car, there is no way of telling what types of “witchcraft maintenance” the car may have been subjected to in the past.

As to contacting SOA, I really doubt that they are going to be of any help. Despite the relatively low odometer mileage, the car is at least 7 years old. In those 7 years, any number of things could have befallen the car, and nobody can definitively prove what did or did not happen each time the car was serviced, nor can anyone prove or disprove whether the vehicle was ever driven in an abusive manner.

I empathize with the OP, but I really don’t see this as a “winnable” situation for him/her.

Thanks. I am the original owner of the car, purchased at this dealership and always serviced there. Have never had a major problem (until now). Agree this may not be “winnable.” Just hoping to salvage what I can from this mess and get out with something to drive until I can save up. I really appreciate all the information-- might give me some bargaining power with the dealer.

If they inadvertently made a mistake in regards to the final drive oil then of course it will not be listed on the invoice.

To clarify something here (and assuming this is an automatic transaxle) the unit is divided into 2 sections.
You state the transmission fluid has been checked and it’s fine. This is not one and the same as the hypoid oil. The hypoid is a separate deal altogether and this is where the lack of hypoid oil and the whine comes in.
It can be full of transmission fluid and completely devoid of hypoid oil.

How does the engine oil look? If they emptied the transmission by mistake, the old engine oil may still be there.

Thanks for the clarification. I’ll ask the independent mechanic about the hypoid oil.

Good thought! I’ll check that. Thanks.