Crummy Mechanic Killed My Car

What are MA laws regarding “automotive malpractice?”

Start here:

You may have to get a lawyer to assert these rights if the mechanic doesn’t acknowledge his responsibilities.

Thank you for the info on MA law.
It’s a good place to start…

You need to talk to a lawyer for legal advice, not mechanics and car enthusiasts. Which laws apply to your situation and how they should be applied depends on your particular circumstances. You should find a good lawyer, give her or him the complete story, and listen carefully.

yeah, I figured that I would need a lawyer…
not likely to happen, with my hourly-wage job…

You might be surprised. Many lawyers will consult with you for free, and will only collect a (large) fee if you win. However, in a case like this, it is most often a case for small claims court. If that is where this is going, see if you can find some free legal advice from a law clinic or a local law school where students volunteer for these kinds of services.

As a non-lawyer, I have represented the company I worked for in small claims court, and at least in California, the trial seemed to be more about fairness than the letter of the law. If you can put together a decent case, and prosecute it yourself, you stand a decent chance of getting reimbursed.

Thanks for your kind advice, but this is a loss that is over the $2,000 limit for small claims court.
A “mechanic” failed to fix a problem I actually diagnosed myself and pointed out to him, which caused my engine to overheat, cracking the engine block. $2500 and 3 weeks later, I have a new engine, but after many headaches (getting back and forth to work where there is no public transportation,) much inconvenience, missed opportunities, and angst, I am more than a little peeved at the waste of time,( and energy, and favors called in, and cash I didn’t really have,)that this whole ordeal has generated. (I was MOVING during this saga too!) The thought of taking this to a lawyer, even a nice pro-bono idealistic law school volunteer lawyer, just pushes me over the edge. Yes, I have a car to drive now, but I can’t take days off work to pursue this. I can only hope this schmuck gets his due reward in some way or another…down the road. I can only fantasize about all the horrible things that could possibly happen to this guy. Or maybe about hiring a dirigible to broadcast a message like this: Doofus Auto “Repair” Killed My Car! Don’t risk your wheels there!

There’s more here than you’re telling. What problem did you diagnose, and assuming it was something you couldn’t fix yourself, why did the mechanic not fix it? Did the block crack while you were driving it, or while the mechanic was driving it? Did you ask the mechanic to compensate you, and if so, what was his response?

Instead of laying out a lot of what may be misguided blame why don’t you provide ALL of the details behind this problem and we’ll see if the mechanic is at fault.

While you’re at it provide the following.
How much did this mechanic charge you?

A cracked block is a bad diagnosis in almost every circumstance.
If one assumes the block was really cracked then who was the person behind the wheel who did not have enough common sense to stop the car when the temperature gauge started heading towards H?

The temp gauge is a useful device believe it or not although many believe it’s purpose it to serve as clutter on the cluster.

It is very rare for an engine block to crack, particularly on an engine with an iron block and an aluminum head, like your 626. I would also like to know the full story, preferably without the name calling, missing details, and skew. Please fill us in.

Ooh, maybe you don’t have a case.

My mother once had a similar problem. I was buying a 1984 Mercury Marquis from my grandmother in my college days. Since the car was in Dallas, my mother offered to bring me the car in South Florida. It overheated twice on the way. Both times she had the car towed to a shop, and neither shop found the reason it was overheating. So the next time it overheated, she just kept driving, and she blew the engine. The problem ended up being the radiator. None of the shops had flow-tested it, so even after I had a new engine, it kept overheating. Fortunately, I didn’t test my luck when that happened.

The reason I tell this story is that it was my mother’s decision to keep driving the car. The two previous shops were not able to diagnose the problem, but it is likely they could have if my mother hadn’t been in such a hurry. The smart thing to do would have been to get a motel room and tell the mechanic to figure it out. Instead, she didn’t want to wait, and it cost her.

I see there are at least a couple problems:

  1. You diagnosed the problem. This lets your mechanic off the hook. You are usually better off letting the mechanic diagnose the problem. This way if he misdiagnoses the problem, he is responsible. If you told him what was wrong, and you were wrong, you can’t blame him for the misdiagnosis.

  2. Before the block cracked, there was probably some kind of warning on the dashboard that the engine was overheating. This was either a warning light, a warning sound, a rising needle on the temperature gauge, or some combination of these. When this happens, you are supposed to shut off the engine immediately. You must have either (a)not noticed the warnings, (b)ignored the warnings, or ©not gotten the warnings because you had a faulty dashboard read-out.

I am beginning to get the feeling your mechanic may not be fully culpable for this problem. It sounds to me like you might have mistrusted him from the start, which can interfere with effective communication. I sure would like to know the rest of the story.

Yeah. And get sued for libel, cause he doesn’t care about spending all those days in court or all that money. And if you don’t show up, he gets what’s called a “default judgment”, meaning he gets what he asked for (more than what you’re worth, so now instead of working for yourself, you’re working for him and his boat, and his lawyer).

On the other hand, go talk to a nice friendly lawyer. That’s a half an hour for free. He/she/it listens to you, talks to you, and tells you exactly where you stand. They will sue if they think they can win (and collect), because they will take one third. So you will have to show that you were damaged and how much you were damaged. They also know how much their time is worth, and they will do a calculation that is something along the lines of (50% x $5000 x 1/3 / 4 hrs = $208/hr [50/50 chance of winning x $1000 award x lawyer’s share / 4 hrs work = $208/hr]: of course, the real calculation is much more complex and may even be entirely intuitive, or if it involves an extremely complex case with multiple attorneys and legal support staff, there may be decision points along the way where a firm could decide to “pull the plug” and cede the work to another firm). Anyway, the attorney will tell you whether you are likely to collect enough to make a suit worthwhile (that’s the bottom line, right?) and that depends not on your actual economic damages but on “pain and suffering”, “punitive damages”, your wife’s “loss of consortium”, etc. They can get very creative. Much more than those Hollywood people. The nice friendly lawyer will tell you everything you need to know. Which is one of 1) you don’t have a legal case (whatever happened in real life) 2) you do have a legal case, but you won’t be able to collect any money, so you just have to let it go or 3) sign here, we’re going to get you some money. If 3) remember that you pay expenses whether or not you win, and there are expenses other than the lawyer’s fees (those do come out of the settlement). Most likely, the case will settle and not go to trial. (The lawyer is counting on that. The mechanic’s insurer will probably settle just to avoid the expense of litigation, unless it’s just so outrageous that they are sure they can’t lose at trial.)

The $2000 limit does not apply any more. You can go to $5000 and be your own representative. I’m not sure what MA limit you were talking about since that changed a few years ago. If it is less than 3 years ago you can easily file a claim. You need to attach your mechanics insurer to the claim. You can get that info from the state for free. Call them both to court with a small claim (about $75 each). Do Not panic about the court. It will take less time than you think. You need to pile you paper, make one simple point, and you will be in and out in about 4 hours, if you do it right.

Thanks for all of your responses to my problem.

Here is a rundown of the incident:

  1. Car starts spewing steam from under hood when I arrive at work one day. Temp gauge did not rise above mid-point just before this happened. I shut if off, call AAA. Tow truck guys show up, look under hood and notice that wires to radiator fan have been knocked loose . I was not in a crash, so don’t know how this happened. At any rate, radiator fan does not work- could explain overheating. Tow guys start engine while I cringe, drive the car onto their flatbed and tow it to my regular mechanic.

  2. I tell my mechanic about the tow guys’ theory and he dismisses it, proceeds to replace a blown heater hose for $115. I ask about radiator fan not working and he says it’s not a problem. He is the mechanic so I trust him (Dumb move #1) I pick up the car thinking all is well. Mechanic tells me to call him if there is any trouble with the car (He actually wrote this on the bill.)

3.I have already decided to find another mechanic because this guy seems lazy and does not communicate. He has let my car sit for days without looking at it- two different times - hugely inconvenient.

  1. I drive the car to work and back (40 mile round trip) a few times and it is fine. I watch the gauges like a hawk. I am also in the habit of checking tire pressure, oil level, color.

  2. A few days later, I lend the car to my daughter (28) This is when the fatal overheating incident happens- Don’t know if the temp gauge went up…since I was not driving and she does not remember. It may very well have gone all the way up…

  3. This time I have it towed to an friend’s mechanic, who replaces the engine because the original one had a cracked block due to overheating. This costs $2595.44. He tells me he also found and fixed the source of the overheating- the disconnected wires to the radiator fan!!!

  4. I call the original mechanic (as he suggested on his bill after the last repair) and tell him that he missed the diagnosis, (faulty wires to radiator fan) even though I had suggested this was the problem, and I tell him that because of the non-functioning fan, the engine overheated and died, costing me big bucks and much inconvenience. I ask if he can help me out here, by maybe letting me use a loaner to get to work, and he says he is not responsible.

So- do you think he is responsible?
Maybe I should have INSISTED he fix the radiator. Is that my responsibility? I’m not sure. He is the mechanic. Isn’t he supposed to diagnose the problem, tell me what it is, how much it would cost to fix it, and let me decide whether to have him do the job? Isn’t that how it works?

The second mechanic didn’t have any trouble diagnosing the problem and fixing it. I just feel the whole incident with the overheating engine would not have happened if the first guy had just fixed the darn radiator, instead of telling me that “tow-truck guys don’t know anything” and shrugging his shoulders and saying “I don’t think it’s a problem.”

Why did you not just reconnect the wires? why would a mechanic tell you that the fan does not need to be hooked up? Your daughter would also have to come to court and tell her side of what happened.

the “wiring harness” for the radiator fan was damaged and had to be repaired (according to the second mechanic’s bill.) it was not as simple as plugging in a plug. if it had been that obvious, i would have done that myself.
and my daughter has now moved to Texas (I am in MA) so she won’t be going to curt with me, I guess…

so…thanks again for all your advice. i think I will just have to chalk this up to an expensive learning experience. what did I learn? 1. don’t be afraid to question a mechanic. 2. don’t lend my car to my daughter

Maybe the wires were not inadvertently disconnected at all. It can be common with age (and electrically generated heat) for wire connectors to loosen on their own.

Apparently daughter ignored the temperature gauge, which may or may be be working correctly based on your comment about it reading halfway and yet the car was spewing steam.

If anybody got to anybody here I might lean towards the guy who diagnosed the cracked block. I’ve been turning wrenches as a mechanic for close to 40 years and I have yet to see an overheating caused engine block crack. The only cracked block I’ve seen in my life was one on a 53 GMC pickup that a friend of mine bought from a farmer’s field where it had been sitting for about 15 years with nothing but water in it.

I would add that a cracked block is a fairly common misdiagnosis, followed by cracked head.
The mechanic doesn’t know? Then throw out something and hope it sticks.

There are two problems I see. One is that the car was fine while you drove it. Why it was fine and then failed while being used by your daughter is a mystery that creates some reasonable doubt. The other problem is that whether your daughter didn’t notice the overheating or ignored it is also a mystery. However, since the tow truck driver and the second mechanic both saw the disconnected wiring, both before and after Mechanic #1 worked on your car, you might be able to make a good case in small claims court. I think you should give it a try. With the money that’s at stake, I would try. You might not get the $2,600 you are asking for, but if you don’t give it a try, you will never know. After it’s all over, bring the tow truck driver and the mechanic some baked goods.

I think you are missing another piece of information.

The bad mechanic replaced a damaged coolant hose.
This is where the steam came from when you got to work that day.

So the problem is potentially two-fold -

You had a burst hose AND you had a disconnected cooling fan.

The probable reason why your car did not over heat the several times that you drove it to work is because your commute to work is probably mostly highway. Most cars do not need to use their fans to keep the car cool when driving at highway speeds. So this is why you didn’t see it overheat when you drove it.

Chances are your daughter did alot of stop and go driving, which is what killed the car without having the cooling fan hooked up and properly operating.

The issue you have with your mechanic is that he did not verify after repairing the coolant hose, if the car was working properly. He did not take the time to let the car run for a while to see if the cooling fan was operating, as you had indicated might be an issue.

That last paragraph will most likely be what you need to indicate in court in order to win your case.


YES! That’s it! I think you’ve nailed it!

I commute on Rt 95 from Newburyport to Middleton- 20 min.

My daughter used the car to move boxes from her Somerville apartment into storage- on a hot afternoon. She broke down in Central Square (not sure what she was doing there…)

I have the bill from mechanic #1 which has this item: $61.88 labor for "TESTING"
What the heck did he test??
(The other items were:

“special heater hose and clamps $42"
"coolant $8” )

which implies he was testing the radiator .

Mechanic #2 has an item on HIS bill:

“After installing new engine, determined cooling fan was inop. Diagnosed and repaired wiring harness @ cooling fan” $150

So- I’m thinking this proves that mecahnic #1 (and I use this term loosely) failed to diagnose the cause of the engine overheating , yet charged me for “testing” anyway.
What do you think?
Thank you for your help with this!!