Dealer broke different part while making repair

So brought my 2008 Subaru Outback to the dealer for some repairs, and while working on a ball joint they broke the wheel bearing knuckle. They want me to pay for half of the repair while they cover the other half. Is this standard procedure? I don’t feel like I should be responsible for their mistake but could use some feedback.

You should pay for the wheel bearing plus labor and they should pay for the rest of it. You should have gotten an estimate for the wheel bearing alone. They can pay anything above that. If wheel bearing replacement turns out to be more than half the total cost, you should take them up on the offer.

How did they break the wheel bearing knuckle? Was it an accident, or did it fall apart because of metal fatigue, through no error on their part?

Unless they’re trying to tell you the part broke on its own, I would expect them to pay for anything they damaged. If the bearing knuckle was already damaged, they should have included it in their initial quote.

If the shop where the work is getting done is licensed and bonded, it should also have what Click and Clack called “bonehead insurance,” which should cover things their mechanics break accidentally.

They said they cracked the bearing knuckle while removing the ball joint, which was the only thing quoted on this current repair. They didn’t mention the part being worn or having any issues.

Then I would expect the bearing knuckle to be replaced free of charge. There is no reason you should have to pay for their mistake. If they don’t have bonehead insurance, that shouldn’t be your problem.

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It may not have been possible to extract the ball joint from the steering knuckle due to rust or the ball joint attachment point may have fractured due to rust. Ask the shop for details.

BTW insurance companies don’t pay for broken parts, “bonehead insurance” is a loss.

My personal thought would be that the part was nearing the failure point. I would take there 50/50 offer and just say things happen and I did not crash the vehicle which is what would have happened while driving.


I’ll disagree slightly. There is a principle that you should not be unduly enriched. Stuff happens when you work on cars and really shouldn’t expect a shop to take all of the risks in repairs.

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If not now, when should a shop be responsible for breaking something?

A guy at the muffler shop who broke the hood latch release handle on my car tried to blame it on the part, but he ended up paying for parts and labor to get it fixed.

They need to explain how the bearing knuckle broke. That should determine whether or not they are 100% responsible. If it broke because it was in bad shape (have you seen it?) that’s one thing, but if they accidentally broke a good part, you should not have any liability.

They may be making a first offer to see how you respond. Ask them why they think you need to pay for it and go from there.


This can be a tough call. The fact that the part broke while they were servicing something else does not necessarily mean they’re clumsy, ham-handed, or morons.

It’s a simple fact of mechanical life that some things are going to break due to age, rust, corrosion, or what have you.

Sometimes ball joints (and many other parts) will give up during the process. Without knowing the finer details I remain on the fence as to whether or not this is “their fault”.

Another example might be a common spark plug replacement. During removal the plug may break off or it may bring out the threads in the cylinder head due to the plug being corroded in the threads.
It’s no one’s fault; just “one of those things”. Best of luck.

I had a guy at a muffler shop burn right through the parking brake cable on my 1970 Chevy Chevelle with his torch. His response when I questioned him? : “I never use the parking brake on my car” !!

Parking brake is a safety inspection item in New York.
His shop replaced the cable, gratis.

I’m disinclined to pass judgment without knowing a lot more about exactly why the steering knuckle broke. Changing parts on a 9 year old chassis can require some brute force at times, and sometimes parts break. Sometimes it’s better that way… sometimes they might have broken on the road had they not broken under the wrench. Sometimes unexpected stuff just happens.

If the shop broke a part totally unrelated to the work, like breaking a rear joint on a control arm when they were supposed to be changing the front brakes instead of searching the rest of the vehicle for more work, I’d say they should absorb the cost. but if a part related to the work being done breaks, I’m inclined to give the mechanic the benefit of the doubt. I understand the opposing viewpoint, but that’s my input.

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Spark plugs, OK I’m with you on that, but a steering knuckle? That takes a lot of force to break. Sounds like someone didn’t have the proper tool for the job and just used the biggest hammer they could find.

I put this one soley on the mechanic. Now my next question, ball joints on a 2008 vehicle?


Here’s one to think about

A few days ago, I performed a routine inspection on a truck . . . a regularly scheduled service, due every 6 months

I took off the rims to get a good look at the break pads. I did not remove the calipers, because I could easily measure the pad thickness

I ordered a set of brake pads, because they were getting quite close to the audible wear indicator

The brake pads arrived some time later, and today I proceeded to replace those pads

When I pulled the caliper, part of the piston fell out, because it was completely corroded and had crumbled into dust

Is that my fault?

I submit that many guys will peek at the brake pads, through the opening in the rim

I did more than that, because I actually removed the rims

If I can now easily measure the pad thickness, and I KNOW we don’t have the pads in stock, why should I unbolt the caliper to inspect the piston? That would be going a little overboard, IMO.

I say in this situation, pretty much no mechanic would have discovered the bad piston, UNTIL they proceeded to install those new brake pads

Food for thought . . . these calipers are EXTREMELY heavy. Heavy enough to hurt you, if you’re not careful. You don’t touch them, unless you mean to either replace either the calipers or the pads. Another thing . . . the piston boots were also very hard and brittle. That was also not visible until the caliper was unbolted. This is a clear indication . . . IMO . . . that this vehicle has been working hard.

One part of the regular service is a road test. The brakes were okay. No pulsation, noise, or anything. No spongy or sinking brake pedal, so no reason to suspect a leaking caliper piston, brake master, hose, line, etc.

I’m fleet, so in a sense, there is no regular customer.

And I know for a fact that piston was bad, before I even touched the brakes

Theoretically, would a customer believe me, or be convinced I broke it?

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Two responders mentioned breaking cables as an example of mechanics breaking

The mechanic who burned through the parking brake cable should pay for it.

If the mechanic just pulled the hood latch and it broke, what did he do wrong? It is designed to be pulled on.

Here in the rust belt, things break all the time when trying to remove parts. Mechanics do the best they can but when something has to come off, sometimes there is collateral damage and it shouldn’t be on the shop.

I’ve worked on many different types of vehicles

The fact that a 2008 vehicle needs ball joints is not a red flag in my book

Just this week, I replaced inner and outer tie rods on a vehicle with 15K miles. They had zerks, and had been regularly greased, every 6 months.

The boots were NOT torn

No damaged rims

No red paint on the tires

The tires were wearing evenly

Yet the tie rods were SHOT, just the same

I just replaced a set of tires on a truck with 8000 miles . . . cord visible on all the tires, clearly due to curb strikes. This is clearly due to abuse, but it just goes to show that there’s more to it than the age of the vehicle, or the low mileage. A 2008 vehicle is plenty old, it might have high miles, might have been lots of reasons to replace those ball joints

Don’t be so quick to condemn the mechanic . . . there may very well be another side to this story, which we will clearly NOT hear, unless that particular mechanic talks to us on this website, which ain’t gonna happen

If you’ve had good experiences w/this shop otherwise, I think that’s probably a fair deal. Their reasoning I expect is that no matter what they did, it may not have been possible to remove the ball joint w/out breaking the steering knuckle in the process. Due to corrosion of the parts or whatever. The reason they are not asking you to pay for the entire steering knuckle replacement is that

  • they’d prefer to continue to have your future business
  • there may have been a way for them to prevent the part breakage if they had been willing to take longer to do the job, like perhaps soaking the parts overnight with an anti-rust product, but then they wouldn’t have been able to deliver the vehicle back to you on time, which they didn’t want to do as you probably need to use your car on a daily basis to get to your job etc. Taking an extra day to do the job might have worked, but also might be penny wise and pound foolish.

2008, 9 year old car, if the repair is working now, I suggest you agree to what I think is a fair compromise.

I didn’t see it happen, but my theory is that he pulled up on it when he should have pulled out. Then he tried to tell me it looked like someone else had broken it and glued it. There are (at least) two types of under-dash hood releases, hinged ones that, when you pull out, pivot and move upward or sideways, and pull-out releases, like the one in my car, that pull straight out, and are not hinged. He seemed to have pulled up when he should have pulled out, and he snapped the plastic handle.

I told the guy I wasn’t buying the “broken and glued” story, because the only person who had done any maintenance on the car in the last 60,000 miles was me. Besides, when he showed it to me, there was no sign of glue or any other type of residue.

Around here, that would be considered somewhat normal. It’s 8-9 years of driving. The roads around here are often so pot holed or patches on top of patches that it’s like 4 wheeling every single day on the commute into work. Eight years does not surprise me at all that ball joints are due. Now if it was a dry and stable climate with good roads, short commute or some other less demanding application then maybe it would be totally unexpected. As usual, it depends greatly on the usage…

The part may have been ready to break or maybe it was due to abuse during removal. Press in ball joints take a lot of pressure to break free and usually release with a big bang anyway. If the press isn’t lined up right or the mechanic is banging on the knuckle to get it to release, maybe he broke it that way. Only asking and looking at the part may reveal what happened. The division of financial responsibility for me would depend on circumstances. Neglect or abuse- that’s all on their dime. Otherwise, 50% is pretty reasonable offer.

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