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Dealer fails to tighten oil pan plug properly

I was driving 65 miles per hour Sunday when another driver drew my attention to the great volumes of white smoke trailing my Honda Fit. I stopped quickly and safely, in time to watch the last half quart or so of oil drain from my oil pan onto the breakdown lane.

Ourisman Honda of Bethesda, which had changed the oil three weeks earlier, appears to have taken responsibility for not tightening the oil pan plug properly. They have replaced the oil and the oil pan plug and expect me to pick up the car.

I am concerned about engine damage. While the engine did not seize, I assume running it at 65 with a minimal amount of oil is not healthy, especially in the long run (I generally keep my cars 14-15 years).

Are there tests that can be done to determine if the engine was damaged? Will these tell me anything about the prospects for the car to last 15 years? What should I expect of this dealer, who has profited from repairs on six (yes six) of my Hondas over the past decade?

The most important thing to know is, did the oil light ever come on? If not, then you’re probably okay. You didn’t run it completely dry, and stopped the engine before all of the oil was lost. As long as it’s running okay now without any noises that weren’t there before, I think it’ll be fine.

Since you stopped the engine while there was still oil in the engine, there is probably no engine damage. If that last half quart of oil had already drained out before you stopped, I would be concerned.

If the oil pressure warning light didn’t come on (you didn’t say it did) and there was still oil running out of the pan when you looked under the car, there probably was no damage to the engine.

People make mistakes. It took three weeks for the drain plug to work loose. It must have been at least semi-tight. Thank the dealer for taking responsibility and enjoy your Fit. I don’t think you have anything to worry about.

I would ask the dealer to check the oil pressure (he’ll need to attach a separate oil pressure gauge to do this) and confirm in writing the measured value and that it is within specifications. I would also ask that the situation be confirmed in writing and entered into your car’s repair record. Assuming they do those things, I would ask (nicely, they’re not under any obligation) for a free extended power train warranty (say, 100k miles) that, with proof of proper oil changes, would cover you for problems that might result from this later in the life of the engine.

I believe Honda already has a 100,000 mile powertrain warranty. They just don’t advertise it like Hyundai does.

60,000 mile powertrain warranty is the official Honda policy. With gratitude to texases, I am trying to get it extended (as well as getting a written record of their compression test).

For others who might be curious, I really don’t know whether the check engine light came on. I think not, but when I was going 65 and thinking my car might be on fire, I wasn’t checking the gauges, only the traffic as I headed for the breakdown lane.

With gratitude to all those who responded so quickly,

When this stuff happened at my Dealer (and it happens at Dealers,Indy’s,Chains.Quickies,and you can even do it to yoursels)the customer usually got free oil changes for as long as he owned the car. See if you can get a deal like this.

My opinion is at variance with others on a number of issues.

  1. The engine has suffered damage with the only question being the degree of damage. It only takes a couple of seconds for crank bearing overlay to be wiped off due to lack of oil and once that happens they’re on borrowed time. The only way of knowing is by dropping the oil pan, removing a few bearing caps (furtherest from the oil pump), and examining them visually.

  2. A compression test will likely show nothing as the damage will occur at the crankshaft long before cylinder wall damage occurs.

  3. The car did not have half a quart of oil in the pan during this episode. That last half a quart, or even a full quart, is what’s referred to as “in suspension”, meaning it was floating around all inside the engine. Once you stopped gravity takes care of the rest.

  4. Honda Motor Co. is under no obligation to step in on this. It’s a dealer mistake and the dealer is liable.

  5. No way this engine is going to last for the long term. The dealer (praying silently) replaced the plug, added oil (maybe with an additive such as Motor Honey), it ran, and they’re counting on you heading down the road. A problem develops 6 months or 2 years from now and see just how willing they are to take the blame then.

In a nutshell, the oil pan needs to be dropped and bearing caps removed. If the overlay is wiped then they owe you an engine.
And it’s quite possible to have good oil pressure with bearing overlay damage so an oil pressure test is not always the final word.

As usual, ok4450 has given the most comprehensive and most accurate response, in my opinion. The problem ultimately is going to be getting the dealership to own up to their responsibilities. I really wish the OP good luck in this matter, and I would like him to consider consulting with an attorney.

Oh, one other point that is important for the OP to know about! In regard to his statement, “For others who might be curious, I really don’t know whether the check engine light came on”, the light to which others referred was the OIL PRESSURE light, not the CEL.

The CEL will tell you if there is an ignition problem, or a fuel supply problem, or an emissions problem. When oil pressure drops dangerously low, the oil pressure warning light is the one that will light up.

I suggest that the OP consult his Owner’s Manual for the location on the instrument panel of this light, and that he watch for it, especially when the engine is at idle. If it lights up, that would be more confirmation of ok4450’s statements about the engine having suffered damage.

So the OP and the dealer make a deal,the engine is torn down initaly at the owners expense, a independant party examines the parts (also initaly at the owners expense) if the 3rd pary says “I see damage not normal wear”( this may be a tough call) The Dealer picks up the whole tab to make the car as it was before (that doesn’t mean a new engine,unless the engine was new).

If the 3rd party rules in the Dealers favor the owner takes it home in a box and on the hook.

Sounds better to just drive on,unless your feeling lucky.

The dealer who left the plug loose is certainly not the one I would have tear into the engine as they have a financial axe to grind.

It’s a pretty simple job for an independent shop to drop the pan and pop a few bearing caps loose to check for overlay wiping and scoring. (And as I mentioned, preferably caps furtherest away from the oil pump.)
This could possibly be done at the next oil change; assuming the vehicle is running well (apparently well) and makes it that far.

One thing the OP absolutely MUST do is make sure the dealer provides a paper trail 'fessing up to the little faux pas. Without a repair order copy stating what happened, this little incident will become part of a disease called Amnesia if a problem develops in the future.

If a problem develops in a year or so then it’s likely then that the problem will be blamed on driver abuse, someone else screwed up an oil change, or “normal wear and tear”.
It’s better to head this problem off before it becomes a nightmare in my opinion.

(As an addendum, a dealer I worked for took a very slick Dodge in one time that only had 50k miles on it. Due to the car being exceptionally clean, he allowed more on trade than he was comfortable with. After sending it back to service later on for an oil change, tune-up, filters, etc. this car started knocking like a bandit when I started it up. An exam of the old oil showed that the person who traded it in had doctored the oil with STP (more than a few bottles apparently). Obviously this car had also seen a lack of oil recently and one would have never known by listening to it when it was traded. My boss was a bit mechanically inclined and even he thought it sounded great when he traded for it. Oops.)

Whether the oil light came on is key. If you did not see it, you likely did not sustain engine damage. If it came on, you would recall that. It would be less likely that you would recall that it did not light up. You don’t know the day that you will die and neither do you know which day your car engine will expire. Drive on and don’t worry. You have towing insurance, don’t you? If your engine sounds OK now, it will likely continue that way. Engines can run for some distance without oil pressure on residual oil on the bearings. The white smoke was likely due to leaking oil impacting a hot exhaust manifold, exhaust pipe or muffler. Your highway driving experience likely did not involve full throttle acceleration but instead, a relaxed speed maintaining situation.

I have a larger concern. You stated that your dealer has profited from repairs on six Hondas over the past decade? I can do better than that with the GM cars that we have owned and enjoyed over the last decade. I paid no money to dealers or anyone else for repairs for six GM cars including 1996 to 2009 models but we did have a couple of warranty covered repairs. Ask yourself if you should continue with Hondas.

With apologies for turning once again to your expert knowledge, here is the score: the dealer has written to me saying in part: “Ourisman Honda will warranty the engine oiling system on your Fit for 7 years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first, assuming, of course, that you continue to perform all factory recommended service on your vehicle.” I guess my question is whether a warranty for the “engine oiling system” is broad enough to cover the damage this incident may have caused.

The dealer also says: “We performed a compression test and recorded 180 psi for each cylinder. And as I offered on the phone the other day, you are more than welcome to have an independent shop perform an engine diagnosis and we will pay for it.” From what you’ve all already contributed, it is clear enough to me that the compression test is not sufficient and that I need to “drop the pan and pop a few bearing caps loose to check for overlay wiping and scoring.” The question is this: what do I do if this does in fact show overlay wiping and scoring? Do I insist on a new engine, or walk away with my warranty and hope for the best?

Many thanks again for your help with these questions,

And what do you do if it doesn’t show any damage? I don’t think the Dealers offer includes dropping the pan and inspecting bearings but you could ask.

Ask the Dealer if a bearing check shows damage what will they be willing to do.

After performing a search in this forum, you are at least the third Fit owner that the oil plug has fallen out. Does Honda have a problem with its oil plugs?

I totally agree with oldschool that you should ask the dealer what they will do if the bearings show abnormal wear.
You’re in the middle of a predicament caused by the dealer and if I were in your shoes a 100k miles warranty on the “engine oiling system” (that’s a huge gray area) would not be acceptable. You state that you plan to keep the vehicle for 15 years and what if the oil light starts flashing or the engine develops a knock at 101k miles?

That bit about a warranty on the “oiling system” is a total crock because it does not address the things that will be damaged first by a lack of oil and that is the crankshaft journals, bearings, cam lobes, etc.
Cylinder walls would be the last thing damaged and a compression test is pretty much meaningless. This could be relevant if the car had a long history of being run extremely low on oil, had been overheated, etc, etc.

Just my opinion, but I think the dealer should give you something in writing stating they will buy you a new engine if a partial teardown at another shop reveals a problem.
To be honest, dropping the oil pan and removing a few bearing caps should not cost much at all. If a problem is present, and the bearings are read correctly, then get that dealer service manager over at the teardown shop and hold them to their contract.

Also keep in mind that almost all dealer service managers and writers know very little about mechanicals. Odds are this service manager can’t tell a good bearing from a bad one.
What the dealer is hoping for here is that you will trade the car off, have it become a total in a car wreck, or that you move a 1000 miles away before a problem surfaces. He’s simply hedging his bets here in the hope that they’ll never see you again.

Pardon the post length and hope this helps.

Just to finish off this story: I ended up with a letter warranteeing the engine for 7 years or 100k, plus a third party examination of the bearings as recommended here (paid for by the dealer).

The third party–a highly recommended garage in DC–dropped the oil pan and determined that there was no discernible damage to the engine.

Let me again express my gratitude for the quick and pertinent assistance provided by all those above, most especially by ok4550. You guys were terrific!

Thank you for keeping us up to speed on this issue.
I sincerely hope that this third party garage did the job they were supposed to and that whoever inspected this knew (REALLY knew) what they were looking for and at.
This is only mentioned because I can’t even start to remember or count all of the worn or near junk parts I’ve seen that were considered “good”.
(Reference my earlier comment in this thread about “bearings are read correctly”.)

The reason I earlier mentioned that bearing caps furtherest away from the oil pump should be removed for test purposes is this.
As oil is circulated through the crankshaft journals, etc. oil pressure is progressively lost (normal) at each journal (both rods and mains) so this means that journals the greatest distance from the oil pump will get the short end of the stick when it comes to the oil supply.
In other words, bearings on one end may be fine and on the other end not so fine.

At this point I would not lose sleep over this but I would keep an eye on it.
Any potential future failure should not occur suddenly. It would be something that would come on over time and would appear as a faint engine knock, possible oil light flickering at idle, etc.
Matter of fact, if the car were mine (and assuming no obvious visual or audible problems occurred before then) I would have an oil pressure test performed in about 15-20k miles and make sure the oil pressure (engine hot) is what it’s supposed to be.
If it’s not, then the engine has a bearing problem and it’s back to the drawing board;

Just my opinion anyway and hope it helps. :slight_smile:

I wonder if the Dealer hates it that there are forums people can contact and get somewhat ‘insider’ information? Most of the general public would ask for a extension of engine warranty but I believe most would not even know to ask for the pan to be dropped and rod bearings inspected,and to insist the Dealer pay for the pan drop and bearing inspection.
The dealer probably wondered “where did the customer get such a idea”?

This is a good post for others that have had their drain plugs fall out. Get the party responsible to pay for a bearing inspection.