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Dealer oil change blunder

I have a 2010 Subaru Forester and took it in for its’ second oil change a month ago. A little after I noticed a toxic smell, like exhaust. Called the dealer and they couldn’t get me in or didn’t have a car for me, I am driving an hour and a half to my closest dealer. I was getting headaches and didn’t want to drive the car. Finally had a chance this Friday to take it in. They send for a mechanic to verify the smell with me in the car. He smells it and opens the hood. The oil cap was completely missing. I asked them if this would harm the car. They said no. Then I started wondering, why do we need the oil cap then. So, did the missing oil cap harm my car? What should the dealership do for the mistake, wasting 4 hours of my time and dealing with the smell and headaches? They did change the oil for free that day.


What should they owe you for your inconvenience?

You got a free oil change and presumably a free oil cap as well. They gave you reasonable restitution IMHO. What else would you want them to do?

Sounds like they squared this up for you and be greatful that it was the oil cap and not the drain plug. The latter could have led to a destroyed engine.

As to why you need the oil cap there are a number of reasons for it. Keeping moisture and dirt out of the engine, preventing oil being blown out in the case of a crankcase emissions glitch, and keeping the EPA branch of the Feds happy are a few of them.

Perhaps if you had openned the hood yourself you could have seen there was no oil cap. That way you could have covered the hole and driven without the fumes in the car.

Otherwise, it seems the dealer handled it well - except for making the mistake in the first place.

Thinking that since the oil cap missing would not harm the car in this incident that oil caps are not needed is a type of logic fallacy,an error in your critical thinking. There are about 15 or so of these common critical thinking errors, most have latin names.

First, UncleTurbo really hit it when he suggested that perhaps you could have opened the hood and had a quick look & sniff. I have to assume that you never did b/c it would have been hard not to figure this out. Do you ever open the hood? Like to check the oil or anything like that?

But second, I am not with everyone else who thinks the dealer did just fine by you and you should be happy. I think that you should calculate how much time this cost you, multiply it by their hourly labor rate, subtract the new oil change and tell them you want that much credit for future service. I am not at all kidding about it. Give their head service folks an earful.

Personally, I am incredibly tired of having my time and money wasted by complete carelessness and incompetence. (Ok - just to revisit though - a missing oil cap? I do think you could have solved this yourself in 2 minutes). So much so that I just do everything I can now by myself. It probably takes me 4 times as long (in part though b/c I don’t do it carelessly) to do most stuff, but I figure I actually save time in the end.

I’m also not saying that mistakes don’t just happen. They do. And then the right thing to do is make reparations. $12.99 worth of oil change supplies and another $5 for the half hour of lackey kid’s pay who changed the oil I figure adds up to about $17.99. I don’t think $17.99 is payback for your wasted time.

After presenting the idea too the students in one of my classes that they should give their car a look over after having any type of work done(a look over by them) and having this idea unaminously rejected I have given up on reccommending that the owner/driver open the hood and take a look at things ocasionaly, people just are not going for the reasoning for the advice, I tried.

I don’t think you’ll ever get your time back. Maybe you can hit them up for a couple more free oil changes or washes. The only harm that could have been done is if enough oil sprayed out of the filler hole to run the engine low, if oil sprayed into things like your alternator, electrical components, etc., or if perhaps you drove it in the rain and water or crud got into the open engine due to the missing oil cap.

It probably wasn’t exhaust fumes that you were smelling, but instead oil that had sprayed out and was burning on your exhaust manifold or other hot engine components. I know what this is like due to many years of driving crappy cars when I was younger, as well as my GFs penchant for occasionally leaving her oil cap on top of the engine when she tops hers off. It’s unlikely to have done you any lasting harm.

For clarification, I would like to know if it was the Subaru dealership’s shop that made that mistake and then couldn’t get him in(?) or didn’t have a car(?). And like others, it seems, I was flabbergasted that the hood was never opened after all these days of ‘toxic’ smell.’

Of course s/he did drive the car 300 miles. In that length of time, the oil could very easily have been low from spraying all over the engine. There is also possible degradation of rubber components from oil saturation. Timing belts don’t like oil, even a little.

I’d say the dealer is trying to CHA (the opposite of CYA) by telling the OP it was not a problem. S/he smelled oil burning off of the hot exhaust manifolds. It had to get there somehow. The OP should learn to check the oil regularly, and do so until s/he ascertains that it has not already become an oil user because of this incident. If it were run low for some portion of 300 miles, it could have caused serious wear to the rings and bearings. If oil got on the timing belt, it won’t make it to 105K miles. Fiat, the first cars I ran onto with timing belts in the '60s, recommended a 20K replacement interval. Tony, who fixed them again, knew they leaked oil onto the belt from day one, but I digress.

“Free oil change” – Perhaps. But maybe they owe new oil to replace the whatever-might-have fallen into-it old oil.

“Free oil cap” – No way. OP came in with an oil cap; they surely owed her one.

I think the main thing the OP wants to know is if the missing oil cap could have harmed her car.

I agree that the dealership did all they needed to do. Maybe the OP should ask the dealer what it could do to keep her as a customer. If that doesn’t make him/her happy, then go elsewhere in the future.

(in a way the dealer may have helped you quite a bit if you learned to start checking your oil regularly)

Great answer, Joe Guy!